Mr Stephen Bagley

Compare the ways in which the poems “blessing” and “What were they like?” present culture.

The poets of “blessing” and “What were they like” use a variety of mediums to portray culture. “WWTL” depicts a Vietnamese peasant culture; and “Blessing” a dry African village.

The structure and form of “WWTL” is very outlandish. It is set out in the form of questions and answers. This is an ambiguous opening, and might even suggest naivety; this could reflect the culture’s naivety, and perhaps innocence in its lack of knowledge. Whereas “Blessing” is set out very simply, with just four plain stanzas, and this might echo their way of life. Also “Blessing” follows a theme of enjambment; -there is no real punctuation so the poem flows, just like water the subject of the poem. This suggest how impoverished they are if they do not have water, the most basic of resources. Whereas “WWLT” also depicts the people as leading simple lives “their lives were in rice and bamboo” but they posses the most basic resources.

The language used in the two poems is incredibly emotive and powerful. “WWTL” portrays the people as leading simple lives, not desiring much. “stone lanterns illuminated pleasant ways”. This shows that their lives were simple, as they did not use electricity to light their homes etc. Furthermore they did use any special material to make the lanterns in question. They used stone, a very common, rudiment material. But the quote in no way depicts them as leading sad, miserable lives because of this lack of wealth. “illuminated pleasant ways”. Where they lived was “pleasant”, not horrible. This suggests that although they are poor they are in no way leading lives under awful conditions. In comparison to “Blessing”, in which the people are presented as leading poor lives in disgraceful conditions. “Skin cracks like a pod”. This is a simile that portrays that people have so little water that their skin is cracking open like the dry ground; it seems almost inhumane, it creates horrible imagery of pain and suffering. The people in “WWTL” are poor, but happy whereas in “Blessing” they are poor and suffering because of it.

Also both poems depict the treasures of their cultures. In “Blessing” water is treasured beyond anything. “silver crashes to the ground”. This metaphor represents water as silver, a material we consider in our culture to be extremely valuable. This highlights how precious water is this culture. In “WWTL” rice and bamboo is valued. “most were peasants; their lives were in rice and bamboo”. This shows how they treasure food and not money nor other items of value. So both poems portray their cultures as valuing the most basic of resources.

The mood in “Blessing” starts of as very sombre, and desperate. “there is never enough water”. This is just a clear, concise statement, because there is never enough water. But nearer to the end it becomes elated. “as blessing sings over their small bones”. This leaves the reader with a nice image, a happy ending. But “WWTL” is quite the opposite. It starts off very pleasantly, “they gathered to delight in the blossom”, they are portrayed as not having a care in the world. Then very suddenly it turns darker and depressing. “Bombs smashed those mirrors”. It becomes quite violent and ends very sorrowfully. “Blessing” depicts their culture as having a lasting hope in spite of their suffering; whereas “WWTL” the culture was once so beautiful but now it has been destroyed it will never be the same again.

In conclusion I find that both poems portray cultures effectively through many methods. Levertov uses form and mood proficiently, to depict the Vietnamese culture as pleasant and agreeable; but also the sadness and cruelty of how it all ended, and how these simple lives were so cruelly and unfairly interrupted by those who did not understand the beauty and simplicity of the culture.
Dharker uses form and imagery incredibly well to portray the suffering and poverty of the culture described, and then imagery again to express hope and happiness that the people in the culture experience when their greatest dream comes true.
Both poems depict an impoverished culture, but surprisingly both quite differently, each is unique in the culture it describes and does so very effectively.