“singapore river” by lee tzu pheng


The operation was massive;
designed to give new life
to the old lady.
We have cleaned out
her arteries, removed
detritus and slit,
created a by-pass
for the old blood.
Now you can hardly tell
her history.

We have become
so health-conscious
the heart
can sometimes be troublesome

Why is the title of the poem “Singapore River”? What poetic devices are used here?

Think about what the operation in the poem has to do with our Singapore river.

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  1. evadam

    Suggested answers. If you have a different take on the poem, please feel free to leave a comment 😉

    1. Who is the ‘old lady’ mentioned in line 3 and what is the operation she is undergoing?

    The ‘old lady’ refers to the Singapore River and the operation involves the cleaning up of the river.

    2. What literary technique is used here?

    Personification. We know that the river is personified as an ‘old lady’ because while the poem is entitled “Singapore River”, the river is not directly mentioned in the poem. The references to the operation and “clean[ing] out/ her arteries, removed/ detritus and slit” implies a clean-up job that the Singapore River has indeed undergone in recent years.

    3. What effect does it have on you and why?

    The river is personified as an ‘old lady’ because it is a historical symbol of Singapore and has existed with great importance to sea trade in our history. The personification of the the river as a lady also lends a hand at emphasizing the importance of the river in our history and our past, as female figures are often associated with familial history.

    The poem seems to be describing a process that is unilateral. The river, as the old lady, does not speak. She is passive. It is thus implied that the old lady is unwell- “[t]he operation was massive”- and maybe even dead- “designed to give new life”.

    The reference to the details of the operation shows how thorough the job was done. “We have cleaned out/ her arteries, removed/ detritus and slit,/ created a by-pass/ for the old blood.” The old lady’s body, or the river’s waterways, have been thoroughly cleaned, and the “by-pass” refers to the operational procedure where the blood is pumped by the heart through an alternative blood vessel. This implies that the “old blood”, deoxygenated or dirty blood, has been diverted.

    The poem, however, goes on to say that “[n]ow you can hardly tell/ her history” which may mean that the
    old blood” has been lost or by-passed in the enthusiastic frenzy of such thorough cleaning.

    Hence, the representation of the river is both reverent to the “old lady” that is the river but also depicts a sense of blind ignorance of the consequences of the cleaning process to the river’s historical value.

    4. Look at the 2nd stanza of the poem and discuss why “the heart can sometimes be troublesome’ in this context, especially when we have become so health-conscious.

    When one is health-conscious, one tends to implement methods that would best benefit one’s health. The heart is arguably the most important organ in the body; without it, the body will cease to function.

    The enthusiasm of the cleaning process has already been established in the first stanza. The second stanza brings it one step further. The fact that “[n]ow you can hardly tell/ her history” is immediately followed by a statement- “We have become/ so health-conscious”. The “we” refers to the people of Singapore who are behind the clean-up, and who benefit from its effects through trade and tourism. The health-conscious attitude that the poem associates with the people of Singapore refers back to the operation and calls into question the necessity of such a thorough operation that erases not only the trash that pollutes the river but the reminders of its history as well.

    Hence, the fact that the most important organ is considered troublesome catches the reader in an impossible dilemma, where everything needs to be cleaned out and improved upon, including the heart. The heart itself is a metaphor of things that are of sentimental value or of similar importance. This again refers to the erasure or disguise of “her history” which is of sentimental value perhaps because of the memories it carries for the people of Singapore.

    5. What do you think the poet is trying to tell us about progress and why do you say so?

    I think progress is illustrated through the clean-up efforts represented as an operation in the poem. Progress in the modern context is often associated with technology, hence the reference to the operation, an artificial reconstruction of the body for its own benefit.

    In order to achieve modern progress, one needs to clean up what is irrelevant to the process of modernisation, which includes the “detritus and slit”, metaphors of perhaps the less desirable aspects of history present in the Singapore River. The poem does not directly mention what kind of undesirables are cleaned up or removed, but one can imagine the bumboats that have been destroyed or renovated to be more pleasing to the eye, or the shophouses along the river banks that have been demolished or again renovated for tourism and trade, along with the slime and pollution that mar the riverways.

    The poem then is warning against the overenthusiastic efforts to achieve progress in terms of technology and economics, through increased trade and tourism, at the expense of the river’s history.

  2. bloody siol nice shot ! alot nice info sia ~ good good good good 😀 wondapoo

  3. johnson

    can i know what is the irony used in this poem?

  4. johnson

    u don know me i just happen to find ur web

  5. evadam

    johnson:

    Irony is when something unexpected arises from something you have done.
    In this case, the river has been cleaned up to “give new life” but in the end, the operation was so thorough that they ended up erasing more than the dirt; they erased her history as well.

    It’s a case of something that was intended to be beneficial to the river turning into something that actually has negative repercussions instead.

    My suggesed answer to the last question in the comment below might be able to explain further:

    In order to achieve modern progress, one needs to clean up what is irrelevant to the process of modernisation, which includes the “detritus and slit”, metaphors of perhaps the less desirable aspects of history present in the Singapore River. The poem does not directly mention what kind of undesirables are cleaned up or removed, but one can imagine the bumboats that have been destroyed or renovated to be more pleasing to the eye, or the shophouses along the river banks that have been demolished or again renovated for tourism and trade, along with the slime and pollution that mar the riverways.

    The poem then is warning against the overenthusiastic efforts to achieve progress in terms of technology and economics, through increased trade and tourism, at the expense of the river’s history.

  6. Natasha

    Okay can i ask another question?

    It goes like this…

    (i)Explore the ways in which symbols are used to convey a larger truth about the world or human nature.

    (ii)What is the speaker’s attitude to what has happened?

  7. ABC123

    this is goog all the answers of my wk sht is here!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! MUAHAHAHAHA

  8. happykid

    what is te main message of the poem? explin and provide evidence from the text? 🙂

  9. Leslie

    what is the main message of this poem
    ?

  10. 123ABC

    WOO HOO . Answers!

  11. My homework is complete!

    Steve Jobs
    Founder of Apple

  12. I rock man!!!
    After all, that i-something in your hand was by me!

    Steve Jobs
    Founder of Apple

  13. makyounyelaki

    hi im pretty

  14. ching chong ling long ting tong suck my coconut

    when i read the poem suddenly i become smart sia wtf

  1. 1 Anne Lee Tzu Pheng | Singaporean Poetry

    […] Singapore River  […]




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