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Category Archives: Analysis of Poems.

Analysis of all the poems in the Edexcel O level Specification (2008)

Poetry Analysis: An Unknown Girl- Moniza Alvi.

In the evening bazaar
Studded with neon
An unknown girl
Is hennaing my hand
She squeezes a wet brown line
Form a nozzle
She is icing my hand,
Which she steadies with her
On her satin peach knee.
In the evening bazaar
For a few rupees
An unknown girl is hennaing my hand
As a little air catches
My shadow stitched kameez
A peacock spreads its lines
Across my palm.
Colours leave the street
Float up in balloons.
Dummies in shop-fronts
Tilt and stare
With their western perms.
Banners for Miss India 1993
For curtain cloth
And sofa cloth
Canopy me.
I have new brown veins.
In the evening bazaar
Very deftly
An unknown girl
is hennaing my hand
I am clinging
To these firm peacock lines
Like people who cling
to sides of a train.
Now the furious streets
Are hushed.
I’ll scrape off
The dry brown lines
Before I sleep,
Reveal soft as a snail trail
The amber bird beneath.
It will fade in a week.
When India appears and reappears
I’ll lean across a country
With my hands outstretched
Longing for the unknown girl
In the neon bazaar.

An Unknown Girl is about Moniza Alvi’s attempt to find her place in a country to which she does belong to but which she cannot call her own.

The poems starts with a description of the setting: it is an evening in a market place where neon signs are the main source of lightening. As the persona sits, perhaps in a stall, getting her hand decorated by henna by a mysterious ‘unknown’ girl who works for a few rupees. As time passes and colors fade away, the persona imagines that the mannequins in the shop windows are staring at her. As the design is completed and a peacock unfurls its feathers on the palm of her hand, the persona feels that she has achieved a new identity, with the henna running in her veins. She desperately tries to hold on to the intricate lines of henna unwilling to let go and she thinks that despite the fact that when she removes the dried henna from her palm that night and even when the design fades away in a week, she will still remember the experience, the feeling of belonging, and long for it in her dreams.

This poem is written in free verse but makes use of many other literary techniques to further emphasize the message. Ethnic words such as ‘bazaar’, ‘henna’, ‘shalwar kameez’ give an exotic feel to the place, which one finds out later is a market place in India. The girl who is applying the henna comes across as almost sensual in her mysteriousness: she is a deft worker, clad in satin, artistically creating designs and patterns. The passing of time is described in a metaphor which again because of the implicit imagery provoke the reader’s senses: ‘the colors which float up in balloons.’ This creates a gradually darkening atmosphere as it grows late and the evening turns to night.

The contradictory feelings that the persona feels as she sits in the bazaar are brilliantly portrayed in the metaphorical description of the dummies with western perms turning their heads and staring at the persona as she tries her best to fit into a culture not quite her own. At this point it is safe to assume that the persona depicted is Alvi herself. Having origins in two different countries-Pakistan and Britain, but having been brought up in London, Alvi might as well be writing about herself when she talks of a girl who tries desperately to find her roots in an almost foreign culture, a fact which becomes evident in the metaphoric statement that she has ‘brown veins.’

The year becomes evident as a contrast is presented between the previous traditional scene by the description of the banners of ‘Miss India’ which adorn the street. Alvi feels such a sense of belonging at the time, sitting in that bazaar that she feels like as if the curtain cloth hanging in the windows of shops is covering her, engulfing and accepting her. She tries to hold on to this feeling metaphorically describing her unwillingness to let go similar to that of those people who ride on the sides of trains, as is common for villagers to do in India and Pakistan.
Again the passage of time is described by the fading of noise, proving the auditory sense of the reader. The previous hum of activity described recedes as the bazaar becomes quiet and the future tense is used to show Alvi’s thoughts as she muses on how despite the fact that the color on her hand will fade away, she shall always remember the time she felt that she really belonged to her country, and will yearn for the reoccurrence of the feeling in her dreams.

After analyzing the poem at great depth it becomes apparent that the title is not only for the girl who is applying the henna, who remains unnamed and therefore unknown throughout. Rather it can also define the persona, and thus Moniza Alvi herself, as she is a stranger amidst her own people on account of having lived her whole life elsewhere.

The dilemma which she is faced with is in today’s world a common phenomenon with bi-cultural marriages becoming more and more common. What Alvi feels, the sense of detachment from either of the two countries she belongs to is something that most of us can relate to as we are the generation which was born to parents who immigrated to other countries and therefore have lived all our lives in a foreign home. Such people do not feel that they wholly belong anywhere. The place where they have lived all their lives and that which they call home isn’t really enough as they would always have a different set of origins calling out to them; and the quest to find one’s roots and culture leaves one not only dissatisfied, but also all the more desolate and alone. Neither country will whole heartedly accept them, nor can they accept only one country. They are torn between two worlds, two different realities, each of which constitutes half of their identity. Thus their sense of self is shaken, and even lost as their identities are torn apart, distanced by oceans and deserts.

 
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Posted by on May 28, 2012 in Analysis of Poems., LIterature

 

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Poetry Analysis: Disabled, Wilfred Owen.

This is a poem done on request for Manda. Hope you and all others who are looking for it find it useful.

Disabled

He sat in a wheeled chair, waiting for dark,
And shivered in his ghastly suit of grey,
Legless, sewn short at elbow. Through the park
Voices of boys rang saddening like a hymn,
Voices of play and pleasure after day,
Till gathering sleep had mothered them from him.

About this time Town used to swing so gay
When glow-lamps budded in the light blue trees,
And girls glanced lovelier as the air grew dim,-
In the old times, before he threw away his knees.
Now he will never feel again how slim
Girls’ waists are, or how warm their subtle hands.
All of them touch him like some queer disease.

There was an artist silly for his face,
For it was younger than his youth, last year.
Now, he is old; his back will never brace;
He’s lost his colour very far from here,
Poured it down shell-holes till the veins ran dry,
And half his lifetime lapsed in the hot race
And leap of purple spurted from his thigh.

One time he liked a blood-smear down his leg,
After the matches, carried shoulder-high.
It was after football, when he’d drunk a peg,
He thought he’d better join. – He wonders why.
Someone had said he’d look a god in kilts,
That’s why; and maybe, too, to please his Meg,
Aye, that was it, to please the giddy jilts
He asked to join. He didn’t have to beg;
Smiling they wrote his lie: aged nineteen years.

Germans he scarcely thought of; all their guilt,
And Austria’s, did not move him. And no fears
Of Fear came yet. He drought of jewelled hills
For daggers in plaid socks; of smart salutes;
And care of arms; and leave; and pay arrears;
Esprit de corps; and hints for young recruits.
And soon, he was drafted out with drums and cheers.

Some cheered him home, but not as crowds cheer Goal.
Only a solemn man who brought him fruits
Thanked him; and then enquired about his soul.

Now, he will spend a few sick years in institutes,
And do what things the rules consider wise,
And take whatever pity they may dole.
Tonight he noticed how the women’s eyes
Passed from him to the strong men that were whole.
How cold and late it is! Why don’t they come
And put him into bed? Why don’t they come?

Wilfred Owen

Analysis:

Owen’s ‘Disabled’ explores the effects of war on those who live through it by comparing the present life of an injured soldier to his past hopes and accomplishments.

The first stanza starts with the depressing description of a lone man sitting in a wheelchair, in a park, being unable to walk or indulge in any of the activities involving exercise going around him. His is dressed formally, but his suit is cut at the waist, which shows that he has lost his legs, and he waits helplessly, listening to the voices of young children which sadden him, as they remind him of something he can’t ever have again.
Then he remembers what his life had been like before his injury: at this time of the night, after the work had been done for the day, the town had come to life at night. He remembers how the streets used to light up and how the girls would become more inviting and alluring. He regrets losing his legs, for he knows that he will never again dance holding a woman, or feel their soft slight touches, as they now only touch him out of pity, like as if he is a strange abnormality in their normal life.
He remembers once there was such vitality, such sheer life in him that an artist had been insistent on drawing his face, for just a year ago, it spoke of innocence and clarity of heart. But now his face has become withered with experience and sorrow, and he can’t even support himself, both literally and figuratively. He has become pale, as if all his life had been leached out of him through the wound on his thighs, and he feels that half of his life is already over.
He remembers how before he had become disabled, he had been a renowned football player, and had been proud of the blood smear on his leg which had resulted from a match, and how the crowd had carried him on their shoulders, celebrating his valor and excellence. It was after such a match itself that, drunk on alcohol, pride and his success, he had thought first of enlisting in the army, just to appear more manlike to the ladies as someone had suggested he would look dashing in a uniform. Thus out of mere pride and vanity, had he joined the war, even going as far as to lie about his age: a fact that shows one that the ex-soldier in discussion might still be a very young man, maybe only in his early twenties.
The motive behind joining the war is questioned, as the soldier remembers that he had never ben patriotic enough to care much about the invading Germans or Austrians, and he had been young and naïve enough to not be afraid of fear yet. He had thought only of the distant lands he would travel to; the honor and glory associated with the army; the excitement and exhilaration of holding a gun and hiding a dagger; and the pride of giving a smart salute. He was drafted and sent overseas with much ado; lots of people cheered and celebrated his valor and courage, reminiscent of the football matches he had won.
The soldier is rudely brought back to reality as he remembers how out of the many people who had applauded his departure, few had been there on his return, and all his accomplishments in the war were forgotten as instead of encouraging his deeds, the people pitied his loss, and the fame and glory he had expected were denied him. Only a sole aged man visits him now and inquires about his life and health.
It is now that sitting alone in the park, noticing how women’s eyes pass over him after glancing at him piteously, to men who are still whole and complete, the ex-soldier thinks about his future. He knows he will live in an institute were there will be people to take care for him, and he will do as they say, following their rules to live the rest of his life. He wonders in the end helplessly, that why has no one come looking for him, to put him to bed. It has grown late and cold, but there is nothing the man can do to protect and warm himself, except hope and pray that someone would remember him and take care of him.

Disabled is a potent and strong poem because of mainly the style and structure that Owen has used. Harsh words are used subtly to emphasize meaning behind the poem: the man is wearing a ‘ghastly suit of grey’, showing his morbid and depressed state of mind; sleep ‘mothers’ him from the laughter and noises of young boys, suggesting that he no longer finds the pleasures of life worth living for and prefers the temporary respite sleep provides. He regrets ‘throwing’ away his knees, suggesting and later confirming that the ideas and inspirations behind joining the war were not as patriotic or loyal as they should have been, and his vanity only has now left him a cripple. The girls all touch him like a ‘queer’ disease: the word ‘queer’ had started being used to describe homosexuals, so to think his social standing is the same as those considered, in those times, to be an unnatural blasphemy, is extremely revealing on how people think of disabled people. The imagery of his life bleeding out of him through the wound on his thigh, and the use of the word ‘purple’, a colour denoting life and vitality, shows that the ordeal the soldier had gone through when he had been injured had a deep impact on him, as he no longer feels alive or has any desire to live. The analogy drawn between playing sports and being a soldier in a war, though by no means new, is nevertheless effective. Along with highlighting the egoistic and vain motives the man had for joining the army, it also acts as a reminder to him that his pride had caused him the exact thing he had been proud of: he would never again run in a field or score a winning goal, he would never again be praised for being a hero; only pitied endlessly for being a cripple. The things which he used to boast about: the wounds received in a match, and being carried on the shoulders of his team mates; have become permanent sources of sorrow: he no longer has his legs, and cannot help but be carried around helplessly. This contrast is both chilling and distressing.

The structure of the poem: the frequent switches between present and past and the juxtaposition of remembrance and realization casts a harsh light on everything the soldier has lost. Each stanza starts with describing the soldier’s present conditions and then compares it to his past life, or vice versa. The final stanza however depicts what he thinks his future holds for him: a life lived by rules set by other people, a life of utter dependency and helplessness.

Considering Owen’s own discharge from the army due to neurological problem, the poem carries considerable weight as it must have been written from direct observation. Perhaps this is why the words ring so true: the man in the wheelchair had been no patriotic passionate youth ready to die for his country. Rather he had been, more realistically, a vain and egoistic man seeking glory and recognition through the war, caring only of how he would look in uniform, and how the fairer sex would react to him. There are no medals and endless people doting on him when he returns disfigured and destroyed: there is only a wheelchair, and a few people with pitiful looks. Instead of celebrating his heroism and applauding his contribution to the war, the people all express their sorrow for his loss, making him feel even more unworthy and pathetic.

Something which keeps recurring in his recollections of the life he used to live before the war is his active and successful interaction with women. He was a very appealing figure, lively and exuberant, enjoying all the ladies’ attentions, and living his life to the fullest. Now he is left sexually incompetent and can no longer derive pleasure from the very things which had once been such a comfort to him. The last lines highlight this deplorable state: Gone is the man who used to lead and win matches singlehandedly, and left in his place is a lifeless and hopeless shell who pleads desperately and helplessly for someone to appear and put him to bed.

The poem is one of the most reputed protests against war as it not only shows the meaningless of it, and the wastage of life caused by it, but also highlights the after effects it has on those who live through it and survive it, returning home maimed either physically or troubled mentally, unable to get over the horrors they had seen and experienced. It shows not only the soldiers but also the people they interact with, providing a strong comment on society who considers the man who has sacrificed his very being for his country, to be ‘whole’, and thinks that his disability makes him less of a person than he was before. It is sad to the point of being depressing and frank to the point of being unsettling. It disturbs one, just as it moves one. One sympathizes with the man’s helplessness despite being repelled by his selfishness.

Owen’s Disabled is a force to be reckoned with.

 
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Posted by on March 24, 2012 in Analysis of Poems.

 

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Poetry Analysis: Refugee Blues-W. H. Auden.

The following analysis has been done in answer to a request sent by Amanthi. I hope you find it satisfactory and that this helps with preparing for your exams.

Auden’s ‘Refugee Blues’ laments the plight of the Jews who were forced to flee Europe when the Holocaust started and they were rounded up and killed or imprisoned under the cruel regime of Hitler.
The poem starts with a narrator, who is later revealed to be a German Jew, describing a large city which is home to ten million people some of whom are well off and live in luxurious large houses while others make do in slums and shabby houses. Yet, the narrator tells the person with him, presumably a woman, that there is no place for them there. He remembers that they once had a country long ago, speaking of Palestine, and they thought the world of it. But now their own country is so distant to them that to see it they have to browse through an atlas and he knows that they can’t go there either.
The narrator then remarks on how every spring the flowers grow anew on the old tree that grows in the village churchyard, and mourns to his companion that old passports can’t renew themselves, remembering how the country where they wanted to go had rejected them saying that they were as good as dead if they didn’t have updated passports. It seems that it is their misfortune that they are still among the living, considering his dejected tone as he addresses his companion. He remembers how when he had gone to the people who had been made responsible for providing the war refugees homes, they had been polite to him, yet hadn’t been able to help him, having their hands tied because of the politics and had told him to return next year. Recalling a public meeting that he had attended, he remembers that a person had accused them of trying to steal away the livelihood of the occupants of the city by barging in, and informs his companion that that man had been talking of them.
He thinks that he heard the rumbling of an imminent storm, but it turned out to be Hitler sentencing them all to death. He sees a dog securely wrapped in a warm jacket, and a cat get inside a car, the door of which had been held open for it and thinks that they are lucky that they aren’t German Jews. He notices the fish swimming freely in the water at the harbor and the birds flying wherever they want in the skies when he goes to the woods and marvels at them not having any politicians and wars as they were not human beings.
He then tells his companion that he had had a dream in which he saw a magnificent building which could accommodate a thousand people yet there was no place for them in it anywhere. He remembers how when he stood on the plains and looked through the falling snow, he could see a thousand soldiers marching towards them, looking for them, to put them away, to kill them.

The language used in the poem is as simple as the message behind it is complex. Auden uses the refrain at the end of each stanza, customary for a blues song, each a dejected realization in its own by the narrator of his and every other refugee sorry plight. Hitler’s command for all Jews to be killed is personified as the rumbling of thunder which can be heard just before lightning strikes and the world descends into the chaos of a political storm. Simple analogies have been used such as that of the birds and fish flying and swimming freely and pets being treated better than the Jews have been used to convey the low position these rejected people, in terms that they understand.

Conveying the utter lost and pathetic state of the German Jewish refugees who had been forced to leave their homes and find sanctuary in other countries. For a few years these people had been welcomed into other countries and given meager yet sustainable jobs and accommodations. But then as war threatened to break out and Hitler’s word became law in Germany, these people were no longer allowed entry into other countries, and were persecuted in their own. They were called sub-humans, a term which Auden explores by making the narrator realize that the animals he sees are treated better than them because they aren’t German Jews. The sense of being hunted, of being sought out, persecuted is apparent throughout the poem, as one by one all the doors to a better future are shut on the narrator’s face and it reaches its climax in the last stanza when the narrator witnesses the thousands of people who are raging war against his people, imprisoning them and killing them. The inhumanity with which Jews were treated during those times and the Holocaust and its terrible tales which few lived to tell are already well known today, but this poem highlights what these people must have felt, when they had no place to call home, nowhere to go and no one to turn to.

It is a chilling and depressing poem which reminds one of the extents to which humanity can fall, becoming beasts, thirsty for each other’s blood and lives. Many poets have tried to capture the anguish and cruelty of war, some have succeeded, but only a handful have mastered it to the extent that there words are forever reminders to mankind; reminders which, with the increasing religious intolerance and biased prejudices have become all the more important in today’s world.

 
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Posted by on January 17, 2012 in Analysis of Poems.

 

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Poetry Analysis: La belle Dame sans Merci- John Keats.

La Belle Dame sans Merci, one of John Keats last works, is a ballad which tells the story of a knight who fell in love with a mystical creature, and now suffers the aftermath of a broken heart.

The poem starts with the poet finding a solitary knight stumbling around the countryside. The scene of autumn is described: No grass grows on the river banks, the chirping birds are absent, squirrels and other animals have hoarded food to sustain them throughout winter, and the harvest season is over. The poet wonders what sickness has gripped the knight, making him look so exhausted and miserable. He seems to be in a terrible condition: the color is fast fading from his cheeks and his forehead glistens with sweat, contrasting with his increasing pallor. An aura of mystery surrounds the scene, and one cannot help but wonder what a knight, a man used to action and surviving in harsh conditions, is doing walking aimlessly around the moor, and what is it that has befallen him to reduce him to such a pitiful state.
With the fourth stanza the knight starts to tell his tale: He had met a beautiful maiden in the meadows. She was the most beautiful thing he had cast eyes upon, with long flowing hair and a soft unearthly grace which led him to believe that she must be a fairy treading the earth. Her eyes however had struck him as sad and doleful as if she was mourning something.
He tells the poet how she joined him on his horse and they rode together. He had eyes only for her and did not notice anything else, for she was receptive of his attentions and sang to him sweetly. He tried to woo her by making garlands and bracelets out of flowers and she gazed at him lovingly, giving him delectable things to eat such as sweet roots and wild honey. She spoke in a different dialect yet he was sure that she told him that she loved him with all her heart.
The sense of suspense and mystery is further elevated in the reader by now: although one had expected a lady to feature prominently in the Knight’s endeavors, it was not common practice for upper class ladies to be wandering around the countryside without an escort, and be as forthcoming and immodest as to sing and moan to a stranger whom she has just met. Who is this woman and where did she come from?
Some questions are answered when the knight mentions that the lady then took him to her elfin grot, and the reader realizes that the lady is an actual fairy, a supernatural being that the knight has fallen in love with. The knight remembers that she looked at him sadly as he kissed her wild troubled eyes to sleep. As they slept together on the hill side, the knight had a dream: he saw the deathly visions of kings, princes and warriors, with gnarled lips and ghastly figures. They all cried out to him, warning him that the lady has no mercy and he is in her trap now as well. That is when he awoke and found himself alone and on the verge of death, without any sign on his lover in sight. He has been wandering the land ever since, hoping either for his lady to return or for death to embrace him.

Thus the knight’s story comes to an end and his state of depression and sickness is explained: he has fallen victim to a lover’s betrayal and abandonment. But the lady remains still an enigma, both to the poet and the reader. Though on first look, the woman appears to be the classic example of the attention seeking selfish lady who mercilessly leads unwary young men to believe that she loves them and then deserts them, alone in their grief. But on deeper study it’s found that there’s a lot more to her character: her eyes are sad and wild, her sighs sorrowful and her gaze mournful. Could it be that she is as unfortunate as her victims, bound by fate to travel the earth and fall in love with mortals again and again only to have to desert them as they could not be her match? The beauty of the story is that this question remains forever unanswered; one can derive one’s own analysis about her, but never know for sure who she really was.

Other than the constant creation of suspense and the thick aura of mystery which drapes the ballad and its characters, Keats has also used other figures of speech to further intensify the exquisiteness of his poems. In relating the sickness of the knight he compared he metaphorically describes his pale complexion as a ‘lily on his brow’ and his fading color as a ‘fast withering rose.’ The first few stanzas are also rich with imagery as the poet draws the autumn scene of the desolate and lonely moors and the solitary knight in the reader’s head.
The most basic ‘moral’ of this story of woe is the dangers of heady, passionate love in which one can get carried away and the imminent heart break which follows every such transient affair. The knight was too impulsive in falling head over heels for a strange woman, and he had to pay the price for his impetuosity.
However, one could also argue that Keats wrote this poem as a dedicated tribute to absolute beauty. The knight had no desire to live on after once finding and losing the epitome of beauty in the lovely enchantress. Materialistic beauty is captivating yet ephemeral, and every being that strives to find it, has to be prepared for losing it too, that is the revenge of time. Those who fail to realize that soon find out that no meaning remains in anything else afterwards.
Another quite somber interpretation of the poem is that it shows the outcome of every idealist romantic who believes in true and eternal love, casting a harsh light on the fact, that love is, no matter how pure, never immortal. It cannot last forever and has to eventually bow down before either time or death.

This poem is, not unlike most of Keats’s work, a personal favorite both for being gorgeous in its language and story, and thought provoking in its poetical philosophy.

 
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Posted by on January 16, 2012 in Analysis of Poems.

 

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Analysis: Telephone Conversation by Wole Soyinka.

Soyinka’s Telephone Conversation depicts a conversation between a white lady and an African American man which casts a harsh light on the racism and prejudice which grips society.

The title reveals the fact that two people are talking on the phone, so the beginning of the poem is on a positive note: The man is searching for a house and the land lady has named a considerable price, and the area where it is located is an impartial and not racially prejudiced. Also the man could enjoy his privacy as the land lady does not live under the same roof. The African man is ready to accept the offer, but maybe there has been a similar incident in his past, for he stops and admits to her that he is black, saying he prefers not to waste the time travelling there if she’s going to refuse him on that bounds.
There is silence at the other end; silence which the black man thinks is the reluctant result of an inbred sense of politeness. However he is wrong because when she speaks again, she disregards all formalities and asks him to explain how dark he is. The man first thinks he has misheard but then realizes that that is not true as she repeats her question with a varying emphasis. Feeling as if he has just been reduced to the status of a machine, similar to the telephone in front of him, and asked to choose which button he is, the man is so disgusted that he can literally smell the stench coming from her deceptive words and see red everywhere around him. Ironically he is the one who is ashamed by the tense and awkward silence which follows, and asks for clarification thinking sarcastically that the lady was really helpful by giving him options to choose from. He suddenly understands what she is trying to ask, and repeats her question to her stating if she would like him to compare himself with chocolate, dark or light? She dispassionately answers and his thoughts change as he describes himself as a West African Sepia as it says in his passport. The lady remains quite for a while, not wanting to admit to her ignorance, but then she gives in to curiosity and asks what that is. He replies that it is similar to brunette and she immediately clarifies that that’s dark.
Now the man has had enough of her insensitiveness. He disregards all constraints of formality and mocks her outright, saying that he isn’t all black, the soles of his feet and the palms of his hands are completely white, but he is foolish enough to sit on his bottom so it has been rubbed black due to friction. But as he senses that she is about to slam the receiver on him, he struggles one last time to make her reconsider, pleading her to at least see for herself; only to have the phone slammed on him.

Wole Soyinka uses two main literary devices to drive home the message of the poem. The first of the two is imagery. Right at the beginning, the imagery used to describe the mental image the man has of the woman: “lipstick coated, gold rolled cigarette holder piped”, just from listening to her voice shows one that he thinks that she is, socially speaking above him, from a higher social class.
Then when he hears her question regarding how dark he is, he is so humiliated and angry that he sees red everywhere. The imagery of the huge bus squelching the black tar is symbolic of how the dominant white community treats those belonging to the minor black one.
The next most evident use is that of irony. In the beginning of the poem, the African says that he has to “self-confess” when he reveals his skin color to the lady. The color of his skin is something that he has no control over, and even if he did, it is not a sin to be dark skinned, so the fact that the man feels ashamed and sorry for this is ironical and casts light on how ridiculous racism is that one should apologize or be differentiated against solely because of the color of one’s skin. Also, it seems almost comical that anyone should be so submissive when he has actually committed no mistakes.
On the other hand, the lady is continuously described in positive terms, suggesting that she is of a good breeding and upper class. Even when the reader finds out that she is a shallow and racist person who exhibits extreme insensitivity by asking crude questions, the man seems to think that she is ‘considerate; and her clinical response to his question shows only ‘light impersonality.’ The repeated and exaggerated assertions of the woman’s good manners and sophistication drip with irony as her speech contradict this strongly.
Also the basis of the woman rejecting to lease her house to the man is because of the prejudiced notion that African Americans are a savage and wild people. This idea is completely discredited by the ironical fact that throughout the poem the man retains better manners and vocabulary than the woman, using words such as “spectroscopic” and “rancid”, whereas she does not know what West African Sepia is and is inconsiderate in her inquiries. Using irony in this manner, Soyinka proves how absurd it is to judge the intellect or character of a man depending on the color of his skin only.

The poem deals with a foul subject, that of racism and prejudice, in a lighthearted, almost comical manner. A most important device which Soyinka has used to highlight this sense of racism, which was previously widespread in western society, is that of the telephone. Had the person been speaking face to face with the lady, this whole conversation would never have taken place. She would have either refused outright, or would have found a more subtle way of doing so. The whole back and forth about ‘how dark’ the man is wouldn’t have occurred. Thus the telephone is used to make the issue of racism clear and prove how nonsensical it really is.
Written in an independent style and delivered in a passively sarcastic tone, this poem is a potent comment on society. Soyinka might be speaking through personal experience, judging by the raw emotions that this poem subtly convey: those of anger, rage, shame, humility and an acute sense of disgust at the apathy and inhumanity of humans who won’t judge a book by its cover but would turn down a man for the color of his skin. In today’s world, racism might be a dying concern; but that does not mean that discrimination against other minorities has been completely eradicated. Despite the progressing times, people continue to harbor prejudices and illogical suspicions about things they do not understand: may it be others ideals, religions or traditions and customs. Thus this poem remains a universal message for all of us, as Soyinka manages to convey just how absurd all prejudices are by highlighting the woman’s poor choice of rejecting the man just because he does not share the same skin color.
‘Telephone Conversation’ is a favorite, both for its excellent use of rich language and the timeless message it conveys.

 
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Posted by on January 14, 2012 in Analysis of Poems.

 

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Analysis: My Last Duchess (Robert Browning)

Robert Browning’s My Last Duchess is a dramatic monologue uttered by the Duke of Ferrari which highlights the jealous and sadistic nature of his character and the mysteriousness which surrounds his late wife’s demise.

The poem starts with him drawing the attention of the person whom he is talking to, who is, as one later finds out, a messenger from the Count’s family whose daughter’s hand the duke seeks in marriage; to the portrait of his late wife on the wall. The duke praises the work of the painter, Fra Pandolf, who had spent a whole day slaving over the painting to make it look so lifelike. He instructs the messenger to sit down, and goes on to describe how anyone who has ever seen that picturesque expression on his lady’s painted face, has never failed to ask him, as he has always been present for no one dares to draw the curtain from the painting except him, the reason behind the lively expression. He then thinks about his late wife, remembering that it wasn’t just his company which made her blush. He wonders that maybe it was the painter complimenting her that brought forth such a response from her, as she thought that such attentions were all just formalities and politeness. He continues on scorning the easily pleased nature of the duchess: she found something to praise in whatever she saw. Finding the fact disdainful that things so simple and unworthy as the sunset or a small offering of fruit some officer made her could make her as happy as his gift to her, his hand in marriage and a nine hundred year old name, did, he admits to the messenger that he did not approve of such unreservedness. He goes on to say that no one could really fault the duchess for her flighty nature, but even if he had the power of speech required to make his expectations from her clear, and had she been willing to do as he told, even then he could not think of sinking down to her level by telling her what displeases him. He hints at the fact that the duchess seemed to smile at everyone in the same way that she smiled at him, implying that perhaps she was unfaithful and treacherous. Such was the exasperation and disgust of the duke at his wife’s flirtatious habits that he suggests that her death was caused at his orders. He again directs the attention of both the messenger and the reader towards the painting and repeats himself from earlier saying that the portrait is so accurate that it looks like as if she’s standing there, alive.

He then instructs the messenger to stand and come with him to the party which has assembled below, reminding him haughtily that the magnificence of the count is enough guarantee that anything he asks for in dowry will not be refused, but claims at the same time that it is only the hand of his fair daughter that he seeks. While going out he points out a bronze bust showing the sea god, Neptune taming a wild sea horse.

The main feature of this poem is Browning’s artistic use of the dramatic monologue. Even though it is the duke who is talking about the character of the duchess to the messenger, one can glean lots of facts about his own character through the manner in which he speaks, and the way in which he describes his wife. This, coupled with the use of enjambment, the technique of inserting line breaks, and caesurae, emphasize the flow of the duke’s speech. It is not just a monologue in name; even written on paper this poem is so overflowing with different ideas that it seems like the duke’s thoughts were running into each other as he voiced his opinion about his late wife. Apart from this, symbolism is also used in a couple of places. First, the portrait hanging on the wall which is covered by a curtain which ‘none but the duke could draw’ is symbolic of how the controlling nature of the duke is satisfied when, if not in life then after death, only he has any say in who should look upon his late wife. Also, the bust of Neptune that he points out to the messenger on his way out, symbolizes how he tamed his free-spirited wife, much like Neptune tames the wild spirit of the sea horse.

Thus Browning, in a colorful and impressive monologue portrays a character that is as vile and maniacal as the language is flowery. The duke is shown to be a control-freak, an over imaginative psychopath who finds fault in the innocence of his wife’s youth, and condemns her to death. His controlling nature is evident from the start, in the way he dictates the emissary’s actions telling him when to sit and when to rise and how proud he is of the fact that no one is allowed to draw the curtain hiding his wife’s portrait but he. He has, in his imagination, reduced his once alive and lovely wife, to a mere possession, and refers to her painting as ‘a piece’ of wonder. One sees that it is not only his wife who thus dehumanized: when he talks about the painter, he praises his hands; reducing his person effectively to a mere tool that is used for painting. Then as he continues on, one can’t help but sense the intense jealousy which resides in the duke’s heart, as he scorns on how easily pleased his lady was of anything beautiful and pleasant. He cannot stand her blushing for, and smiling at everything and everybody who pleases her. He is full of self-importance, a trait that is tarnished and brought into question when his wife does not share his arrogance and haughty attitude. Such is his arrogance that having a normal conversation with his wife or telling her what he expects from her is considered by him to be below his standards. He chooses not to talk to her about her faults, which are naught but a liveliness of nature, a happy disposition, and a yearning for life, but rather ends that which he cannot control.

In this short poem, Browning weaves a compelling tale of mystery, murder and intrigue which in equal parts disgusts and delights the reader. One is appalled at the cruelty and madness of the duke, yet is amazed at the beauty and majesty of the language used, which is in no way below the level of Shakespeare. I enjoyed the poem immensely as it was a thrilling yarn which had me captivated throughout.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2011 in Analysis of Poems.

 

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Analysis: Prayer Before Birth (Louis McNeice)

Louis MacNeice expresses a strong disgust towards the corrupted and evil world through Prayer before Birth in which he takes the persona of an unborn child who prays to God.

The poem starts with a plea to be heard as the unborn child asks God to keep away the nocturnal creatures, both real and imaginary away from him so that they might not cause him any harm. The unborn child’s need to be comforted against people who with the help of deadly drugs and clever lies will control him and dictate his actions is made clear in the second stanza. Wary of the influence man will have on him; the unborn asks to be surrounded by nature, which man has still not been able to corrupt. He prays for a clear conscience that can show him his way on the path of life. The unborn child knows that he will do lots of evil things in this world under the influence of Man, and asks to be forgiven beforehand. Everything that he will say, think or do will harm someone else and for that he asks repentance. He then asks to be prepared beforehand for all the roles that he must play in life when the entire world turns against him to the extent that even his children hate him and the beggar is indifferent to him.
The sixth stanza adequately summarizes the whole poem. The unborn asks God to keep away such people who are either as savage as animals or act tyrannously thinking they are as supreme as God Himself. He then asks for the willpower to stand up against those who would try to destroy all that is unique inside him and turn him into an insignificant part of a large machine. They would control him like as if he were a small stone which the wind can blow here and there as it likes, or like as if he were the water which a person tries to hold in his hands but ends up spilling everywhere. The poem ends with a final ultimatum: The unborn pleas to be protected against those who would do such things to him or asks to be killed instead of being sent into such a world.

Louis MacNeice uses a number of literary devices to make the stark truth behind the poem clear. The most noticeable among these is the repetition: The phrase “I am not yet born” is repeated a t the start of every stanza which makes it very clear that even though the child has not appeared in the world, he is aware of the darkness which surrounds it, giving a dark and hopeless tone to the poem. Then the abundant use of assonance juxtaposed with alliteration such as the assonance of “bat” and “rat” and the alliteration of the letter B in “bloodsucking bat or rat”; or the repetition of the letter L in “lies lure” and the assonance in “wise lies” in the phrase “wise lies lure me”; give an internal rhyme to the poem. Going on to the third stanza one finds nature personified in several instances: “Trees to talk to me. Skies to sing to me” Giving nature the qualities normally attributed to Man emphasizes the disgust that the unborn child feels towards the world as he wants nothing to do with it and craves the company of nature. However MacNeice contradicts himself by using the paradox in the next stanza “white waves call me to folly” where white waves, metaphorically resembling purity are personified to be beckoning the unborn towards evil. This thus proves that the intensity of corruption is such in the world that nothing, not even nature, can remain pure for long. The last stanza is flowing in metaphors as the poet describes how mankind will manipulate the actions and emotions of the child. He fears that he’ll become a “cog in a machine” or be blown like “thistledown hither and thither” or be wasted like water held in hands. These metaphorical comparisons emphasize the acute absence of control that the unborn can exercise on his life.

Thus is Prayer Before Birth a potent monologue, with its cascading lines, each heavy in their use of internal rhymes and repetition, assonance and alliteration, are insistent, driving, a crazed litany; they’re powerful, yet wonderfully poignant.

Right from the title to the lethal ending, this poem casts a very harsh light on the evilness of society and the corruption of mankind all over the world. The fact that MacNeice had to take up the persona of the unborn child shows how little he thinks of Man. The world is such that he does not think that even a young child; an infant, cannot remain unblemished from its cruelties. He was propelled to see it through the eyes of an unborn child, one that is still within the safe confines of its mother’s womb, to have an untainted point of view.

The poem is quite depressing and sad as it paints the world in such dark colors that no matter what the unborn child does, once he is in the world, he is going to get affected in some manner or the other. If the people can’t manipulate and control him with their lies and drugs and cage him within tall walls of social refrain, making him do evil things to cause other people harm that he would not have otherwise done; if he fights them and resists their dictation of his life, then they’ll reject him and he’ll become an outcast. People of all classes: wise old men, cunning politicians, happy lovers, mean beggars and even his own innocent children, will turn their backs on him and he’ll be left standing alone in the path of life. If seen in a wider perspective, the unborn’s unwillingness to be controlled could also be a desperate outcry against being categorized: everyone in this world is sorted, either into religions or class or color or country. This is also a way of subtle manipulation that the world has a whole exercises on the individual.

Thus he wants nothing to do with Man. He craves the company of nature, asking God to provide him with all those things which aren’t anymore found in this world, things which remain pure and unaltered by man’s influence, like the sky which cannot be conquered and the water which cannot be contained.

The strongest stanza of the poem, the seventh, is a personal favorite. With the poem being written at the height of World War II,this stanza has a particular importance. As the unborn prays for strength against those who would ‘dragoon him into a lethal automation’, the thought of a soldier immediately comes to mind. A person who is not allowed to show any emotion, and is asked incessantly to kill on behalf of his country, can only be considered a ‘thing’ without a ‘face’..A strong protest against Totalitarianism, a type of government where every aspect of public and private lives is dictated by the government, this poem and this stanza in particular, is a strong allegory against the world war. Yet despite the definitive historical period of time that it was written in, McNeice makes his plea universal by using the voice of an unborn child, innocent and frail, to convey his fear of the world, cruel and tyrannous.

Dramatic in intensity, the poem makes a sweeping statement on the deplorable state of the world. Living is a painful experience; being born is a terrifying one. The child’s plea is a representation of the poet’s anguish, grief and fear in a world that has steadily metamorphosed into a hell. The poet paints a picture of a world devoid of compassion, love and remorse through the haunting appeal of the unborn infant. The poem reflects the poet’s utter dejection and hopelessness expressing the thought that the world will not correct itself, but perpetuate its evils in an ever-ascending spiraling pattern of violence.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2011 in Analysis of Poems.

 

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Analysis: Mother in a Refugee Camp (Chinua Achebe)

Chinua Achebe’s Mother in a Refugee Camp, paints the pathetic picture of a mother holding her dying son in her hands for the last time, portraying both the inevitability of death and the pain of those whose loved ones have died yet they live on in a harsh light.

The poem starts with the poet comparing the scene of a mother holding her son in a refugee camp with the love and care which is usually depicted in all versions of Mary holding a ding Jesus in her arms. The poet state that none of the reputed depictions of tenderness could even come near the fragility and beauty of this scene of pathos and heartbreak. This foreshadows that the son in her arms is soon going to die, an idea which is confirmed by the third line which says that after laying her son beneath the earth, the mother would have to learn how to live life without him, and move on.

The next four lines describe the aura of disease, illness and death which surrounds the camp; describing the smells of the camp, and the ribs of the children protruding from sickness, painting a truly horrifying picture of sick infants and helpless people. Then Achebe goes on to say how other mothers no longer care, they can no longer cope with the struggle of surviving and now only await death. However this mother, who was mentioned earlier, do not fall into the same category. There is a remnant of a smile gracing her lips and she remembers her son in all his glory as she holds him for the last time. Her maternal pride had led her to clean him up before laying him to rest, and now she takes out a comb and with singing eyes, she arranges her son’s hair which is rust, a sign that he suffers from kwashiorkor; a protein deficiency. The relevant way in which she performs this act makes the poet reflect on how in normal day to day life, such an act holds no consequence to any mother; they do it before their sons leave for school. But the manner in which this mother does it has such an air of finality to it that it is akin to laying flowers on a tiny grave.

The poem is full of pathos and the agony of a mother who has to witness her child’s death in front of her eyes is made clear with the use of the initial comparison to the Holy mother Mary and Jesus. The finality of death is evident in this comparison even as the poet himself says that the tenderness of this scene in reality far outshines any that is depicted in all the versions of ‘Madonna and Child.’ Then the strong imagery which is used to describe the setting, the refugee camp, brings out the desolation surrounding the poem. Achebe evokes the sense of smell, sight and feeling to such an extent that tears spring to the reader’s eyes. The metaphor in the mother’s ‘humming eyes’ makes one sympathize with her plight.

No reason is given as to why the people are in a refugee camp. Perhaps there had been a war, or some sort of natural calamity, but Achebe has aptly described how such drastically the lives of those change who are forced to leave their home and take shelter, by focusing on one mother who is holding her dying child. The poem could also act as a testament to a mother’s love, who knows that the child is dead, yet continues to hold him with care and caution. She is not yet ready to let go and accept the fact that he is dead.

This poem touched my heart as it very delicately and subtly described the agony of losing a dead one which is I think the most difficult of struggles that people face in this world, especially those parents who have to see their young children die. It is sad, and depressing and heart breaking but I enjoyed it nevertheless.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2011 in Analysis of Poems.

 

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Analyss: The Tyger (William Blake)

William Blake’s ‘The Tyger’ is a vastly popular and much quoted poem from his collection Songs Of Experience, which describes the creation of the tiger and in doing so, emphasizes the dichotomy of creation and marvels at the power of the creator.

The first stanza describes the fiery tiger in the dark night forest. Blake wonders who had made the immaculate symmetry of the tiger’s body. The creation of the tiger’s eyes is described next. The poet questions where deep below the earth or high in the heavens did the wild fire which is now contained in the tiger’s eyes used to burn. He simultaneously marvels the agility of the Creator, God, who could fly to such a place and seize such scalding fire to make the tiger. The next two stanzas describe the creation of the heart and then the brain of the tiger. Blake is intimidated by the strength and art which must have been required to build the muscles of the tiger’s hard heart. It is now that the tiger comes to life after its heart is placed within its frame and the poet feels awe at the agile hands and feet of the tiger. The fourth stanza compares god to a blacksmith, who used a hammer, a chain and an anvil to furnish the brain of the tiger. After the brain was given shape the poet imagines that it was cooked in a blasting furnace which counts for the ferocity and ruthlessness of the tiger. With the brain and heart in place, the creation of the tiger is completed and this has such an impact on all the heavens that the stars surrender, their twinkling light nothing when compared to the bright flare of the tiger’s eyes. The skies open to let down torrents of rain as an expression of sorrow to see such a dangerous being given life. The last two lines of the fifth stanza are enough to summarize the entire central idea of the poem. The poet wonders whether the same creator who created the meek and docile lamb, was the one to create the ferocious and deadly tiger. The sixth and last stanza is a repetition of the first, with the exception of one crucial word. Where before Blake had been wondering who could create such a being, he now questions who dares to do so.

One of the main literary devices that Blake has put to effective use in the poem is symbolism. Throughout one notices that each of the tiger’s attributes is symbolized with some form of fire. It is ‘burning’ brightly in the night forest, its eyes contain fire, and its brain was made in a ‘furnace’. This constant comparison to something as consuming and deadly as fire makes the fierceness of the tiger clear. Also paradox has been used to highlight the hidden message behind the poem: the fact that God had to use his strength to ‘twist’ the muscles while making the tiger’s heart, which is supposed to be the most delicate and fragile organ of the body, compliments the question which is asked throughout. Why would the Maker who made a thing as sweet and innocent as the lamb, take pleasure in creating the tiger, which would devour and ravish it?

That is the potent theological debate, I think, which Blake has addressed in this poem. A bold suggestion, especially considering the time in which he lived, is made here that God, who created mankind also reveled in creating its own undoing, by creating evil. It is something that one sees in one’s day to day life. If god had created man, then why is there so much of poverty, bloodshed, disease and all other kinds of calamities that harms his creation?

Another interpretation of the poem could be the focus on the balance in the universe. If there is good, there is also bad; if there is life, there is also death; if there is light, there is also darkness. This is the dichotomy of creation; God has created the world in such a way that it balances itself, as can be gleaned from his creation of the tiger to balance the docile lamb.

Also, I think, the poem is a comment on society. As the power of creating both good and evil resided with God, the same power to do both good and bad resides with Man. If man choses he can a knife to carve and create, or to kill and destroy. Every coin has two sides, as every being has in itself the power to live cause harmony or destruction; and this is proved in this poem. I enjoyed Blake’s Tyger immensely as it evoked in my mind a series of questions and debates that compelled me to think beyond the previous boundaries of my imagination.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2011 in Analysis of Poems.

 

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Analysis: War Photographer (Carol Ann Duffy)

Through her poem ‘War Photographer’, Carol Ann Duffy casts a harsh light on the destruction and bloodshed which results from war and how apathetic and uncaring the rest of the world, who is not directly affected by it, is.

The poem starts with a description of the war photographer standing alone in his dark room. All the photos that he had taken of the war are contained within the rolls which are organized into neat rows, making him feel like a priest who is about to lead a mass funeral. He thinks of all the places he has been to, places which had been torn apart by war, and remembering all the bloodshed he has witnessed he feels that everything has to in the end die and return to the earth. He then carries on with his works, but the ironical fact is that he who wasn’t afraid while amidst gunfire and death, now trembles in the safety and sanctuary of his home in Rural England, where the most troubling thing is the constantly changing weather and where he does not have to worry about the ground blowing up beneath his feet.

The third stanza starts off mysteriously, and the half developed photograph is described. The vague features of the man seem to the photographer, like the spirit of the soldier and he remembers the moment when he took that picture. He remembers the hopeless wailing of the soldier’s wife as he had silently sought her permission to take her dying husband’s photograph and he remembers clearly how the blood from his wound had seeped into the earth.

The final stanza takes on a detached tone, as the photographer thinks of how from the hundred photos that he has taken, each telling its own chilling tale of agony and pain, his editor will randomly select a handful to print in the newspaper. He knows that people back at home would glance at these, in the afternoons and feel sorrow for a minute before moving on with their lives. By the end of the poem, even he shrugs off all feelings towards his work and looks upon the war torn land from his high altitude in the plane, where such suffering happens on a day to day basis and the world doesn’t care.

Duffy has used a number of literary devices to describe the horror and agony of war. The phrase ‘spools of suffering’ is a metaphor, along with containing alliteration, as it isn’t the spools which are suffering but the people pictured in the photographs they carry that are doing so. Also there is a paradox in how he has organized suffering, the chaos of pain and war, into neat ordered rows. Again ‘ordered rows’ could act as a metaphor, comparing the rolls to the coffins of the dead soldiers which are neatly organized neatly into rows. The red light is symbolic of the bloodshed that the photographer has witnessed, and also reminds him of a church, making him feel like a priest preparing for a mass funeral. The imagery of ‘blood stained into foreign dust’ compliments Duffy’s previous statement that ‘all flesh is grass.’ Also ambiguity has been used in a couple of places to portray more than one idea to the reader. In the third stanza the half-developed picture is described as a ‘half formed ghost’. This either implies that the image is vague and faint, or the fact that the photograph shows a dead man, whose spirit is somehow evoked by the developing photograph. The fourth stanza describes the photographs to be in ‘black and white.’ This could mean both the fact that the pictures are monochrome, without color; or the contrast between good and evil.

Duffy’s ‘War Photographer’ is an effective comment on society which shows both the agonies of war, as well as the apathy of mankind towards it. The persona of the war photographer is most apt as he is between these two realities: on one side he experiences a world which is torn apart by war, where innocent children die because of mine fields; and on the other side there is the rest of the world, which is full of people who do not have time in their busy lives to care about matters which do not directly affect them. He is therefore in such a state to compare these two worlds and he at first feels disgust towards the uncaring world, and guilt at being the one to exploit the suffering of the dying soldiers, but then he too assumes an impassive attitude, knowing that no matter how he feels, he cannot change the world, nor stop the war or bloodshed from happening. All he can do is his job: which he does. He can make them see what he sees by capturing the pain in photos, but he cannot make them feel what he feels, for there is no way he can show them his memories.

I found ‘War Photographer’ to be a chilling and disturbing poem, which evokes many conflicting feelings, a feat which is accomplished widely by Duffy’s use of strong yet simple words to say complex things.

 
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Posted by on December 2, 2011 in Analysis of Poems.

 

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