The Poem "Krungthep" or Bangkok

by Naowarat Pongpaiboon


The poem was written by a renown contemporary Thai poet, Naowarat Pongpaiboon (b. 1940).  Naowarat is also a SEAwrite Award winner.  The genre is what is called "Chan" (ฉัันท์) in Thai, an Indic-derived genre of poetry which is rather difficult to write for a native speaker of Thai.  

The beauty of the poem lies in the play on words in each line. As you listen, you can hear a lot of alliteration, such as in the repetition of initial /k-/ and  /kh-/ sounds and vowel rhymes. The use of words with long and short vowels and checked and smooth syllables creates a beautiful rhythm, and in turn portrays a vivid image of Bangkok. There is irony in the poem derived from its title:  "Krungthep" means "City of Angels." 

Structure & Meaning

The English translation is an attempt to help L2 learners understand the meaning of the poem as best as possible.  The poem is interestingly structured.  It describes the mixing of old and new in this city.  The persona, however, perceives this combination as chaotic and confusing rather than harmonious and synchronized.  This kind of combination is presented directly and immediately in the first stanza: chaos and disorder as เกลื่อนกลาด and กระจัดกระจาย in Lines 1 as well as คลุ้มคลุ้ม and ควัน in Line 4.  At the same time this persona calls Bangkok a "heavenly" city (เมืองฟ้า and นครสวรรค์) in line 2 and describes its bright "golden" (สุวรรณ) "light" (ไสวสว่าง) in line 3.  Yet, readers can perceive the messages that the persona wants to communicate in this stanza.  The original beauty and brightness (lines 2 and 3) is covered with chaos, gloom, and a smoggy backdrop (lines 1 and 4).

This message becomes clearer in stanza 2, where the persona asks whether the bright, beautiful side of the city can overcome its dark side.   Maybe not.  The persona's tone is very depressed and hopeless in the last line of this stanza when he describes the flowing of the Chao Praya river through the heart of the city (which is often used to symbolize the life of the city) and the setting of the sun over the city, a contrast of life and death.

Stanza 3 illustrates the persona's reasons for this hopelessness: the disorderly mixing of skyscrapers and monasteries (traditionally, no buildings are supposed to be higher than monasteries) and the 24-hour traffic jams.  Skyscrapers can also be viewed as a symbol of the new technological but disorderly material world, whereas monasteries stand for the old traditional and spiritual world.  The mixing of these two causes chaos, and sadly pollutes and ruins the land (แผ่นดินระร่อยละลายสลาย)

In the last stanza, the persona confirms that these corruptions are taking place all day and night.  The sad but true part is that this evidence is "unchangable" (มิผันมิแปร) 

Using the poem to increase your listening skill

This poem should be useful in terms of increasing your phonemic awareness, which in turns will improve your listening ability.  Words with short and long vowels like  คละ and คลา are placed closely so you can hear the difference between the two most similar vowels: short /-a/ and long /-aa/.  The use of sound symbolism and alliteration are present in this poemFor example the use of alliteration of syllable initial /kh-/ in


or the internal rhyme of "awe" as in the words  อมร and นคร in  เมืองฟ้าอมรนครสวรรค์ 
or external rhyme "ah" as in the words หล้า and ยา in

ฤๅกรองธุลีสลัว ณ หล้า

We hope that this kind of practice will help enhance your Thai language proficiency and appreciation of Thai poetry..

author & designer: Jenjit Gasigitamrong