The Literary Works of Siew-Yue Killingley - I

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Siew-Yue Killingley (née Leong) was born in Kuala Lumpur on 17th December 1940. She was educated at St. Mary's Girls' School (1947-57), where she was Captain of McNeil House and School Captain, the Victoria Institution (1958-59) and the University of Malaya. She graduated with honours in English in 1963 and then studied for an MA in Linguistics, awarded in 1966. She went on to study linguistics and phonetics at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, where she was a Forlong Scholar. In 1972 she was awarded a PhD for her work on Cantonese grammar. She has taught in schools in Malaysia (St. Mary's Girls' School and St. John's Institution in Kuala Lumpur; Methodist Girls' School in Klang; La Salle Boys' School in Petaling Jaya), at the University of Malaya, in various departments at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, and at Newcastle College (formerly College of Arts and Technology). She taught for nine years at St. Mary's College of Education, where she was Senior Lecturer in English, until she was made redundant when the college was closing down. This led her to found Grevatt & Grevatt in 1981. Since 1987 she has worked in the Centre for Lifelong Learning (formerly the Centre for Continuing Education) at the University of Newcastle, where she teaches linguistics and Chinese (Mandarin).

Flute imagery and technique are important motifs in her poetry. Inspired in childhood by an uncle who played the Chinese flute naturally, she became a dedicated student of the flute. She began studying the flute with Mahmuddin bin Ngah in Kuala Lumpur and continues to study it in Newcastle while playing in amateur groups.

Siew-Yue Killingley's book publications include the following: Song-pageant from Christmas to Easter, with Two Settings (with Percy Lovell); The Pottery Ring: A Fairy-tale for the Young and Old; In Sundry Places: Views of Durham Cathedral (awarded Second Prize in 1982 in a competition to mark the Ninth Centenary of Durham Cathedral); Where No Poppies Blow: Poems of War and Conflict; Lent and Easter Cycle: Poems for Meditation; Northumbrian Passion Play (performed to full houses in Newcastle in April 1999); Other Edens: Poems of Love and Conflict; English in Education: How the Linguist Can Help; Cantonese Classifiers: Syntax and Semantics; A New Look at Cantonese Tones: Five or Six?; Cantonese: Languages of the World/Materials 06; A Handbook of Hinduism for Teachers (with Dermot Killingley, Vivien Nowicki, Hari Shukla, and David Simmonds); Sanskrit: Languages of the World/Materials 18 (with Dermot Killingley); Learning to Read Pinyin Romanization and Its Equivalent in Wade-Giles: A Practical Course for Students of Chinese. She is a co-reviser of vols. 1 and 2 of Beginning Sanskrit: A Practical Course Based on Graded Reading and Exercises by Dermot Killingley (vol. 3 forthcoming).

Her published essays include the following: 'Lexical, semantic and grammatical patterning in Dylan Thomas (Collected Poems 1934-1952)'; 'Semantic opposition and equivalence in "The Wreck of the Deutschland"'; 'Peter Brook's film The Mahabharata: Hybrid language, race and culture in narrative discourse'; 'Time, action, incarnation: Shades of the Bhagavad-Gita in the poetry of T. S. Eliot'.

Only a small sample of Siew-Yue Killingley's diverse literary works can be presented in these Archives. It is in two parts. Further details of her works displayed here are listed in a catalogue at the end of this text.

Siew-Yue Killingley, the author of the excerpts below, hereby asserts and gives notice of her moral rights of paternity and integrity under sections 77 and 78 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of these excerpts taken from her unpublished and published works.

All rights reserved. No part of these excerpts may be reproduced or stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means: electronic, electrostatic, magnetic tape, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without written permission from the copyright holder, c/o Grevatt & Grevatt (see address in the catalogue below). Preliminary enquiries may be made via Chung Chee Min, to whom permission was granted on 16th March 2000 to reproduce these excerpts for the Victoria Institution Home Page.


1) Excerpt from Song-Pageant from Christmas to Easter, with Two Settings, p. 12. Published by Percy Lovell, Newcastle upon Tyne, 1981.

The garment © Siew-Yue Killingley 1977

In Brickfields, in his blind hovel
Crouches Ah Wong by owl-light,
Bonily sewing for ample frames
Cheongsams to gladden the sight
Of shining soft brocade.
Some poor man made a garment,
Not of rich brocade.
It grew mockingly kingly
And wrapped your pain-wracked frame
Until stripped off as dressing,
It undressed your unbroken bones.

Ah Wong's bones are your very bones;
His lean sufferings are your own
Garment, flesh stripped bare to the bone.

2) Excerpt from In Sundry Places, p. 5; see Catalogue, no. 2.

Remembrance Sunday  © Siew-Yue Killingley 1977

I am too young and unscathed to fully remember
The grim meaning of Remembrance Sunday.
But for many this pretty poppy will never
Be a mere symbol of a happy summer's day.

For many have suffered who now sharpen their memory
On the black whetstone of past hate and fear
Stocked in their lifetime with the armoury
Of war, to be trotted out for inspection each year.

Still, I am not too young to sometimes remember
The meaning of love's daily trial and dying.
And this red emblem worn so bravely forever
Recalls for me the death of mankind, lying

For centuries on our hands, a red reminder
Of the blood we spill daily from a true nature
Flush in the wine but drained in the blanched wafer
Donated to us to help us bravely remember

To emulate the warrior whose soul fought his body,
Cringing in human fear from the enveloping sea
Of pain as he offered up his own blood and body,
Saying, 'Do this in remembrance of me.'

3) Excerpts from Where No Poppies Blow, pp. 54, 53, 16; see Catalogue, no. 1.

Recall the last trumpet  © Siew-Yue Killingley 1980

In a white darkness of dawn,
A bland sun bathes the wounds
Of a star-shattered world.
And an erstwhile Sunday red
With the sunny poppy of the dead
Of two world wars is blacked out
Of experience. Not one dismembered
Member of dishonoured mankind
Is buttonholed to trumpet the bland
Blasphemy of man's sleight of hand
In remembering the fast dead members
Of a past living world of wars.
Achieve the impossible,
And remember the future
(A new Hiroshima)
Where no poppies blow.

CND march  © Siew-Yue Killingley 1981

In Flanders fields the poppies blew;
We march in memory, two by two,
And mark our place. In time the sky
Will shroud no birds; no vultures fly
Above the quaintly dead below,
Rosy in man-made sunset glow,
All love reduced to fiction's lie,
More cunningly complete than Flanders fields.

In Flanders fields, if we had died,
The living poppies would prove we'd tried
To mark our place as men of peace.
But in the future, life's release
Will not be marked by grave or flower.
And silent minutes will have no power
To sound the last post for peace,
More hollow than the lie of Flanders fields.

Fragments  © Siew-Yue Killingley 1983

Rhythmic chanting
Of that glib syllabary:
ka, ki, ku, ke, ko,
sa, si, su, se, so
Hypnotic, soporific,
Mystical, poetic.
Then dinner time,
And another attack.
But this time,
While sirens shrieked
And the world splintered
Like glass, we squatted
Or sat under our large
Dinner table. My dinner
Shook in my tin plate
With a pretty red border,
And jerked out like syllables
Of grain on the floor.
Eyes reproved,
Speech being useless.
Discouraged or frightened,
I let my plate crash
Food-downwards on to concrete
With a louder percussion
Than any explosion
Of those obtrusive
Japanese-British gifts
Falling about our ears
To the poetic cadence of non-speech:
ka, ki, ku, ke, ko,
sa, si, su, se, so,
a, b, c, d, e.

4) Excerpts from Sound, Speech, and Silence, pp. 17, 14, 9, 3, 19, 69, 25, 63, 10; see Catalogue, no. 3.

Peng Ai © Siew-Yue Killingley 1976


Peng ai  © Siew-Yue Killingley 1976

Youle shi duo nian qian
Women meiyou jianmian
Xianzai ni gaosu wo
Ni ming nian lai kan wo
Hen hao hen hao wo shuo
Xinwen duo
Haizi zhangda
Xinli shuo
Ni shenme pa
Pa women yi jianmian
Zhidao bushi yiqian

Line by line translation

Friendship  © Siew-Yue Killingley 1976

More than ten years have passed
Since we last met.
Now you tell me
That next year you're coming to see me.
'Wonderful', I say.
There'll be lots of news.
The children are growing up.
In my heart I ask,
'What are you afraid of?'
I'm afraid that as soon as we meet
We'll know that now is not then.

1. In the four Chinese poems in the book [Sound, Speech, and Silence], the character text is accompanied in each case by a transliteration in Mandarin using Pinyin romanization, omitting tone marks. This is followed by the English translation

My Love Asleep  © Siew-Yue Killingley 1978

When my love is quietly sleeping,
All the living years become
A human train of time-traps
Caught in the frail crook of my arm.

I wind my numbing arm to cloak
My love, to shield that human head.
And see the end of living fears,
Asleep in the tunnel of the dead.

But time's trap will snap this human frame
And crack my cold arm with lead.
And bind my life across those rails,
Caught stiff by the tyranny of the dead.

Weighing the past  © Siew-Yue Killingley 1987

Now what did she think of
The length of each long day
And repeated lengths of night?
She did not speak much
But to order in quiet tones
The required meals of the day;
Or, if it could be called speech,
To murmur some syllables to the dead
While sticking pungent incense
In the jar outside her door.
(For silence in a woman or wife
Was much prized by the Chinese.)
When she did speak, it was Cantonese.
Did she use it then when praying
To her Hakka-speaking husband—
Long-dead before I was born—
Morning and evening at incense-time?
Yes, she was chained to the past,
But also ordered the present
To the end that new happenings
Would be linked to that past.
How else could she endure
Our indifference to incense,
Polite boredom with stories
Of a world all unknown,
Of dead Grandfather's exploits
In healing and in learning?
Her parcel of the past
She tied up in her present.
And so she measured in steps
The length of her sitting-room
In her silence of incense,
In near-silence of days
And the silence of nights,
Weighing thoughts of her past
In blank scales of the present.

The Mourners: Maundy Thursday  © Siew-Yue Killingley 1988

One had lost her son in the war;
Another had some unspeakable sorrow;
Others clasped friends in fixed poses
Of pain forever frozen in my brain.
Some were dead and should be decently covered,
But were resurrected for the world to view.
Speechless, frozen, these stills are stolen
From subjects whose griefs once had meaning
Now erased in these bland tokens of betrayal.

A Kiss  © Siew-Yue Killingley 1989

They asked me bashfully, 'Is it sinful to kiss?'
How could I possibly ever answer this?
We were all young together, though I
To them was old at twenty-five—and wise,
They thought, or else they wouldn't have asked me.

How complex it was to consider a kiss.
Their up-turned faces wanted plain certainties:
Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, non-Catholics, atheists
Receiving 'Moral Instruction'; they were eighteen,
So above all they wanted my answer to this.

'It partly depends on whether you enjoy it',
I tentatively began, 'and whether the other person
Wants it.' Some boys beamed at this, but one
Serious girl reproved me for levity, for this
Was 'Moral Instruction': surely it was sinful to kiss?

Why had I thought I could teach these young hearts,
Eager for one answer to a question so complex?
I envied the Brothers taking Catholic pupils
Elsewhere through their catechism, so cut and dried,
Brothers Celestine, Cornelius, Damian, so true and tried.

Here we were all young, and had our narrow vision
Fixed on just one aspect of a wide teasing genre.
Unknowingly I might have given them the right answer,
Though none of us knew exactly what we were about,
And didn't consider complications that are plain to me now.

Did Judas enjoy that kiss, which Christ received with pain?
Does such kissing make the kisser wish to kiss again?
At baptism does the priest enjoy kissing bald heads
Of infants; and do those babies want to be kissed?
Do we assure ourselves and others by persistent kissing
On greeting and leave-taking that all is well
Though all that remains between us is hardness of shell
Glossing relationships that once didn't depend on kissing
To replace the essence of all that is now missing?

Now I have learnt, too late to impart to them,
Not to give pain by refusing to receive kisses
Of habit, both public and private; but I'll not kiss
Unless I wish to impart, and another to receive, pure bliss.
If 'sin' must come in, let it rest in insincerity.

Tiananmen, June 1989  © Siew-Yue Killingley 1989

Old men should not beget
More children lest they forget
Their mortality and invest
Their last throw for wisdom
In a last show of virility.

But these old men have begotten
Death on children, their youth forgotten:
Such immortality's like incest;
Their last throe of folly
Is their last word to manhood.

Old men have pressed to earth
Youth's bloom and sap at birth,
And choked its trusting cries
And crushed young minds with lies
Of love in a crunch of tanks.

When the blinding folly of old men
Makes them frantic for the death of heirs,
Tian has no eyes, an is dead in Tiananmen,
And hope blinks at its last grey hairs.

Petaling Jaya  © Siew-Yue Killingley 1990

A drop of sound in the dusk
Of dawn, the muezzin's call
Moans faintly through loudspeakers
To the lonely accompaniment of cockcrow.

Both swell the air with echoes
Of pure sound for a brief bar
Before the fierce day descends
In a hot prison of noise and cars.

Flute and Strings  © Siew-Yue Killingley 1994

Awake, my flute, and struggle for a part
         With all your art.
The cross taught all wood their strings
         His suffering rings;
And taught what key to play the theme
Of lament, to lose, to rise, redeem.

It is written wood alone can speak
         And reach that peak
Where their taut strings twist a song
         Three days long
To suffer their strings to sound discords
In likeness of taut arms nailed to boards.

But though the sleeping flute can only play
         With slow delay
When warmed and wakened to sound and sing
         With throated ring,
It can be taught to speak in highest speech
The deepest laments that speech can teach.

As from the tree a pinned bird's call
Can touch more quickly than its later fall,
His throat, a cold flute, in final call
Sings unlike strings, but sings his all.

Chinese New Year Cards © Siew-Yue Killingley 1995

The New Year cards started coming in
From the tropics with greetings of abundance
In spring, accompanied by foot and mouth-
Drawn pictures of old men and gold-fish
Signifying longevity and teeming wealth.
I reciprocate with cards from Great Wall
Supermarket to my relations in the tropics
Wishing them the same, cards framed
In oriental blossom of red Chinese plum,
Auspiciously blushing at their quaint orientalism
In their English setting in Percy Street;
And I remember the yearly elaborate meals
And how I was bewildered that we celebrated
The passing of the winter solstice
With abundance of winter roots
And other Chinese dainties
In the very middle of a hot
And blinding Malayan day.

5) Excerpts from Lent and Easter Cycle, pp. 6, 8, 10, 15, 22; see Catalogue, no. 4.

Day 11: Orpheus in the Underworld: Overturning Psalm 58  © Siew-Yue Killingley 1997

Once again a polarization of good and evil,
Guilt and innocence in an overturned judgment
Of a murder buried in most people's minds
But embedded still in the family's snake-bite,
Clutching at the shades of their utter loss.
This chant sounds like a turbulent movement,
A throbbing judgment even from the first
Opening chords jabbing high notes which try
Both singer and listener, pushed along
By the press of its sustaining accompaniment,
Straining to achieve its elusive melody,
Plucking a discordant alpha to keep in tune.

Day 16: Tiananmen revisited  © Siew-Yue Killingley 1997

Hidden from public view in some grey mausoleum
Of the imagination, he suddenly flowered
Grimly in colour on screens and in photographs,
The centrepiece of a clearly orchestrated
Funeral overture to an enigmatic future—
This stern old master of total control
Who'd composed and executed with consummate skill
The massacre of youthful voices in full bloom.
And as elderly men weep for camera's sake,
A young child sees, and does the same.

Day 22: Still-life from Eden © Siew-Yue Killingley 1997

Hand in hand they left that still greenness
Of Eden lost behind them, remembered only
In bright depictions in dim art galleries
Or in the sobering books of Paradise Lost
Framing the vanished beauty of their love.

By the willows of their dried-up Babylon,
Tongue-tied and sewn-up in strange fig-leaves,
Harping a refrain on their vanished garden,
They sat and listened to Haydn's Creation
And wept at the textured replay of their loss.

Day 31: A Chinese folk-song  © Siew-Yue Killingley 1997

From another North East, in Jiangsu province,
Out of its time and setting, her low voice
Sang warm notes through my silver flute;
Showed her watching for her long-lost love
Sent far from her to the looming tyranny
Of the man-swallowing lengths of the Great Wall.
Her music mourns each passing month,
Even in this transcription for my Western flute,
With notes from nothing set in black and white.
Her lament swells with tiny off-beat notes
Gracing the looming distance from her love,
Marking her time with timeless truth.

Easter Monday: The Easter garden  © Siew-Yue Killingley 1997

How to present the dark handling
Of human minds and hearts
Throughout time's Lenten season
To the final trumpet of Easter
In a miniature paradigm of Eden
For the children to enter lightly
Into the sufferings of their Lord?
So we made them this pretty garden.

Some admired the spring flowers
And some the purple heather,
Peering into the tiny sepulchre
And fingering lightly the ring
Of thorns on the empty cross.
They saw and they believed
That in some funny grown-up way
Easter eggs came out from that garden.

6) An excerpt from Northumbrian Passion Play, p. 29 (Mary's lament); see Catalogue, no. 5.

Mary's lament in Act 3, Scene 2: Gethsemane  ©  Siew-Yue Killingley 1997

Mary, picked out by a spotlight, enters from the opposite direction. She mimes holding the infant Jesus.

Lay your infant head, my love,
For a time and season on my arm.
Let's pose, in paintings like this, my dove,
Before you fly from me to harm.

Do not allay your heavy sorrows
By sleeping on this stony ground,
For the rock will weep when the cock crows
And your love with thorns is crowned.

I cannot lay your drooping head
Against my arm or heart or breast.
My child no longer, I'll sing instead
A dirge to lay you to your rest.

7) Excerpts from Other Edens: Poems of Love and Conflict, pp. 17, 32, 35, 37; see Catalogue, no. 6.

The Wedding Couple ©  Siew-Yue Killingley 2000

Created as a new-born pair of creatures
Made the one wholly for the other,
They pose in their quaint wedding finery
For the strange joy of united families,
All enmities both great or small
On their part quite invisible to view
And only sensed in the veiled remark
Oddly strewn among the glowing flowers
That seat placements could've been better
Managed. But they, this shining pair,
Walk in the light of their own fire,
Certain that they will never lie down
On a bed of sorrowful lies and estrangement.
They will never wax old as a garment
And neither moth nor hate nor death
Shall ever in time swallow them up.

The Emmaus Road ©  Siew-Yue Killingley 2000

Endlessly talking round the disaster
Now gripping Kosovo, they journeyed onward
And mourned the death of peace
Which the enemy had blindly unleashed,
And, heads down to their road of destruction,
Talked of "taking the gloves off"
To deal yet more futile blows for peace.
Thus absorbed, they looked ever inwards
Into the fast-darkening tunnels of war,
So that even when Christ met them halfway
At the death of day, holding up clearly
The refugees' broken hearts as bread
To pull them back into his story,
They brushed him off lightly
As yet another irrelevant casualty
Of what was after all a just war.

Afternoon ©  Siew-Yue Killingley 2000

In retrospect, we look back coldly on the river
Of events flowing ineluctably from our actions.
In Kosovo, euphoria at Nato's 'sure-win' victories
Feeding the tide of popular caring for refugees.
But now, in the deepening dusk of the sixth hour,
That tide is turning: As women threaten to wash
Our windscreens with tears, babies burdened on their backs,
We suspect they've sold our sympathy down the river.

Dawn ©  Siew-Yue Killingley 2000

We sift through rivers of newsprint for some dim reality,
Still veiled like the Tyne in the first greyness of dawn.
How puny our progress in this past week of watching,
Calling on a dying Christ to stem the tide
Of hate in Zimbabwe, renewing our baptisms in the stream
Of dying orphans, intoning "Somalia, Ethiopia",
Beguiling sounds unreflected in the blank old eyes
Of near-skeletons blind to Easter treats.

Ode to the Victoria Institution
on Intimations of Mortality from Recollections of Youth

There was a time when classrooms, labs, and huge
   Green playing fields seemed to me
   To be cloaked in an all-excluding light,
   Surrounding my dim candle wits like a bell-jar.

With my St. Mary’s eyes, I timidly peered about,
   Gingerly feeling those invisible walls
   With my novice hands, like a nun out of convent
   Telling her beads with a rosary of tears.

   For at St. Mary’s, a bright bunsen burner
   That lit and worked was an event for joy.
Now I admired and dreaded equally the delicate
   Mystery of the chemical balance which the adept
   Turned with such cunning art and sophistication,
But which in my timid untutored hands, trembled
Uncertainly, its dainty beam crashing to the echo
Of the sarcastic physics master’s loud bellow.

But then I savoured the joy of biology classes,
   Where the barmaidish mistress had a large heart
   That softened her sometimes severe rebukes,
   Rivetting our minds with the mysteries of her science.

At the Sungei Buloh Leper Colony, where the grim marriage
   Of deformity to blindness made me weep
   At my own sight, and our common mortality,
   She surprised me with no rebukes, just a hug.

A more carefree school trip was to the fisheries in Malacca—
   A pre-dawn journey by third-class rail,
   Then sleeping on hard conjoined desks were treats
   That only youth and spontaneous friendships understood.

Botanical drawings honed my poetic craft;
Formaldehyde-steeped dissections showed me mortality.
   On hot afternoons we retreated to the border
   Of trees round the vast playing fields,
   And there I escaped from my fears of failure
   As we collected leaves and fruit for botany.
   What magic and poetry I found in their shapes
   And their botanical names, as I flew with wings
   On the wind with the delicately-winged angsana,
   A respite from knowledge of certain failure
   In physics-with-chemistry, of which I knew nothing,
   Though fascinated with the symmetry of molecular structure.
   I was charmed by the tall ever-yielding trees,
   And completely drawn into the dark quiet womb
   Of the library, where I was no longer a stranger,
   Remembering my earlier VI days
   Of French classes, where learning was like play.
   Then I wondered how to lift the heavy bell-jar
   Surrounding me as I fought for air to survive
   In the drowning atmosphere of my vast ignorance.

Then by some miracle of schooling, the inspired insight
Of various masters, coupled with capricious fate,
Contrived to lift me suddenly out of my prison.
   With delicate tact, the chemistry master
   Showed some of us our sure ‘suicide course’,
   And I entered the new world of the arts stream,
   Where the kindness and learning of yet other teachers
   Guided me with welcome into a familiar haven
   Where learning was once more like play again.
History was no longer the Commonwealth, but China, India,
And even South-East Asia, where I actually lived!
English was just doing more what came naturally,
And even Economics and Principles of Government made sense
When taught by Mr. Doraisamy, so gentle, polite and tolerant.
   There was time left over for frivolities like concerts—
   The candle-dance, songs—and amateur dramatics.
   I was no longer a gasping fish out of water,
   Nor a parched oyster out of its gaping shell.

So thank you, you solid and sturdy Victoria Institution.
I never came near to fulfilling your colonial promise.
   I never played rugby or cricket for you—
   I tried hurdles, but was never in any danger
As I hurtled past, knocking some to the ground,
Of winning a prize that would have baffled me,
Since at St. Mary’s we only won abstract points
For the House, and pinned our reusable bright ribbons
Proudly on House banners on annual sports days.
Not for me to shine in inter-school debates
While throwing out casually a learned phrase or two
Gleaned from an obscure copy of Hansard, and thus
Winning cups and shields for the glory of the school.
I never shone like those whose illustrious names
Adorn your book, gleaming like a distant galaxy.
Nevertheless, you harboured potential failures like me,
   Allowing us to watch in wonder from the sidelines,
Growing up in our own makeshift way, mindful of mortality.

© Copyright Siew-Yue Killingley
15th July 2002

[ Part II - The Short Stories of Siew-Yue Killingley ]

A catalogue of Siew-Yue Killingley's literary works may be viewed at:
Grevatt & Grevatt Catalogue

VI The V.I. Web Page

Created on 27 August 2000.
Last update on 17 July 2003.