Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen

Dulce et Decorum Est
by Wilfred Owen
Introduction .. At the dawn of the nineteenth century, Europe’s political map looked so much different from what is today. The attitude of the rulers towards their citizenry, economy and war was also starkly different. Stable borders, responsible governments, focus on economy, democracy, regard for democracy, and most importantly, aversion to wars etc. were alien to the rulers then. Smaller countries, despotic self-indulgent rulers, disregard for well-being of the subjects, and a ruinous penchant for long-drawn battles made blood-letting a ritual of living. Kings and dukes loved wars and glorified it as a necessary evil for a proud state. In winning battles, kings and commanders took little part themselves, but prodded thousands of young men to plunge in it as a sacred duty. Through rousing patriotic songs, people were enthused to go out and fight, no matter the suffering.
Conditions in the battle field were ghoulish. Soldiers died like rats as medical support for the wounded was scanty. Despite the grisly scenes of suffering, people came out to fight and die as their vainglorious commanders and monarchs conjured up dreams of valour and victory. As a result of this deadly cocktail of patriotism and self-aggrandizement, battles dragged on inexorably soiling blood on every square inch of the battle field.
This poem graphically portrays the horrors of the battlefield, and the author sighs in frustration and disbelief to reflect how empty, inculcated patriotism has led to so much suffering.
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.

Meaning of Stanza 1 .. The battle had been savage and brutal. Under the weight of injuries, starvation, and an enemy fighting with extremely lethal weapons like poisonous gases, allied soldiers are down on their knees. Too demoralized and etiolated, they can barely stand erect, and walk steadily. They are escaping a murderous assault by the enemy soldiers. They barely hang on to their lives, hoping to flee to safety. Their feet are deep under the mud, and some of them cough intermittently to let their lungs eject the poisonous gases they have inhaled. The slow walk to safety is punctuated by blinding flares from enemy gas shells.

Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.

Meaning of Stanza 2 .. Despite their drained body and mind, they try to make the best of a hopeless situation. They call out to one another about the gas shells bursting nearby, and ask their comrades to hasten their sagging feet. The author sights a fellow soldier struggling to stay afloat in the shallow waters of the nearby sea. He wants to swim, but can’t. He is too weak to do so. Right before the author’s eyes, he slowly drowns to death. It is a nerve-wracking sight, too horrendous to endure.

In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.

Meaning of Stanza 3 .. He tries to reach out to the author for help, but neither he, nor the author is undone. He gulps down water, and breathes his last.

If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues,—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.

Meaning of Stanza 4 .. The sight of the soldier drowned to death is thrown into an army wagon that collects dead bodies of soldiers. Fear, pain, struggle and sorrow are writ large in his face. His eyes pop out as if to say something, but he is dead. He has suffered excruciating pain as his choked lungs tightened its grip around his throat. Seeing him in this state is a harrowing and ghastly sight.

After going through such ordeal, the author claims, no one would sing the praise of a fighting soldier’s life, nor would he say that dying for the motherland is so great glory.



Phenomenal Woman BY MAYA ANGELOU

Phenomenal Woman
by Maya Angelou
Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.
I’m not cute or built to suit a fashion model’s size
But when I start to tell them,
They think I’m telling lies.
I say,
It’s in the reach of my arms,
The span of my hips,
The stride of my step,
The curl of my lips.
I’m a woman
Phenomenal woman,
That’s me.


I walk into a room 
Just as cool as you please,   
And to a man, 
The fellows stand or 
Fall down on their knees.   
Then they swarm around me, 
A hive of honey bees.   
I say, 
It’s the fire in my eyes,   
And the flash of my teeth,   
The swing in my waist,   
And the joy in my feet.   
I’m a woman 
Phenomenal woman, 
That’s me. 


Introduction .. As a civil rights activist, author and a feminist leader, Maya Angelou has made her mark in America. Maya, with her con-conformist outlook, fierce self-confidence and a great literary mind, has inspired hundreds and thousands of black and just ordinary women around the world to give up their inferiority complex and assert their place in the society. Born in 1928 in St Lois, Missouri, Maya is considered as a foremost public figure with multiple literary awards under her belt. She sang her famous song ‘On the Pulse of Morning’ in Bill Clinton’s inauguration to thunderous applause from the audience.


Explanation to Stanza 1 and 2… Maya Angelou wrote the poem in the first person. She is brimming with self confidence as she declares herself as a ‘phenomenal’ woman. In this male-dominated and sex-defined society, she is a rebel – an anti-hero. Bereft of impressive vital statistics, and white skin, she stomps her way in the society and the work place as men glance appreciatively towards her begging her love. Her gait, smile, body language and, most importantly, self-assurance gives her the aura of beauty, attractiveness, grace and sophistication. It is certain that she is a woman of substance–a ‘phenomenal’ woman. She has a radiant face and a radiant smile despite not being rated as a raving beauty in the stereotype sense. On such value system which rates women as their figure and skin colour as yardsticks, she pours scorn and disdain. She defies the age-old system of looking at women and authoritatively prives it wring through her own example.


Men themselves have wondered   
What they see in me. 
They try so much 
But they can’t touch 
My inner mystery. 
When I try to show them,   
They say they still can’t see.   
I say, 
It’s in the arch of my back,   
The sun of my smile, 
The ride of my breasts, 
The grace of my style. 
I’m a woman 
Phenomenal woman, 
That’s me. 
Now you understand 
Just why my head’s not bowed.   
I don’t shout or jump about 
Or have to talk real loud.   
When you see me passing, 
It ought to make you proud. 
I say, 
It’s in the click of my heels,   
The bend of my hair,   
the palm of my hand,   
The need for my care.   
’Cause I’m a woman 
Phenomenal woman, 
That’s me.

Explanation Stanza 3 and Stanza 4The author, with an air of self-confidence, says how men are left clueless about her charm. She exudes grace and a cool attractive persona that the men folk find so intriguing. They try to delve into the secrets of her beauty, but fail to unravel anything. The author then proceeds to list them. It is the arch of her back, the optimism and brightness of her smile, her bust and her grace that make her so adorable to the opposite sex. She ends her stanza by reiterating that she is a ‘phenomenal’ woman.

She walks upright, with no inferiority or guilt. She has a cool composure, neither screams, nor raises her voice to make a point. She asserts that she is bodily as much beautiful as she is desirable for values hidden in her. People yearn for her attention, because a woman like her with beautiful hair pals and gait infects others with inspiration, joy and optimism. This is why she calls herself a ‘phenomenal’ woman.


[To be continued]

If Thou Must Love Me by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

If Thou Must Love Me: Line by Line Explanation
Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) wrote ‘If Thou Must Love Me’. It is the sonnet no.14 of her collection named ‘Sonnets from the Portuguese’ that has 44 love poems. She was a very renowned woman poet of the Victorian era (1830-1890) of English literature. In the sonnets Elizabeth Barrett Browning pours out her heart for her love for her lover and future husband Robert Browning, a great Victorian poet, too.
The sonnet is in the Italian or Petrarchan form of sonnet with the rhyme scheme ABBA ABBA CD CD CD.
If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only.
Meaning … The poet lets her readers know her expectations from her lover. Quite candidly she says that her lover must have towards her only pure, undiluted love, un-tinged by any other sentiment. Quite unabashedly, she states that it is ‘love’ only that should bind her lover to her, nothing else.
Do not say
‘I love her for her smile – her look – her way
Of speaking gently, – for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day’ –
Meaning …The poet wants that neither her beautiful body, sweet and suave demeanor, nor her mental disposition should be the bedrock of her alliance with her lover. She asks her lover not to love her because of her bewitching smile, and her genteel speaking. She also tells him that her qualities might be very appealing to him, and he could one day discover great convergence in their thoughts, but these traits must not beckon him to her. These transient attractions must be kept away from his love towards her, she implores.
For those things in themselves, Beloved, may
Be changed, or change for thee, – and love so wrought,
May be unwrought so.
The poet has some mild and sane words of advice for her lover. Humans, both men and women, have bodies that age, wither, and fade with time. In the same vein, human traits, mannerisms, and mental attributes change. Even for the same man, his beloved’s sweetness of self may not last indefinitely. Therefore, pleads the author, her lover must discern between true love and love based on transitory fancy. For the bonds of love to endure, lovers must rise above outward signs of attractiveness, and decide if there is something more heavenly that draws them together. Lovers who fall prey to the visible lure in one another might come to grief as the strains of time tears their love apart making them to drift away. The author beseeches her lover to weigh these words in mind.
Love ‘wrought’ with worldly attractions is more likely to ‘unwrought’ than true love.
                      Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry,
A creature might forget to weep who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning doesn’t want her lover to love her out of feelings of pity or empathy. He may wipe her cheeks to comfort her, but such loving gestures may not come often. If she stops to weep in future, her lover would stop to show such effusive signs of caring and sharing. That would strike at the root of their bonding.   
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou may’st love on, through love’s eternity.
In the last two lines of the sonnet If Thou Must Love Me, the poet spells out her own ideas of ‘true love’. She explains how a man should love a woman unconditionally for their mutual attraction to endure. Love driven by lust or desire will diminish, no matter how string the initial surge might be.



[To be continued with questions and answers]


ICSE .. Five ways to kill a man by Edwin Brock

Five ways to kill a man
by Edwin Brock
Introduction.... Edwin Brock is angry at the way humans turn on one another to kill. He feels helpless to witness the perpetuation of mayhem and homicide, as if there is no other recourse left for the society to correct a perceived wrong. He throws up his hands in despair and uses pun and satire to criticize the craze to kill. He mocks man’s ingenuity in devising elaborate ways to kill others – through ritualistic crucifixion, use of lethal gases and atom bombs.
Stanza 1 .. Here the author alludes to the story of murder of Jesus Christ by a gang of impetuous zealots, who inflicted pain, humiliation and death on the noblest of the noble human beings.
A band of fanatical Jews climbed a hill, virtually dragging and pushing the ‘condemned’ sinner – Jesus Christ! Earlier, St. Peter had thrice disclaimed any knowledge of or acquaintance with Christ. The cock crowed to remind Peter of Jesus’s prophecy that it would crow after three consecutive disavowals by Peter.
Jesus was nailed to the cross. To exhibit the ‘punishment’, the perpetrators made the cross stand erect. Later on, Christ was made to bare his body by removing his cloak. This meant Jesus forfeited his right for a proper burial. His partly covered corpse was to be left on top of the hill. The sadistic zealots ensured that maximum torture was inflicted on the hapless, crucified person. When Christ asked for water, they shoved a vinegar-dipped cloth into his mouth to cause excruciating pain. Jesus died as the people around him rejoiced with their feelings of ‘accomplishment’.
Edmund Brock wonders what the need was to adopt such a ‘cumbersome’ method to kill a single human being.
Stanza 2 … A long-drawn (1455-1485) fratricidal war was fought between the House of Lancaster and the House of York for no great reason except a desire to dominate and grab the English throne. It caused much blood-letting and mayhem. Use of hook axes and hammers as weapons added to the brutality of the fighting. Groans of the impelled victims filled the air. The game of ‘jousting’ gladdened the hearts of the victors, while his victims perished in excruciating pain.
During those days, fighting was for chivalry, honour, and pride, but little concrete game. Soldiers got killed for the vanity of the vainglorious knights.
The speaker is deeply pained to recall these events.
Stanza 3 .. In this portion, the speaker laments the way in which deadly poisonous gases manufactured by scientists were used to kill unsuspecting soldiers of the rival sides. Remorselessly, the Germans deployed canisters of lethal gases to unleash the gas that would get carried to the enemy side by air. At times, the poisoned air returned to ravage the Germans when the wind direction unexpectedly changed.
The poet bemoans the brutality of use of the WMDs.
Stanza 4 … In this portion, the poet turns to the dying days of WW2 when America dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The bombs developed in the most advanced labs by the best scientific brains of the world incinerated thousands in minutes. The dance of death continued long after the war drew to a close.
The author grieves over the death of so many civilian human beings in so cruel a way.
Stanza 5 … The author, almost resignedly thinks of simpler ways to kill a man. In a voice punctuated with despair, grief, and anger, he thinks living in the post WW2 world was akin to living in hell, embracing death. Here he has in mind the destitution, want, hunger, and hopelessness that bedeviled most parts of the world then. Life was extremely difficult, almost unbearably hard. Surviving the daily grinding of poverty was so very daunting. Many perished under the hardship.

ICSE Class 12 …Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night
Dylan Thomas, 1914 – 1953


Introduction to the poet … Born on October 27, 1914, in Swansea, South Wales to a father who taught English Literature, Dylan Marlais Thomas had his initiation to Shakespeare very early in his life, even before he learned to read. His father read aloud portions of Shakespeare to him. Dylan was enchanted by nursery rhymes. Later, he began to passionately read ballads of W. B. Yeats, Edgar Allan Poe, and Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Thomas was a jumpy, oversensitive, sickly child who loathed going to school, choosing to study on his own. D. H. Lawrence‘s poetry, interspersed with scenes of the natural world, fascinated him greatly. He passed his English test with flying colours, but the success came at the expense of other subjects. By this time, the lunatic streak in his mind was unravelling fast. At sixteen, he decided he had enough of the ‘formal’ school, and dropped out. He began his career as a junior reporter for the South Wales Daily Post.
Soon, he left the job and plunged into literature as a soul possessed, churning out scores of poems.
In 1934, Thomas won the Poet’s Corner book prize, and published his first book, 18 Poems (The Fortune press). The book received rave reviews. The success, sadly, pushed Thomas to alcohol abuse.
Thomas’s writings had intense lyricism and highly charged emotion as their hallmark.
Two years after the publication of 18 Poems, in a Lodon pub, Thomas met the dancer Caitlin Macnamara. He married her in 1837. The marriage was marred by frequent discords as both seemed to have clandestine affairs.
Thomas was an volatile and erratic personality, given to violent swings of mood. It rocked his family life, career and finances. He moved from job to job, crippling his peace of mind and his finances. Alcohol ravaged his life. The love for the bottle pushed this great genius to penury quite often.
Thomas toured America four times on literary assignments. He made his appearance at the City College of New York. A few days later, after splurging on drink, he collapsed in the Chelsea Hotel. He breathed his last on November 9, 1953, at the relatively young age of 39. He is much talked about for the quality of his work, and for the way he consumed himself with alcohol and a disruptive life style.


Do not go gentle into that good night

Dylan Thomas, 1914 – 1953

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Meaning .. The poem calls upon humans not to meekly succumb to the inevitability of death. Instead, a mortal, as he walks the last few steps to his grave must resist, fight, and confront death with renewed vigour, grit and stoicism. Not allowing the spectre of death to benumb us is the boldest and cleverest thing to do, implores the author. The nearer one is close to death, the stronger should be his will power to defy it. Old age should be the age to reach new heights of gallantry and resoluteness to stare death in its eye valiantly.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Meaning .. Men in the sunset days of their lives tend to be passive, sagacious and resigned to the prospects of departure from this world. Some gifted people rue that they have not accomplished anything spectacular that they could have, using their intellect. Such people become restless as their final day draws near. With a pensive mood and so many unfulfilled desires gnawing at their dying soul, they depart.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Meaning .. Men and women of calibre and creativity are filled with turbulence and trauma as they near their death. They feel they could have achieved something more, if they had some more time on earth. The world is a theatre of action, striving and success. So, for a creative mind, departing from it is painful. These men and women, therefore, must resist death with all their might and resource.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Meaning … Daring, dare-devil, risk-taking geniuses celebrate as they live out the short spans of their lives on earth, but they become despondent to see that the world didn’t keep pace with them and fell behind. So, the author prods all humans with zeal burning inside them to rage against death with all the force in their command.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Meaning .. Like in the earlier lines, the speaker describes how some gritty people refuse to capitulate before impending death, using a combination of will power and heroics. They, despite being on the throes of death, manage to develop a vision that is piercing and incisive. The imminent arrival of death accompanied by darkness and gloom fails to enfeeble their vision. Even in the eleventh hour of their existence on earth, they can dispel the gloom and doom and develop extraordinary eyesight. Hence, says the speaker, refuse to be cowed down by death, stand your ground, and do not flinch at all. Take death head on.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Meaning … Finally, the speaker clarifies who his target was when he spoke those inspiring, death-defying words. It is his father who is on the brink of death. The son (the author) implores his dying father to shower his fondness on him, as if life goes on as usual. He wants his father to ignore the approaching death and confront the calamity with sangfroid and chivalry.


[To be continued with questions and answedrs]


ICSE English literature Class 7 — The Flower School

The Flower School
Introduction ..
Rabindanath Tagore is the iconic Bengali writer who brought India its first (only, so far) Nobal Prize in Literature. Through the innocent eyes of a school-going child, the poet captures the thrill and excitement of the blossoming of flowers with the onset of rains. The childlike description of the seasonal appearance and departure of flowers on and from the face of the earth touches everyone’s heart. A child’s fascination with flowers, her dread of the school, and love for her mother are depicted in this short poem with remarkable vividness. This is why this small poem has such time-less abiding appeal.

Explanation … When storm clouds burst and rains begin to fall from the sky in June, moisture-laden winds from the east brush past the bushes with great speed. A shrill sound emanates from the bamboo bushes.
A huge carpet of yellow-coloured tiny flowers seem to descend down on the grass, as the seasonal flowers erupt with astounding glee.
Prior to appearing on the grasses, the tiny flowers seem to go underground to finish their home tasks. Only after they finish the tasks, they venture to come to the open. Just as a child is pulled up for coming to class with incomplete homework, the same way do not dare to prematurely blossom on the earth. Such likening of the wild flowers with school going youngsters is nothing but a figment of imagination conjured up by the poet, but it is so apt and enjoyable.
The rains arrival brings the respite from studies. The flowers come out to the open with frenzied excitement, the same way students welcome the start of the holidays.
As the winds sway the trees, the branches rub against one another and the leaves flutter filling the air with strange sounds.
The clouds roar with vigour and flowers of myriad hues make their appearance in unison.
The child is bewildered to see all these. He imagines that the abode of the flowers is in the starry sky, and they come to the earth on short annual sojourns.
In his innocence, the child perceives that the flowers are keen to go back to their homes. The flowers’ mothers are there in the sky and they can not remain away from their mothers for too long. So, they come, but go back hurriedly.
The child’s innocence is so endearing.

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A Doctor’s Journal Entry on August 8,1945 by Vikram Seth

A Doctor’s Journal Entry on August 8, 1945
By Vikram Seth

Preamble …Japan was down on its knees militarily towards the closing years of the Second World War. Defeat stared it in its eyes, yet this valiant nation refused to lay down arms. Casualties were mounting on both sides, but the attrition was much higher in the Japanese side than in the American’s. War was dragging on painfully, piling up misery on the tiny but gallant country. To stem the flow of further blood, and bring the War to a quick end, the Americans dropped atom bombs on the two Japanese cities with a gap of just three days. Hell descended on the hapless people as they simmered in the heat of the deadly bombs.

The tragedy was cataclysmic. The Japanese people had long been inured to the suffering and cruelty of war, but the pain inflicted by the two bombs was beyond their endurance. But, the hapless citizens endured the suffering with stoic resignation as the pain had numbed their senses and their sense of judgment.
Vikram Seth is adored by his readers for his humanism and deft portrayal of characters. In this poem, written more as a diary, he brings alive the lament and the wrenching pain of the ordinary civilians. They were mere pawns, caught in the whirlpool of strategic maneuvering of the two nations locked in war.

Poem’s meaning.. The victim and narrator is a doctor whose job is to alleviate the suffering of others. Now, he has become the suffering soul. He is jolted out of his bed early in the morning by a monstrous blast that rips off his under garments. The old lantern lighted up on its own as if a ghost had ignited it. Two blinding flashes came one after another. The doctor thought it was the usual magnesium flares normally used in battle fields, but these were far more sinister. He was puzzled.

His house made mostly of timber came crashing down. Rubbles were strewn all over the place. His garden and his house were in a shambles. The sight looked so intriguing and frightening. His vest had flown away from his body—such was the fury unleashed by the blast. A piece of shrapnel had pierced his right thigh. The dangling object d caused him excruciating pain. Blood flowed from the incision. His cheek had also been badly bruised. He somehow extricated the glass piece from his thigh. He was clearly flummoxed by the quick turn of events. Amidst this confusion, he wondered where his wife was. Her name was Yecko-san. The doctor called out her name with a full-throated cry.

To add to his horror, the artery in his neck had been bruised. As a doctor he knew how ominous it was. ‘Was he going to bleed to death,’ he wondered. Trembling with fear and nervousness, he yelled at his wife summoning her to his presence at once. Hopefully for him, she appeared, apparently very shaken. She had blood stains on her body. The blast seemed to have reduced her to a miserable soul. As the husband, he tried to instill some hope in her. ‘We will pull it through,’ seemed to be his message to her as he held her by her elbow.

The duo rushed out of the house trying to reach the street, but they tripped and fell flat on the way. He tried to figure out what he had stumbled upon. He recoiled in horror to discover that it was the head of a dead fellow human being. He had been crushed to death by the weight of a falling gate

It was no time to grieve, nor reflect upon. He prodded his wife to pull up herself so that they could make it to the hospital nearby. Just around that time, a house in front, uprooted from its foundation leaned sideways, staggered like a drunken man, and crashed on to the street. It was a really a dreadful sight to see when the earlier events had virtually drained them of their verve and fortitude. A fired appeared from nowhere and clawed dangerously forward.

The doctor’s conscience told him that he should do something for his beleaguered staff, but his enfeebled body did not permit him. Thirst and injury had taken a toll of his stamina. He slumped on the ground although he desperately wanted to reach the hospital. There was not even drop of water to quench his thirst.

The doctor felt breathless, perhaps out of exhaustion and thirst. However, in a show of remarkable tenacity, he could muster some strength in his limbs to get on his feet again. He had been completely stripped of his clothes by the fury and the fire unleashed by the blast. He felt no need to cover his body. A normal man’s sense of shame had deserted him. He was distraught though, reflecting upon his predicament and the way his mind had been benumbed by the dance of death and destruction all around.

A soldier stood nearby, silently, possibly trying to make sense of what had happened. He offered a towel to the disrobed doctor to cover his body. His legs, after so much of battering, refused to take commands. He told his wife Yecko-san to proceed to the hospital without waiting for him. She left reluctantly: his eyes followed her as she walked away. The parting, though insignificant, seemed to be so painful, but he had to be pragmatist in this hour of distress.

The Doctor was overwhelmed with a torrent of thoughts. Angst, dread and doom overtook his power of judgment. A pall of gloom seemed to have fallen on the city. The atmosphere was ghoulish. People, with deep burns on their bodies seemed to move around aimlessly. They looked like ghosts from the other world. With hunched back and bent shoulders, they moved clinging to the last straw of hope to stay alive.
The doctor saw a woman with her child in her arms moving towards the hospital. The mighty bomb had disrobed the hapless innocent duo! The sight was so sickening, so revolting. In normal times, a person sheds their clothes in the bathroom, never in the public streets. He had to turn his face away. He realized that an event of demonic proportions had happened robbing the clothes and the sense of shame from him and the mother and child. An old man lay on the ground seething with pain, but quite strangely, she was quiet. Perhaps, she would meet her end soon.

A weird silence had shrouded the people who had managed to survive. They did not cry, wail, callout for help, protest, or pray. They just obeyed the commands of the unseen to lay silent.


In the Bazzars of Hyderabad by Sarojini Naidu — Explanation

In the Bazaars of Hyderabad


Born with Bengali roots to an intellectually-gifted parents, Sarojini Naidu had the opportunity to receive good education both in India and in England. She made the best of her extraordinary talent and privileged upbringing to do things that her soul really craved for.
The plight of Indian women made her very sad. Crushed under the weight of blind tradition and marginalized in a patriarchal society, women had no window to breathe free let alone engage in any meaningful intellectual activity.
Sarojini Naidu took up the cudgels on their behalf and crusaded for their emancipation. That started her foray to the public stage. Soon she plunged to the freedom movement as staunch supporter of Gandhi. She became the president of the Indian National Congress. But, her mind remained anchored to literary pursuits. She wrote many touching poems winning her accolades from readers in India and overseas. She came to be known as the Nightingale of India. Many of her popular poems centered around the rustic simplicity, beauty, and diversity of Indian rural life.
As a freedom fighter, she attracted hostile scrutiny of the colonial masters. The British had effectively stifled dissemination of news and views critical of the colonial rule with draconian laws. Sarojini Naidu, nevertheless, continued to sing the praise of India and her people through poems in a subtle manner.
About this poem … Sarojini Chattopadhay (later Naidu) was born and brought up in Hyderabad. That gave her a good insight to the sight and sound of this bustling city. The markets overflowed with merchandize, and buyers and sellers. Frenzied yelling, bargaining, and haggling rent the air round the day. For a quiet, non-commercial visitor, the market provided amusement, intrigue, imagination, and food for thought. Sarojini Naidu was, no doubt, a discerning watcher of the market place. Her simple narrative style cast in a question-answer format characterizes this poem.
Explanation ..
What do you sell O ye merchants ?
Richly your wares are displayed.
Turbans of crimson and silver,
Tunics of purple brocade,
Mirrors with panels of amber,
Daggers with handles of jade.
First stanza note ..As a curious onlooker, the author marvels at the wide array of items offered for sale in the market. With eyes gaping with wonder, she asks the merchants about the many items they display, such as the crimson and sliver coloured turbans, tunics with purple brocades, amber-paneled mirrors and the dreadful daggers with handles beautifully studded with jade.

What do you weigh, O ye vendors?

Saffron and lentil and rice.
What do you grind, O ye maidens?
Sandalwood, henna, and spice.
What do you call , O ye pedlars?
Chessmen and ivory dice.
Second stanza .. Then her eyes fall on the many vendors who throng the market with their myriad wares. She asks the vendors who sell rice, lentils and saffron what they weigh. The author answers herself. Then she turns her eyes on the maidens who grind sandalwood, henna and spice. Then, there are the peddlers who sell items for the chess board.


What do you make,O ye goldsmiths?
Wristlet and anklet and ring,
Bells for the feet of blue pigeons
Frail as a dragon-fly’s wing,
Girdles of gold for dancers,
Scabbards of gold for the king.
Third stanza Then the author casts her glance towards the famed goldsmiths, who, with their deft hands, make wristlets, anklets, ring, ultra-light bells for the pigeons’ legs, girdles for dancers’ legs, and ceremonial swords for the royalty. Undoubtedly, the skill of the artisans brings appreciation and cheer to the author.


What do you cry,O ye fruitmen?
Citron, pomegranate, and plum.
What do you play ,O musicians?
Cithar, sarangi and drum.
what do you chant, O magicians?
Spells for aeons to come.
Fourth stanza .. The fruit hawkers passing by catch the attention of the author. They offer citron, pomegranate, and plum. Then there are the musicians who play the sitar, sarangi and the drum. Adding a touch of bemusement to the bustling market place, there are the magicians who baffle the onlookers with their tricks, sleights of hand, and weird shouts, as if they are invoking heavenly powers.


What do you weave, O ye flower-girls
With tassels of azure and red?
Crowns for the brow of a bridegroom,
Chaplets to garland his bed.
Sheets of white blossoms new-garnered
To perfume the sleep of the dead.
Fifth and last stanza Lastly, the flower-girls seem to have stolen the heart of the author. They make tassels of azure and red, decorations for a bridegroom’s head gear, chaplets to garland the marital bed, and strings of white and freshly-plucked flowers to add aroma to the bed being carried to the grave.
Concluding observation .. The poem appears to be from the diary of a simple young girl who visits the market for the first time. However, an intelligent reader will not fail to notice its celebration of nationalism, and its philosophical undertone. Those were the days in which goods from England were thrust upon the Indian consumers. Almost all nationalists vigorously opposed such economic hegemony. Sarojini Naidu too raised her voice albeit through her poems.
The poem depicts a thriving market place awash with goods of all descriptions. Hyderabad offered everything to the buyer from ceremonial thrones to burial accessories. So, it could do without goods coming out of British factories. What better way to underscore this than to celebrate the vigour and exuberance of the market place!
Questions and answers later.

Where the mind is without fear -Explanation

Where the Mind is without Fear

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake

Introduction …. Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), the author of this poem, lived during a time when India was in chains, Europe was in the throes of another world war after recovering from the ruins of the First World War, and the totalitarian ideology of Communism was sweeping across Europe and Asia. India, too, was striving to break free of the colonial yoke. Momentous changes, upheavals, revolutions and mayhem of the most horrendous proportions were ripping the world apart. Nations were divided, neighbours fought with one another with savage brutality, and oppression of dissent was considered a fair practice of statecraft.
Tagore had a very restless mind. He was pained to see the excesses of nationalism, the cruel subjugation of people by masters from distant lands, and the un-ending miseries at home. He pined for freedom, liberation of the mind, and the banishment of fear. The philosopher in him rebelled to breathe free, walk free and think free. This short poem was penned by the poet extraordinaire to give vent to the torment of his soul seething with unease.

MeaningThe poet beseeches God to take his motherland to the ‘heaven of freedom’, where the mind is not fettered, culture is not constrained by moth-balled ideologies, pursuit of knowledge is not constrained, where people think themselves as members of the entire humankind, and there is no one to persecute a citizen for the flimsiest of reasons. With no fear of state-sponsored coercion, no narrow nationalism, and complete freedom of expression, the creative instincts of the human mind can blossom to its full capacity. In such environment, striving of perfection in every field of human endeavour becomes a universal passion.
The poet thinks of such utopian world, and wants God to lead India forward to this ‘perfect’ world.

The Tree by Philip Larkin

The Trees

by Phillip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Meaning … It is spring time. New tender leaves appear on the branches as the tree goes through its annual process of regeneration and renewal. The cone-shaped buds unravel themselves as they open up. Gradually, their colour morphs into green. For the discerning speaker, such a journey in the life of a leaf is anything but a harbinger of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Meaning … The speaker asks us to steer clear of the confusion. One should not think that leaves proceed to the prime of their life as we, humans, inexorably walk towards our graves. Their looking green and fresh is nothing but a deception, because they too wither and die. It is an annual ritual that continues till the tree lives. After each graying and shedding of leaves, a concentric circle appears in the outer edge of the trunk.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Meaning .. The ‘castles’ are the secure foliage of the trees where birds, insects and other forms of life find sustenance and shelter. The trees branches sway in the wind. By May, they look the densest. They seem to declare that one year has passed, and they have appeared to celebrate the beginning of a new year.