This Page is Being edited – I’m trying to find the time to complete these analyses.
The poem is about a tragic occurrence during the civil war in Sri Lanka. It is etched in our history as the Black July of 1983. To learn about this poem, the first thing you need to do is speak to your parents or grandparents who had to experience this event.
Let’s dive in to the poem.
Title and Pun
The title has significance as there is a double entendre here. Big match stands for two things.
It means cricket matches that are played between two schools annually (this is done in the form of a friendly rivalry). These are called big matches in Sri Lanka. The whole school would eagerly await these days. In Yasmine’s experience, who lived and experienced life in Colombo for the most part, big matches meant a lot of fanfare, hype and celebrations. Flags, cheering, hats, caps, motor parades – the works. This is a celebratory, entertainment-based sporting event. So, how is this relevant to ruthless bloodshed?
The poem compares the war to a sort of entertainment, especially to the politicians. She critiques the politicians who use violence and aggression of the communities to secure their positions of power (through the votes of the majority – so they will please the majority to get their votes, even though it meant that many innocent lives of minority people groups will be lost. Many families and promises and hopes and dreams will be gone forever. Regardless of these circumstances, the poet insists that the politicians view this war as a trivial thing, a mere tactic for them to gain their power.
‘The game’s in other hands in any case
These fires ring factory, and hovel,
And Big Match fever, flaring high and fast,
Has both sides in its grip and promises
Dizzier scores than any at the oval.’
The structure of the poem is important when we consider this part. It is placed between the poet trying to understand the root causes of the war, and the description of a Tamil man who is sure that he will be burned up in a few hours. The complications, the ramifications of the decisions made by ruthless politicians for their self-interest is has come to fruition and this has become a sort of game to them. The poet then inserts the above quoted passage. After mentioning how the people in power have treated this whole devastation as an advantage for them, she creates a poignant scenario of how beautiful and innocent lives are shattered, burned, broken and destroyed because of short-sighted, guiltless politicians.
The speaker address the war as a ‘game.’ She calls this frenzy a ‘big match fever,’ alluding to school cricket matches. The idea of this being some sort of entertainment is highlighted by the poem. Mentioning ‘scores,’ and the ‘oval’ once again solidifies this point. Oval reminds one of greatness in terms of cricket and conjures images of England. Test matches played at The Oval grounds are considered as pure and wholesome cricket entertainment. The comparison makes it clear that the war has become top-notch entertainment for the upper echelons of society who holds the reigns to the nation (the game is in other hands in any case).
2. A matchstick that can ignite fire
This is the other meaning – a matchstick. Such a small object which can cause devastation to entire cities. A small, almost negligible, weak and innocent flame – which grows into flaring, consuming and destructive oceans of orange and red flames. The poet points to how the violence has escalated from many years ago and mentions several incidents that were instrumental in fanning these flames of violence. Notice the fire related imagery in the poem that appears throughout the poem.
‘try to trace
The match that lit that sacrificial fire.’
‘See the first sparks of this hate…’
‘These fires ring factory…’
‘Flaring High and Fast…’
‘When those torches come within fifty feet…’
‘Curl like old photographs in flames’
‘Sri Lanka burns alive.’
These images powerfully capture how the small beginnings of racial violence can end up in the destruction of a nation.