Lakdasa Wikramasingha was born in 1941 in Sri Lanka. As a young man he attended St Thomas’ College in Mount Lavinia, a private Anglican boys school. It is considered to be one of the most prestigious schools in the country. He initially studied law, but would go on to become an English teacher.
Education and Early Writing
Throughout the years of his education, and later in his life, he was interested in Sinhala literature. “Sinhala” refers to the language of the Sinhalese people. A group originally from northern India. They are the majority group within Sri Lanka. This interest inspired him to experiment with the incorporation of aspects of the Sinhalese language into Wikramasingha’s poetry. He consistently attempted to fuse Western and South Asian traditions. Throughout his life Wikramasingha wrote in both English and Sinhala.
His first book of poetry, Lustre: Poems, was published in 1965. It was written entirely in English. Wikramasingha’s work soon appeared in a number of different publications including University of Chicago Review and Outposts. Lustre: Poems was followed by Janakiharana and Other Poems in 1967 and Fifteen Poems in 1970.
Throughout his life Wikramasingha also contributed to periodicals. His poems, ‘From the Life of the Folk Poet Ysinno,’ ‘The Muse’ and ‘In Ancient Kotmale,’ appeared in New Ceylon Writing. Other works were published in the Journal of South Asian Literature and Navasilu.
Later Life and Legacy
In 1975, he published, O Regal Blood. It was followed a year later by The Grasshopper Gleaming. To honour a poet of the previous generation of Siri Lankan artists, Wikramasingha edited and then privately published Twelve Poems to Justin Daraniyagala.
Wikramasingha is known today for his utilization of clear imagery to express his feelings and paint a picture of rural Sri Lankan life. He is respected for his use of idiomatic phrases and his naming of rural areas which would be widely unknown outside of his local context. These techniques can be seem prominently in ‘Cobra, in which he uses a cobra and its relationship to tragic experiences to speak on the death of his partner.
Since his death a number of books have been written about his life. These include Love Sex and Marriage in the Poetry of Lakdasa Wikkramasinha by Lilani Jayatilaka and New trends in the Language of Sinhala Poetry by U.P. Meddegama.