Tony Harrison

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What is an analysis and what are the language techniques of "The Bright Lights of Sarajevo"?

An analysis of "The Bright Lights of Sarajevo" by Craig Raine is a poem which uses powerful and skilled language techniques to convey the devastating effects of war. The poem effectively communicates the hopelessness, nightmare that war causes, and the sense of irony involved in such an unnatural event.

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The symbolism of the lights in the poem is perhaps the most important language technique. Lights usually symbolize hope, or clarity. In this poem the stars that the boy sees in the puddle, at the end of the poem, do connote the hope of a blossoming romance, but those stars...

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The symbolism of the lights in the poem is perhaps the most important language technique. Lights usually symbolize hope, or clarity. In this poem the stars that the boy sees in the puddle, at the end of the poem, do connote the hope of a blossoming romance, but those stars are also described as "fragments" and "splintered," reflecting the devastation caused by the war. The bright stars also indicate a clear night sky, "bright and clear for the bomber's eye." The "Bright Lights" of the poem's title are thus tied up with a tragic sense of irony.

There is also throughout the poem a juxtaposition between images which connote the everyday, unremarkable events of normal life, like buying bread or taking a stroll, and, on the other hand, images which recall the danger and violence of war, like "dodging snipers" and "AID flour-sacks refilled with sand." This stark juxtaposition emphasizes how unnatural and invasive the war is.

There are also in the poem examples of alliteration, such as "death-deep, death-dark wells," and "mortars massacred." The alliteration in these two examples emphasizes the phrases and the macabre connotations that they evoke. The alliteration also, in the first example, emphasizes, by way of repetition, the harsh, abrupt sound of the letter D, onomatopoeically echoing the insistent march of death.

Finally, Harrison, midway through the poem, uses personification when he describes the "two shells scars" on the pavement where the boy and the girl stand. Describing the streets as scarred in this way helps the reader to appreciate the pain caused to the city by the bombs. The scars also suggest, however, on a more positive note, that the streets are able to heal themselves, at least to a certain extent. This impression of hopefulness is evident elsewhere in the poem too, perhaps most notably at the end of the poem when the boy holds the girl's hand. This image represents the hope of new relationships and romances, begun in defiance of the war being waged all around.

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Poet Tony Harrison draws contrasts between war and peace, dark and light, night and day, through both the topics and the language of the poem. He also shows how these extremes come together and create a tortuous reality for Sarajevo's people under siege.

The poet uses the simplest rhyme scheme, aabb, and mostly iambic in varied length lines, in part to create a comforting, familiar rhythmic environment for the reader. The ideas and images, however, are often uncomfortable and jarring. Harrison portrays a city damaged by mortar attacks where paradoxes abound. People are safer in the dark and rain, for in clear skies and daylight the mortars are more likely to find their targets. Beauty is found in unexpected places, as he shows by choosing odd juxtapositions: the Pleaides star cluster reflected in a puddle in a hole made by a mortar hit.

The "dark boy-shape" and "dark girl-shape" who give a bit of narrative structure to the poem go unnamed and otherwise undescribed. They represent every young person making their way through the night.

Harrison uses almost entirely common English words. The power of the language does not derive from any fancy vocabulary. The words emphasize the ordinariness of the people and their situation. Notable exceptions are several foreign words for bread, their origins not identified but are likely Arabic, Serbian, and Croatian to correspond to identities he does name. Similarly, Harrison largely avoids customary poetic literary devices, favoring straightforward description with only a sprinkling of metaphors, further enhancing the universality of this city's distinct experience.

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