For Poetry Friday-- Burma

I have been thinking, and hoping, and praying for the people of Burma. So for Poetry Friday, here are some poems from and about Burma.

First, a poem from from the English colonial period. Kipling's "The Road To Mandalay" was the only poem about Burma that came into my head without help from google. As is so often the case with Kipling, the writing is superb, the images intense, and the blatant colonialism disturbing. Here's the first verse:

By the old Moulmein Pagoda, lookin' lazy at the sea,
There's a Burma girl a-settin', and I know she thinks o' me;
For the wind is in the palm-trees, and the temple-bells they say;
"Come you back, you British Soldier; come you back to Mandalay!"
Come you back to Mandalay,
Where the old Flotilla lay;
Can't you 'ear their paddles clunkin' from Rangoon to Mandalay?
On the road to Mandalay,
Where the flyin'-fishes play,
An' the dawn comes up like thunder outer China 'crost the Bay!

You can read the rest of the poem here.

Second, a poem from the dictatorship. I found this at the New Republic website, in the UPDATES FROM THE WORLD'S TYRANNICAL OUTPOSTS- Today in Despotism column from November, 2005

"Meanwhile, art and politics merge, as always, in Burma's poetry. The following verse honors the "13th Myanmar Traditional Cultural Performing Arts Competition in progress." The author is concerned but defiant:

If Our Walls Encroached

Our Myanmar nationalistic character
Intended to be strengthened, with a
wall of culture
Is reinforced unfailingly each year
It has been 13 years by now.
It'll be a world village, it'll come
And if with the bravado spirit
We are complacent, and they encroach
Work to multiply the weeds within
That sly bunch of dirty minds
They are there, we know.
Come, come along
Those that are there, the many weeds
Even those between the walls, will
And vanish--just remember.

Experts in Burmese poetry advise that the final two words be read in an urgent whisper."

But what the poet/government might not realize, is just how strong weeds can be, and how hard they are to uproot. Especially weeds like hope.

I then found the Burma Digest, a journal of human rights in Burma. This link will take you to an older website, where you can read many tragic, stirring, and hopeful poems from the side of the oppressed.

Here's one that caught my eye:
Welcome to the Final Phase of Myanmar's National Convention

A nation with rising illiterates
Sponsoring the so called
‘National Convention’
It must be an invention
To go with a newly redoing of Burma’s
Ancient tradition
The transition from Pyinmana
To Nay Pyi Daw
If you own a brown mask or a bright costume
You must be the right candidate to participate in the
Masquerade for the next Myanmar’s National Convention
A bright costume to cover up your iron fist and bloody gun
A brown mask to hide your pale courage and ignorant mind
Make sure to brush your teeth with black market toothpaste
The only kind available in Burma at this time
For they surely do not need beetle nut stains
On their hall of gleaming bright shame

May K Ng, May 2007

The Burma Digest site is now here. The last entry states simply that the entire internet in Burma has been shut off.

The Poetry Friday roundup is here, at amoXcalli.


  1. This is quite a round-up. Thank you... and thank you for reminding us to remember Burma as well.

  2. Terrific post -- quite thought-provoking, and timely. Myanmar just cut internet access. I think that means things are worse.

  3. Powerful and sad. My prayers are with them.

  4. This is a brilliant post. Thank you for making the politics in Burma personal.


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