Woman In Black – Chapter 5 Analysis

This analysis is based on the following question: How does Hill present Arthur Kipps and his reaction to his first visit to Eel Marsh House in Chapter 5, Across the Causeway? What follows below is how I would write such an essay. It is by no means completely covering the chapter and only uses some quotes. It has been placed here for you to use, to get ideas from, so if you decide to use any section of it, then I expect credit to be given to this site. If not, you are plagiarizing and cheating and good luck with that one! Take notice of the structure of the thing and glean ideas from it. Good luck.

How does Hill present Arthur Kipps and his reaction to his first visit to Eel Marsh House in Chapter 5, Across the Causeway?

In the novella, The Woman In Black, by Susan Hill, the author, uses a variety of techniques to allow the reader to feel the sensations that Arthur Kipps, the chief protagonist in the plot, feels. In doing so, Hill takes the reader on a roller coaster ride of emotions and this is seen particularly well in chapter 5, entitled where he crosses the causeway to Eel Marsh House.

Before the chapter begins, Kipps has been summoned to Crythin Gifford to sort the affairs of the late Mrs Drablow, who lived in the remote Eel Marsh House, across a causeway of land and in this chapter, Kipps endeavours to visit the old house for the first time. He has seen local residents quieten when the conversation has turned to Mrs Drablow’s affairs, has sensed a conspiracy of silence between them based and emerging out of fear and as he goes to the house, he is quite optimistic that he can get his job done efficiently on his own, thinking the fears of the locals are mere superstition.

Hill uses the five senses throughout the chapter, both in Kipps and in the reader, who in turn, senses Kipps’ feelings as he experiences them. By beginning with a simple sentence, for effect, of “no car appeared,” she is making the reader anticipate that something mysterious is about to happen. Then she develops the next few more complex sentences, using words like “worn” and “shabby” to describe the pony and trap. In essence, this can be seen as symbolic of the village and of the house he is about to visit, as if they are linked together in some kind of way. Age and decay seem to be prevalent in Crythin Gifford, both in the architecture and in the attitudes of the locals.

As he begins his travels on the pony and trap, with Keckwick across the causeway, Hill has him describe how “delighted at the sight” he is, showing his sense of progression and that his work is continuing apace. So at the beginning of the chapter, Kipps is confident, happy to be there and doing what he is paid for, content with his surroundings and the people he has met so far. Although he remembers “the ill-looking young woman,” he also sees that there is a beauty in the weather and the surroundings and as the journey to the house continues, there is an optimism in the words “all was bright and clear.” But then, as he gets closer to Eel Marsh House, the reader senses the change in him, in what he sees, in what he feels and hears. As “soil” gives way “to rough grass,” and he hears the “weird cries” all around him and “the water” gleams “like metal,” Kipps begins to sense danger approaching.

At this point there is the sense that Kipps is sharing positive and negative emotions and thoughts and as such, the reader senses these as well, feeling them with him, feeling his sense of dread. But it is when he sees Eel Marsh House for the first time and describes it as “a tall, gaunt house of grey stone with a slate roof” that the reader, with a knowledge of Gothic literature and its use of weather and archaic architecture, sees and feels the danger approaching as well. It is written this way to give the reader the sensation that something mysterious and dark is brooding over or near the house. It is a typical ghost story venue, an old run down house and most readers would be able to see this as they read.

Kipps describes it as “the most astonishingly situated house.” Clearly, this is also part of the genre and Hill is using a house set in an isolated and remote place to set the events before the reader. It is created thus, on purpose, to lure the reader into the narrative further, to allow the reader to feel the growing uneasiness and sense of positive and negative emotions now surging through Kipps. Hill uses this technique exceptionally well. Negative words like “isolated” and “uncompromising” are used to keep the reader on edge and they are extremely effective words to use in such a setting as this. Used with the title of the house, Eel Marsh House, one begins to see and feel the mystery, the weirdness of the house. Eels are slippery, mysterious creatures. A marsh is usually desolate and isolated, so the naming of the house is perfect in creating this scene, which is now set as Kipps arrives at the house.

Kipps says that he is “fascinated by it,” meaning the house, showing his sense of adventure, another Gothic element in literature, and Hill has him sharing that he is “aware of a heightening of every one” of his senses, something the reader is experiencing also. It is these sensations that Hill is trying to capture in this chapter as the house is set as a venue for what is going to happen later in the novella. Kipps even begins to “romanticize a little about how it would be” for he and his wife to live there.

But positivity turns to negativity as the chapter progresses and because of the weather, again used by Hill to make such a change in direction happen, Kipps becomes “conscious of the cold and the extreme bleakness and eeriness of the spot.” It is this eeriness that the reader is expecting because of the description of weather and isolation. The reader is expecting something bad to happen next and Hill does not disappoint, for Kipps sees once again “the woman with the wasted face.” When he does so, his whole mood changes to one of fear. The language at this point is quite poetic in its style as he stares at the woman until his “eyes ached in their sockets.” It is such a vivid description and one that brings the reader into the same sensation of dread, “surprise and bewilderment.”

In a way, Hill is using words to describe the woman and Kipps together, but also to describe and show how the reader should be feeling too; the resulting sensation of a “desperate, yearning malevolence.” This closeness to detail is alarming to the reader, allowing them into the sharing experience and even though Kipps is still a little unsure as to what actually is happening, the reader shares in the experience that fills Kipps with fear. He is described as never knowing the sensation before of being “gripped and held fast by such dread and horror and apprehension of evil,” which is a magnificent way of describing the terror he must be feeling at this point, so much so that he then adds that he feels he would “drop dead on that wretched patch of ground.” The reader is meant to associate these feelings as they are reading and as the reader responds in like fashion, it develops the sense of adventure and of mystery.

Throughout the rest of the chapter, where positivity turns to negativity, again using description of place to add to the mystery, the reader sees Kipps trying to rationalize out the things that have happened to him. This is something that we as readers would be doing also, so it is a very clever technique used by Hill as Kipps thinks things through from his eventful day. He has to think why he feels that every drop of energy is draining “out of [him] rapidly,” and why he “needed reassurance” after these events take place. Kipps remarks that “it is remarkable how powerful a force simple curiosity can be,” showing the reader just where their curiosity has got them in reading the novella in the first place.

It is only at the end, when Kipps is able to fully rationalise his feelings and experiences and when he decides not to wait for Keckwick and return to Crythin Gifford, that the reader sees and experiences his sense of combatant desire to overcome what is happening to him. In doing so, Hill successfully incorporates some of the elements of gothic literature into this single chapter to show the turning sensations and fears that her protagonist is going through. It is a turning point for Kipps in the plot structure just as much for the reader and one that is written very well and for dramatic effect.

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Charge Of The Light Brigade

This has to be one of my favourite poems ever written. I used to teach it to year 8 and get them to read it, discuss it and then write a 50 word [no more and no less] poem called THE BATTLE. Have a go at that in your own time. I dare you.

In teaching it, I trawled somewhere I cannot remember now and ended up with these notes. I hope they help.

Explanation: “The Charge of the Light Brigade”

Lines 1-4

The beginning lines of the poem throw the reader into the centre of action, with a rousing chant that drives the reader, both in its description and in its galloping rhythm, toward the battle. A “league” is approximately three miles long: charging horses could cover half a league in a few minutes. The audiences of the time of the poem would have been familiar with the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War, upon which the poem is based, and would have known from the beginning that they were charging to their own doom. (As the poem soon makes clear, the six hundred cavalrymen of the Light Brigade were aware of this themselves.) The poem suggests that it is these moments before the battle has begun that are the Brigade’s greatest glory. The phrase “Valley of Death” refers to an episode of John Bunyon’s Pilgrim’s Progress and to Psalm 23 from the New Testament of the Bible: in both of these sources, faith makes people brave when they are faced with death.

Lines 5-8

In the earliest published version of this poem, printed in the London Examiner on December 9, 1853, the command to charge forward was attributed to Lord Nolan, a well-known military figure of the time. In changing the speaker to an anonymous “he,” the poet shifts the focus of the poem away from individual actions and decisions onto matters of record, and onto the roles played by followers and leaders in military situations everywhere. In addition to obscuring the identity of the speaker, this final version of the poem changes the command given from “Take the guns” to “Charge for the guns!” This heightens the sense of the danger of the charge, while leaving unstated the reason for charging into the blaring gunfire.

Lines 9-12

No sooner does line 9 repeat the shouted command that sends the Light Brigade to their doom than line 10 makes the reader wonder whether any of the soldiers were stricken with fear upon hearing the command. Although we currently closely associate the word “dismay” with “shock,” its actual meaning includes a loss of courage. By raising this issue as a question and then answering that no, there was no fear, Tennyson gives the reader a moment’s pause to let the full extent of the soldiers’ bravery sink in. Line 11 and line 12 tell the reader without question that every member of the Brigade knew that this order was a mistake. This contradiction — the fact that the soldiers knew they were likely to die because of a “blunder” in military strategy, yet charged forward without fear anyway — gives the poem a psychological depth that would be lost if it merely celebrated the loyalty of soldiers who were unaware of the faulty command they were following.

Lines 13-17

Lines 13 through 15 repeat each other, in the way they phrase the rules these soldiers live by. The style suggests the regimented, militaristic way the members of the Light Brigade think as they ride ahead, and the effect of the strong use of repetition is to drown out concerns about the blunder mentioned in the previous stanza. “Theirs but to do and die” says that the soldiers are actually supposed to die — this might seem contrary to the purpose of fighting, but Tennyson makes it clear that this is the belief of the charging soldiers, for whom such a fate would be the ultimate expression of loyalty. In lines 16 and 17, the perspective shifts from what the soldiers think of their mission to a view of the overall battle situation, again repeating the image of the “valley of Death.”

Lines 18-21

The first three lines of this stanza are virtually identical, changing only the location of the cannons, presenting the layout of the battlefield visually, instead of simply stating the fact that there were cannons all around. By repeating the phrase three times, the reader is not only given information about the tremendous odds against the Light Brigade, but the poem gives the feeling of being surrounded.

Lines 22-26

“Stormed” in line 22 extends the image of “thundered” from the line before it, making the barrage of cannon fire aimed at the cavalrymen appear almost like a force of nature. Line 23 makes a point of mentioning that the soldiers of the Light Brigade were brave, but also that they rode their horses well. Their skill is mentioned almost as an afterthought, though, and this is the only place in the poem that it is brought up. The reason for this is that this poem makes its reader analyse the battle almost entirely in terms of attitude, not ability. In lines 24-26, Tennyson expands the phrase that was used to end the first two stanzas: instead of the geographic “Valley of Death,” he uses the metaphor “jaws of Death,” and extends this metaphor with “mouth of hell.” Treating death as the same thing as hell, and making both as real as an animal’s attack, the poem heightens the viciousness of death on the battlefield.

Lines 27-38

This stanza celebrates the Light Brigade’s control over the battle at its beginning. They ride into the enemy, using their sabres against opponents armed with cannons and pistols, and are able to break through the front line of defence. The pistols and rifles of the day would have been useless to the members of the Light Brigade because they required reloading with a very complicated procedure that involved measuring gunpowder and pellets, which would have been impossible for a man on horseback. Sending a cavalry unit into the confined space of a valley against guns was so obviously hopeless, that it may be this, and not the brigade’s initial success, that is referred to when the line “all the world wondered” appears in the middle of a vivid battle scene. In this stanza, the Light Brigade takes such complete control of the situation that their opponents, the Cossacks and Russians, find their defensive line torn apart (“shattered and sundered”) and have to retreat, while the six hundred cavalry members, who have by this time stared into the barrels of cannons and guns, continue to press forward bravely.

Lines 39-49

The first five lines of this stanza override any optimism the reader may have gotten from the Light Brigade’s initial success. By using the same words as were used in stanza 3 (except that now the cannon are behind instead of in front of them), the poem takes the reader back to the same sense of hopelessness that was established before the battle began. The brief victory that was gained in the fourth stanza has made no difference in the overall scope of the battle. The first time these words were used (lines 18-22), though, they ended with a claim of the soldiers’ boldness and skill: this time, they end with the soldiers (referred to directly as “heroes” ) being shot down. The path that the Light Brigade charged into — the jaws of death, the mouth of hell — is mentioned again as the survivors make their escape. Anthropologists and sociologists have observed that going into hell and then returning is a common motif in the mythology of many of the world’s cultures, including one of the best-known myths of Western civilization, the labours of Hercules. The survivors of this battle are thus raised to heroic status by the words that this poem uses to describe the valley’s entrance.

Lines 50-55

The focus of the poem shifts in this stanza, from describing the battle scene to addressing the reader directly. In using the description “wild” to marvel at the charge, Line 51 implies that thoughtless bravery is to be admired in and of itself, regardless of concerns about strategy or success. Repeating the line “All the world wondered” in line 52 adds to the idea that what the soldiers have done goes beyond the average person’s comprehension: the soldiers are following rules that those who rely on intellect over loyalty might not understand. Although a close reading of the tone of this poem can leave little question about how we are meant to feel about these cavalrymen, the poem does not rely upon a reader’s understanding of the subtleties of tone, but directly tells the reader in line 53 and line 55 to honour these soldiers. That the poem is so straightforward about its intent is an indicator that it was written for a common, often uneducated, audience, to celebrate the actions of common soldiers who understood what they were being asked to do better than the blundering military strategists who planned the attack.

Meeting Seamus

Analyse this…..if you can.

MEETING SEAMUS [Heaney]

It was one of those moments
That you cherish in life;
A memory that can never fade,
An event of complete magnitude
That will remain with me for all time.
I was nervous, excited and drinking rapidly
As he entered through the door
Into my world of dreams and thought.
I had read about the man.
I had read some of his poetry
And yet, as I stood drinking,
Our eyes met across a crowded hall.
My glass stopped, half in and half out
Of my trembling mouth,
As the recognition occurred.
He did not know me, but I knew him
Above any other person in the room.
As our eyes met, it was electrifying;
Like one of those special moments
Between two people attracted to each other.
My attraction was one of sheer admiration
For a man who I had never met.
A shiver shot down my spine as I looked;
Eyebrows raising in an arc of surprise
As eye met eye and soul met soul.
For a moment, he nodded in my direction;
A greeting from one Celt to another.
It was a moment I will never forget!
Two years on, the memory still remains
Of that eventful evening in London.
As memories come and go,
This one never seems to fade,
Never wanes or dissipates; is always strong.
It shines like a beacon in my heart,
The memory of meeting Seamus.

Futility – Wilfred Owen

Futility

Move him into the sun—
Gently its touch awoke him once,
At home, whispering of fields unsown.
Always it awoke him, even in France,
Until this morning and this snow.
If anything might rouse him now
The kind old sun will know.
Think how it wakes the seeds—
Woke, once, the clays of a cold star.
Are limbs so dear-achieved, are sides
Full-nerved,—still warm,—too hard to stir?
Was it for this the clay grew tall?
—O what made fatuous sunbeams toil
To break earth’s sleep at all?

Analysis

Have you ever heard the phrase, “resistance is futile?” In other words, to resist is futile. But what does the word actually mean? The dictionary says that the word “futile” means “pointless” or “incapable of producing any useful result.” With this in mind it is easy to see just what Wilfred Owen thinks of his predicament in the trenches towards the end of the first world war. He was an officer who was injured, hospitalized in England and then sent back to the Somme, along with thousands of others, including my Grandfather. When Owen was in France he wrote some of his poems. Other poems of his were written whilst in hospital in the UK.

This one shares his disdain for what is happening, his sense that the war has been a futile waste of time, effort and humanity. This then is another example, like Dulce Et Decorum Est [my favourite poem of all time and one to teach to a Y8 group just before lunch – always has the desired effect] which tells all those people and poets like Jessie Pope at home that it is not noble to die for one’s country and it is not a good thing to be killing other human beings in such a fashion as we did.

All is futile; that is the message and one that is shared in so few words as to make it more powerful than ever. The second word tells us that this is about someone he more than likely knew, a man who he says needs turning “into the sun.” When alive, this same sun would awake him “with its touch.” Indeed, being in France, in the countryside, the same sun “always …. awoke him.” Clearly this is about a man who loved the openness of the fields and the countryside, who favoured the sun’s beams and warmth and revelled in its glory given to him by God. He was in life, a nature loving individual who could see and appreciate the beauty of nature all around him.

But now, as a lifeless corpse, in “this morning and this snow,” he resides in the harshness and cold reality of warfare, unable to appreciate the life that once was his a constant reminder to his comrades of the savagery of war. There is a callous sense of harsh reality in the words “if anything might rouse him now, the kind old sun will know” because the sun is the only thing offering warmth on this cold winter’s day in the snow of the Somme.

In this futile war, thinks Owen, where the sun is the only warmth available to anyone, there is the sense of futility all around him, in everything he sees, in everything he does. He asks the rhetorical question to all who would read; to the Jessie Popes at home encouraging young men to go off and fight. He asks “was it for this the clay grew tall?” He is asking was it for this that the ground before him grew into the muddy quagmire or the snowy hell that engulfed bodies and sucked them down into the mud, to lie there forever being churned by tractor blades and rotor shears? If so, then there has to be something wrong with humanity and its desire and need to kill. This is both social comment and political polemic.

He adds “O what made fatuous sunbeams toil to break earth’s sleep at all?” Fatuous means silly or pointless, so one can see here that Owen is criticizing heavily the belief in the justness and positive status attached to warfare. Clearly, his experience has coloured his views. He has seen bodies blown up, rats gnawing on dead friends as they lie in no man’s land [the space between German and English forces] and he has seen the Shell Shock [modern day PTSD] survivors trying to come to terms with the effects of what they had to endure. His war was labelled “The war to end all wars” which in itself was a futile and fatuous title; silly, stupid and pointless and Owen is magnificently sharing these thoughts with the reader here.

Some notes from the Wilfred Owen Society Website

Futility

The front line on a bright winter morning. A soldier has recently died though we don’t know precisely how or when. Owen appears to have known him and something of his background and he ponders nature’s power to create life, setting it against the futility of extinction.

Only five of his poems were published in Wilfred Owen’s lifetime. FUTILITY was one of them. It appeared, together with HOSPITAL BARGE, in “The Nation” on 15th June 1918, shortly after being written – at Ripon probably – although Scarborough is a possibility. At about this time Owen categorised his poems, FUTILITY coming under the heading “Grief”.

It takes the form of a short elegiac lyric the length of a sonnet though not structured as one, being divided into seven-line stanzas. Owen uses the sun as a metaphorical framework on which to hang his thoughts.

The sun wakes us (lines 2 & 4), stimulates us to activity (3), holds the key of knowledge (7), gives life to the soil (8), gave life from the beginning, yet (13) in the end the “fatuous” sunbeams are powerless.

Poppies – From The Horse’s Mouth

It would be remiss of me to not add the words of the poet into an analysis of this poem and I believe in the idea that the best place to get info is from the horse’s mouth, as it were.

I came across this on youtube, so instead of adding 600 words of my own, I defer to her knowledge and wisdom.

Enjoy!

Untitled + Analysis

Untitled

I am but a line of script
In an electronic sky
A scream in a cyber wilderness
Lines on a screen
I have no feelings
I have no existence
Just lines of script
To amuse or annoy
Or destroy
Merely an electronic toy
To pass the time between
Breakfast and bed

Ron Groves

A friend of mine wrote this poem and it is one that has not been published until now. I asked his permission to share it here because I think it is brilliant. I think he has a gift in this world of word art and should continue this further. Here is my analysis of the poem, as an example to you all that it does not matter what the poem in front of you; an analysis can and indeed should, be written. Try it with one of your own poems, for that is an A Level activity, to write a commentary on your own writing.

Analysis

In essence, this free verse poem says a lot about feelings and emotions that exist in us all from time to time. In his poem, the poet describes himself, if indeed he is describing self, as “a line of script” which is an interesting use of language, personifying the line of script and giving it life as an immediate negative start that is meant to continue throughout the rest of the poem. This immediate beginning is intentional so as to share the negative emotions felt and experienced.

This “line of script “ is something that has to exist somewhere and this one exists in “an electronic sky,” like the birds of the air who have their freedom, but in this case, one that is tied down by the boundaries that are set in place by the “electronic sky,” or the internet based life that we lead nowadays. When put together, the first and second lines emerge to show a person who feels trapped in an endless game of shadows between the harshness and rigidity of lines on paper; black and white and somewhat straightforward which represent the realms of the cyber world we live in.

The use of the word “scream” in line three is one that adds to the negativity felt by the poet as he comes to terms with the pressures faced upon him. To scream suggests angst and the sort that lies in desperation, but to then turn it from a noun to a verb with the addition of “in a cyber-wilderness” allows the reader to see the widespread wilderness that is the internet, with all its cyber bullying and hatred between one person or thing and another.

The reader then gets to share in these negative emotions as the poet shares that he feels like “lines on a screen,” having “no feelings” at all but bad ones to share with the world in the form of social media. There are no feelings, just an “existence,” that makes living intolerable and so he copes by adding “lines of script” that are meant solely to “amuse” or “annoy” those who would be his masters or bullies. Such people “destroy” the soul, they make life unbearable and they do so using the one thing that is meant to amuse; social media networks like Facebook and Twitter. One hears so many tales of people who have been cyber bullied, so this in essence, now becomes a battle cry against such villainous individuals.

The “electronic toy” that is used for such things becomes transposed and transformed into the human being when these things happen, resulting in turmoil and sensations of despair for those who are so ill-treated. This then, is a very well written and powerful poem, akin to any penned by Simon Armitage or Carol Ann Duffy and one that shows the ill effects of this cyber world that we live in. It is a cry from the heart, but it is also a warning to us all of the cyber dangers we face each day.

Belfast Confetti – Analysis

As someone who was in the Territorial Army from 1977 to 1980, I consider myself fortunate that I was never called on to go to Belfast and take part in the controlling of the nation there in what we now call “The Troubles.” Northern Ireland, for such a long time, had so many issues to work through that I am glad I did not have to share in the pain and the heartache, the conflict that took place. So when I see poems from that country that tell tales of a time within the conflict between Catholic and Protestant, the Free Irish and the English Crown, I am immensely interested.

This poem shares the story of the aftermath of a “blast,” something that happened where people’s lives were lost and roads were then closed down by the armed forces. On the page, as you see it for the first time you are put off it a little because of the structure. It appears to be an odd conjunction of words, where there is a line and then two words, another line and one word; in a way, confusing for the reader. You have to look closely at the punctuation to see where you would normally take a breath. But then again, this is about the after effects of a bomb blast somewhere in Belfast, so just as much as wood and glass, bone and blood would have been spread everywhere, so too are his words on the page. If this is intentional, then one has to consider the elements of intentional fallacy [look it up please] to wonder if his intent is to cause the same confusion as was felt after the bomb had gone off.

When you then begin reading, using the commas at the end of lines and the enjambement [nothing at the end of line so you carry on reading the next line immediately] to take your pauses and breathe, you suddenly see something remarkable; a stylish poem that mirrors or reflects the after effects so well. For example, the use of the words “riot squad” and the sound that is associated with it become the first thing you imagine in your head. As it happens it is “raining exclamation marks” which is a bit of an odd description but in as much as things like nail bombs were used, the picture of flying shrapnel is mirrored by these exclamation marks. It could also mean that when we shout something, or are angry, we do so, in writing, using exclamation marks, so this could be a form of expressive description being used.

Then we see in the mind’s eye the things that are being thrown all over the place; “nuts, bolts, nails, car keys.” It is therefore, a scene of carnage. This is not just conflict, this is terrorism, which then links into the carefully worded poem The Right Word, where the issue of labelling using words like “terrorist” are discussed. The explosion has caused all this and is, technically speaking, and historically speaking, “an asterisk on the map” where something terrible has happened. The line has been drawn now in that city, because someone has stepped over the mark into the world of mayhem.

The line in the poem is “hyphenated,” and linked with the idea that there is “a burst of rapid fire,” one sees the rat tat tat sound that a machine gun will make but also the sensation after a blast where the hearing is confused and is taking its time to come back to normal. Film makers tend to show this aftermath in terms of a buzzing sound, but others more recently have muffled their sound and slowly brought it back to normal. This is what is happening in the blast radius of this bomb, with the “burst of rapid-fire” being things said or shouted as people flee for their safety. The poet relates how he is “trying to complete a sentence is [his] head” which shows us he is thinking his way through the event at the time, trying to make sense of it, but he is in the first throes of shock and so his “common sense” is not making sense, or “stuttering” and all “the alleyways and side streets” which he would use to escape are now “blocked,” but not with soldiers. He interjects the words “stops and colons,” which sounds a little odd and ironic, but the intention is there for all to see; as his mind is slowly making sense of what has just happened and the shock is taking hold, his brain and his mind have been scrambled temporarily, causing him to not be able to make sense of things. A colon and a full stop are pauses in a sentence, so one can now see his mind pausing and stopping as he tries to make sense of things around him.

In the final verse, as oddly as it is put together, reflecting the confusion in his and everyone else’s mind, we then are shown a list of street names, in Belfast, but there is an obvious link to previous conflicts where bombs and bomb blasts; shell shock and PTSD have existed. Places like “Balaclava” and “Odessa” are infamous now for their pain inflicted on humanity, but these are now street names and he asks the question why he cannot escape. The answer is that every move he makes is “punctuated.” Again, we have here a linguistic term, a technique used in writing where we punctuate a sentence to make it slow down, to make it easier to read and make sense of. So his mind, in like fashion, is beginning to make sense of what has just happened. The irony of “Crimea Street” being a “dead end again” is massive, because the Crimean War was something that was fought in the mid 1850s that caused massive loss of life and heartache for the families of those who fell.

This is where the focus comes back for him as he sees a “Saracen,” along with “face shields” and “walkie-talkies,” reflections of reality as the armed forces take control of the situation. As they do so he is left thinking one thing; what is his name? There is a “fusillade of question marks” that follow, as would be the case after a blast you have just survived. It is in this time when the senses come back to normal that you begin to check things out; am I safe? Is everything intact? Who am I and where am I? The urge to run has subsided and the need to find solace has taken over. This is why this is such a powerful piece of writing. It takes the reader through the effects of a bomb blast in a way that no other piece of writing can do. It shows the reader just what the human mind is capable of and it is, in essence, a very powerful memory indeed.

At The Border 1979

At the border, 1979

By Choman Hardi

“It is your last check-in point in this country!”
We grabbed a drink-
soon everything would taste different.
The land under our feet continued
divided by a thick iron chain.
My sister put her leg across it.
“Look over here,” she said to us,
“my right leg is in this country
and my left leg in the other”.
The border guards told her off.
My mother informed me: We are going home.
She said that the roads are much cleaner
the landscape is more beautiful
and people are much kinder.
Dozens of families waited in the rain.
“I can inhale home,” somebody said.
Now our mothers were crying. I was five years old
standing by the check-in point
comparing both sides of the border.
The autumn soil continued on the other side
with the same colour, the same texture.
It rained on both sides of the chain.
We waited while our papers were checked,
our faces thoroughly inspected.
Then the chain was removed to let us through.
A man bent down and kissed his muddy homeland.
The same chain of mountains encompassed all of us.

Choman Hardi is a Kurdish poet living in exile in England. Her poetry reflects the love and respect she has for her homeland but also the foulness of what happened to the Kurds at the hands of Saddam Hussein and his troops.

This in a lot of ways, is a simple enough poem, but then there are depths to it that need to be sought and looked into in order to understand why she wrote it. As the poem begins, it does so as a memory of a time when she crossed over the border from one country into another. As she gets a drink she feels that soon enough “everything would taste different.” This is a phrase that has a surface meaning of different cultures equals different ways and means different foods and tastes but it also can be seen in symbolic fashion, in a negative way, as she is entering somewhere where peace and freedom are things that cannot be taken for granted. Taken this way, her words suggest an almost ominous feeling of threat as they enter this country, possibly once again.

The words “thick, iron chain” suggest harshness and pain on the landscape and on the countryside as it serves to separate one land from another. It is a border guard post after all. But the poet uses her sister who has one leg in each country to show the difference between the two. The fact that the border guards tell her off is a signal to the reader that as they enter this land once again, what mother calls “home,” is in fact, a painful place, a hard place, a place of terror and worry. This is not the sort of behaviour the guards expect, nor the mother in this context. But these two are children playing at the border post as they go home to the land of their fathers.

Up till now, the reader is thinking that by going home they are going back into something that is filled with regret, but the poem turns on the next few lines as we read that the mother then tells her children that home is a land where “the roads are much cleaner, the landscape is more beautiful and people are much kinder.” This suggests that the Mother sees home in a positive light, even if that is perhaps untrue, but more likely that the land they are coming from, being Iraq, is of no comparison to her Kurdish home, where to her, everything is so much better than where she has been living with her family.

The next line says that “dozens of families waited in the rain,” itself suggesting that the process of crossing the border is indeed a long one, where one has not only to prove one’s identity but be searched extensively before being allowed to pass through. The fact that one lady then admits that she can “inhale the land” tells the reader how strong the bond is with home; it is something that exists within us all and it is something that appears the closer we get to that which we perceive as ‘home.’

It is an emotion that leads to Mothers “crying” and their five year olds wondering just what is happening as they compare “both sides of the border.” It is in that moment that Hardi sees the similarities on both sides of the land that is intersected by that chain. She sees the same coloured ground, the same mud, the same continuity of landscape but cannot see how and why one side is better to live in than the next. The fact that it rains on “both sides of the border” shows how the five year old cannot be expected to see the intricacies of life that exist at a border crossing.

But as they wait to have everything checked and then the chain is taken away, she begins to see a change not only in her mother but also in how she views the land she is entering. She says that a man bends down and kisses his “muddy homeland” in a sign or reverence for the nation, for the very ground he belongs to, showing an understanding in older age of why the man would do that, even though the five year old would not comprehend the actions.

But the final line, with that image painted in the mind of the reader of a group of people being “encompassed” by “the same chain of mountains” that existed before, is one that shows that they have gone from bad to good, from hell to heaven if you like, from tyranny to freedom. In terms of warfare then, this poem seems ill placed, but the title of the anthology collection is not “warfare,” but “conflict” and when one applies that word to this poem we begin to see the conflict in the mother, who sees the old regime and the freedom of her homeland. We see the conflict of the children who see the same landscape but something stopping them, barring them from enjoying it and we see the conflict in the landscape, where the same mountains exist to bring about a sense of pride of national freedoms as well as being something that can “encompass,” a word that can have negative connotations as well as positive ones.

The Right Word – Imthiaz Dharker

Think about this for a moment, where might you see or hear the phrase that is the title of this poem?

Have you used “the right word” there? What is “the right word” to use? There are possibly more to think about. So how does Imthiaz Dharker mean us to use it this time?

The first time I ever came across this poem was hearing the poet on a video recite the poem so I heard the tone as well in her voice and it was the immediate thing I noticed. There was a slight venom in her voice, akin to Agard when he asks us to consider what we mean by the term “half caste.” So I am left with the undying thought that she is trying to get us to consider just how we label people.

THE RIGHT WORD POEM

For example, she says from the beginning that the person “lurking in the shadows” is none other than a “terrorist,” but there is a saying that goes something like “one person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter,” so we are left wondering if she is echoing this thought on purpose.

Verse two begins with the question as to whether she has got that right by using the word “terrorist.” It is a viable term to use if someone is indeed “lurking in the shadows” waiting with intent to cause harm, but she asks if she has it right. Perhaps he could be the “freedom fighter” after all? We see this because of the words “taking shelter in the shadows,” which have an opposite meaning in this context to those in verse one.

But that continues into the next two verses where words like “hostile militant” and guerilla warrior” are used to take us back to the idea of a person of violence lurking in those shadows. But we as readers then ask ourselves what each word means because there is a distinction between terrorist and freedom fighter, guerilla warrior and hostile militant. It is important how we see these people because some of them may be members of our family or circle of friends.

She asks if words “are no more than … wavering flags” which does remind the reader of John Agard’s poem, Flag, making the reader think towards the idea of a nation’s flag and the term we might then use for a person in the darkness of the shadow life. In this sense, the term “freedom fighter” fits better than “terrorist” if the person is a fellow national. If not, then any of the others fits well. It is dependent therefore, on context, as to what terms we use to label each other.

From here in the poem there is a sense of desperation as she seeks the help of God to assist her in defining this something in the darkness. For now it is not a someone of terror, but “a child” who she says “looks like mine.” In this way, the reader sees in their mind their child, if they have one, or the prospect of seeing a child of theirs enter into such a life as this. We hear so much of the young being radicalized and then going off to fight in Jihad that we can easily see that given the wrong context, our family members could easily end up like this, in the shadows.

Tell me, how would you react if your brother or sister, son or daughter, or wider family member, who you trust and love, were to become radicalized? Would you isolate the person and leave them “in the shadows” or would you “open the door” and let them in to give them the help that they need? This is the aspect found in the final two verses of this poem. People who we deem to be terrorists and freedom fighter are actually, other people’s sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, so how we treat and deal with such people is important.

Dharker uses the words “the child walks in and carefully, at my door, takes off his shoes.” This is a sign of respect to the owner of the house, to do such things. It is a sign that the person outside who is coming in knows something of manners and etiquette. It is a sign that they care, but in this context it has come from someone who someone else would deem a “militant” or worse, a “terrorist.” Clearly, Dharker is trying to make us think about the terms we use to label each other. Labels are negative usually and used to demean people and put them down. But the true human is one that loves and respects, which in this case, is the person in the shadows. And there is the dilemma for the reader!

This is a very clever poem indeed, one that makes you question your relationships with others and especially with people who we consider are ‘different’ to ourselves. It is also something of a polemic on world affairs, subtly making the reader consider just who are the freedom fighters and who are the real terrorists.