In ‘Identity’ Kumar explores themes of memory, self/identity, and personal history. The mood fluctuates between contemplative in the first half, and angrier and disappointed in the second. The tone is powerful and direct throughout as the speaker addresses those who are important in their past but no longer are today.
Summary of Identity
The poem takes the reader through a list of experiences, as well as direct questioning of a specific group of listeners. The speaker depicts their life through influences and then shuts down all those who would like to exert influence over their identity. They state very explicitly that their identity is their own and that everyone else has gotten lost within it.
You can read the full poem Identity here.
Structure of Identity
‘Identity’ by Abhimanyu Kumar is a two stanza poem that’s separated into one set of eight lines, known as an octave, and one set of six lines, known as a sestet. Together they make fourteen lines, the length of a traditional sonnet. Also in accordance with sonnets, particularly Italian or Petrarchan sonnets, there is a turn between the two stanzas. The first focuses on listing out those “who taught” the speaker while the sestet contains questions, exclamations, and then a summary of those now in the past. This is where the similarities end between this poem and the sonnet form.
Poetic Techniques in Identity
Kumar makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Identity’. These include alliteration, anaphora, epistrophe, and enjambment. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “teacher” and “taught in lines three and four of the first stanza and “Lost,” “lost” and “life” in lines five and six of the second stanza.
Epistrophe is the repetition of the same word, or a phrase, at the end of multiple lines or sentences. For instance, “me,” which ends three of the fourteen lines. Kumar also makes use of anaphora, or the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines, usually in succession. “Who” in the first stanza begins two lines and “Why” begins lines two and three in the second stanza.
Another important technique commonly used in poetry is enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between lines five and six in the first stanza.
Analysis of Identity
This is to the motherland
Where I have been born
Many are there to address
These few are to notice.
In the first stanza of ‘Identity’ the speaker begins by listening out the things that have influenced them the most. The first, “the motherland,” the place where they were born. This influence is inescapable and listed very bluntly in the first lines. It is an integral part of this person’s identity.
Next, there is “the teacher”. This influence is connected with structured education and brought the speaker nothing. They learned nothing they needed to know from this person, or from the system in general. This gives the reader some idea of what might be important to the speaker, what kind of learning or experiences they value.
Next, there is the lover. This person “turned away” from the speaker. They left, abandoned this person in a way that influenced the speaker’s identity. They learned what it meant to lose something very important.
More of this person’s identity is revealed in the last line. Here, they say that there are “few to notice” in their life. Of all the people they’ve known, and there are “many,” few of those are very meaningful.
What you have taught?
Why you came in?
You all have lost me
Lost your identity in my life.
In the second half of the poem, the speaker brings in questions. They are directed at an unknown listener, or group of the listener’s the speaker wants to address. They ask, “What have you taught me?” The energy raises in the next lines when they add, “Why the hell you came in?” There’s a mystery to these relationships that a reader is not privy to. There’s something going on that’s not revealed in the text and a reader has to guess if they want to know exactly what happened.
In the next lines the speaker lists out “Hybridity, Modernization, Temporary” These are parts of our modern world, but they also speak to what it means to change one’s self, and experience changes to one’s identity. The mood in these lines is different. There’s an anger, or perhaps disappointment the speaker feels in those around them.
The poem ends with the speaker telling the listeners that they have “all..lost” this person. Their identities have been consumed by the speaker’s own. This speaks to how meaningful their impact was, and how strong the speaker sees themselves as being.