Study Guide

The Country Without a Post Office

by Agha Shahid Ali

The Country Without a Post Office Summary

Summary

Section 1
It should be noted that “The Country Without a Post Office” is very complex and allusive and is not “representative” of the empirical world in any direct way. A commonly held tenet of New Critical theory is that poems should not be summarized or paraphrased, because doing so distorts the meaning of the poem. Attempts to summarize Ali’s poem, then, or any poem worth its salt, inevitably are guilty of what New Critics called the heresy of the paraphrase.

The epigraph of Ali’s poem is from one of poet Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Terrible Sonnets,” which begins, “I WAKE and feel the fell of dark, not day.” Ali’s poem echoes many of the themes and images in Hopkins’s. In the first section of “The Country Without a Post Office,” the narrator returns to a country (Kashmir) where a “minaret has been entombed.” A minaret is a tower, used in Islamic architecture, from which a muezzin calls the faithful to prayer. Minarets are usually located at the corners of the mosque. The person climbing the stairs and reading “messages scratched on planets” also evokes the image of an astrologer. When he begins canceling stamps, he evokes the image of a postal inspector.

The second stanza might refer to any of the numerous battles in Kashmir. The conflict in the 1990s involved Muslim militants rousting more than one hundred thousand Pandits (Hindus) from Kashmir Valley, also known as “Paradise” for its beauty, in an effort to secure control of the valley and state. The “us” and “them” the speaker refers to in the fifth line are the Hindus and Muslims, the two dominant groups of the region. The soldiers are Indian, many of whom burned homes and entire villages during the unrest.

The call of the muezzin is the call to prayer,...

(The entire section is 737 words.)