This Language This Woman – Sri Lankan Literature

This Language This Woman

Beware how you insult her
in your ignorance accident of your birth
goaded by the jealous fury of your own girl
who still relents it seems that old flirtation
reproaching her forever with your dearth
you miss the loveliness of her
unfolding in perpetual renewal
of suppleness still her generosity.

If you should try to take her from me
I’d launch no thousand ships to bring her back
the braggadocio of the imperial theme
that shielded her being now a derelict wreck
I’d sail some paper boats that bear her name
as this one does, till you grant credit to
my confidence in a fidelity
greater than Helen’s she would not go ,
being truer than a mother, sister, wife,
dearer than life.

No more an Empress’s daughter , with a bribe
locked in her purse,
the clerks, the merchants, and their hireling tribe
long since dispersed,
gone the protectors who, while pampering her,
lined their own coffers
her men folk falter in a far country
their vigor ended,
she wanders here alone and unbefriended ,
herself at last, and nothing else to offer.

So do not call her slut, and alien,
names born of envy and your own misuse
that whisper now desire in secret runs .
She has known greatness, borne illustrious sons,
her mind’s well-stored her lovely nature’s rich,
filled with these splendid warm surprise which,
now the distorting old connection’ done
fit her to be your mistress, and my Muse.

Author Yasmin Gunaratne

Summary and Analysis


Be careful about the way you insult her. You do not know that you cannot control your birth or decide your parents. You are provoked by the jealousy and anger towards your own fiancee. But she is still lenient with you. It seems that she is lamenting over her old love forever because of your missing. You do not see her loveliness which is open and is
renewing with no end because of her flexibility and kindness.

If you should try to take her from me, I would not try to bring her back. The prestigious behavior of the imperial touch that gave her protection is now becoming a wasted wreck. I would send you letters on her behalf in this situation till you win my confidence. She would not leave her faithful qualities which are greater than Helen’s being truer than a mother, sister, wife, dearer than life.

She is no longer an honorable lady if she has unfaithful qualities. The unfaithful, opportunist people were given up long ago. They who appeared as her protectors and who while pampering her, collected wealth are gone now. Those men are losing their energy in a distant country: they have no more strength. She is just wandering here all by herself
without friends. Now she has nothing else to give but her heart.

So do not call her an undisciplined woman, and an outsider. You call those names because of your jealousy and it is your misuse of words. What those words now mean is secret desires. She has been a great lady. She comes from respectable generations. She is rich in her mind and has a lovely nature. Now that her unsuitable old connections are over she is full of these excellent warm qualities. She is suitable to be your bride and she is my goddess.

The poet’s daughter and her broken marriage

Mutual understanding and trust are very important in married life.

Suspicion causes misery. Mother’s love does not change.

Appropriate words and phrases
your ignorance
accident of your birth
jealous fury
old flirtation
perpetual renewal
imperial theme
Comparison:greater than Helen’s
metaphor: paper boats Empress’s daughter my Muse
Language: simple and slightly metaphorical.


In ‘This language, this woman’, Yasmin Gunaratne blames her ex -son in Law for scolding her daughter with bad language. The girl seems to belong to a high society with much wealth and respect. It seems that she spent a luxurious and playboy life which caused the end of her marriage. But ultimately she is left alone. The poet shows the valuable part of her daughter and tries to convince her son in Law that she should be excused and reunited by him.

It is a confession on the one hand and a plea on the other hand. The subject- matter is a broken marriage and the theme is ‘A daughter is valuable to her mother whatever blame is put on her.’ Appropriate words and vivid descriptions are used in the poem. The language is the simple modern language.

1st Stanza: Don’t insult English because you are accidently born to a servant class, because of that you are jealous of my language repenting about your Sinhala language. But while colonized you enjoyed my language (old flirtation). By using language you have missed the loveliness of the English language. It is always evolving and new additions are found. English language in full and has generosity. This stanza gives a confrontation.

2nd stanza: This gives a challenge. If you take my language, I would send thousand ships, instead, I will write a poem in tribute to language. So, my fidelity to language will be more than Helen’s. I am so much in love with my language. (In Greek mythology, Helen of Troy (Greek) also known as Helen of Sparta, was the daughter of Zeus and Leda, and was a sister of Castor, Pollux, and Clytemnestra. In Greek myths, she was considered the most beautiful woman in the world. By marriage she was Queen of Laconia, a province within Homeric Greece, the wife of King Menelaus. Her abduction by Paris, Prince of Troy,’ brought about the Trojan War. Elements of her putative biography come from classical authors such as Aristophanes, Cicero, Euripides and Homer (both The Iliad and The Odyssey).

3rd stanza: Then present state of language is brought out. (Situation in 1956) When the language act was passed in 1956 making Sinhala the official language, English language had no chance. This poem is a challenging reaction to the attack launched by the pseudo nationalists. This takes us to the post-independent political situation of Sri Lanka which attempted to depose the status of English from the current situation of dominance. The poet confronts these ideals (patriotic ideals) which insist on the importance of the vernacular. This language act signals the fall of English from its position of authority. Ignoring a language in a community is a way to invisibles a race. This means disposition and lose of identity for some. But it was the opposite of the Sinhala speaking majority who were marginalized during colonization.

Yasmine Goonarathne protests as a voice of the subaltern. As an affected one, she raises up the issue in her poetry. She is adamant about the greatness of her language defending the place and value of English language. This poem is a lover’s reply which relates to a central metaphor.

Yasmine Goonarathne herself claims this poem was written out of irritation at the continual denigration of English by Sinhala writers who had no conception of its range. This was a feature of the literary context. The poetess makes an eloquent case for the English language. The narrator assumes the role of a lover who is in love with the language (woman). In reality, the narrator functions more as a lover. The richness of expression and the personal relationship of the poet with the language may not be fully acceptable to the average reader.