In Sigiri, the legendary ancient capital of Sri Lanka, dating to the 5th century BC, there is a mountain on which, long ago, some unknown artists painted many portraits of beautiful women. Originally there were 500 of them, and it was probably the largest single work of visual art in the world.
Ever since—for over two millennia—tourists have come to admire them. It is properly one of the seven wonders of either the ancient or the modern world. Many have left short poems engraved in a nearbly part of the rock face called the “mirror wall”; this has become a tradition.
Some of the oldest have been translated into English by Dr Senerat Paranavitana. But these are my own “translations,” attempting my own reconstruction from his versions and those of several other translators since:
Though you are 1,500 years old, if you are a day,
You look younger than most women a fraction of your age.
Isn’t it amazing what can be done with a little paint?
You are so beautiful you are transparent;
And I can see through you to the heart
Of him who made you.
The hand that painted you loved you very much,
And that has made you beautiful.
I love you, and hopelessly:
I know you cannot be mine.
But I cannot bear these others, bald and sweaty,
You, up there on your mountain pedestal,
Half-undressed in front of all men’s eyes.
I will come to you again tonight
And will have brought with me a pot of ink…-- Stephen K. Roney