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In this essay I will be comparing two poems about identity-“Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan” by Moniza Alvi and “Welsh Landscape” by R.S. Thomas.
“Welsh Landscape” was written in approximately 1963. It’s a poem of dismay; Thomas is despairing about what is happening to his country. Although he has an obvious love for his country, in “Welsh Landscape” this is almost hidden by Thomas’s feelings of bitterness and frustration at what’s happened to the once infamous landscape, history and language of Wales. Thomas wishes that Wales would just move forward and embrace its heroic past, but in his eyes this just isn’t happening.
“Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan” was written in the late 20th century. It’s also a poem of despair-but in a different way. Thirteen-year-old Moniza Alvi isn’t angry, but she’s uncomfortable where she is and wishes that she could fit in. She’d give anything for that. She wishes desperately that she could feel more at home and ordinary in Britain, where she’s lived practically all her life, but she can’t. She can’t reconcile her two cultures-Pakistani and English-and she’s confused and upset about this. Moniza Alvi wonders why she can’t fit in and feels utterly trapped. This is like Thomas’s poem; he feels that his country is trapped between two cultures-English and Welsh-too. Both Alvi and Thomas feel that they’ve completely lost their identities.
Both poets explore their culture in these poems. They’re both proud of many aspects of their cultures, but feel that a lot needs to be done to enable them to live in their idea world.
RS Thomas seems angry. He talks about how in Wales you “cannot live in the present” and how there’s “only the past”. He’s angry that that over the years, the Wales he knows and loved has crumbled away. It could have been avoided.
Thomas directly addresses his reader when he comments that “You cannot live in the present”. Here, he’s saying that this is the same for everybody in Wales; it’s unavoidable.
Although you can tell that Thomas is proud of his culture (he talks about the “immaculate rivers” and the “soft consonants”) he believes that a more negative atmosphere has now taken over his country. He believes that Wales should remain purely Welsh, and anybody who defies that is “inbreeding”.
Overall, I think that RS Thomas is trying to say that we should appreciate Wales but be conscious of its violent past and try to move on from that-instead of being trapped between the past and present. At the moment, people just aren’t moving on.
Moniza Alvi, on the other hand, feels lost. She’s confused. She longs to be able to wear her “glistening”, “satin-silken”, “embossed” clothing, but can’t fee comfortable in them. “My costume clung to me and I was aflame,” she says. “Aflame” implies that when she wears these clothes, she feels embarrassed and angry that she doesn’t look right. “Costume” suggests that these don’t feel like her ordinary clothes; it’s like she’s trying to be something that she’s not.
However, although she longs for “denim and corduroy” (ordinary, plain British clothes) she doesn’t describe them with anywhere near as much enthusiasm. They’re plain, even if they are comfortable, and here we see that Moniza Alvi is again torn between her two cultures. She’s envious of her Aunt Jamila, who can “Rise up out of its fire, half English”. She feels that she can’t do this at all. She simply wants to be accepted for who she is. She loves her Pakistani clothing-it looks “radiant” in her wardrobe-but on her, it just doesn’t look right. She talks about her mother’s “cherished” jewellery which was stolen from her car. The jewellery, like her, was stolen from its roots-now it’ll never be cherished in the same way again.
She then goes on to discuss the “camel-skin” lamp. Just like her, the camel-skin lamp has been taken out of its own culture and put somewhere else. She says that she considers its “cruelty”-we see here that the lamp is a metaphor for herself. She feels that she has been treated cruelly when she was taken out of her culture and put somewhere else-and she’s having difficult dealing with it.
Ever since she left Pakistan, she’s felt out of place. On the journey to England, Moniza Alvi says that “prickly heat had me screaming on the way”-her trek to England even started off on the wrong foot. She “ended up in a cot”-this implies that as soon as she arrived in England she was completely trapped. She then immediately “found myself alone, playing with a tin boat”. She;s already lost, and the tin boat insinuates that she already wants to sale back home. She just wants to feel right where she is; she doesn’t have an identity. Here, we see a contrast between the two poems that I’m studying-brittle as it is, at least RS Thomas has an identity.
The mood throughout “Welsh landscape” is that of frustration. RS Thomas is irritated because he sees the potential in Wales-“the constant noisy tractor” and the “hum of the machine” which implies that work in Wales is indeed moving forward. He sees the beauty of Wales in the “immaculate” rivers and the “wild” sky, but is angry that people aren’t willing to maintain this beauty in other aspects of Wales-the “wind bitten towers and castles” and, “mouldering quarries and mines”.
He’s frustrated that people aren’t maintaining the areas that his country has always been famous for. He feels that he’s been affected unnecessarily-if the Welsh people did what in his eyes are their duties, he wouldn’t be in this situation. He’s extremely aggravated that this has been allowed to happen and that Wales’ reputation and condition is continuing to deteriorate. He’s worried that eventually, Wales won’t even have its “soft consonants” and, “wind-bitten towers and castles” to its name-they’ll be allowed to die out.