These are the Times We Live in (by Imtiaz Dharker) Analysis & Critical Appreciation

‘These are the Times We Live in’ is a poem written by Imtiaz Dharker, where she gracefully explores the concept of contemporary society and arguably a polarisation of ethnicities and races that have sprouted in modern age. Dharker does this by utilising a multitude of devices throughout his poem, which includes enjambment, repetition, dramatic use of rhymes and irregular sequences traced through the structure of his poem.

The title suggests a recurring theme that runs throughout the poem, which is usually found at the end of multiple stanzas. For instance, at the end of both the second and third stanza it is mentioned ‘…times we live in.’ This repetition is utilised by Dharker to continuously explore and remind readers that whatever form of segregation on the basis of race or ethnicity that occurs is due to contemporary society, and almost as a symbol of justification. The structure of the poem is irregular and Dharkar utilises no specific rhythmic scheme. Instead, it varies from three-lined stanzas to eleven-lined stanzas and rhymes are scarce, for instance ‘air’ and ‘hair’ in the fifth stanza. The irregular structure of stanzas could denote the irregularities or differences between persons of different ethnic backgrounds and therefore the asymmetrical and contrasting experiences of both. In addition, the lack of a consistent rhyme scheme could denote the fluctuations in experiences a person may face with another person of another background.

Dharker uses caesura in the first line of the first stanza of his poem to denote the definitiveness of hanging over a ‘passport’. Through the use of enjambment, the word ‘He’ written singularly at the end of the first line could be to express the power and ultimate authority of the person who is reviewing said passport, and admission of a person into a country. Alternatively, the use of the device could also be to show the longing or delayed action of the officer, i.e. the lengthy process a foreigner must go through to be admitted into a country. The idea of ‘reading you..’ diminishes a lively person into a mundane and dull text to be read rather than to be understood through active interaction with the person. This, therefore, foregoes the true essence of a person, and ultimately could be related to Dharker’s critique on modern day ‘multiculturalism’. Being read ‘…from the last page’ could denote how the passport image, name, amongst other information of a person is located at the back of their passport, and therefore their entire identity is restricted and confined to the contents of their name, age and a snapshot picture located at the back of their passport. This could denote the robotic or even inhumane activity of understanding a person only on the basis of stratification through age, birth location and social class.

In the second stanza, the idea of ‘…could’ be offended shows that in modern day, it is simply the norm of asking a person for their passport rather than assessing their identity through social interaction. This could explain why Dharker utilises this specific word. In addition, it makes ‘…as much’ sense as anything else, therefore it is as if the idea of being restricted to stratification on the basis of our backgrounds has essentially evolved into a value consensus amongst the international populace, therefore it has become almost unnecessary to ask why a passport is required, and as understandable as anything else that could be places into the realm of common sense or general knowledge. This is further elaborated and explained through the words ‘given the times we live in’. Dharker may be commended due to his coherent use of language, e.g. utilising words such as ‘…could’ rather than ‘would’, and ‘…as much’ rather than ‘almost’. This allows the reader to understand modern day global insecurities of foreign persons entering their countries, and ultimately the inarguable polarisation of the world into first, second and third world countries.

By being ‘…shrink[ed]’ to the size of a passport or piece of text, Dharker concisely explains the idea of how a person is no longer understood for his true character or qualities, but rather for their background, name and age. Alternatively, it could be to express a person’s self worth or dignity that has been diminished when at the mercy of an officer to either allow or deny entry said person into a country. A name which contains a ‘…Z’ could be said to be easily identifiable as foreign, as statistically more people have names with ‘Z’ from Asian countries. Therefore, it could said that the presence of the letter in a name could hint of a foreign background. Furthermore, the idea of a ‘…birthmark’ being ‘…shifted’ could hint that the officer has an account of all the doings of said person and keep track of their record to ensure foreigners do not threaten peace in their own country. The idea of the officer looking at foreigners ‘suspiciously’ could denote the deep down paranoia or insecurity of foreign motives to undermine contemporary civilisation in the country they are entering. Alternatively, it could denote how generally officers look at foreigners in a manner to vocalise how they feel about such people entering their homeland, and therefore providing an unfriendly atmosphere for them. This could be linked as a source of alienation for immigrants, and therefore Dharker effectively utilises the word ‘suspicious’ to explore such seemingly mundane alienation.

‘…Laugh[ing]’ could be used symbolically to refer to the outrageousness of how officers merely assume motives of immigrants or foreigners when they are entering a country. However, this overwhelming emotion is undermined due to what is expected in the times we live in. Dharker effectively utilises a scarce rhyme which contains a notable acoustic impact on the poem. When a person is on a plane, Dharker explores being up in the ‘air’, and while being in that state, your ‘hair’ is redone. Dharker uses the symbol of hair to refer generally to the entirety of someone’s character or true essence. By redoing their hair, essentially their character and personality is being ‘re[done]’ and altered to the interpretation of an immigration officer. Alternatively, Dharker could be referring to the diminished idiosyncrasies of a person to a state of words on a passport. This acoustic impact is carried on to the sixth stanza, where they ‘…scrubbed’ and ‘…rubbed’ out individualistic features of a person. These rough-sounding words portray and convey the true emotional experience of being diminished to a piece of paper purposefully. After being morphed into a name on a passport, eventually that too is ‘…coming apart’. This could denote how even though there is very little to interpret from a passport photograph or factual data, immigrant officers still attempt to dissect or assume as much about a person as they deem necessary. This almost totalitarian role is criticised crucially by Dharker by ‘…miss[ing] out your heart’. The heart, too, could be a symbolical reference to personalised idiosyncrasies and a person’s true character. Dharker effectively uses the term ‘…splits’, where not only the photograph is being split into pieces, but rather the entirety of an individual as they are denied to be more than a photograph or a list of facts. Alternatively, the idea of the pieces landing on a newspaper that is ‘…dated today’ could be interpreted as another method Dharker has used to effectively repeat the justification of contemporary societies to cross examine every immigrant and foreigner, i.e. ‘…these are the times we live in’. Finally, the closing line is crucial in conveying how the pieces ‘…rustle’ as they land. The use of the word ‘…rustle’ is crucial to Dharker’s work as it convey’s multiple ideas. It could be said that the soft oozing noise could be an act of deviance or disapproval of modern age’s way of judging characters, and therefore the auditory impact could be interpreted as the passport, itself, disagreeing with said officers. Alternatively, the rustle could denote the disposable process of documentation that is reviewed by immigration officer and ultimately the power and hegemony they possess in deciding the future of a foreigner.

‘The Border Builder’ is a poem written by Carol Rumens, where she aptly explores the concept of borders being built and how they communicate an essence of polarisation in contemporary age and as a symbol of segregation and division. The two poems intertwine with the mention of ‘passport[s]’, and how the poets equally express how modern age assesses an individual on the basis of documentation. In addition, both have irregular rhyme scheme which could further denote the irregularities that come with the common theme of travelling and migration. Where Rumens uses ‘…blood’ to denote the true essence of a person’s loyalty and character, Dharker uses ‘…hair’ and ‘…heart’ to symbolise essentially the same ideals of a person’s personality. Dharker frequently uses reputation to emphasis his initial idea of modern day, with the line ‘…times we live in’, and Rumens’s poem is characterised by the same repetition, with the word ‘Which’, denoting the fussy and discriminatory nature of persons in contemporary age. In contrast, Rumens’s poem is rather morbid with the inclusion of ‘…genuine blood’, however Dharker’s poem is relatively more conversational. Where Dharker’s poem consists of ten stanza divisions, Rumens’s poem contains no such structural divisions and therefore follows a more seamless patterned structure. Although, it could be said that the two poems have relatively more similarities in dissecting the nature of travelling and migration, albeit utilising different and contrasting interpretations and perspectives.

Furthermore, in essence, Dharker’s poem explores the true nature of travel through his fluctuating stanza division and fluid rhyme scheme. His poem essentially criticises society for developing a polarised outlook on foreigners rather than uniting, however does not call for a revelation in societal outlook and consensus of such ideals. Dharker’s poem on travel may be coherently relatable to other poems for similarities and contrasting features alike, such as in ‘The Border Builder’ by the reputable Carol Rumens. Ultimately, through the use of various devices such as repetition and concretely concise language, Dharker has effectively explored the concept of travel as a foreigner entering a period of inarguable alienation.

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