DECOMPOSITION By Zulfikar Ghose POEM: EXPLANATION: I have a picture I took in Bombay Picture = photo. Bombay = a city in India. The whole poem is about the photo that he took. It starts with him looking at it. of a beggar asleep on the pavement; A beggar = a bergie, a poor person who lives on the street. grey-haired, wearing shorts and a dirty shirt, Grey-haired suggests that the beggar is old. This is significant because, despite the fact that he is a beggar, he is also a survivor. His clothing (shorts and a dirty shirt) emphasizes his poverty. his shadow thrown aside like a blanket. This is a simile. It’s comparing the way his shadow is cast to the way you throw aside a blanket. Firstly, if you’re no longer in the same physical condition as you used to be, we say that you’re a “shadow of your former self”. That’s what this description reminds me of. His shadow is cast aside as though it’s not really a part of him; as though it’s a shadow of his former self. Secondly, if you throw your blanket aside it indicates that you don’t care where it lands. It’s not important to you because you don’t throw expensive / precious things on the floor. This suggests that the man is unimportant and is discarded in a heap on the floor. His arms and legs could be cracks in the stone, routes for the ants’ journeys, the flies’ descents. By comparing his arms and legs to cracks, it implies that he is extremely thin. A crack is also a negative space and this implies that he disappears into the background. He’s more ‘not there’ than he is ‘there’. He obviously doesn’t have the energy to move much. This explains why the ants are happy to climb over him, and flies settle on him. It emphasizes how little worth he has that even insects disregard him. Brain-washed by the sun into exhaustion, ‘Brain-washed’ suggests that he’s in a stupor. It’s like he’s in a coma. This is due to his exposure to the elements and his lack of nutrition which saps him of his energy and will to live. he lies veined into stone, a fossil man. The beggar is so stripped of his humanity and so covered with dust and dirt that he looks like a lifeless rock embedded in the pavement. (Some rocks contain ‘veins’ or strips of other rock-types embedded in it. It’s all rock, but it has different textures and colours. This is the image the poet is using. All lifeless, just composed of slightly different material.) Behind him, there is a crowd passingly This man is not alone. He is surrounded by people, but these crowds are so bemused by a pavement trickster and quite indifferent to this very common sight of an old man asleep on the pavement. accustomed to seeing beggars in the streets – he’s just one of thousands – that they don’t even notice him or feel compassion towards him. They’re more interested in watching a street performer. I thought it then a good composition He’s looking at the beggar and thinks it would make a good photo. Composition = how something is made up. Decomposition = how something is broken down / decaying. And glibly called it The Man in the Street, Glibly = smoothly / convincingly. He was so confident that this scene would make a great photo that he even had a snappy title ready for it: “The Man in the Street”. There’s nothing wrong with taking a photo or giving it a suitable title. The problem is that he failed to recognize that this was a living, thinking, feeling human being, not a prop for a photo shoot. remarking how typical it was of He too seems to have been sucked into the same mind-set as the crowds. India that the man in the street lived there. To him, the beggar is just one of thousands (“how typical it was”). His head in the posture of one weeping For the first time he really notices the human being in the picture, not just into a pillow chides me now for my presumption at attempting to compose art out of his hunger and solitude. the artsy composition. He notices that the man is bent over as though he were weeping. He notices the reality of his life, and why it would cause him to weep. It makes him feel ashamed. He realizes that his attitude has been cold and heartless for exploiting (taking advantage of) the beggar by making art out of his hunger and loneliness. Although the beggar can’t chide him in person (chide = scold / shout at), the photo is a reminder to the poet of his shameful attitude.
REFUGEE MOTHER AND CHILD By Chinua Achebe POEM: EXPLANATION: No Madonna and Child could touch In the 1500’s artists used to paint a lot of pictures of Mary (the Madonna) that picture of a mother’s tenderness and Jesus (the Child). They are priceless to collectors today. The poet is for a son she soon would have to forget. saying that even the most beautiful of these Madonna and Child paintings are not as beautiful as the sight of this mother and her child. What makes this scene so beautiful is the tenderness (love, affection) that this particular mother has for her child, who would soon die (“have to forget”). The air was heavy with odours This poem is set in a refugee camp. When there is a war or natural disaster, people who have lost their homes are forced to live in refugee camps. These are set up (usually by the United Nations) in fields and consist of thousands of tents. There is no running water or sanitation and very little food. Odours = smells. “The air was smelly”. of diarrhea of unwashed children These lines tell us of the squalor (nastiness / uncleanliness) that the with washed-out ribs and dried-up bottoms struggling in laboured step behind blown empty bellies. Most refugees are forced to live in. There is widespread diarrhea, hunger (washed-out ribs, empty bellies) and malnutrition (usually indicated by bloated stomachs), especially amongst the children. Laboured = with much effort. mothers there had long ceased Most mothers had accepted the fact that their children were going to die. to care but not his one; she held There was nothing that they could do so they ’booked out’ emotionally. They were also in poor heath and they could no longer bring themselves to care. However, there was one woman who was different. Despite the hunger and disease, she refused to stop caring about her child. a ghost smile between her teeth A ghost is the outline of a former human. It’s not the substance, it’s just a shadow. To describe her smile as a ghost smile means that she’s not what she used to be. She’s just a shadow of her former self. and in her eyes the ghost of a mother’s Even though life has taken so much from her and her son, she stills clings to pride as she combed the rust-coloured her role as mother as much as she can. Even though they’re living in filth, she still hangs on to the pride she has in her son. She performs such a small task – combing his hair – but it’s so significant. When confronted with tragedy, people shut down and forget to do those little things. She refuses to forget. (Note that his hair is rust-coloured. That’s not normal and indicates his poor state of health.) hair left on his skull and then - Note that it’s the hair that is left on his skull, which means that some has fallen out. Again, this indicates his poor state of health. singing in her eyes – began carefully She performs this task joyfully. Even though she may not have the energy to express her joy, you can see it in her eyes. (“singing in her eyes”) Also, she performs this task carefully. She’s not rough with her child. She is also gentle. to part it … in another life this This is something she used to do when they lived a normal life (“before his would have been a little daily breakfast and school”). Although it may not have had huge significance act of no consequence before his then (“act of no consequence”), it has huge significance now. It shows us breakfast and school; now she that even though everything she had has been taken away from her, her home, her means to provide for her family, etc, she refuses to allow her circumstances to swamp her. She refuses to be defined by her refugee status. She is a proud woman who cares for her son and nothing is going to change that. did it like putting flowers She knows that she is going to lose her son so she does the only things she on a tiny grave. can to bring comfort to him, to remind him of a life they once had. In doing this, she honors his life and mourns all that they have lost (and will still loose.)