Call Him Not by Delwar Hossain, in its eight lines, cautions the reader to distance from a person who is depicted as careless and hurtful, all while using such a general “he” phrasing for the circumstance that the reader can connect the distancing concept to anyone who often is the source of such carelessness and hurt. This concept is delivered through deliberate plays on words that make the situation not quite as the word choice would literally entail, and that varied concept is at work as well within the final two lines where the reader learns that this “he” is capable of “feeling,” despite his negativity. Overall, Hossain has managed to create a poem that is almost its own wordplay in that it warns against keeping negative people close, but it also gives insight into those negative people. The full poem can be found here.
Call Him Not Analysis
In this first pair of lines, Hossain references no specific person as the recipient of the instructions, and according to basic rules of grammar, this would indicate that all of these instructions are given with the understood subject of “you.” This type of informality of specifically addressing the reader can be taken as unusual, but when the topic of the poem is so blunt and harsh, the directness is a fitting contribution to the theme. This is in contrast to the vagueness linked to the person Hossain speaks of since there is no statement of who this “he” is. Because the reader does not have that concrete knowledge, what is otherwise a blunt poem becomes uncertain.
Whoever this “he” is though, Hossain’s advice to the reader is to leave this “he” alone since “he” is seen as lacking on a variety of levels. This strong, centered topic of criticism and warning is so blunt and harsh that there is no doubt that Hossain means every word he is saying that is negative about this “he.” When compared with the vague concept of a general “he,” it can be taken as an encompassing statement toward a more general population of people who possess these traits. The reader then does not need to know who “he” is to apply this logic to their own life. Rather, they only need to recognize why keeping someone with these traits close is a poor choice, and with that knowledge, they can employ the concept to their own lives to weed out the wrong people.
These first two lines begin a pattern that generally continues throughout the remainder of the poem of having a simple piece of advice repeated in one line, followed by the reasoning for that piece of advice in the next line. This repetitious strategy helps to keep the reader grounded in the concepts by delivering them in such a structured manner. With that structure can come familiarity, and that familiarity can make the ideas settle more firmly in a person’s mind.
Another interesting detail about this pair of lines is the use of harsh consonants in many of the words, such as the beginning advice of “Call him not.” That “C” sound is cutting, just as the “by born” finale is pressing and strong. This boosts the impact of the words since they sound as strong as the meaning of the message.
The choice of wording is also significant since the reason given for the direction to “call him not” is that “[h]e is deaf and dumb by born.” The technical meaning of “deaf and dumb” is having neither the ability to hear nor speak, which likely is not the meaning Hossain intends to impart as it would not be a reason to keep distance from a person. It is, however, a sensible reason to not “call” someone on the phone as they could not hear or speak to partake in the “call,” so it provides rationale to his declaration of “call him not.”
The addition of “by born,” as a twist on the common phrase, “by birth,” allows the reader to grasp that the criticism is not meant to be taken in its most literal sense, and that understanding permits the reader to see a sensibility in the play on words that is deeper than the technical definitions. Specifically, it seems, this “he” does not listen to reason, therefore being “deaf,” and he has nothing of use to say, meaning he is “dumb” and not capable of speaking anything worth listening to.
Continuing the format of giving advice in one line and rationale in the next, this pair of lines tells the reader to “touch him not” as well, and the reasoning is once more something with meaning beyond the commonplace definition. Hossain says “[h]e is a feelingless stone,” which cannot be taken as literal since the person described cannot be a “stone.” Again, though, the play on words allows the reader to pick up on this contrast by using the adjective, “feelingless,” for that “stone.” As “feelingless” is not a word, the reader can know that these words cannot be taken at face value because one of them technically does not exist. Like with the pair of lines before these then, the reader must infer the actual meaning. In order to do this, the reader might think of a number of possible comparisons to apply to the person in regard to a “stone,” but Hossain has already given the comparative quality he wishes to discuss in the “feelingless” detail. Like a “stone” does not “feel,” neither does this “he,” as is reported in these lines.
When connected to the advice of “touch him not,” this quality leads to the conclusion that Hossain is saying “touch[ing]” this person is futile since “he” will not “feel” it anyway. Based on the heavy use of metaphor and wordplays to gain meanings outside of literal definitions, assuming that Hossain means an emotional “touch” is safe.
The advice given in these lines is to “trust him not,” with the rationale provided that “[h]e plays with fire.” There is, again, a play on words happening, though this time it is a bit more blunt—though potentially less obvious. For this detail, Hossain actually uses the word “plays,” which states the tactic he has been using thus far in the poem. Once more then, Hossain subtly provides the reader with a hint that he is not meaning his message literally, but is rather “play[ing]” with words to make them conform to his message.
Under this microscope, this less-literal rationale of “[h]e plays with fire” can mean that “he” is careless, reckless, and not afraid of hurt. If such is the case, then “he” has a careless nature that makes “him” an uncertain person who cannot be “trust[ed].” This harm and pain he causes is all done, as the lines suggest, like the prospect is fun and “play,” which indicates his careless and painful actions are done with amusement as a motive. The combination makes this “he” someone who is dangerous on that deeper emotional level that was already discovered, and certainly not worth putting “trust” into.
Worth noting is that all line pairings within this poem include statements of guidance that escalate in severity as the poem proceeds. What begins as simply “call him not,” grows into “touch him not,” and that brings the guidance from understood distance to the closeness of “touch[ing].” From there, the instruction becomes “trust him not,” and “trust” is something that goes deeper than simple “touch[ing]” since it requires confidence and belief rather than just contact. With this in mind, there is little surprise in seeing that the most impactful concept yet occurs in this final pair of lines. That concept is “hit him not,” since a “hit” is strong and forceful by its very definition.
Again, though, this poem is not necessarily concerned with the standard definitions of these words, so there is merit in wondering what kind of “hit” Hossain means. It likely is not physical, and since a large percentage of this poem revolves around the concepts of emotions, assuming this “hit” is emotional—perhaps anger or spite—is reasonable. Hossain is cautioning the reader to not provoke “him” on that emotional level since “he may hit you dire.” As a “dire” circumstance is something that is important and often negative, the reader can assume that this “he” will recompense any “hit” given him in a manner that is large-scale and vast.
The interesting twist that comes with these final lines is that while the other lines only address rationales that revolve around “him” being lacking or careless, this set indicates “he” is an emotional being who will retaliate on an emotional level if “he” is hurt. If such was not the case, after all, emotional “hit[s]” would not affect him to the point of that retaliation. While the other scenarios only provoke “play” and ineffectiveness from “him,” when wounded, “he” does care enough to fight back. What was then only a warning to keep distance from a person who is negative and dangerous takes on a deeper level of showing that even what seems like a cruel heart can “feel” enough to hurt.
This contradicts the earlier “feelingless” prospect, which can be an indication that only in truly knowing the depths of a person can they truly be understood. Though “he” seems “feelingless,” it appears “he” is very capable of “feeling,” and this twist could lead the reader to wonder what precisely this person is “feeling” to cause his negativity. Perhaps then, rather than distance, what this “he” would need would be closer inspection. This, however, is only speculation, and the clearest theme still remains the idea of weeding out negativity.
About Delwar Hossain
Delwar Hossain is the author of over 100 poems, including Call Him Not, and he earned his MA in English. He is from Bangladesh where he works in the educational system, and written works of his can be found in English as well as Bengali.