‘Folk poet, Ysinno’ by Lakdasa Wikramasingha is an eighteen line poem, written in the form of a ballad, which is contained within one stanza. The poem does not conform to a particular rhyme scheme and the lines vary greatly in length, from three words to twelve.
One will immediately notice upon reading this piece that there are a number lines which contain words which might be unknown to the reader. These words have been taken from traditional Sinhala, Sri Lankan language and require some defining in order to fully understand the piece.
Summary of Folk poet, Ysinno
‘Folk poet, Ysinno’ by Lakdasa Wikramasingha describes the plight of the folk poet “Ysinno” and his efforts to roof his newly built bamboo hut.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that Ysinno is cutting bamboo to build his family a new home. He is doing all of the work on his own, without help. By the time he has all the “wattles” he needs to construct the house he realizes he doesn’t have the straw he needs for the roof.
Ysinno travels to the nearby “Walauwa” or manor house and asks the “Menike,” or lady of the house for help. He is told to come back at the end of the next harvest season when he can retrieve the straw he needs. Ysinno is unable to wait that long and tells her so.
She is moved by his plight and allows him to take what he needs from behind the shed. It is due to this act of kindness that he and his family survive the season. Her blessing lived on through them.
Analysis of Folk poet, Ysinno
In the first lines of this piece the speaker begins by describing the life of “Ysinno.” This person is only referred to as being a “Folk poet.” Aside from this brief statement, the poet does not supply the reader with any type of in-depth description of his personal significance within the local community or history of Sri Lanka.
The poem starts in the middle of Ysinno’s life. He is already working before the poem begins in an effort to build a house for himself, and as will be revealed, his family. Ysinno is cutting bamboo “near Hanikette.” Like many aspects of this work the places are not defined or elaborated on. If one does not have prior knowledge, one must accept them as being locations beyond one’s immediate world.
From the first line a reader is also able to understand what kind of home Ysinno is building. It will be made of “bamboo,” which he cut himself. Depending on one’s social background, this may or may not be common. Either way, it will immediately place the main character’s economic situation as being lower class. He does not have the money to pay for a new home, or for someone to build one for him and his family.
The next line speaks of “wattles.” This is a word used to refer to the piece of bamboo which will later be ratcheted together to form his home, or as the speaker says, “hut.” It will not be a large or grand home, it will only be sufficient to their purposes. The best he can do with the materials and skills he has available to him. While he has access to bamboo, he doesn’t have the “straw” he needs to create the roof. There is nothing for him to “cover it with, nothing.”
What the speaker describes Ysinno needs is,
Like a hundred and sixty
Bales of straw.
While one cannot know for sure, this seems like more than one could ever need to roof a bamboo hut. It is likely the speaker is attempting to emphasize the importance of the straw and the difficulties Ysinno faces in acquiring it.
In this section of lines the speaker continues his description of the life of Ysinno. In a desperate attempt to better his living situation, and find the resources he needs to finish building this home, he travels to,
[…] the Walauwa at Iddamalgoda
The “Walauwa,” to which the speaker refers, is a feudal or colonial manor house in Sri Lanka. The word can also refer to the feudal systems that existed in the colonial era. In this case though, the house is located in “Iddamalgoda.” This place would have been large, and perhaps overwhelming to Ysinno who comes from a more humble background.
When he arrives at the “Walauwa” he goes to speak with “the Menike.” Here is another word which might not be familiar to a reader. It is used in certain areas of Sri Lanka to refer to the lady of the house and her daughters. She is someone who should be respected. Ysinno has come to this place in an effort to find the funds, or the resources to finish his own home. One will be unsure at this point whether this request is going to be successful or not. Will the lady of the house be willing, or able, to help him?
To the “Menike” he describes his situation. He tells her how “poor he” is and proceeds to describe his own profession: the writing of poetry. The speaker describes him as being someone who…
[…] from his twenties…had made those lines of song.
This is something he hopes will sway the Menike to his side. Perhaps she will look fondly on him. In an effort to insure his success, he “Swear[s] before her all his fealties.” Ysinno, as part of a feudal society, wants to make sure she knows how loyal he is to her.
The “Menike” responds to his request immediately, but rather than giving him the materials, she asks that he wait until the “yala / Harvest” to take the straw. He will be able to get what he needs, but not until this particular time of year. “Yala” refers to one of two monsoons which control the cultivation season in Sri Lanka. This particular season lasts from May until the end of August.
Although the time of year this particular interaction is takes place in is not defined, it is clear that Ysinno’s need is great. He is unable to wait for even a short time.
In response to the “Menike” he says he cannot wait as,
[…] the rains are coming near.
He is desperate to find a solution to his problem, for himself, but also for his wife and child. She is “fretting,” worried over the fact that her “kid will get wet.”
An act of kindness, which is the main point this piece, follows in this section of lines. It is through ‘Folk poet, Ysinno’ that Wikramasingha hopes to convey the benefits of the feudal system. The “Menike,” rather than telling Ysinno to go away, or come back in the “yala harvest” as she had previously, she tells him she can take what he needs now.
He is allowed to go “behind [the] shed” and take whatever he needs for his home. This moment of caring, which might come as unexpected to the reader, changes the days of Ysinno’s life.
The final lines of this piece the speaker describes the fact that “Ysinno” is still a “folk-poet.” His family survived the season and his “lines” are not “all dead.” It is through the “benison” or blessing of the “Menike of Iddamalgoda” that the family survived. Her blessing lives on, “even today.”