Edwin Thumboo, considered the father of Singaporean poetry, is well known for writing about national issues. Some of his poems, such as ‘Ulysses by the Merlion,’ have been compared to Yeats lines on Ireland. Recently, critical attention is being given to his intimate side, visible in the poems such as ‘Evening,’ which have beautiful lines such as‘Outside our thunders quarrel’. Thumboo kindly authorized Jogos Florais to publish ‘Evening’ and, from his latest book A Gathering of Themes: ‘Catechism,’ and ‘Envy’.
Evening, Edwin Thumboo
Within the storm, a room;
Within the room a special quiet:
Within the softly gradual point
Intersecting selves reflate.
In one corner, a threat of shadows
Mixing with half-remembered remnant
Chants, codicils, footnotes, old infinities.
The air-con’s goblin hum
Shakes the window’s furtive light.
Outside our thunders quarrel.
All is familiar, poised.
I do not think of you, my paradox,
Though the mood proclaims
And you inhere.
I come free in the eye of the storm,
Flourish beyond the limb’s appeasement,
The blood’s sharp, rooted memories.
I do not move, but move against
Grey dissolving skies, clean lightning,
Jurassic clouds that war and break.
I do not move, but move to
Grasp the horizon’s one simple line.
Yet as you return
The broken rainbow forms again;
The sun, resting on its elbow,
Speaks with surety, ruminates, decrees.
So the great and little chords shift;
So the metaphors and pauses re-arrange.
So for a moment I am
Released, my paradox.
Do not move: our limbs hold
Against expectancy. Your sighs
With quiet fires again unfold
The patient hunger in my eyes.
And when we turn within the cage
Our bodies make, and find a sea
With neither tide nor age,
An act of bonding sets us free.
Edwin Thumboo, ‘Evening,’ A Third Map: New and Selected Poems. Singapore, UniPress, Centre for the Arts, National University of Singapore, 1993. You may find it here.
Catechism, Edwin Thumboo
Who can I blame
If my days are but thoughts of you?
It is as if an earlier self
One my memory hardly knew,
With resurrection and surprise
Strides in to maim my old barbarian ways.
For I hear myself again
By enchantment of a fire-bird:
Your image in vermilion
Kindles the embers of my words,
Which gathering, break the sides of thought,
Calling the blood to put out flowers,
To put out flowers
Put out flowers.
I no longer envy that hot
sun embracing you. Neither
the impish rain creeping through
your blouse. Nor the sensuous lip
of the cup clinging thirstily.
Or your shadow, always with you.
One evening we stop in a patch
of unexpected stillness, cool
and temporary. A renewing touch.
Then the sure moon, brim-full with
precise light, roused our shadows.
They started counting dimming stars.
Then we watched them, hand in hand,
walk ahead. Stop to listen to a bush.
Pin-point where a pair of crickets chirped.
Then they shared a whisper, a thought,
a feeling, a wanting, soft as the evening.
Two-in-one, foreclosing the moment,
distinctly for the four-in-two, for us.
Edwin Thumboo, A Gathering of Themes. Singapore: Ethos Books, 2018.
Edwin Thumboo (b. 22 November 1933) is Emeritus Professor at the National University of Singapore’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences. Considered the father of Singaporean poetry, he is well known for writing on national issues and poems such as ‘Ulysses by the Merlion’ have been compared to Yeats’ lines on Ireland. He was awarded the Southeast Asia Write Award (1979) and the Cultutal Medallion for Literature (1980), amongst other distinctions. Recently, critical attention is being given to his intimate side, visible in the poems such as ‘Evening,’ which have beautiful lines such as‘Outside our thunders quarrel’. Edwin Thumboo kindly authorized Jogos Florais to publish ‘Evening’ (from A Third Map: New and Selected Poems,1993), ‘Catechism,’ and ‘Envy’ (from his latest book A Gathering of Themes).