Saturday, 24 October 2009


Set in a village in Pakistan, Imtiaz Dharker's poem 'Blessing' opens with the simile 'The skin cracks like a pod' that immediately gives an impression of drought, of dire shortage of water. This is confirmed by the second line of the brief introductory stanza, formed of two sentences of one line each.

As we enter the four-line second stanza, we are in no doubt as to the fact that the villagers here are desperate for water. Dharker involves the reader by asking us to 'Imagine the drip of it' – telling us how small the quantity is – and focuses on the sound of that drop of water resounding in a tin mug. The fourth line of this stanza introduces the first religious reference: even this small splash is personified as 'the voice of a kindly god'. God is seen as the provider of water, and every drop received is seen as a kind gesture.

The third stanza is the longest one, extending for eleven lines and describing a momentous event in the village. The bursting of a municipal pipe is a fortuitous occasion: it is described by the metaphor 'the sudden rush/of fortune'. Fortune of course has connotations of large sums of money as well as good luck, so the water that spills has tremendous value. This idea is echoed in another metaphor for the water in line nine: 'silver crashes to the ground'. The sound is a powerful one. Line ten flows into line eleven, and the water is described as a 'flow' that gives rise to a sudden burst of noise from the villagers, 'a roar of tongues'. The people rushing out from their huts to collect the water are refered to as a 'congregation', which is another religious link. Men, women and children from the surrounding area are eager for their share of the spilled water and come with any container they can lay their hands on, listed in the brief lines fourteen, fifteen and sixteen. The stanza concludes with the phrase 'frantic hands', which once again emphasises the desperation that leads the villagers to scoop even handfuls of water.

Dharker uses enjambment to link the third stanza to the fourth and final one. This focuses on the village children, on sound and bright light. The children, naked, are delighting in the chance to bathe in the water, 'screaming in the liquid sun'. This metaphor aligning the water to the sun emphasises the pleasure and warmth of the experience. The 'highlights' in line twenty are echoed by 'flashing light' in the following line, giving a further impression of joy. Alliteration is used by Dharker in the phrases 'polished to perfection', and 'the blessing sings' combines alliteration and assonance, creating vivid imagery to portray the thrill of the occasion. The word 'blessing' continues the religious thread running through the poem. The final line again flows from the previous one: '... sings/over their small bones'. It is a gentle ending, focusing on the children of the village who are in such need of this water provided by accident.

The sentence that begins in line eight, the second line of the third stanza, continues right through to the end of the poem, flowing through from one line to the next like the water that is its theme. This is in stark contrast to the two sentences of the first stanza. Dharker has not set her poem within the confines of stanzas of regular length, suiting each stanza to its individual focus. The lines themselves also vary considerably in length. Lines nine, ten and thirteen have the rhyme ground, found and around, but this appears almost as an unintentional occurrence.

'Blessing' is a wonderfully descriptive poem, using imagery to depict sight and sounds and create an atmosphere of frantic joy for an everyday resource that is usually so elusive in this particular setting.

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