Remember by Christina Rosetti


Christina Rosetti’s Remember is a lover’s plea to her beloved expressing her desire to be remembered after her death, thus depicting the common human need to survive death by being immortalized in a lover’s memory.

The poem starts with Rosetti talking about a time when she would no longer be able to be with her lover, when they are no longer able to hold hands and makes plans for their future together, when death would have taken her from him and she would have departed from this world. She wants her memory to live on in her lover’s heart and thus in some manner stay with him even when she physically cannot. She doesn’t want that time to draw near and she’s reluctant to leave him behind but she knows it is inevitable. So she tries to console him beforehand knowing that he would take her death very hard, she tells him that he did all he could and that no amount of seeking help or praying would be able to bring her back from the dead. She wants her lover to be able to think of her without dwelling on the ‘what if’s’ and she absolutely does not want him blaming himself.
In the third stanza the poet realizes the futility of her request: she is aware that the world is such that it is inexorable that her lover will one day look behind on the days they spend together and recall only the faults of their relationship. In his memory she would be reduced to a weak pathetic shadow of her former self, tarnished by the immoral and decadent world. Thus she alters her earlier request, preferring to be forgotten rather than be remembered in a way that would cause her lover anguish. She wants him to be happy and move on if her memory causes him sorrow.

Set in the structure of a sonnet, Remember follows an abba rhyming scheme in the starting octave with the third stanza and ending couplet having a cddece rhyme. Written in the first person narrative, the poem’s tone also varies with Rosetti’s request. In the beginning it is insistent when she’s appealing to her lover to keep her alive in his memory, then it turns consoling when she wants to comfort him and by the end it has turned somewhat dejected when she realizes that he cannot remember her faithfully and she chooses instead to be forgotten.

A straightforward poem which does not rely heavily on literary devices, the impact of ‘Remember’ is in its simple language. It’s heartfelt and genuine; like the love that the poet harbours for her beloved. Death is metaphorically described as the ‘silent land’ in contrast with the vitality and music of life. Other than that there are a few instances of alliteration in ‘When you can no more hold me by the hand,’ and ‘Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay,’ which lend an internal rhythm to the poem.

The poem showcases a common desire in all of us, that to escape death and oblivion by living on in the memory of those we love. But it is also a comment on society as the poet is aware of how the passing of time and the influence of the world would be such that her lover will not be able to protect her memory from being tarnished and blemished with time. She is aware of this, and she chooses to be forgotten, thus voluntarily choosing obscurity instead of being remembered in such a way. This final wish could be an expression of her absolute love that she does not want her lover to hold on to her if her memory is to cause him grief; or it could be taken as form of self-preservation: it is true that in remembering her, her lover will enable her to live on, but she would have no control over what happens to her fragile memory and thus instead of her memory being subjected to the ‘darkness and corruption’ of the world, she prefers to gracefully be forgotten.

Whichever it is I feel that the poem highlights the insecurity of the poet. Why does she have to insist to her lover and plead with him to remember her? If there love is true, then she really doesn’t need to be concerned about what time would do to her memory or whether he would remember her or not because then she would trust that he would. Not only is she devaluing the sincerity of his affection, she’s also convinced that the ‘world’ is such that he would only remember a ‘visage of the thoughts that once she had.’ Doesn’t the passing of time allow us to look at the past through rose coloured glasses instead of tarnishing the memories we cherish?

I feel that Remember gives an overtly negative view of the world, perhaps covering up the insecurities of the poet herself.

Leave a comment

Posted by on June 2, 2015 in Uncategorized


Tags: , , , , , ,

Once Upon a Time By Gabriel Okara

Gabriel Okara’s Once Upon A Time is a comment on society through a monologue from a father to a son which bemoans the loss of innocence in the transition from child to adult and a desire to revert back to that blissful childhood.

The father addresses his son telling him how he remembers that once people used to be open and expressive with their emotions with laughter that reached their eyes, but now they are aloof and distant with fake smiles. Overt displays of emotion are considered to be suspicious and looked down upon. He reiterates that there was a time when relationships were based on mutual respect and cordiality. Now, however, people form friendships and relationships for personal benefits only, leading to a cold world without any depth of feeling. The father laments how hospitability has vanished as people only say the expected welcoming phrases without meaning them and shy away from allowing anyone from getting too close, distancing themselves whenever someone threatens to break down the walls they have hidden themselves behind.
In the fourth stanza the father admits to his son that he too has adapted and learned to live amidst such false people. He has had to fit in and now he too has the ability to put on various facades, he behaves exactly how he is supposed to in different scenarios with all their niceties which are necessary for each situation. Moreover the father has learned to fake emotions and build relationships without any sincerity or depth of feeling. He has learned how to say expected phrases without any meaning behind them and fake emotions.
But in the seventh stanza, we find out that he does not want to be like this. He wants to revert back to the time when he was a child like his son; when he was an innocent person. He wants to forget all these stifling things which are dampening his emotions and are slowly strangling the life out of him. He is disgusted with himself as he himself now resembles what he detested most in society and he cannot look himself in the eye without witnessing the same hypocrisy which he had been scathing earlier. So in the last stanza the father pleads with the child to teach him how to express his emotions and return back to a time when he was young and carefree and naïve, and not aware of what apathy was required from him for him to survive.

The poem consists of seven stanzas with no definite rhyming scheme which emphasizes the fact that it is a monologue from a father to his son. The tone throughout is nostalgic as the father remembers what things used to be like once when he was a child. There is an undertone of bitterness throughout the poem whenever the father talks about how things have changed and how the world has progressively become more and more decadent.

Okara uses blunt metaphors to describe how the ‘ice block cold eyes’ of people now lack emotion, emphasising the harsh intrusiveness of such eyes scrutinizing the poet, looking for ways to exploit their ‘friendship.’ He has learned to pretend to feel whatever is expected of him at different events, using a simile to describe how he changes the masks he puts on like the dresses he is expected to wear on said events, each with their expected plethora of facial expressions and tones. He wears smiles like a portrait wears a smile, fixed and uncomfortable with no real meaning behind it. He detests looking at himself in the mirror for all he sees when he smiles is his teeth bared like a snake’s bare fangs, revolting and dripping with poison.
The repetition of the title both at the beginning and the ending of the poem suggests a sort of fairy tale like tone to the poem which raises the question of whether the past that the poet is remembering so fondly ever did exist, or if the lost time that he so desperately wants to return to is just something that he has thought up in his mind as a defence mechanism that once upon a time things were really not all that bad.

There is some very strong language used in the poem. The poet calls all the things that he has had to learn ‘muting things’ that stifle the emotion inside of him, not allowing him release. It seems to him that his voice has been taken and that he is slowly being suffocated. He wants to forget all these things, to ‘unlearn’ them and return back to a more innocent time.

Once Upon a Time is a comment on the hypocritical society that we live in today in which we are wary of emotion, distrustful of affection and guarded of laughter. Logical reasoning take precedence over emotions and relationships are formed with prudent aims in mind instead of affection and geniality. It is a false façade that everyone hides behind and as a reason we are alone and isolated despite being surrounded by people on all sides. There is a price on relationships, and an end date as soon as the purpose behind it is over. There is no place nor desire for empathy in the world of today.

The innocence of children is also a major theme in this poem as it is this state that the poet wants to go back to. It is his childhood that he remembers throughout the poem, the time when things seemed so much more real and sincere. Or maybe it is only that the poet is remembering his childhood through the eyes of a child, when he was too young to understand how people behave. Perhaps there was no such time when life was perfect, perhaps it is only a misconception induced by nostalgia but the poet does not care.

All he wants is to go back to when he could be free.


Posted by on March 11, 2015 in Uncategorized


If by Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you   
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,  
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;  
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:


If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;   
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;  
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;  
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:


If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,  
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
     Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’


If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,  
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,  
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Rudyard Kipling’s If is a much beloved poem even today, more than a hundred years after its publication in 1910. It is a didactic poem, a flow of advice from a father to his young son – an instruction manual almost – on how to live life. Throughout the poem, Kipling, in true British fashion, preaches moderation in all things big and small. The repetition of pronouns such as ‘you’ and ‘your’ give an enhanced personal feeling to us as the readers, as if the poet is talking directly to us. It is only in the last line do we realize that it is his son whom the poet is addressing throughout the poem.

In the first stanza the poet warns of external situations which can throw off a person’s inner self confidence. He tells his son there will come a time when he will be faced with confusing and hostile situations in his life when everyone is in a panic and blame has fallen on his shoulders. At such a time the poet urges him to remain steadfast and calm. Detachment from criticism is important, so that it doesn’t hinder his mental health, but he cannot afford to disregard criticism completely. Kipling instructs his son to always make room for the unfavourable ideas of his critics as it is only by being aware of his weaknesses can he truly be strong. Going on to line 5, the poet stresses how despite being surrounded by incompetence and dishonesty, he must always remain patient and true, with the strength of character to be able to distance himself from partaking in petty feelings of hatred and resentment. But it is the last line of the first stanza which preaches the core virtue that the poet carries forward in the poem: that of humility. Despite being morally superior to those around him, he must take care never to let pride take over.
The next stanza focuses on internalized conflicts. Again we see a strict adherence to the mean in the poet’s advices: He instructs his son to dream without letting his dreams control him, to plan ahead without making his plans his only goals in life. He should possess the sense of mind to not let failure get him down or triumph lull him into a false sense of security. Both these things are ‘imposters’ and mean little in the grand scheme of things. No matter what he faces, either success or loss, his attitude should remain unchanged. This is where the poem takes a slightly darker tone as the poet describes how there will come a time where his son would have to stand by and watch all that he has worked for fall into undeserving hands, and hear the words that he himself had spoken used for nefarious purposes. The poet urges him to remain firm when such situations arise. These are things which would then be out of his control, and there would be no use fighting the inevitable corruption of all the good that he had done. Instead he should persevere and rebuild everything that he loses using worn out tools of labour.
The third stanza emphasizes the classic idea of hard work taking precedence over everything else. The poet tells his son that he should be bold enough to gamble everything he has for something he believes in, and to have the strength of character to start again from scratch in case it doesn’t work out and he loses it all, all the while maintaining his dignity and not bemoaning his loss. He must toil and work hard if he wants to make a difference even when there’s nothing left in him to give except his unbroken will which urges him to carry on.
In the last stanza the poet first describes the kind of attitude his son should have towards all the kinds of people he would meet in life: he should not forget his honesty when faced with large convincing masses of people or lose his humility when amidst important and dignified members of society. He should be a friend to all, but not let anyone get so close that they could hurt him. In all things, Kipling advises his son to be moderate; but when it comes to showing compassion when faced by a redeemed foe, the poet’s counsel to his son is to seize the time that he has and be the better man by forgiving those who have wronged him.
In the last two lines, the tension which had been building up throughout the poem is finally released. Every man’s time is limited on this world and the poet wants his son to use every single minute to its full potential and achieve as much as he can in the time that he has been granted.
The poet states that when his son has done all that he has outlined, then he would have gained everything that the world has to offer. Moreover, he would have finally grown up, and matured enough to be a Man.

The poem makes use of several literary devices, the most evident of which is repetition. The word ‘If’ is repeated throughout the poem as one by one Kipling outlines the complex actions that his son must take when faced with various situations. It creates a sort of hypnotic tension throughout the poem, like as if it was one long sentence, and thus the last line has such an impact on the reader. Other than that, there are paradoxical ideas throughout the poem: ‘trust yourself when all men doubt you, but make allowance for their doubting too;’ ‘if all men count with you but none too much.’ These paradoxes serve to highlight Kipling’s message of balancing out all kinds of emotions for a rounded out moral character. Moreover, in the second stanza, we see examples of personification: Dreams are masters which can make one their slave, Triumph and Disaster are both imposters. Both are fleeting and ephemeral things; Triumph lulling the supposed victor in a false sense of security, and Disaster, threatening to uproot one’s belief in one’s own abilities and destroying self-confidence. Meanwhile ‘Will’ is the encouragement that one needs to hold on and not let go. We also see instances of words which symbolize ideas: ‘crowds’ are common people, ‘Kings’ are important people and the ‘common touch’ is the humble attitude that the poet wants his son to adopt when he encounters all these people. The last line uses the metaphorical concept of time waiting for no man as the poet instructs his son to make the most of every single ‘unforgiving minute.’

The poem is a didactic monologue set in four eight line stanzas with all of them having some internal rhythm. As is usual with such monologues though, it does not follow a definite rhyming scheme. The tone throughout the poem is that which a benevolent mentor would adopt for his protégé. The poet is experienced and learned in the ways of life and his only aim is to instruct his son in the same.

To say that If is a poem which everyone can relate to is a gross understatement which does not do the eternal and universal message that the poem preaches any justice whatsoever. All his life, Kipling wrote numerous texts, both poetry and prose, intending to inspire the minds of the youth. On reading If, one can safely say that he succeeded in doing exactly that. The poet wants to impart several virtues to his son: that of patience, honesty, fortitude of character, dignity, humility and compassion to name a few, but he does not use any of these empty words with loaded meanings. Instead he outlines scenarios and situations which his son would face in life and instructs him on how to behave when each arises. Thus his message holds more meaning than any string of words could have for it seems like it is coming from someone who has been through what he is talking about, who has practiced what he is now preaching. It is empowering, enlightening and enchanting all at once.

The poem also serves as a comment on society, a morally corrupt and degenerate one at that, from which Kipling wants his son to remain untarnished. He automatically assumes that all the world around him is a treacherous and vapid void; something which requires heavy guidance and discipline to traverse through. His son would be surrounded by those who falsely accuse him, doubt his integrity, twist his words, cheat and lie to him and decimate everything that he stands for; and it is up to his son to follow the advice of his father and wade through the decadence of such a society. This might be a touch pessimistic on Kipling’s part, especially since he wants to teach his son to not lose hope when faced with adversity. Such a negative view about the world in general can only stem from quite a hopeless place.

Aptly titled “If”, the poem basically outlines all the conditions that the son has to fulfill in order to gain the status of a ‘Man’. One might argue that Kipling’s expectations, from the viewpoint of a father, are too unrealistic and demanding. One cannot possibly fulfill everything the poem outlines, and unless his son does so he will not have become a man in his father’s eyes: quite a harsh predicament for any child. It seems that his son is destined to disappoint him no matter how hard he tries.

Several paradoxical ideas can be found throughout the poem. For instance in the first two stanzas, Kipling talks about the moral and practical way of living life. In the third stanza he contradicts his own devotion to achieving balance and insists that his son should be impetuous enough to gamble away everything he has on a throw of the dice. It might be teaching self-reliance, flexibility and adaptability in that the son believes in himself enough to take a stand; but it is also impulsive and rash, in complete contradiction to what Kipling has been preaching so far.

Coming to the virtue of humility that Kipling wants to instil in his son, another contradiction arises. The son is told to ‘talk with crowds but keep his virtue,’ to be compassionate enough to empathise with every man, but to remain aloof and detached enough to not allow anyone to cause hurt him emotionally. How can someone who should ‘not look too good nor talk too wise’ remain at the same time distinct from the ‘common man’ he is supposed to empathise with. On closer inspection one finds that for a poem which puts so much emphasis on bland humility, there is an undertone of haughtiness throughout: Kipling assumes that his son would be better than everyone around him, reflecting what he thinks of himself. He is dishing out advice from a high pedestal which he has put himself on, assuming the role of the final, definitive, totalitarian authority on how his son should live his life.

This brings to mind another contradiction: Kipling assures his son that only once he has followed the set of instructions that he has outlined, would he be mature enough to be considered a Man in his own right. But shouldn’t the basic requirement of being a man be that he should be able to make decisions for himself, to learn from his own experiences and mistakes, to stand on his own feet and evolve. The poem does not allow any space for that. By providing his son with instructions of what to do in every situation that he has ever faced with in life on a platter, Kipling is crippling his ability to think for himself and is intent on dictating his son’s life and moulding him into the perfect image of the upper-class, stiff, English, stereotypical Man.

Thus the poem’s existence itself contradicts its message.


Posted by on March 11, 2015 in Analysis of Poems., LIterature


Tags: , , , , , , ,

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.


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



A Passage To Africa. (Narrative Article, Literary Analysis.)

The following was done as a request for Amanda.

George Alagiah writes about his experiences as a television reporter during the war in Somalia, Africa in the 1990s. He won a special award for his report on the incidents described in this passage.

I saw a thousand hungry, lean, scared and betrayed faces as I criss-crossed Somalia between the end of 1991 and December 1992, but there is one I will never forget.

I was in a little hamlet just outside Gufgaduud, a village in the back of beyond, a place the aid agencies had yet to reach. In my notebook I had jotted down instructions on how to get there. ‘Take the Badale Road for a few kilometers till the end of the tarmac, turn right on to a dirt track, stay on it for about forty-five minutes — Gufgaduud. Go another fifteen minutes approx. — like a ghost village.’

In the ghoulish manner of journalists on the hunt for the most striking pictures, my cameraman … and I tramped from one hut to another. What might have appalled us when we’d started our trip just a few days before no longer impressed us much. The search for the shocking is like the craving for a drug: you require heavier and more frequent doses the longer you’re at it. Pictures that stun the editors one day are written off as the same old stuff the next. This sounds callous, but it is just a fact of life. It’s how we collect and compile the images that so move people in the
comfort of their sitting rooms back home.

There was Amina Abdirahman, who had gone out that morning in search of wild, edible roots, leaving her two young girls lying on the dirt floor of their hut. They had been sick for days, and were reaching the final, enervating stages of terminal hunger. Habiba was ten years old and her sister, Ayaan, was nine. By the time Amina returned, she had only one daughter. Habiba had died. No rage, no whimpering, just a passing away — that simple, frictionless, motionless deliverance from a state of half-life to death itself. It was, as I said at the time in my dispatch, a vision of ‘famine away from the headlines, a famine of quiet suffering and lonely death’.

There was the old woman who lay in her hut, abandoned by relations who were too weak to carry her on their journey to find food. It was the smell that drew me to her
doorway: the smell of decaying flesh. Where her shinbone should have been there was a festering wound the size of my hand. She’d been shot in the leg as the retreating army of the deposed dictator … took revenge on whoever it found in its way. The shattered leg had fused into the gentle V-shape of a boomerang. It was rotting; she was rotting. You could see it in her sick, yellow eyes and smell it in the putrid air she recycled with every struggling breath she took.

And then there was the face I will never forget.

My reaction to everyone else I met that day was a mixture of pity and revulsion. Yes, revulsion. The degeneration of the human body, sucked of its natural vitality by the twin evils of hunger and disease, is a disgusting thing. We never say so in our TV reports. It’s a taboo that has yet to be breached. To be in a feeding center is to hear and smell the excretion of fluids by people who are beyond controlling their bodily functions. To be in a feeding center is surreptitiously* to wipe your hands on the back of your trousers after you’ve held the clammy palm of a mother
who has just cleaned vomit from her child’s mouth.

There’s pity, too, because even in this state of utter despair they aspire to a dignity that is almost impossible to achieve. An old woman will cover her shriveled body with a soiled cloth as your gaze turns towards her. Or the old and dying man who keeps his hoe next to the mat with which, one day soon, they will shroud his corpse, as if he means to go out and till the soil once all this is over.

I saw that face for only a few seconds, a fleeting meeting of eyes before the face turned away, as its owner retreated into the darkness of another hut. In those brief moments there had been a smile, not from me, but from the face. It was not a smile of greeting, it was not a smile of joy — how could it be? — but it was a smile nonetheless. It touched me in a way I could not explain. It moved me in a way that went beyond pity or revulsion.

What was it about that smile? I had to find out. I urged my translator to ask the man why he had smiled. He came back with an answer. ‘It’s just that he was embarrassed to be found in this condition,’ the translator explained. And then it clicked. That’s what the smile had been about. It was the feeble smile that goes with apology, the kind of smile you might give if you felt you had done something

Normally inured to stories of suffering, accustomed to the evidence of deprivation, I was unsettled by this one smile in a way I had never been before. There is an unwritten code between the journalist and his subjects in these situations.
The journalist observes, the subject is observed. The journalist is active, the subject is passive. But this smile had turned the tables on that tacit agreement. Without uttering a single word, the man had posed a question that cut to the heart of the relationship between me and him, between us and them, between the rich world and the poor world. If he was embarrassed to be found weakened by hunger and ground down by conflict, how should I feel to be standing there so strong and confident?

I resolved there and then that I would write the story of Gufgaduud with all the power and purpose I could muster. It seemed at the time, and still does, the only adequate answer a reporter can give to the man’s question.

I have one regret about that brief encounter in Gufgaduud. Having searched
through my notes and studied the dispatch that the BBC broadcast, I see that I never found out what the man’s name was. Yet meeting him was a seminal moment in the gradual collection of experiences we call context. Facts and figures are the easy part of journalism. Knowing where they sit in the great scheme of things is much harder. So, my nameless friend, if you are still alive, I owe you one.

A Passage To Africa is a moving, touching account of what George Alagiah felt and experienced in a small town in Africa, and the beauty and intensity of emotion lies, not only in the message behind it, but also in every word of every sentence in this article.

The title itself is significant. The noun ‘Passage’ is ambiguous; of course the obvious meaning would be that the following is an extract, a piece of writing. But it could also be interpreted as a path, a way, a journey to Africa. Also the use of the word ‘to’ imply that the passage is not a mere informative work on Africa, but a dedication to the country.

The beginning of the passage is a one sentence introductory paragraph starting with a series of adjectives in rapid succession: ‘thousand, hungry, lean, scared and betrayed faces.’ Showing the turmoil of emotions the author felt, unable to pin down the description of the faces in one word, it also evokes at once the curiosity of the reader a well as lays the ground work for the setting: a general picture of death and disease form in one’s mind. The use of the noun ‘faces’, not names, not people, but ‘faces’ shows the impersonal detachment of the author. They aren’t human beings to him; they are just faces, just surfaces and expressions. This is emphasized in the ending of the sentence: ‘…but there is one I will never forget.’ Along with informing us about a meeting which was so exceptional that the author cannot forget it, it also implies that the rest of the death and suffering he sees around him are very much forgettable and don’t really affect him.

The setting is cemented in the second paragraph: the use of the archaic noun ‘hamlet’ to describe the small village, the hyperbole ‘back of beyond’, the fact that agencies cannot reach that village, the long sentence giving directions of how to reach there, the dash before further elaborating on the bleak picture and the use of the simile comparing the place to a ‘ghost village’; all convey the isolation of the village, it’s detachment from the rest of the world, along with giving the reader a sense of the unnatural death and disease which surrounds the settlement like an ever present aura.

We find out in the third paragraph what the journalists are doing in such a village. They are looking for pictures for their newspaper. The writer’s disgust at his own job shows in the way he describes their job as a ‘ghoulish hunt’ in which they ‘trample huts’ looking for ‘striking pictures.’ These words refer indirectly to the prey/predator metaphor, where the journalists are the searchers, the ferocious and ruthless hunters looking for ways to exploit the suffering and deaths of the village locals, who become the helpless victim which covers and trembles before the mightier being.
This simultaneous degradation of the village people and elevation of the journalists is ironical as it proves that in the author’s mind it is the village people who are above them as he views himself as nothing more than a relentless animalistic hunter who is following a trail. This feeling of revulsion which the hunter feels towards himself is further shown in the ellipses in ‘my cameraman… and I’ as if he hesitates a little, out of shame and self-disgust, before admitting that he too was involved. This hatred that he harbors for his own feelings is explained when he admits that all those things that might have appalled him before don’t even leave an impression on him now, showing how his job is changing him, making him harder, more cynical and detached.

Pathos and pity is evoked in the reader by the next paragraph, its impact strengthened by the use of names as the plight of two daughters and their mother is described. The anaphora in ‘no rage, no whimpering’, the dash followed by adjectives such as ‘motionless, simple and frictionless’; all are used to diminish death, as if it is a matter of no importance or significance, an everyday occurring which is inevitable. Seeing death up close on a daily basis, Alagiah feels that it is rather life which is the difficult part, as in seen by his description of the girl’s existence as a ‘half-life’ and her death as ‘deliverance’ as if life is a punishment, something to be saved from.
His cynicism is again shown in how he refers to the famine which permeates the place as ‘a famine away from the headlines,’ as if all of the desolate scenes around him are not gruesome enough anymore to act as material for news. The ghastly horror of slow death does not hold the strength to leave an impact on anyone.

The following description of the old wounded woman lying ‘abandoned’ in her hut acts as proof for the prior admission that such scenes aren’t news worthy. ‘Decaying flesh’: a hyperbole which does not necessarily seem like one arise the sense of smell along with adjectives such as ‘rotting’. The ellipses before the explanation of her wound show the writer’s hesitation before he describes the army shooting at an old lady as ‘revenge’, making one wonder exactly how brutal and ruthless they must have been if the most subtle euphemism for their action is ‘revenge’. The paradox in ‘the gentle V-shaped boomerang’ casts a ghastly and vivid mental picture of the wound, as well as draws attention to the fact that an old lady is suffering from a war wound.

The simple one sentence sixth stanza ‘And then there was the face I will never forget’ implies the great significance of the meeting it alludes to , how important it must have been for the author.

The day of the meeting which has till now only been alluded to is next described. The writer recounts how everyone else he met that day caused him to feel revulsion. The repetition of this fact in a short sentence: ‘Yes, revulsion,’ not only implies that the readers should be confused and shocked by this, but also shows how the author himself is surprised and perhaps ashamed in admitting this, but feels a determination to do so. His disregard for the ‘taboo’ by stating a fact that most journalists choose to ignore, places him in a positive light despite his revolting admission. The reader is moved by his honesty and frankness and trusts his point of view because of this. His revulsion is explained in his description of the feeding camp, where people are ‘beyond controlling their bodily function.’ The reader too is disgusted by the effect of the imagery, despite the intense pathos which the scene evokes. He cleans his hands ‘surreptitiously’ as if he knows that he should not be feeling disgust, as if he tries to hide it.

The height of pity is reached in the eighth paragraph when Alagiah describes how the people, defeated by death, crushed by its oppression and helpless in its absolution still refuse to give up whatever shard of dignity they have left: the woman covers herself up, the man does not let go of his gardening hoe. These people are graceful even in their defeat. Among these is the face Alagiah catches sight of, the face that smiles. It is a face, not a man, not a name, simply a face; as were those faces that he saw and forgot that were mentioned before. But the smile is what makes it special, something unearthly in its beauty. He cannot pin down what the smile means, he describes it in negative sentences, it is not one of greeting or joy. He wonders at it as it has moved him to a feeling much ‘beyond pity and revulsion.’

The verb ‘clicked’ signify a sudden realization an epiphany which the author experiences as he realizes that the smile has been one of shameful apology. He is moved with disgust at himself and appreciation for the man’s courage and dignity. The irony is evident. The man surrounded by death, disease, suffering, and destruction is ashamed of his circumstances and appearance, but the man who is healthy, well-fed, confident and strong stands among them unashamed. Alagiah admits that the smile got to him in a way that death, misery and everything else could not, using short direct sentences to explain his meaning. The fact that the man tries to apologize for his suffering metaphorically ‘cut to his heart,’ so deep is the man’s question’s impact was.

This incident, isolated and alone, was what made the author determined to write about the plight of the Africans with all his heart and soul in the matter, not all the other horrible things he could forget. He regrets in the end that he does not remember the man’s name, implying that his name wasn’t all that important. Not as important as his message anyway. The ending is distinctive and different: Alagiah expresses his gratitude, his awe, his acceptance, and his apology to the nameless man who smiled at him amidst the sea of suffering , all in one sentence: I owe you one.

This article was an impressive comment on society: one that makes the reader pause and ask themselves what the world has come to? The glance at two different worlds, the poverty and suffering of one, and the apathy and coldness of the other is made evident here. This is done through the eyes of the journalist: the man who lives these two different realities. The person who sees the suffering around him, feels the sorrow and pity which is expected from a human being, but does nothing to stop it, instead is forced to exploit all that he sees for the sake of his job and profession. Something which is so wholly against human nature changes the journalist: it makes him cynical, detached, emotionally and spiritually dead, and the search for the next big break, the next shocking tale becomes his ‘drug’, the high he craves lying in the suffering of others. It makes him nearly inhuman, to the extent that he feels like an animal, a parasite living off other’s lives.
The passage also arises several questions and emotions in the reader, as man’s inability to feel for those who suffer from circumstances that he himself is safe from is made evident. We are comfortable in our own lives, the mere day to day troubles of fluctuating weather our main concerns while in parts of the world people are dying by the thousands every day. The excuse of obliviousness is not available to us, as the news publicize on the suffering of others. The reporters and journalists fight their base instincts of helping those whom they see as marks to get the story to us, those who are responsible for helping such people out. They do their jobs, but we fail at them spectacularly. We remain unmoved, unaffected, our ability to cope with everything making us adapt to the knowledge that we just are more better off than them, so much so that we take this fact as a right more than a privilege and do nothing to help them.


Posted by on May 22, 2012 in LIterature



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.


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


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.


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



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.


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