Sri Lankan poet Lakdas Wikkramasinha (1941-1978) and his English Romantic counterpart Percy Shelley (1792-1822) have several assets which a sympathetic reader may see as parallel traits:
Lakdas, writing in post-independence Ceylon and moulding in him a strongly articulated anti-imperialist strain is the author of a rich body of postcolonial verse which attack the British Crown and its colonial impede. His popularly quoted Don’t Talk To Me About Matisse, The Three Sisters, In Ancient Kotmale and several other poems substantiate this trajectory. Shelley, at one level, was a strong advocate of anti-elitist, anti-regal sentiments; and this is best seen in his later poems such as To The West Wind, England in 1819 etc. In fact, poems written in and after 1819 showcase the growing tension in Shelley, for whom a popular undermining of the establishment was a necessity.
Relating to elite roots and being preoccupied with their lineage both Shelley and Lakdas have made their ancestry a pillar in their literary work. Shelley, in many ways, graced the elite, VIP circuit and drew from its social, cultural and political complex in his maturity as a writer. For instance, as much as Shelley calls for socio-political rebellion to topple the privileged class (to which he, too, belongs) Lakdas, too, calls forth revolutionary changes to the class system in poems such as Discarded Tins (1970). While he becomes obsessed with his own genealogy in his 1976 collection O’ Regal Blood and other poems dealing with his walauva ancestry, the same social fabric is scathingly attacked in poems such as The Death of Ashanti (1974), To a Servant Girl etc. Lakdas, for the record, is said to have battled poverty and the burden of a then bankrupt family saga, giving a curious “insider-outsider” tinge to his work that deal with class.
Both Shelley and Lakdas are marked for their passionate, earnest deliveries and their sense of violence which permeate their writing. Shelley’s works such as Men of England, England in 1819 etc have sentiments that blatantly call for Georgian blood. Lakdas’ poems frequently cut across a potent range of homicide, suicide, treachery, guns, bombs, knives, swords, arson, fire, madness, rape, taking of poison, drowning, child abuse etc.
Both poets draw on Classical allusions —– Lakdas Wikkramasinha, if at all, at a lesser vein. Yet, his sense of the classics and their indoctrination is seen in his ‘Myrah Poems’. In his Sinhala poetry — for Lakdas was a bilingual writer — a definite Modernist impulse can be noted, where his subject matter, tone, texture as well as the style and structure of the writing resonate early Modernist accents. His Sinhala verse, as in Jaanakeeharane Saha Venath kavi, showcase the individual and the abstract; deviating from the politically conscious, critically perceived trajectory of his English poems.
Both Shelley and Lakdas, in spite of the potential and promise they offer, die in the relatively young 30s. Shelley’s tragic death takes place at 30 while Lakdas’ demise occurs at 37. Coincidental enough, both deaths are caused by drowning, making the end too too romantic for these two vigorous and rebellious spirits.