Tempus Fugit

Seven O’ clock — twenty peals
From the belfry, brown and old.
Darting past on scattered heels
We would not heed those words of gold:

Tempus fugit irreparabile

 Eight O’ clock – with shuffling shoes
Through the Chapel’s crimson aisles
Sportsmen stretch and others snooze
While Father Lloyd sees all and smiles.

Tempus fugit irreparabile

Nine O’ clock — “Miss, may we eat?”
Kenny asks and Miss declines,
“Now it’s time for square rule sheets”
(And Cos and Tan and their friend Sine.)

Tempus fugit irreparabile

Ten O’ clock — the brave skip class.
Mister Maurice walks his rounds.
“I say Silva! You jackass!
Get to class you bloody clown!”

Tempus fugit irreparabile

‘leven O’ clock — Interval.
Cricket bat and ball and pitch
Chinese rolls, and milk packets
— We were poor but we were rich.

Tempus fugit irreparabile

 Twelve O’ clock – all silent now.
Prefects peek through each class door
“Malli konde kapapan!
I’ll give you quad, you rowdy boar!”

Tempus fugit irreparabile

One O’clock – with eager ears,
Half-packed bags that bell we wait.
For what are but a schoolboy’s fears
Past that creaking Chapel gate?

Tempus fugit irreparabile

It is two now – we are old
And now we heed those words of gold:

Tempus fugit irreparabile


I must have been in College Forms B when I discovered these words by Virgil engraved into the college belfry (it always rang twenty times – never more). Now, a few years out of school its words sting true. The quote, which means ‘time flies irretrievably’ is a grave reminder of all the changing scenes of life. The quote sometimes appears as “…fugit irreparabile tempus” in other sources.


Certain phrases require an explanation for the non-Sri Lankan and non-Thomian reader.

– Malli Konde Kapapan – A colloquial way of saying ‘cut your hair’. Being a boarding school long hair and stubble were frowned upon.
– I’ll give you quad – ‘Quad’ was a popular form of disciplining rowdy boys in STC. It involved making students run around the quadrangle. Don’t gasp. It wasn’t all that bad. Toughen up, buttercup.
– Interval – Recess.

Ps. I have mentioned the name of an actual classmate of mine. I hope you don’t object (chill wenne machan) this was done with absolute fondness haha. All names including that of everyone’s favourite headmaster were mentioned in fond memory.

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All The White Man’s Children

What is the white man’s burden?
Can I find it in my fields?
Does he stir it with his bourbon?
Is it the rod he wields?

And all the white man’s children,
These heirs to his estate
Lithe in laps of luxury
Unbridled by its weight.

Ever suckling at the bosom
Of privilege and power
The world is their inheritance,
Theirs is the chosen hour.

And we who toil beneath them
Dealt the brown man’s hand
Must ever labour thrice as hard if
As equals we dare stand.

–  S.S. Bartlett

A controversial topic, yes. My main point here is not colonialism, but the inequality that is still ripe and approaching putrescence in the modern age. As a student fortunate enough to study in in Europe I have encountered a modicum of contemporaries who are oblivious to the privilege they have inherited. Their lives are sans the sort of prejudice we from the “non-Western World” must endure. Upon my return home I have come to realise that had a student from my home country been afforded the same opportunities many of my European friends had, they would have reaped its fruit threefold.

Note. I would have gladly avoided colour had I not been so keen to allude to Rudyard Kipling.

I Would Not

NOT A PERSONAL POEM. READ NOTE BELOW.


Slit my veins in sleep one night,
I would pass in peace.
That I endure these darkening tides
Is pain that will not cease.
Many eyes have seen me,
But their sight averts mine own
And upon this wretched rock,
This dirt which I call home
They flog me and inflict me
Their words like whips and thorns
So please do slit my veins this night,
I would not see the morn.

Drown me in that lake one day,
I would gargle green
And watch her slowly slip away,
And leave this world unseen.
I have watched in silence
This thing they say is love
And whimpered at the God who made it
For unanswered prayers above.
Whose hands then made me monstrous?
Whose words then slurred my speech?
So drown me in that lake this day
The night is grave and bleak.

Throw me off a cliff one morn
I would meet the stones
Which moan amid the rolling waves
And have them break my bones.
What worldly works could hurt me?
What ill fate twist the heart?
This dead cold space has had its place
For many years now past.
Wailing winter whipped me
And spring still lingers grey
So throw me off that cliff this morn
I would not see the day.

S.S. Bartlett

Note : I must stress that this poem was not written for me, but for people (friends mostly) whom I know deal with bouts of depression and self destruction. I am grateful many took the time to contact me once this poem was published, but it was an exercise and a tribute to my friends.

August’s Ember- S.B.

I cannot see past August’s ember
Or guess the fallen leaves ahead
Nor feel the cold of dark December
Or smell the naked flower bed.
Lead lulls the veins and bleeds and runs
Along the aches of unanswered rest
Drowning the colour of a thousand suns
And dampens the beating in the chest.
Day and night I’ve worked my craft
Shaking languor off the arms,
Drinking deep of intense draughts
That rouse a moment’s fleeting calm.
Long through the glade and open fields
I embraced each dare and escaping dream;
Drinking the sweetness of its yield:
Made a soft hue in the cooling stream.
Someone said the stuff of life
Lies behind these jars of strife;
Behind the vinegar and the gall
Exists the fruit that does not fall.
Yet, August approaches to whip my desires
And I cannot see past its ravenous fire.

A Stranger finds it locked.

I felt full well their cringes,
Their wet and wicked skin
And when I struck that wood-
They saw no flesh-forged kin.
Through the narrow keyhole
They see not what is good
But let what lies between us
Be but hinges, hole and wood.
I knew they crouched to see me
To test me at the waist
And writhe and twist near the hole
Of what must be my face.
Think did they of my hunger
That rests upon my bones
And each sinew lulls with languor
And casts me from all homes?
Or like all did they gasp their laugh
And craft some early epitaph?
“Behind lies he who has knocked
But being a stranger finds it locked.”
Keys have I, old but chaste;
Each and every door I passed
Saw not the key in my chest
Nor the love which I possessed.