Tuesday, June 09, 2009


Two poets get together
one with the camera and the other with the pen

A review of With the dawn
By Nihal Fernando & Herbert Keuneman
Published by Studio Times Ltd, Dec 2005
ISBN 955-9236-05-9

When I heard that Nihal Fernando was putting out another book of his photographs and that the text was by the late Herbert Keuneman, my first reaction was fantastic! Two poets getting together, one with the camera and the other with a pen, and both with one passion - Sri Lanka. Then a sudden thought struck me. “How come?” It is a long time since Sri Lanka lost this invaluable son of hers - Herbert Keuneman, so chockfull of knowledge of this country, so sensitive to all things beautiful …

Then I was enlightened. These pictures are a selection from Nihal’s 1973 exhibition when he and Herbert had got together and created this lovely poem called With the dawn and it has been tucked away for thirty three years before reaching the printers and you and me.

The cover picture is so soft and gentle that I found myself turning the pages ever so gently as though I was afraid of causing the slightest disturbance by the rude rustling of paper. Page by page I was lifted up and up with the birds from the lake and sedge, from branch and nest, up, up into the awakening day.

And now I am treated to a bird’s eye view of the other denizens of the jungle awakening and starting off on their quest for food and water. Elephants, buffaloes, leopards and bears, sambhur and deer, mongoose and jackal and proud, majestic eagles, all have one fixed purpose - food and water. But now we must come down to earth where all the drama is taking place - the eternal quest for food and water. The eagle swiftly swoops down to take off with a struggling fish, while the leopard, the crocodile, the jackal tear their quarries apart. But this is not an ugly fact in the beautiful poem: this is merely the unerring pattern of Nature. As Herbert Keuneman puts it “the leopard … kills without malice.”

And so we meander quietly through the jungle feeling so much a part of it and yet so much an outsider longing to be one with the jungle.

The sun sets. The day closes. All these pictures taken after hours and years of waiting and watching, waiting and listening, waiting and smelling, are black and white, and of course the hundred in-between greys. I would not have it otherwise. There is restfulness in black and white which colour cannot capture. So the poem flows on ….

By Irangani Serasinghe

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