Lakshmi de Silva: An Inspiration as an Academic

KS Sivakumran in Daily News, where the title is  “Lakshmi de Silva – an academic to reflect upon”

aa-lakshmiA remarkable translator, teacher and a poet in English and perhaps in Sinhala too is the unassuming and scholarly Lakshmi de Silva. She is one who had encouraged me to write and was persistently asking me to bring some of my articles in the press to be collected in book form. Last year, Vijitha Yapa Publications published a collection of 26 poems of her under the title Reflections running to only 35 pages qualifying its stature as a booklet. Invariably a printed book should have at least 50 pages according to the National Library Services Board. And yet the quality of her poems is uniquely of a high standard in the classical sense.Dr Lakshmi de Silva who taught English as a Senior Lecturer at the Kelaniya University was one of the last batch of English Special Students of the late Professor E F C Ludowyke. She has dedicated this booklet to a fine broadcaster and compiler and presenter of the Arts Magazine among others over Radio Ceylon. After passing out of the University of Peradeniya, she had a stint teaching in that University too. Her reputation remains high as a translator of some prominent works in Sinhala into English. Henry Jayasena’s Kuveni, Ediraweera Sarachchandra’s Sinhabahu are two her translations. Another major contribution of her excellent work as a translator was the Anthology of 12 Centuries of Sinhala Poetry. She has received the Gratiaen Award and the State Literary Awards. She had also been honoured with the Sahithyarathna Award for her Lifetime Achievement.

lakshmi-and-yasmine Lakshmi & Yasmine

Such eminent literary figures who received the Sahithyaratna Award include – Punyakanthe Wijenaike, Regi Siriwdene, and Sir ArthurC. Clarke, Prof C R A Goonethilake, Anne Ranasinghe, Prof Yasmine Gooneratne, Prof Ashley Halpe’, Vijita Fernando and Prof Ranjani Obeysekera.

Her other translations include Martin Wickramesinghe’s Ap e Gama and Gamperaliya, jointly with Dr Ranga Wicktamasinghe, Prof Ediraweera Saratchandra’s Maname and Dayananda Gunawardena’s Gajaman Puwatha.

Her talent is seen in her translation of poems by Rienzi Crusz’s Lord of the Mountain into Sinhala.

Three pages of acknowledgements that give the list of articles and poems she has written to academic journals and some notes that benefit the reader are also included in the collection.

Some of the reputed journals Dr Lakshmi de Silva had written her poems in English include the following:

Phoenix, Poetry Peradeniya, Journal of South Asian Literature, New Ceylon Writing, Modern Sri Lankan Poetry, The International Portland Review, Kaleidoscope –an anthology of Sri Lankan Literature, Sri Lankan Literature in English and Navasilu.

Let us see how some of her poetry creates a sense of gratification in evoking poetic sensibility. Without comment, I give the lines in some of her verses.

The proud hawk nose, the rich acanthus hair

Like the strike of a match, a flash of purity…

Shameless sincerity is draped in the sweep of wit or thought or laughter

My tamed heart cried its wonder as a splendor once its own

I like to quote her poem titled Koggala in full for the use of effective verbs and imagery found:

Here all was silent; the quickening sun

Flushed vein and root and lea: the urging rain

Plashed rock and greening plain; the people moved

Wordless yet restless as the wind and sea

Impassive faces where the bright blood beat

Behind smooth foreheads and full quite lips

Tradition reining passion lest it slip

From impulse into act- all those he loved

Netting in words their dignity, their

Their Malice or their laughter, greed or need:

Flat emptied plain and leveled walls, rejoice;

Your image will not fade.

Timeless, wide-reaching, changeful as this sea

He gave your stone s a voice

That too was real: the evening suns dripped like slow honey through the filtering leaves… That too was real as this night we lie silently, listening to the crash of guns

Devastation is waiting. Age or hate, War or mere nature, leaves us desolate.
Creation nerves the moving of his hands
Through the vein-ridges, down taut fingers; tips
Decisive carve bright air; the sharp-cut lips
Are closed in speaking silence; take or give
What happens in that thrust of time? That power
To shape the beauty singing in our blood
Irradiate our vision like a flame
Does it flow from, or into him? He stands
Fused, transfused with the red heart of the sun
Out of that rippled blaze the impulse came
It gave him life and he has made it live.

Dr Lakshmi de Silva and Prof Yasmine Goonaratne were some of the pioneer academics to think about a body of Lankan Literature in English. They need to be saluted with Prof Ashley Halpe and D C R Goonathileke.  – See more at:


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