The Signpost By Edward Thomas

Having fought and died as a soldier in World War I, Edward Thomas is known as a ‘war poet’. He is famous for his works such as ‘Beauty’, ‘As the Team’s Head Brass’, ‘October’ and more. However, this assumption reflects the style of his poetry that uses unassuming, colloquial vocabulary when underneath lies layers of meaning and message. Thomas was plagued with self doubt about his poetry and even suffered bouts of depression which hides within his poetry. He blends themes of war and the countryside using a lucid style, precision of speech and intelligent observations. The remarkable delicacy with which he writes makes it all the more endearing. One can also find that with Thomas, what is unsaid is more important than what is said. ‘The Signpost’ consists of Thomas’ deliberations on the kinds important junctions one encounters throughout life as well as the illusion of choice in such instances.

Using pathetic fallacy, the poet includes pale, unpromising imagery for the dark themes to come. Everything is dull; the ‘dim sea glints chill, ‘white sun is shy’ by a hilltop of frosty grasses and ‘skeleton weeds’. We even find that the ‘hawthorn berry and hazel tuft’ later ominously lose their leaves.

The poet comes across a signpost at the hilltop initially with a ‘traveller’s joy’ and reads the sign. Trying to make a choice, a voice in his mind tells him that as a twenty year old he ‘would not have doubted so’. ‘Another voice reminds him of his suicidal thoughts at that age. The two voices of hindsight begin to have a conversation of their own, distancing the poet from himself.

The first voice wonders what decision he would make ‘to be sixty by this same post’. With a sinister laugh, the other suggests that he shall soon see, implying that death is near. This is all the more tragic because Thomas sensed his own death and never lived to see sixty. He joins the laughter of the voices for he knows the joke, like death is on him.

The voice assures ‘either before or after’, death ‘must befall’. All shall eventually be buried with ‘a mouthful of earth’. Death is in fact a ‘remedy’ that shall take people to a heavenly place where ‘regrets and wishes shall freely be given’. The only wish that shall not be given is to return to earth. The voices of depression taunt and haunt Thomas. They suggest such a morbid that even heaven is not free from flaw. ‘No matter what the weather’ or age ‘between death and birth’, he shall never revisit. Heaven is just as much a trap as earth. It is depicted as a restricting place of afterlife that only deprives people. It deprives one from ever seeing ‘day or night’, ‘sun and frost’, ‘land and the sea’ or any of the seasons. Yet it is inescapable to any man be him a prince or a pauper. The signpost of death is but a dead end ‘standing upright’ against any stunted idea of choice in the matter.

It is interesting to note that for a man with suicidal thoughts, Thomas loves life and earth. His detailed description of nature’s wonderful elements proves desperation to cling onto it. This is similar to how he finds refuge in the beauty of nature in other poems such as ‘Beauty’. His zest for life comes from nature making him just as much a nature poet than Wordsworth. However, he does leave us with a thought-provoking cliff hanger. If death is so unavoidable, why does man continue ‘wondering where he shall journey, O where?’

© 2016 Pia Krishnankutty & springtidevoice. All Rights Reserved

Does The Working Indian Woman Have It Easy?

Author’s Note: An amateurish stint i.e my 9th grade project to address something relevant to current events. (No recent changes have been made whatsoever).

Since the beginning of time women were never equated to men and immediately undertook a subordinate position in society. Mrinal Pandey’s ‘Girls’, illustrates the frustration of a young Indian girl under the gender pressures of her family. She realises that her family perceives her as a ‘burden’ on their lives and that as a girl, she fails to bring honour and pride to her family as the men and boys do.  Although modern times have proved to be more forgiving toward certain unfairness in society, the discrimination against women still prevails. Recent events in our country itself support this claim such as the Delhi rape case which was a violent demonstration of man’s need to exercise power over woman. Moreover, the role of working women in society has more cons than pros which makes establishing their role not only in their work place but at home as well, a real challenge.

Manusmriti, the base of ancient Hindu law and conduct of society suggests women have an obligation to seduce and provide immoral temptation and desire to men. If such an accusation was true, then it would imply that by controlling the desires of men, women controlled their actions, which is contradictive. In fact, Manusmriti starts by describing the beauty of nature; plants, animals and the surroundings. However, it restricts men from witnessing a woman giving birth; a natural process. If men were to observe the pain of childbirth, they would be more sympathetic towards women or even amazed by their strength. Even fifty years ago; most women were hired only as typists, assistants, secretaries.  Over generations a mindset has been created that women are the weaker, inferior sex and thus incapable of being independent.

Today, the work place is problematic for Indian women; there is competition, various unfair prejudices and a constant worry of the children while the woman is away from home. Everyone can agree that a woman is the mother of her children and so holds a greater responsibility of them. Now for working women, they have a constant guilt of being away from the children; how they are doing in school with homework, tests, extracurricular activities and exams or worse; whether they feel lonely in the absence of their mother. Indeed, it is hard for them to balance their moral obligations as mothers and their careers and probably the ugly truth is that to excel in the latter the prior will be less acknowledged. The political term ‘glass ceiling’ describes an unseen yet inevitable barrier that prevents minorities such as women, despite their accomplishments and qualifications from reaching the top of the ladders of the corporate and industrial world.  The bitter sweet reality is that not only India, but the world recognises this inescapable career obstruction that working women are unfortunately subjected to. However, to remove such obstacles is easier said than done as they are based upon such gender mindsets that have been well embedded in our society for generations before and probably generations to come.

A recent study showed that the seriousness of their jobs compelled certain single women to remain single and some married women to not want children anymore. However, unlike the middle class woman who can hire help, the lower class working woman carries a heavier load. Ironically enough, most of these women are our own domestic help who have three to five children including grandchildren to look after. She has to also clean her home (after cleaning a stranger’s), take care of the family and also see to their meals. We live in a country where spousal rape is not illegal and domestic violence is a norm; where sex-selective abortion, female infanticide and child marriage are a practice in which women are demonstrated as mere pawns in a game of chess. Some of their husbands gamble or drink away their money and so the woman has to bring home double the income. It is a pity that even though she is the breadwinner of the family, the lower class woman can be physically abused if she works too late. With the addition of women inequality and one third of them being illiterate, it prevents women from striving to higher paying jobs or any jobs at all which hence lessens the female labour participation of the nation. This in turn could soon threaten the country’s progress.

Pregnant women are hardly hired which brings us to the primary factor of hiring women; physical attractiveness. Most of the time the workplace does have many women, but all who suffer the corporate hierarchy where they are deprived of senior management positions. A corporate behavioural study proved that men having housewives feel women in the workplace are less suited to leadership roles and are more unlikely to promote them. Unequal pay despite the Equal Remuneration Act (1976) and night shifts that open doors to sexual harassment, are more stereotypes and unfairness that women have to work around in male dominated companies and industries. Even though 11% of the 250 odd Indian companies have women as CEOs, the trials and tribulations that her sisters bear do not cease. Indeed, the Indian working woman does not have it easy.

© 2016 Pia Krishnankutty & springtidevoice. All Rights Reserved

Haiku Three (ish)

When in depths of doubt
Don’t follow the standardised format
of a standard haiku.
Respect tradition
but follow change.

© 2016 Pia Krishnankutty & springtidevoice. All Rights Reserved

Haiku Two

Cliffhangers are bad.
The plot unravels
until the point where

© 2016 Pia Krishnankutty & springtidevoice. All Rights Reserved

Haiku One

Rhyming is mainstream
Verse can be versatile
Fuck it, crocodile.

© 2016 Pia Krishnankutty & springtidevoice. All Rights Reserved

The Shield of Achilles by W.H Auden

‘The Shield of Achilles’, based on Homer’s Iliad refers to the shield used by Achilles when he fought against Hector. Hephaestus, the Greek God of blacksmiths made the shield that represented the world of God and men in nine concentric circles. Similarly, the poem has nine stanzas. However, these verses are juxtapositions between ancient Greece and contemporary world. Therefore, Auden alternates between a ballad style, iambic pentameter and rhythm royal to signify change between past and present. Through an anti-thesis of expectation versus reality, Auden brings to light themes of modern day warfare, despair, immorality and makes us question our heroes.

The poem begins with Thetis, Achilles’ mother looking over the shoulder of Hephaestus as he crafted the shield, expecting ‘vines and olive trees’, peace, prosperity, opulence and adventure. However, any hope for ‘ships upon untamed seas’ lay under dark, foreboding clouds in ‘a sky like lead’.

Auden mentions this ‘artificial wilderness’ to bridge a description of empty wastelands after war. These lands were ‘bare and brown’, devoid of vegetation. Yet ironically, an ‘unintelligible multitude’ of innocent men were assembled without any ‘sign of neighbourhood’; frightened, obedient soldiers. The voice of a nameless authority rose in a tone as ‘dry and level as the place’. Without any cheers or discussion, the soldiers almost submissively marched forth. The men become as nameless and faceless as the statistics that justify their vague cause. Just like a mother blinded by the love for her son, soldiers are found blindly ‘enduring a belief’, oblivious to the reality.

Thetis hoped for ‘ritual pieties’, ‘libation and sacrifice’ to the Greek Gods. However instead of any divine blessings, Hephaestus was creating a scene as morbid as concentration camps. Within the ‘barbed wire’ of such camps, lay the bloodiest, brutal cruelties. Auden juxtaposes apathetic ‘bored officials’ cracking jokes beside a silent crowd of enslaved German Jews. This censure on bureaucracy is also found in other works such as ‘Refugee Blues’. The innocent, ‘decent folk’ watched as three men were led to their graves. This Biblical allusion to Jesus who was killed along with two others possibly suggests how religious insensitivity is lost and how the Jews didn’t die as martyrs but as victims. The ‘mass and majesty’ of the human soul lay in the hands of fanatics. In the camps, all hope was lost and ‘no help came’. Such cruel enslavement killed any spirit, pride and dignity. Just like the wastelands, Hephaestus was crafting a ‘weed choked field’ foreshadowing Achilles’ fate while Thetis hoped for athletes and dancers. Auden clever depiction of dancing ‘sweet limbs’ is a contrast to the ‘a million boots’ of marching soldiers.

Auden returns to the blank landscape as described in the beginning. A scruffy young boy walked around ‘aimless and alone’ in this loss of community. Exposed to warfare, rape and murder were ‘axioms to him’. Auden depicts the casualties of war, displaced children orphans, and the psychological trauma endured. It is a tragedy of how men foolishly deprive themselves of ‘a world where promises were kept’ or where ‘one could weep because another wept’. The only world the boy knows is a violent one. It is unsurprising when although bored and loitering, he throws ‘a well aimed stone’ to a bird, ready to inflict pain on a harmless creature.

In the end, Hephaestus hobbled away ‘thin lipped’ for the shield had spoken for itself. The hopeful Thetis ‘cried out in dismay’ for what she saw the prophecy of her son ‘who would not live long’. Though the shield is never described, the badlands and bleak landscapes described by Auden suggest that that was what the armourer was depicting all along. Hephaestus was not only depicting Achilles’ fate but also man’s and how there is only a dark end to conquest and violence. The description of soldiers is critique on blind obedience and passivity. Perhaps the lack of dialogue throughout the poem helps represent the danger of silence. Auden also makes us question our heroes such as Achilles’ in relation to the glorification of war. Where is the nobility in ‘man-slaying’ acts? We call our heroes ‘iron-hearted’ but perhaps their hearts are just made of stone.

© 2016 Pia Krishnankutty & springtidevoice. All Rights Reserved