(A Dummy’s Guide to) The Kingswood Prologue

The Kingswood Prologue is a verse in Augustan Heroic meter, written annually to be recited at the school’s Prizegiving. This “recital”, we are told by Louis Blaze, was inspired by the prize day recitals that used to be a part in England’s Harrow School. The Prologue is written to be recited by the boy who wins the Senior (Grade 12-13) Oratory Prize each year. The first ever Prologue was written in 1895. Between 1895 and 1951, the Prologues were written by Blaze. Since Blaze’s demise, the Prologue is continued as a main — and unique — tradition, being written by a “ghost writer” and “sent” to the college, in time for the Prizegiving. There are no Prologues written between 1926-1933. Other than that, the prologue is a continued and sustained part of the Kingswood culture.

The Prologue, as mentioned earlier, is a verse written in the tradition of Augustan Heroic meter. There, of course, are a few exceptions to this rule — notably in the Prologues of the 1956 and 1964 — where different “ghost writers” have tried out “spooky” experiments; but, on the whole the original strain has been preserved and followed to this day. The Prologues by Blaze unfold as a commentary on society, the world and the school, with sharp and perceptive responses to yearly developments, both local and international. Writing at a time of colonial occupation, Blaze yet tables several critical propositions, which only shows the depth and level of commitment in this scholar cum school master.

For instance, in the Prologue of 1906 Blaze insists that Sinhala should be made the medium of instruction in schools. The Prologues between 1901 and 1914 are largely focused on growing changes in Colonial Ceylon, being perceptive to unrest, economic breakdown and the growing sense of “nationalism” across the country. Between 1920 and 1925, Blaze socializes strongly relevant commentaries on post-war Europe and its Ceylonese outpost. Blaze is equally concerned with Education, and he uses his Prologues to voice opinion on education policy, the need for reforms as well as on infrastructural issues that include teacher salaries and pension schemes.

His Prologues from the 1900s to the mid 1920s are fired with an enthusiasm and energy that looks forward to a “new age” and a “new education” — words which recur in the verses — as Blaze anticipates an independent Ceylon, coming out from a century and a half of British colonial occupation. However, from the mid 1930s, the tempo and the tone of the Prologue changes. In this period, there are several solemn and skeptical Prologues: almost as if the writer is uncertain and not-too-hopeful that the Ceylon he once anticipated would ever come to being. Blaze looks down on the rise of communalism, the debate over the “national language issue” etc: factors that creep into Ceylonese politics in the late 1930s. He also seems to be cowed by greater state involvement and regulation of education, with a politically-motivated centralized system coming into play in the 1930s.

The last Prologues written by Blaze between 1947 and 1951 are “tired Prologues”: almost as if the writer has resigned and withdrawn; as if he is merely keeping the “tradition” alive, with neither spark nor energy. We should also not forget that Blaze, by this time, was into his late 80s. He was 90 years old when he passed away, in 1951.

The post-Blaze Prologues is a mixed bag. With Kingswood passing off the hands of the Methodist Mission and being absorbed into the governmental scheme, we see many structural and atmospherical changes in the school between 1958 and the present. Some of these changes are well reflected in the Prologues, as well. For instance, the praising of politicians to the level of stooping low to sucking bum can be seen in one or two instances. Such instances are very few, to be honest, but stand out when they do occur. The Prologues of the 1950s record the uncertainty that Kingswood — as a private school — feels at a time of national change with the Bandaranaike-led “five-fold force” of 1956 bringing about a spree of nationalization schemes, which includes the nationalization of education. However, the Prologues continue to impart politically-perceptive and critically-informed opinions on many local and international issues, even in a context where Kingswood is placed under the governmental yoke.

Notably, the Prologues are very a-political and superficial in their reading of the Youth Uprise of 1971 and the JVP insurrection of 1987-89. The Prologue of 1984 makes no reference whatsoever to the anti-Tamil pogrom of 1983, while no references are made to the anti-Tamil riots in the late 1970s. A marginal reference is made to the Riot of 1958. The post-2009 after-war situation, however, is well within the Prologue Writer’s purview.

The Prologue of Kingswood has once been a much looked forward to document, for it was given publicity and circulation by the Press, while it was widely read by English reader circles. An elderly gentleman — a lawyer by profession — shared with me as to how teachers of his high school (an unspecified Colombo school), in the 1960s, used to teach Blaze’s Prologues in the classroom during English lessons. Today, the Prologue is one of the most unique of Kingswood’s relics: a yearly recital with a ritualistic significance and one with which Kingswood contributes to an evolving literary tradition. It is heard recited only by the boys, parents and dignitaries who attend the Prizegiving, alright: yet, it remains the most original contribution Kingswood has made to Ceylonese literature and culture.


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