Commentary Lim Kian Kiat

The poem “Summer Solstice, Batticaloa, Sri Lanka” talks about the very real yet unspoken emotions the soldiers face during the war. The tranquilizing but melancholic tone of the poem shows the yearning the soldiers have for a “great loving”, and their weariness in fighting in the war. By writing in first person, Marilyn Krysl brings the cries of the soldiers to a personal level, as if the soldiers themselves are pleading for salvation.

The title plays a crucial role in understanding the poem, since a summer solstice is the longest day in the year, therefore the title “Summer Solstice, Batticaloa, Sri Lanka” directly translates to the longest day in the city of Batticaloa, Sri Lanka. This could be used to convey the seemingly never-ending war, and how the exhausted soldiers just want the war to come to an end. The war had raged on for so long that it had “turned inward until it resembled suicide”. The soldiers no longer fought to win, or to survive, for they knew that fighting meant running to their deaths. The enjambment of the line forces readers to read the word “suicide” on its own, causing it to be more jarring and emphasizes the brutality of war.

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At this point of hopelessness, the persona decides to take a step back from the disaster, and seek peace amidst the chaos. The stark contrast of the peace of nature against the violence of war can clearly be seen. On one hand, the complexity and ruthlessness of war, where soldiers are sent to their deaths. On the other, the “soothing” nature of water, helping one forget one’s worries. The “surf sounds like erasure” is polysemic. If one was to listen to a surf, it literally sounds like it is constantly whispering the word “erasure”. It could also signify the persona’s want to be cleansed by the water, to forget the harshness of war, to “become simple”. The juxtaposition of “suicide” and “soothing” on the same line further emphasizes the contrast between peace and war. “suicide” is often associated with depression, yet “soothing” is an adjective that means to have a calming effect.

The structure of the poem is extremely methodical, four stanzas and each with four lines. This could be used to represent the soldiers as it gives the reader the image of soldiers marching on, slowly pressing forward, their longing for peace increasing with each stanza. The use of enjambment gives a flow to the poem, possibly showing how the soldier will not stop until they have achieved peace. Unlike most poems, the poet did not incorporate a rhyme scheme into her poem. This could be to show the dullness of a soldier’s life, and how they only have a one-track mind.

The strand of “small crabs”, so many that they resembled the “galactic spill and the volume of stars”, is possibly a representation of the soldiers’ loved ones. The sheer number of crabs shows just how many soldiers had gone to fight, many of whom will not return to their loved ones. The deaths of the soldiers do not just affect themselves, but also affects the family they leave behind. The persona, bitter from the war, let the “ten thousand prayers” of the loved ones “sweeten” him. The poet is trying to convey the futility of war, how the soldiers themselves did not want to partake in the bloodbath, how they just wanted a “great loving”.

In conclusion, the message the poet is trying to convey is the pointlessness of war. War steals away loved ones, and in the end the soldiers fight to kill themselves. Even the soldiers do not want to fight each other, the death of their enemies held no purpose to them, they just wanted an end to it.

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