The Tide's True Daughter: Saya Zawgyi’s The Hyacinth’s Way (Beida Lan) as an Ecological Text

John Charles Ryan

Research output: Contribution to conferenceOther


This paper provides an ecocritical analysis of the depiction of the aquatic environment in the
poetic sequence The Hyacinth‘s Way (or Beida lan, comprising poems originally published
separately in magazines between 1957 to 1981) by seminal Burmese writer Saya Zawgyi (born
Thein Han, 1907–1990). The forty-poem sequence narrates the ebbs and flows of the feminized
plant protagonist Ma Beda(or Miss Beda, a water hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes) as she drifts
along an unnamed waterway, in all probability the Pyapon River, a tributary of the Irrawaddy
River in Myanmar. At various moments in the sequence, the narrative is conveyed in the first
person, from Ma Beda‘s perspective as she relates experiences of exhilaration and triumph—while
negotiating fatigue and physical obstacles, such as whirlpools and logs—in her passage up and
down the river. Notwithstanding the sequence‘s prominent use of metaphor—principally, the
alignment of the plant‘s journey to Buddhist ideas of being—The Hyacinth‘s Way, at the same
time, demonstrates in-depth observational knowledge of riparian habitats, tidal rhythms,
interactions between the species inhabiting the tidal ecosystem, ethnobotanical relationships
between villagers and plants, and, arguably, the bioinvasive status of the hyacinth itself.
Developing an ecocritical approach to contemporary Burmese poetry and applying concepts from
the field of critical plant studies, the analysis characterizes The Hyacinth‘s Way as an
environmental text positioning the natural world as a chief subject of concern. While offering a
persuasive allegory for the contingencies of human life from a Buddhist perspective, the poem
concurrently underscores the fragility of freshwater aquatic ecosystems in South-east Asia. The
paper concludes that, through the compelling voice of Ma Beda, Zawgyi presents a message of
river conservation and the value of engendering respectful attitudes toward waterways and their
ecologies through the persuasiveness of poetic narratives.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages5
Publication statusPublished - 2016
EventThe 5th ELTLT International Conference Proceedings: English Language Teaching, Literature, and Translations - Semarang, Indonesia
Duration: 8 Oct 20169 Oct 2016


ConferenceThe 5th ELTLT International Conference Proceedings
Abbreviated titleELTLT
Internet address


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