by Imtiaz Dharker
Imtiaz Dharker's poem “The Right Word” focuses on a figure that is in the shadows outside the narrator's house. It is noticeable that the word “outside” appears in the first seven of the poem's nine stanzas, and the word “shadows” or “shadow” in the first six. Because the figure is in the shadows, it is difficult to make out who or what he is, and so the narrator is searching for the right word to identify him.
The first stanza describes the figure as “lurking” in the shadows and states that he is a terrorist; the image is therefore a very threatening one. In the opening line of the second stanza, Dharker wonders if that description was an incorrect one. This time the figure is said to be “taking shelter,” making him seem more vulnerable, and Dharker identifies him with alliteration as “a freedom fighter.” The connotations are much more positive than those connected with a terrorist. In the third stanza, however, the narrator still feels that the figure has not been correctly identified. He is now described as merely “waiting” in the shadows and is seen as “a hostile militant.” This identity obviously labels him as an enemy.
Dharker uses enjambment to link the first two lines of the fourth stanza to extend a question about the definition of words. She uses the alliterative metaphor “waving, wavering flags”, asking if words are no more than that. Wavering conveys the idea of hesitating, changing an opinion, and waving creates an image of constant movement or fluctuating ideas. The words we use to describe people or things can change from one moment to the next. In this stanza, the figure is “watchful,” therefore alert, in the shadows; this time the narrator identifies him as a “guerrilla warrior,” in other words an aggressive fighter.
The fifth stanza opens with the words “God help me,” signifying the fact that Dharker is in a state of shock, perhaps. Now the figure is “defying every shadow,” and so his identity...