The Shame - a new poem by Daljit Nagra

| by Daljit Nagra

For our Sonnet Exchange event at Alchemy Festival this year, Next Generation poet Daljit Nagra was commissioned to write a response to a Shakespeare sonnet. He chose Sonnet 69.

The Shame                         

by Daljit Nagra


I still feel stuck on my ex.

  For an age of the drawn-out divorce

           her arrowed sighs made blood of my

                         name. This way she kept in line

                              with our tribe and survived her kismet

                     as the victim. I rightly deserved to

              swallow my tongue on desertion

      that meant the voice, the body

of my wife lay bare.



                                                         I feel stuck on the day

                                             I came across her. She braved a

                           Hello. Nothing broke forth except I recalled

                the barbs, being barred from our child.

The way she gave her heart to the sacrifice;

               the widow’s martyrdom in whites

                         for a halo of weeds, that weep:

                                            even your mother bows before

                                                       me O boy of Death.





Sonnet 69 by William Shakespeare 


Those parts of thee that the world's eye doth view
Want nothing that the thought of hearts can mend;
All tongues, the voice of souls, give thee that due,
Uttering bare truth, even so as foes commend.
Thy outward thus with outward praise is crown'd; 
But those same tongues that give thee so thine own
In other accents do this praise confound
By seeing farther than the eye hath shown.
They look into the beauty of thy mind,
And that, in guess, they measure by thy deeds; 
Then, churls, their thoughts, although their eyes were kind,
To thy fair flower add the rank smell of weeds:
    But why thy odour matcheth not thy show,
    The solve is this, that thou dost common grow.


Daljit comments: 

I wrote my poem in response to Sonnet 69. I feel Shakespeare’s poem is about the gossip our conduct arouses and the gradual loss of reputation this causes even though we may appear unaltered on the outside.

Whereas Shakespeare’s sonnet issues and is constrained by the courtly values of his age, my poem sought to explore the implicit Bollywood drama of a modern Indian marriage.

I sought to explore my own forced/arranged marriage which happened decades ago. In my poem, I was interested in exploring the procedure that can follow such a break-up for a couple who live in a tight-knit traditional community.

After the break-up, for my wife, although she was born and raised in the West, it was important that she play the role of damaged wife. While for me, who left the marriage, it was important to take the verbal hits in silence.

The female of such a traditional marriage is the repository of the family values and the family name. To survive the loss of her status as a fallen woman she must discredit the husband in abusive inflammatory terms, as if to protest her innocence even though he has taken it from her!

The only way she can reclaim her name is to endure a widow’s status while the husband must walk away and know he is equally shamed. He must keep away from his own family because of the damage he caused to their honour; by staying with them he exacerbates their shame.

He can never reclaim his status in the family and she, at best, can win sympathy although she will always be regarded with pity. Add the factor of a child into the mix and the poem takes on another layer of bhangra drama!



Read Kaiser Haq's response here.

Read Nuhash Humayun's response here.

Read Sampurna Chattarji's response here. 

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