Jurassic Gardens

October 6, 2010

This poem first appeared in Gwee Li Sui’s Who Wants to Buy a Book of Poems? (1998) and reappeared in Who Wants to Buy an Expanded Edition of a Book of Poems? (2015). It is also featured in the anthology &Words: Poems Singapore and Beyond (2010) and the Singapore Memory portal. The commentary at the end is written as part of a guide for teachers in Singapore.

Jurassic Gardens

There is a dinosaur in the Botanic Gardens, but one does not usually see it.
It conceals itself very well behind the flora, observing lovers, strollers and poets,
and joggers out for a release from a day’s direction of the mind, old couples who sit
by the pond, water-lilied, ploughed by silent swans, and the trees driven by some ancient mallets
into the ground – but they are now good friends, standing where they have always stood, waving their arms.
There, is the kapok tree, a giant’s umbrella overturned and gathering rained cotton.
There, are the cannonball trees of strange whiff and thin wiring boughs, walling in Miss Joaquim’s charms.
The Caribbean royal palms stand in two files like terracottas of a lost battalion.
The old gum braces lean and fair; and nearby bends the Italian cypress to a cool lawn;
and the grand, gouty paper-bark tree is now a patriarch of bright-dimpled flying insects
and of the common birds, shedding everywhere with glad age. Those prehistoric farms live on,
whose only farmer they know and love all these years is a creature who speaks all their dialects –
all half a million of them, whispered across the forty-seven hectares of this haven.
It walks daily through the Gardens with a farmer’s smile, pruning or drinking the morning’s dew.
Of course, there is a dinosaur here, although you may not see it; but if you come often,
you will sense its heart turn with pride; and while you may not see it, you will know it has seen you.

Gwee Li Sui

This poem celebrates the quiet legacy of the Singapore Botanic Gardens. The idea of having one was first given shape on Fort Canning Hill by Sir Stamford Raffles, who was a keen naturalist. The current version began some thirty years later in 1859 and was founded by the Agri Horticultural Society. Its early landscape design is still visible today although the area has since doubled in size to nearly 64 hectares. During my poem’s writing in the mid-1990s, it stood at 47 hectares.

What the poem presents is a verbal map of a stroll in the Gardens. It describes a sample of the species of trees in their order of appearances; it also addresses the subtly different feelings one may experience. Human, animal, and plant life are shown to coexist in harmony here, and the divine force that tends to this Eden is a symbolic dinosaur. The dinosaur stands for a kind of ancient but invisible presence that preserves order and sustains life. It is also an image of the unnamed gardeners and public administrators who look after the Gardens.

The title only alludes in passing to Michael Crichton’s novel-turned blockbuster film Jurassic Park. My idea is more to present a microcosm where things need not have to disappear or grow weak with time or be subjected to the laws of natural and social Darwinism. The Gardens is, for me, a time-resisting space, but it also transcends geographic spaces, bringing together the contributions of different regions. I am certainly dreaming of a more wholesome Singapore, the Garden City, in the writing. My dinosaur comes from such a dream: in reality, it is a bush pruned into the shape of a dinosaur that can be found within the Gardens.

Gwee Li Sui

One Response to “Jurassic Gardens”

  1. […] Li Sui Gwee.’ Jurassic Gardens’ Who Wants to Buy a Book of Poems (1998). Retrieved from: https://gweek.wordpress.com/2010/10/06/jurassic-gardens/ […]

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