Harrison’s poem, The Bright Lights of Sarajevo is in Part 2 of the new IGCSE Anthology for Edexcel. What a great poem this is – seemingly straightforward in language and ultimately absorbing.
I love the questions needing to be answered – who or what are the bright lights? for example, and also the slow development across the two opening stanzas (as printed in the anthology) which both move from negative to positive as the beauty of nature (the stars) and of love begin to replace the deprivation and the horror of war.
I will add another teaching idea from @missjboyle, and in the meantime, here is mine.
THE BRIGHT LIGHTS OF SARAJEVO
After the hours that Sarajevans pass
Queuing with empty canisters of gas
to get the refills they wheel home in prams,
or queuing for the precious meagre grams
of bread they’re rationed to each day,
and often dodging snipers on the way,
or struggling up sometimes eleven flights
of stairs with water, then you’d think the nights
of Sarajevo would be totally devoid
of people walking streets Serb shells destroyed,
but tonight in Sarajevo that’s just not the case–
The young go walking at a strollers pace,
black shapes impossible to mark
as Muslim, Serb or Croat in such dark,
in unlit streets you can’t distinguish who
calls bread hjleb or hleb or calls it kruh,
All takes the evening air with a strollers stride,
no torches guide them, but they don’t collide
except as one of the flirtatious ploys
when a girl’s dark shape is fancied by a boy’s.
Then the tender radar of the tone of voice
shows by its signals she approves his choice.
Then mach or lighter to a cigarette
to check in her eyes if he’s made progress yet.
And I see a pair who’ve certainly progressed
beyond the tone of voice and match-lit flare test
and he’s about, I think, to take her hand
and lead her away from where they stand
on two shells scars, where, in 1992
Serb mortars massacred the breadshop queue
and blood-dunked crusts of shredded bread
lay on this pavement with the broken dead.
And at their feet in holes made by the mortar
that caused the massacre, now full of water
from the rain that’s poured down half the day,
though now even the smallest clouds have cleared away,
leaving the Sarajevo star-filled evening sky
ideally bright and clear for the bombers eye,
in those two rain-full shell-holes the boy sees
fragments of the splintered Pleiades,
sprinkled on those death-deep, death-dark wells
splashed on the pavement by Serb mortar shells.
The dark boy-shape leads dark-girl shape away
to share one coffee in a candlelit café
until the curfew, and he holds her hand
behind AID flour-sacks refilled with sand.
when was the bright lights or sarajevo written
Around 1995 when sent as a correspondent.
What is the Bright lights of sarajevo actually about?
It looks at how love can continue to thrive even in the worst of conditions – in essence the idea of hope in the bleakest of surroundings (like much of Hardy’s work) Tony Harrison is a leading British poet and playwright. This poem
is one that he wrote for the Guardian newspaper during the Bosnian war, which was fought
between the Serbs and Croats who lived there. In this poem he describes how young people
continue to meet in the dark and court despite the conflict that has raged around them.
Themes: Themes include: the strength and urgency of love; the deprivations and destruction
caused by war.
What do you think it has to do with the ‘effect of war’. I am writing an essay on it and am quite stuck. Thanks 🙂
TBH I am not sure it does… I see it as a message of hope in the appalling conditions of war… effect- war is destructive and violent but will not overwhelm love? Focus on the juxtaposition of negatives and language of violence against images of beauty and language of peace and relaxation… sorry not to be more help- will carry on thinking…
I think it is more to do with the ability to find hope in the most unlikely situations… war can’t quench love and the evidence of war : the scarred pavement and sandbags and bombers’ moon are part of the everyday experience of the couple in the poem.
Sorry for the delay – been away.
how was conflict show in this poem
Other than by direct reference to bombers and scars on the ground, I think the key idea is about love being possible in such an environment. In that it is like Hardy- another poet who could find hope in the unlikeliest of places.
How is this poem related to cultural identity?
I’m not sure it is- the message is bigger altogether- hope in adversity. The cultural identity of Sarajevo is one of mixed races- the reason for the whole civil war… we see that in the hleb/bread idea- there is no difference between the races, hence live can grow at night and in the dark because identity becomes blurred and we return to bring human rather than Serbian or Croat…
Sorry not to be more help.
i’m Sheila I think you are WRONG
Good for you- all literature is subjective. Would you like to flesh out your ideas a bit to enable discussion?
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