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Wednesday, 28 March 2012



New inserts by way of prefaces

We get our friends and well wishers to support us by guiding our own pathways with their extra help perhaps out of honour to them or out of sheer need. Such is the situation as regards certain books. A writer who needs help may get a scholar to write a preface to his book perhaps out of diffidence about his own work.

'I am not too sure about the poems I have written, as such I need a document to support my effort by way of introducing my work to the public at large'. This may be the feeling inborn in the mind of a poet. Such a poet is in need of a preface by a well known literary scholar.

Documentary support

The writer who creates his own work may not know how sure he or she is about the work concerned. This is where the documentary support is needed. It is believed that the great man of letters, George Bernard Shaw, has written long prefaces to his own books without getting anyone to write about his works. It is also believed that some readers prefer to read the prefaces more than the actual work. This indeed is a skill which only a few possessed. Today most of our young writers find it worthwhile getting a preface from a person known for this skill over the years.

Dr W A Abeysinghe, the well known bilingual writer of fame, has collected most of his prefaces written to Sinhala books over the years, compiling a new kind of book which goes as 'My World and Theirs' (Mage Lokaya Saha Owunge Lokaya, Sarasavi 2012). This compilation reminds us of the skill needed to write prefaces to books of others and the time consumed in the process. Most of these prefaces look like mini learned essays or additional and supplementary material provided as a stimulant with a vision. I wish to take a few examples.

Writing a very short preface to the Sinhala novel of Sarath Dharmasiri, Dr Abeysinghe says that a first novel of a writer should be taken seriously as it is a starting point in a creator's career This novel is visualized as a mix of historical fictional narrative style and realism. Then he introduces another Sinhala novelist named Nanda Udawatta as a very young beginner with an inborn talent He has written quite a number of prefaces for the juvenile novels and in this direction one fine example is the one written for the work of Jayaratne Samarasekera titled as 'Rankatiputa'.

Tracing history

Another type of preface is seen as a document tracing the history and the trends of literary genres like short story free verse and belles letters etc. In some of the prefaces he traces the similarities with those of the known masters as Anton Chekov, Leo Tolstoy and Maupassant. In some of the prefaces the writer Abeysinghe traces his own experiences in the capacity of a journalist and freelance writer to the press. This enables the reader to gauge the extent to which the writer Abeysinghe is influenced by the world literary trends. There are occasions where he quotes English poetry as well as Pali stanzas.

Abeysinghe takes note of some of the translations as well. One good example is the preface written to a collection of Russian short stories directly translated from the original Rusian to Sinhala This is the collection of short stories of Ivan Bunin (1870-1953), the first Russian writer who was awarded the Nobel award for literature.

Abeysinghe takes the opportunity to trace some of the new writings emerged from Russia creating new links in 'hybridization', which has now become a favourite topic of discussion in cross cultural communication studies. The preface writer Abeysinghe traces the significance of the writings of Bunin in the making of a new trend which has been greatly influenced by a tradition of great masters of the calibre of Tolstoy, Turgenev and Pushkin. This tradition according to him is still not paid any attention to by the local creative writer.

Local poems

Some of the finest and most resourceful facts are embedded in the prefaces written for collections of Sinhala free verse or 'Nidahas Kavi'. He tries to compare some of the local poems with those drawn from other countries of the region such as India, Indonesia, Malaysia and Bangladesh. Some of these poems have been translated by the preface writer himself. Then he reverts to some of the local examples drawn from such poets as Mahagama Sekera, who was also influenced by the regional poets of the day, and a few others.

I am not sure whether this comparison may look too sound in the ultimate appreciation of poetry. Poets gain inspiration from various quarters undoubtedly, and blend their own experiences with them. As such the poetic license is now an expanded phenomenon driving away from the age old concepts. Though I used to agree with the dictum of Eliot, sometime ago which sounded as 'comparison and analysis are the chief tools of criticism', I doubt whether this stands firmly rooted in the oriental context of creative flux.

I am not sure whether poetry could be compared with other works of the same genre despite the differences and similarities in human experiences, let alone the other factors. In this collection of prefaces predominantly written in Sinhala there are a few written in English. I was wondering who benefits from this type of book, a compendium prefaces written over a period of three decades.

Tagorean influence

But in my second thoughts, I felt that this may be a good introduction to address the new readers to trace back to some of the works they may have either forgotten or failed to reread. So then a series of prefaces will remind a general reader that the work has to be traced back.

On reading this series of prefaces a reader may get a glimpse of knowledge on the life and works of such writers as Tagore (1861-1941) about whom presumably quite a lot has been already written. But the reference is made in the preface written to the Sinhala translation of the poets work titled in English as 'Straybirds' and titled in Sinhala as 'Sarana Siyot' translated by J A M Karunaratne.

In some prefaces Abeysinghe draws attention to the lesser known aspects in the literary trends as created by Tagore and the impact of it had on the world literature. Then the reader comes across prefaces written to collections of lyrical compositions. One example is the preface written to the collection of lyrics of Venerable Rambukane Siddhartha Thera titled as Sasara Danavva. Then comes the prefaces written to essays on aesthetics and rationalism. An example is the preface written to the collection of sensitive essays of Premachandra Disanayaka.

All in all, I felt a sense of research into many an area that needs rediscovery. These prefaces could well be taken as assignments that could lead to better understanding of some of the literary topics left undiscussed.



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