Saturday, July 15, 2006

The River

Less a month from now, it will be National Day. Which brings me back to something I wrote long ago.

Way back in July 1987, The Straits Times organised a poetry competition to commemorate our National Day. I penned one, sent it in, and completely forgotten about it until I received a call from some journalist arranging for an interview. He told me it clinched the first prize.

I went for an interview by the river's banks, and they asked me why I wrote about a river, of all things. People were writing about patriotism, flags, racial harmony. I told them I passed by the Singapore River everyday to work, and I just have to write about it.

It was duly published in the national paper a day before National Day.

Sometimes, I cringe when I read the poem again. I wonder how it was selected as the winning poem, there were others which I feel were better. I was debating whether to put it on this blog. But this is an evolution of my craft, and I guess there's no harm doing it.


Singapore's National Day
image by dsnake1

The River


On a quiet night,
as you leaned on the railings at Merlion Park
you see this river, its surface greenish dark,
jostling with strength
phosphorescence rippling
the scales of a dragon, shimmering.

This river, this murky river meandering,
let not its appearance deceive you,
for this river, brimful of history,
is a tapestry of a nation's progress,
a silent witness to much toil, much industry.
Raffles saw a future in these shores
and in his wake came a delegation of others,
       the rubber barons,
       the merchants.

Once,
tongkangs bobbing on its waters, like prehistoric fishes
disgorging their contents to the warehouses
       on the quays
       the goods to feed a city.

Once,
its waters darkly polluted, like a lady gone tardy
tossed up damaged bows
       plastic fragments
       dead fowls
and assorted flotsam of a growing city

Today,
walk her shores, explore her, the shops, the shrines,
the skyscrapers, all,
steps of weathered granite & stone walls
and drink with buddies
on a riverside sarabat stall.

Now, on a quiet night,
as you lean on the railings at Merlion Park,
you see this river, its surface greenish dark
on skin ever undulating
       dancing starlight
       city lights

you feel you are not alone.
It breathes, it moves with a pulse of our own ...



July 1987
*********


Notes --


Merlion Park : a small park at the mouth of the Singapore River.

tongkangs : small to medium sized motorised boats which used to ply the river bringing goods to and from freighters parked in deep water anchorages.

sarabats : roadside stalls selling food and drinks, usually operated by ethnic Indians. Their famous beverage is a ginger-flavoured tea. Now you hardly find them, they are banished to hawker centres, and most are copy-cat versions of the originals.

12 Comments:

Blogger Medusa aka expiringpoet said...

I can see why it won 1st prize =)

16 July, 2006 21:57  
Blogger floots said...

never cringe at what was
smile
be proud

it's that last line which pulls it all together
and the use of "our"

"it breathes, it moves with a pulse of our own ..."

all human life etc

17 July, 2006 01:55  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

medusa,
at that time i just felt that there were other worthy poems.

anyway, blew all the prize money on a gift for the wife, how sweet, huh?

floots, thank you.
many years later, after it was published, i believed that it could be improved further. But i didn't edit it because i don't want to, leaving it warts and all. maybe the original is still the best. :)

17 July, 2006 23:49  
Blogger Medusa aka expiringpoet said...

Ya lor, so sweet you'll give your readers diabetes...hur! hur! Oh, I'm so corny I kill myself! Argh!!!

18 July, 2006 00:04  
Blogger Bluesky_Liz said...

No need to beat yourself down over it, friend. It's actually good. Somehow, without reason or proof, I'm pretty certain you were better than the others.

19 July, 2006 10:09  
Anonymous alson said...

You are the man dsnake! :)

19 July, 2006 16:58  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

medusa,
she's my honey, yah.:)

liz,
i feel that the piece is a bit rambling, maybe my craft have improved somehow and am now critical of my older works..:)

alson,
i was lucky! But i did try to write a good one..:)

20 July, 2006 00:40  
Blogger Rachel, Sim Ping said...

Dear Lee San,

May I have permission to use your beautiful poem for a youth awareness education website I'm putting up that will have a section on the Singapore River? Will credit, of course. It's a wonderful poem that really expresses the life of the river and I love that it is a poem that loves the river even for what it is today. Do say yes!

Rachel

04 June, 2008 14:15  
Blogger Rachel, Sim Ping said...

Dear Lee San,

May I have permission to use your beautiful poem for a youth awareness education website I'm putting up that will have a section on the Singapore River? Will credit, of course. It's a wonderful poem that really expresses the life of the river and I love that it is a poem that loves the river even for what it is today. Do say yes!

Rachel

04 June, 2008 14:16  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

Hi Rachel,

yes, you may. :)
If it's for an educational website, no problem.

i am assuming that your website is a local one, since you mentioned the Singapore River? And may i have the link to your website once it's up?

Thanks for visiting. :)

04 June, 2008 21:39  
Anonymous Jerry said...

Dear Lee San sir,

May I use this poem in a school report? I'm supposed to find poems regarding the Singapore river, and yours is very nice, so I thought it would be a good choice.
I hope you will give your permission.

Jerry

07 April, 2010 21:17  
Blogger dsnake1 said...

Hi Jerry

You may use this poem in your school report. :)

If you don't mind, which school are you from?

Thanks for visiting!

07 April, 2010 23:07  

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