Monuments – Sri Lankan Literature


The bus sweeps past the swinging trees
And the road unwinds long and cold
The chassis creaks with the load
And jolts to a halt by the road.

The bus stops for a moment to load
And I see the writing on the halt
A wayside monument etched in gold.
“IN MEMORY OF MY SON” I get a jolt.

The legend goes on, on every bus
Stand a new name every time but
The story’s old “To the hero who fell in the north
Erected by Father, Mother and next of kin”

More than a dozen names penetrated my mind.
But I remember the one common to all
“Bandara” master of the soil
Sons of those who teased out paddy from this land

They would have ploughed this soil
Gathered the harvest at reaping time
Followed their fathers with the paddy in bins
And sat by the hearth for the new rice
Served steaming and scented by a mother’s fond hands
While the Koha sang on the erabadu trees.

The inscriptions hug the white walls
And the bus swings in and out of halts.
I gaze at the unwinding miles of the road
And try to make the broken images whole

Vague shapes rise undefined in front of me
A farmer in a muddied loin cloth haunts me
And a housewife with billowing sleeves and string of beads
Stare at me out of the unwinding road
And their faces are stern with unshed tears.

Author Kamala Wijeratne

Summary & Analysis


Kamala Wijeratne in her poem, “Monuments” talks about the aftermath of the civil war that existed between two ethnic groups in Sri Lanka. She talks about the young soldiers who died untimely in the civil war.

Thus she speaks of the heroes who sacrificed their lives at war. We feel some anxiety about the young soldiers whose lives are doomed and commemorate the young soldiers who died in the prime of their life. “Monuments” discusses how parents lost their young children at war. The monuments built by their kin and kith prove it but it also reminds us of our ancient culture and the agricultural economy, how our ancestors cultivated the land and celebrated the national festivals performing the hereditary rights.


Subject-matter: monuments erected in memory of the soldiers who died in north
Main Theme: The loss of the young labour force in Sri Lanka
Sub-themes: the unexpressed sorrow of the parents of the dead soldiers, The traditional culture of Sri Lanka


Metaphor: sweeps past the swinging trees

Onomatopoeia: The chassis creaks with the load.

Implication: I get a jolt. : I’m shocked.
unshed tears: unexpressed sorrow
The legend goes on: the same story is repeated.
those who teased out paddy from this land: cultivators

Symbols: the Koha sang on the erabadu trees.
Personification: The inscriptions hug the white walls

Language: the ordinary language with omens


Like in “Musical”, in this poem “Monuments” also Kamala Wijeratne deals with the subject of war. The poet is traveling in a bus and sees the “bus halts” built to commemorate the dead soldiers with their names carved in them. These are the “monuments” referred to in the poem.

The poet does not see only one “monument” but repeatedly sees various legends in different bus stands, “a new name every time but the story is old.” This draws attention to the way the war has caused the loss of lives of many young soldiers. 

Interestingly, the poet brings in the class dimension to the poem by commenting on one common name of the young soldiers, “Bandara” which stands for “master of the soil” and these are the “Sons of those who teased out paddy from this land.” In this manner, the poet points out that many of these young men come from poor, farmer families and they may have joined the army because of their poverty.

 The fifth stanza effectively captures the tragedy of war. These men, if they had not gone to fight in the war, would have led a different life. They would have had a farmer’s life, and the poet moves on to a description of the farming life with special focus on the harvesting period, the happiest and the most anticipated period in a farmer’s life. She makes reference to the “Avurudu” (New Year) season through words such as “koha” and “erabadu” which are common symbols (in Sinhala culture) for the period.

When the paddy is harvested, new rice is prepared and it is “Served steaming and scented by a mother’s fond hands,” and this line creates a scene of perfect domestic happiness. 

The sixth verse again comes back to the reality and describes the “inscriptions” which “hug the white walls.” The contrast of this scene with the joyful scene presented in the last stanza perfectly captures the destruction and futility of war. 

Kamala Wijeratne includes the most emotional commentary on war in the last stanza and in this instance the poet imagines the plight of the parents and loved ones who have lost the young men who went to war. 

A farmer in a muddied loin cloth haunts me

And a housewife with billowing sleeves and string of beads   

The last line, though brief, tells a sad tale focusing on the suffering of these poor parents who have lost their son, “And their faces are stern with unshed tears” which questions the whole purpose and the logic behind war.

In the poem Kamala Wijeratne criticizes war which destroys both the lives of soldiers who are directly part of it and also the lives of their loved ones who have to lead a “living death” every day with horrible pain and suffering. The silent “Monuments” in this way speak against the total devastation caused by war. 

Like in “Musical,” Kamala Wijeratne in her poem uses colloquial language. Even though there are rhyming words in the poem, such as “load”, “road”, walls” “halts”, there is no regular rhyming scheme. Then there is repetition of lines such as “Served steaming and scented” which reinforces the picture of domestic happiness, which the soldiers would have enjoyed if they had not gone to war. The visual images such as “a farmer in a muddied loin cloth” successfully convey the social status of the young soldiers.