Choman Hardi was born in Kurdistan, an ethnic region of Iraq. Her family fled to Iran but returned to Irag in 1979, when Hardi was five, as described in the poem (therefore partly autobiographical). The poet describes crossing the Iran-Iraq border – marked by a ‘thick iron chain’ – with her family.The Kurds were persecuted by Saddam Hussein, who used chemical weapons against them for their support of Iran in the Iran-Iraq war.
The poem has a detached tone, perhaps as the poet is looking back at a childhood experience. Hardi also used child-like language due to the age of the narrator. The poem is written in a simple conversational style with no elaborate desicrtion or imagery. The short sentences create a sense of the child’s memory and make the message, and to a certain extent the poem, seem obvious. The ‘thick iron chain’ is unadorned yet could the chain symbolise something? Consider Hughes poems that although present conflict through a cynical viewpoint also use simple/child like language at times.
The structure is narrative- the story moving quickly between the actions of the refugees, the words spoken and description of the immediate scene and countryside. The stanzas are of unequal length, therefore are irregular. The stanzas could suggest fragments of memories as the narrator pieces together the memories of the scene.
Other key points to consider:
- Direct speech – ‘We are going home’.
- Passive sentences – ‘our papers were checked’, ‘the chain was removed’ and ‘our faces thoroughly inspected’.
- Use of the word ‘encompassed’ – consider the deeper meaning of the word.
Major themes of the poem are:
- Divided society – compare to The Right Word, Belfast Confetti, The Yellow Palm
- Nationhood – compare to Flag, next to of course god america i, Charge of the Light Brigade
- Helplessness – compare to Out of the Blue, Futility.
A few videos below for further analysis of At the Border, 1979.