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Imtiaz Dharker’s Poem a Century Later

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A Century Later

Imtiaz Dharker’s poem ‘A Century Later’ is a remarkable response to Wilfred Owen’s ‘Anthem for Doomed Youth’, written almost exactly a century apart. In this poem, the speaker makes use of heavy and unsettling imagery to convey the struggles of oppressed women around the world. The schoolgirls are likened to soldiers and schools are likened to battlegrounds in obvious echoes of Owen’s war poem. The youthfulness and innocence of the little schoolgirls juxtaposes the age-old battle they are being forced to fight, emphasizing the immorality and cruelty of the society. The speaker continuously refers to the battle and the weapons used against the girls, but emphasizes that they are useless in the face of true bravery and strength.

In the fifth stanza, the speaker personifies the bullet, explaining that neither a book, nor the ‘buzzing’ in it can be killed. The word ‘book’ in this context not only refers to knowledge in a literal way, but also symbolizes a movement, an ideal, and a spark of hope for many young girls. Although casualties may occur just like in any war, the mind-set and the awareness that has led to this battle may never be ‘killed’. Moreover, the ‘book’ ties in with the religious aspect and the abuse of sacred texts by ‘religious’ authorities that often purposely misinterpret such texts for their own benefit and use it to oppress others. The ‘bullet’ in the fifth stanza also connects to the ‘bullet’ in the second stanza, providing further evidence that the revolution cannot be stopped. The speaker, additionally, makes use of onomatopoeia with the words “humming”, “buzzing”, and “murmur” to create a vocal effect which contributes to the battle scene imagery and represents the awakening of a revolution. This creates a tension that builds up throughout the poem like quiet but steady drum beats, giving us an indication of the excitement of finally having won “the right to be ordinary”.

It is, however, crucial to note that many girls around the world are still denied the right to education. They have not “won the right to be ordinary”, nor should they have to – it should not be little girls’ duty to fight for their basic rights. The depiction of little schoolgirls as soldiers stepping into the “firing-line” and taking their places on the “front line” creates a disturbing image which supports this statement. Although the bravery of the girls is glorified and admired, the eerie tone of the poem suggests an inherent wrongness of it all. Little girls should not have to withstand bullets and missiles just to receive an education equal to their male counterparts. They should not have to bear the burden of a corrupt and immoral society. They should not be made to feel ashamed to be seen and to be acknowledged. They should not have to withstand predatory glances from strangers, sly comments from acquaintances, and condescending attitudes from their colleagues.

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