Category Archives: LIterature

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



Question of the Year: Metaphor or Simile? Literary Devices that You Really Need to Know.

If you are studying Literature, right at the start, you must’ve been handed a long, never ending list of meaningless gibberish titled “Literary Terms” and told to memorize them all. Of course, that sheet went right into the dark deep confines of your bag, never to be seen again. And now you’ve been told to find the “literary tools the poet used to enhance the poems” and are convinced that you must have been given the wrong question paper because you most certainly did not opt for Greek. Well fear not, this here is a (much shorter) list of terms that really do come in the poems we are given, and don’t just exist to make your life a misery:

  • Alliteration: This is the repetition of the same consonant sound in a phrase. For example, the sentence “The sacks in the tool shed smell like the seaside”, in Hide and Seek is an example of alliteration because of the repeating “S” sound. This is the easiest to spot in any poem you’re given as poets think it’s very cool to use alliteration.
  • Assonance: This goes hand in hand with alliteration and should not be confused with it. It is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same sentence or phrase.
    For example, in Prayer Before Birth (Louis MacNeice.) the phrase “in tall walls wall me, in black racks rack me…” uses assonance as  the vowel sound of “O” in ‘tall walls’ and “A” in ‘black racks’ is repeated.
  • Imagery: Painting with words. That is what imagery is. If you want to get poetical about describing it: It’s the use of descriptive skills to the extent that the reader’s five senses are aroused. He can see what you are showing, hear what you hear, smell what you smell and feel what you feel.
    If you just want to figure out where it is used so that you can write it and get marks, then look for lengthy paragraphs making no sense, having no object, and with lots of fancy words which can be summarized into one sentence. For example: ”The gushing brook stole its way down the lush green mountains, dotted with tiny flowers in a riot of colors and trees come alive with gaily chirping birds.”
    In poetry, it would be shorter sentences which still don’t make sense and are completely absurd if thought about literally. For example the poem ‘Piano’ by D.H. Lawrence is full of it.
    “Betrays me back, till the heart of me weeps to belong
    To the old Sunday evenings at home, with winter outside
    And hymns in the cozy parlour, the tinkling piano our guide.”
  • Metaphor: This is a comparison made between two objects without using definite comparative words such as “like” or “as.” Example: “My mother is a teddy bear.” The writer’s mother isn’t really a teddy bear, but rather he is describing how cuddly and warm she is by comparing her to a teddy bear. In the poem Tyger, William Blake constantly compares the tiger to fire. So if you want to say this properly you say: Throughout the poem, Blake metaphorically compares the ferocity and fierceness of the tiger to the roaring, all-consuming fire.
  • Simile: The simile and metaphor go hand in hand. Where metaphor was a comparison without the obvious words, simile is a comparison with them.
    For example: “As tall as a giraffe.” “As quite as death.” “It was like fire, blazing hot.”
  • Onomatopoeia: Sound words. That’s what this is. Words that describe sounds. “Booming of the piano.” (Poem Piano) Simple to spot and abundant in Seamus Heaney’s poems. For example: “Boom” “Bang!” “Whoosh!” “Splat!”
  • Paradox: When two opposing ideas are used in one sentence, a paradox is said to be created.
    For example: “Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night.” Here the night, which symbolizes death, is described as “good” making it a paradox as well as an odd choice of words.
  • Oxymoron: When two opposing words are used together, it is called an oxymoron. Example: ‘cold fire’; ‘sick health.’
    Don’t confuse this with paradox: if the whole thing doesn’t make sense, it’s a paradox. If just a few words go over your head, it’s an oxymoron.
  • Personification: When non-living objects are given the qualities or characteristics of living things, it is called personification. For example: The sun peeked from behind the clouds.

Those are all the literary terms that you need to be aware of, to pass your Literature O levels unscathed. There are many others, and it gets more complex as one goes deeper, but learn these and you’ll survive. Also one last thing: If you aren’t sure what literary device it is that the poet has used in an unseen poem, it is better to not write rather than writing wrong. The logic behind this is that if you don’t write it, the examiner will think that you were probably running out of time and won’t give you marks for the literary devices; but if you do and get them wrong, he will cut marks for not knowing them well. This is one of those few cases where you don’t get patted on the back for ‘at least trying.’

If there are any more literary devices that you aren’t sure of, feel free to drop a comment.


Posted by on November 28, 2011 in LIterature



Poetry: How to Tackle Poetry Questions.

As all O level students know, poetry plays a vital role in the Literature syllabus. Edexcel has actually divided English Literature into two papers: Paper I consists of drama and prose, whereas Paper II is poetry.

Also there are two things to choose from while doing the poetry paper: one can either do the question based on the sixteen poems that are predetermined in the syllabus; or opt to do the unseen poem. So what will you do?

On one side, its a pain to be thorough with the prescribed poems but then the poetry booklet is given, so one doesn’t have to learn the text. On the other hand if one is doing the unseen, one doesn’t have to worry about the poetry paper and focus on the drama and prose. Also examiners are quite lenient while checking the unseen as the candidate isn’t supposed to get all the points right. Still if you end up not getting the theme correct at all then you lose all your marks.  So weigh out the pros and cons carefully for both before choosing what way you’re going to venture.

Now that you’ve chosen what you’re going to do, let’s get down to business. The sixteen poems prescribed in the Edexcel syllabus of 2008 for IGCSE Literature, Paper II are as follows:

  1. If — Rudyard Kipling
  2. Prayer Before Birth — Louis Macneice
  3. Half-past Two — U A Fanthorpe
  4. Piano — D H Lawrence
  5. Hide and Seek — Vernon Scannell
  6. Sonnet 116 (‘Let me not to the marriage …’) — Shakespeare
  7. La Belle Dame Sans Merci — John Keats
  8. Poem at Thirty-Nine — Alice Walker
  9. Telephone Conversation — Wole Soyinka
  10. Once Upon a Time — Gabriel Okara
  11. War Photographer — Carol Ann Duffy
  12. The Tyger — William Blake
  13. My Last Duchess — Robert Browning
  14. A Mother in a Refugee Camp — Chinua Achebe
  15. Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night — Dylan Thomas
  16. Remember — Christina Rossetti


Before we go into explaining each poem in detail, the kind of questions which come regarding them should be considered. The first type is the simple analysis of one poem. This could be asked in a direct manner if the name of the poem is given, or you would have to choose what poem to write about to suit the question.
The other kind of question is when they ask you to compare and contrast two poems with each other. This is a little more difficult as in the time allotted for one, you have to write two different poems and the format for doing so also differs.

So how does one write these answers? For both of the above mentioned there is a definite format which if kept in mind can make life much easier.

For the first type: where they ask only one poem:



Dos and Don’ts.

Paragraph 1: Mention the title of the poem you have chosen and the poet but only if you remember. Also in one sentence summarize the main theme of the poem.  When mentioning the name, don’t say: “The poem‘Piano’ by D. H. Lawrence…”  Everyone knows that Piano is a poem you need not specify that. Say “D.H. Lawrence’s ‘Piano’ talks about…” Also do not mention the word theme while summarizing the theme. Say “The central idea of the poem” or “The poem explores the concept of…”
Paragraph 2: Write a summary of the poem. Just give an account of whatever happens in the poem. This could go on to two or three paragraphs.  Don’t quote in the summary. Keep it short and brief. Don’t go into details about specific words used in the poem.
Paragraph 3: The literary devices should be explored in this paragraph. Explain each one of those which are present in the poem, including words which are used ambiguously and the tone and structure of the poem.  Don’t write about those literary tools that you aren’t sure about. If you don’t write them, you lose some marks for missing points. But if you do write them and get them wrong, the examiner realizes that you neither know your poem nor your literary tools well.
Paragraph 4: Comments. This is the main part of your answer which is going to fetch you marks. The summary and literary devices won’t gain you marks, but you’ll lose them if you get that wrong. This is what will tell the examiner that you really know how to express your opinion in writing.
Things to comment on:
Comment on the theme.
Comment on the title.
Comment on writing style.
Comment on different interpretations.
 Use the word “I”. This shows confidence while writing the opinion. Use phrases such as “According to me…”; “In my opinion…”; “I think that…” Commenting on the title will get you extra marks as not everyone will think of doing that.
Paragraph 5: Conclusion. Mention the theme of your  poem again and end your answer.  Don’t use the same words while summarizing the theme that you used in the first paragraph. Use the “I” word again.
Make a bold, confident concluding statement which will leave an impression. This is the last thing the examiner will read before giving you marks, so it should really matter.

Thus is the format for writing any single-poem answer. It could be used for writing an unseen as well as well as doing a question based off the anthology.

For doing the comparative answers the first tricky part is choosing the two poems.
For example the question is: By analyzing two poems, discuss how love is explored through poetry.

Never choose two easy poems. (Sonnet 116 and Remember.)  No one knows the poems you are given better than the examiner and he’ll realize in a minute that you’ve tried to take the easy route out. He’ll mark you more strictly than usual. Also do not take two difficult poems, writing two long ones would be difficult and you’ll run out of time. Take one easy and one difficult poem to keep balance. So the sensible choice would be Remember and Mother in a Refugee Camp.  Also the poems you choose should obviously have the theme in question to suit the question, but they should also have something which is not alike because remember it is a compare (point out similarities) and contrast (Highlight differences) so not only should the poems have something similar but they should have something different as well.
The format would differ a little from the above:



Dos and Don’ts.

Paragraph 1: Mention the title and poets of the two poems that you’ve chosen.  Again, no using the word “poem.”
Paragraph 2: Write the theme of the first poem in one sentence.  Don’t mention the word “theme” Tryto  keep it as short as possible.
Paragraph 3: Write the summary of the first poem.  No quoting, keep it accurate and brief.
Paragraph 4: Literary devices. Of the first poem.  Explain each one in detail.
Paragraph 5: Theme of the second poem.  Don’t use the word “theme”
Paragraph 6: Summary of the poem.  No quoting, accurate and brief.
Paragraph 7: Literary devices.  Explain each. Use quotations here.
Paragraph 8: Combine the comments of both the poems. By this time the comparing part of the question would be over, so only thing left is the contrasting. The poems we had taken were Remember and Mother in a Refugee Camp. And by now we have already established the fact that both of them are about love. But here we point out the differences: While one is from a lover to another, the other describes the love between mother and child.  Adhere to the question here. If the question is about love, write only about love. Don’t dwell into minor sub themes. You’ll lose time over that and won’t be able to finish. Also doing so might make the examiner think that you didn’t get the question.
Paragraph 9: Conclusion. Compare and contrast both these poems in a few lines. It’s just a matter of simply reinstating the facts.  Try to use different words from those that you’ve used in earlier paragraphs.
End on a definite note. Make an impression.

Thus you now know how to write the answer for the poetry section. Only thing remaining is understanding the poems which will be done in further posts. Don’t hesitate to drop a comment if you have any queries.  Until next time then. Ciao!


Posted by on November 26, 2011 in LIterature




Hello everyone!

I’ve decided to create this blog as a small step towards rectifying the general opinion and impression that Literature is an intensely difficult subject which can neither be understood nor enjoyed. Even in my previous school, Literature was the only subject deemed impossible to acquire a passing grade in and hated with a burning passion. This fact saddens me a lot for I feel that the written word is the best way to express one’s self and much can be gleaned about a person from how they write.

According to me, there’s nothing complicated about it because it is all about opinion. If you like something, express your appreciation, if you don’t then voice your dislike. That’s as simple as it gets. No limitations, no exceptions; actually it’s the only thing which one CANNOT get wrong, as if your answer differs from the rest, then it is just a difference in opinions with the general public that you have. No one can fault you on having a diverse approach, only catch is that you have to explain that approach properly and make a solid case in your favor, which the examiner cannot disagree with even if he chooses not to agree with it.

That is what most of my posts will be about: how to go about expressing then explaining your opinion. Feel free to drop a comment at any time, or ask up if you have any particular piece of work that you need analyzed or reviewed.

Enjoy your stay here!

Hareem ur Rehman.


Posted by on November 25, 2011 in LIterature