From the Life of the Folk Poet Ysinno – Sri Lankan Literature

From the Life of the Folk Poet Ysinno

Ysinno cut the bamboo near Haniketta ,
And from those wattles made his hut
And had nothing to cover it with, nothing
Like a hundred and sixty
Bales of straw.

So he made his way to the Walauva at Iddamalgoda
And to the Menike said how poor he was.
And how from his twenties he had made those lines of song
Swearing before her all his fealties.
So she said, Wait for the Yala
Harvest and take the straw.

Ysinno said, O the rains are coming near,
My woman fretting, her kid will get all wet
Then the kind Menike said, O then
You take what straw you need from the behind shed
And Ysinno being a folk poet and his lines not being all dead ,
The benison of the Menike of Iddamalgoda
Lives even today.

Author Lakdas wikkramasinha

Summary and Analysis


01.hut =small house
02.wattles =bamboo strips as material for making walls
03.made his way to = went to
04.bales = bundles hay tightly wrapped with cords
05.straw = dried stalks of grain
06. swearing = making a solemn statement
07.fealties = the fidelity of a vassal to his lord
08.harvest = gathering of crops.
09. woman= wife
10.fretting = worrying
11. shed =a simple roofed structure
12.benison = blessing, kindness


01. Ysinno :- Singho= name derived from Portuguese later became a Sinhalese name of an
ordinary man
02.Haniketta= name of a thicket
03.Walauva= manor house
04.Menike = spouse of the nobleman
05.Iddamalgoda= the name of the village
06.Yala= a harvesting season
SUBJECT-MATTER: Ysinno’s request of the Menike for straw to thatch his house.
MAJOR THEME: The traditional ancient culture of Sri Lanka
OTHER THEMES: Class division judges economy
How Aristocratic Authority Coiled The Economy Of The Country
The benison of the Menike of Walawwathe loyalty of the peasants towards the Walawwa


And from those wattles made his hut
And had nothing to cover it with, nothing
And to the Menike said how poor he was.
And how from his twenties he had made those lines of song

The benison of the Menike of Iddamalgoda lives even today.

folk-poet= a simple village man
made those lines of song= made his living
song = life
lines of song= years spent in life
his lines not being all dead= He strives to exist

The language is the very ordinary and simple language with Sinhalese words and cultural expressions. Yet it is powerful and expressive.


Lakdasa Wickramasinghe composes his poem, “From the life of the Folk poet, Ysinno”based on the Sinhalese traditional culture. He uses the names, characters and idiomatic phrases commonly found in it. In the first verse he thus describes Ysinno’s pathetic condition.
“Ysinno cut the bamboo near Haniketta , 
And from those wattles made his hut
And had nothing to cover it with,” 

As is the custom, Ysinno visits Menike of Iddamalgoda Walawwa, and makes a request for hundred and sixty bales of straw to thatch his house. Traditionally the nobleman of the Walawwa was a strict person and the people were afraid of visiting him directly. So it was the custom of the village folk to forward their grievances to his wife. The poem reveals the kind nature the Menike of Iddamalgoda Walawwa in spite of the authoritative attitude of Walawwa .
“So she said, Wait for the Yala
Harvest and take the straw.”
But he could not wait for that long so he explained his difficult situation to the Menike.

“My woman fretting her kid will get wet.”
Then Menike is moved over Ysinno’s difficult state when he makes a mention of his kid and orders him to take any amount of straw he needs from the shed behind. This shows the motherly nature of the Menike.

“You take what straw you need from the behind shed.”
The poem depicts the peasants depending on the kindness of their employers and how humble and submissive they are.

The language used by the poet is quite appealing and familiar to the local reader. The expressions used to describe Menike’s kindness and Ysinno’s words to win her favour symbolize a typical village scene – the image of the society at that time. The Menike of Iddamalgoda Walawwa with her kindness, is made to shine in society.

“The benison of the Menike of Iddamalgoda lives even today.”
The poet’s simple diction and the usage of local idiom visualize the typical Sinhalese village. The presentation of two individuals – an aristocrat and a poor peasant and how human kindness could pave the way for ‘good deeds ‘is thoroughly depicted in the poem.

Lakdas wikkramasinha, He has a unique style of writing that can be called his own. His com-mand of language is perfect and superb. He uses words easily to bring in exactly what he wants to express, and at the same time he makes use of the vernacular words carefully selected to create his environ-ment, thus adopting sometimes the Sri Lankan way of expression.

Wattles – sticks woven under and over -upright sticks to make walls;
fealties – loyalties to superiors;
fretting – worrying, unhappy;
benison – blessings, favours.

Like a folk singer, a folk poet is one who is very closely related to the soil from which he springs, writing for the people at large, rather than for educated and sophisticated readers. This poem tells us of an incident in the life of the folk poet called “Ysinno”. The name itself is an example of how Wickramasinghe is employing the vernacular us-age and idiom in his poetry It may be arranged from the common name among Sinhala rural folk “Singho” or “Sinno”. This may be a symbolic representation of all the rural men in the village areas. He may not be a particular individual but the representative of a certain type of people in the village. “Ysinno” is like the thousands of such men who had to live and are living even now under the feudal set up. “Ysinno” builds his wattle and daub but and finds no way to thatch it. He goes to Walauwa – the “big house” as they used to say , and tells the “Menike” – mistress there, his plight. From the age of twenty he has tried to become a folk poet, but with no proper income. He used to swear the customary loyalties to the great lady of the house.

At first the reply was only advice to wait till the Yala (the second) harvest and get the straw left in the field. It would not suit him. The rains are coming soon. His wife was already fretting and the child would get wet. This moved the Menike’s heart and she asked him to take the straw from the previous (Maha) harvest from behind shed. A good deed brings its blessings upon all. Ysinno’s poetry about her kind act had moved the lady’s heart and thus kindness brought its blessings on the village and is felt even today.

The simple way this poem is written makes us believe that Lakdasa is himself a poet in the same tradition of Ysinno. The subject is the simple kind act of patroness because she liked the folk poet’s poetry and because of her good nature. “There is a fine artlessness about the writing, lack of sophistication that is truly attractive. It does not say too much, but what it does, it says with an attractive simplicity
of style so characteristic
of folk poetry”. It looks that the language h uses here helps to develop the big gap between the 2 persons. The language also highlights the tensions that are discussed here.

The poem begins like a village story with the changing length of the lines, and interesting names like Ysinno and the exact number of bales of straw for the roof, and building of the but in a simple way. These and the way he appeals to the lady saying how poor he was, along with the songs composed to her professing his fealties (as a feudal vassal’s declaring of loyalties to his lord or the lady), make the poem interesting to the reader. The poet reacts to the reply of the lady, by mentioning the plight of the child, thus moving her heart to sympathise with him. The poet uses a classical word “benison” to show the kindness and the maternal’ nature of the lady, that brought some blessings to Iddamalgoda village. The poem depicts the posi-tion of the vassal underdog in a feudal society, where be has to live at the mercy of the feudal chief. Along with Sri Lankan idioms like “rains coming_ near” from behind shed used in unprecise syntax to bring out a certain effect, the poet uses words “fealties” “benisons” to de-pict the servile situation of “Ysinno” the theme of the poem. They fit in meaningfully to the topic and the theme. The deeper meaning is that though the poem praises the basic ways of life involving grati-tude and generosity, we can still have an idea of the tension in such a society; Ysinno is not that simple, he is shrewd enough to take ad-vantage of the softness of Menike’s heart and get what he wanted, but he is always reminded of his position as a vassal, who is not able even to putt up a but on his own.

One could say that the charm of the poem is in its simplicity in dic-tion and form. There is a quaintness in the language – the intrusion of the Sinhala idiom – which gives it precision and expressive power. The poem has a refreshing quality of simplicity and directness. It has been said of Lakdasa that his compassion would flow to the un-derprivileged, and though he expresses scorn and anger towards his kith and kin, “an ingrained aristocratic streak remains”.

This poem, according to Chandana Dissanayake of the Sabaragamuwa University, seems to have been the creation ofWickramasinghe, who had heard of the two beautiful impromptu verses in Sinhala, ad-dressed to the Menike of Iddamalgoda Walauwwa, by this local king of gambling Peduru Peiris who was nicknamed “Ysinno”(as he was all the time carrying a “Y Ketaya”, an instrument used in gambling). He appeals to menike to help him.

“Panduruwala. una lee kapap,-ena seduwe yaw ham ge paha; mata Nuduru then wala sewtvamuth netha pidu•u sapaya gan mita enta meta Piduru ekasiya hetak pamanata ones vuni m.ata Iabaa ga nitaia Gemburu vilasin mathak karanemi inahath bala pinwantha meniketa

She refuses and then Ysinno appeals very emotionally, putting the blame on the wife.

“Vissa kaale patan kavi kiyuve haniketata Dassa aale thamai kavadath thibune aawama walauwata Passawele goyam kapanaa turu sitiyoth wena awul rata Wessa kaaleth langai kellath wadayi daruwa themeyi ethakota”

That melted the heart of Menike and we see the benisons she gave the villagers even after that (vide Ceylon Daily News 29/9/99)

Simplicity of subject- The incident from the life of the folk poet is as simple as the life of Ysinno himself. Poor and unambi-tious, this man has been writing verses on the life of ordinary people, perhaps the only extraordinary ones being the great’ people in the walauwa. His work has not gone unappreciated “up there”. The Menike had come to know him, and perhaps got him to sing his ballads and verses to her in her place. In his need he applies to her and she asks him to wait till the next harvest. He diplomatically, yarns her putting the blame on his wife fretting about the child getting wet. His request is answered and he got straw from the back garden. This poet tells of his obeisances to the lady – “Swearing before her all his fealties” like some retainer of old before his over lord. The “benisons” are typical of the sentences pronounced over a benefactor, blessings of the Gods. There is so much of local colouring here. While simple in his topics and style the poet is rich and heavy in both.

A suitability of Style to subject- He adopts a free and easy style here. The narrative moves forward with the emphasis in the right places. “so he made his way to the Walauwa” is as unsophisticated as Ysinno himself. Without being asked, he tells the story and makes a request devoid of unnecessary pream-bles’

A reliance upon tradition – In “The Cobra” he refers to the attitude of the’ people to the cobra – one of awe for the deadly yet graceful creature. There is reference to the idea of reincarna-tion. It is power of the “Paarmitas” (here the ambition to the great desire for fame) that has taken him to heaven.

A depth of thought, linking experierice with his own imagination – Whatever the villagers might think, the cobra has taken hold of his mind. It seems he is obsessed by it, “circling round and round my mind” The people talk of “death”, and life after death. But all that he is deeply aware of the death of his woman. “the lamp of my life”. But he keeps the relation between this and the cobra, obscure.

A gift for sharp, pithy description – The picture of Ysinno before the lady is neat and compressed. So also is the attitude of the people before the cobra. “Endlessely” the people came – the villager so willing to take pleasure in the simplest of the things and they watched “your eyes like braziers” – a vivid description of the eyes of the cobra, red-golden
like coals.

“This poet arouses the readers’ interest by his deep appreciation of village ways,his ability to write of them without over sophistfcation, his obvious honesty and sense of truth and ability to write verses which hiive a free and easy movement. He creates the desire to read more of his works”.


Lakdasa Wikkramasinha is Well known for being native in his poetry in both theme and style.

His use of language is essentially colored with local idiom.

His use of local expressions and idioms expresses his ideas and feelings which the readers get close to the poems.

Wikkramasigha contrasts the poor, talented poet and the rich feudal lady, in the last stanza the contrast is made to heighten the goodness of the sympathetic lady. It is also possible to interpret the poem as fraught with many at the expense of feuded power. The Manike is not quick to grant the straw she had stacked in “the behind sled”

He uses the Sinhala syntax and idiom [“and to the manlike said how poor he was”, behind sled”] to get a folk touch in keeping with the subject of the poem.

The uses of word like Wallowa at Iddamalgoda, ‘fealties’, Manike’, dates back to the feuded times and color the poem with feuded notions.

The uses of direct translation of Sinhala expressions.

“O the rains are coming near”       

 “My woman fretting”       

“Her kid will get wet”