All You Have is a Country by Ha Jin

‘All You Have is A Country’ by Ha Jin explores patriotism and how it can be ingrained into someone’s personality.

All You Have is a Country by Ha Jin

 

Summary

Ha Jin’s ‘All You Have is A Country’ uses the direct address to talk to someone who has left China, but still feels a great deal of patriotism for the country.

Although they won’t stop talking about and spreading praise of the country, Jin points out that they are insignificant to China, their love being one way. While this poem is written about China, I think it is important to remember that ‘China’ could be substituted for any country in the world, the ideas behind the poem not only relating to patriotism in one country, but patriotism as a whole.

You can read the full poem All You Have is A Country here.

 

Structure

‘All You Have is A Country’ is split into four stanzas, each measuring between 5-8 lines. The changing structure of the poem could reflect the recipient of the direct address’s emigration out of China, the different structures representing the different locations. The changing structure could also be a representation of the different power structures within the poem, with Jin pointing out how little China cares for the person who has now left.

 

Poetic Techniques

One poetic technique Ha Jin uses in explores ‘All You Have is A Country’ is personification. China is personified using facial features, ‘China’s teeth’ compounding a sense of the savagery and brutality of the country. Jin seems to dislike China, and uses personification to villainize the country, highlighting its savage qualities.

Another technique that Jin uses when writing ‘All You Have is A Country’ is a frequent caesura. Especially within the second stanza, commas split the text, fracturing the meter and providing a stunted rhythm. These metrical interruptions could be understood as a representation of the relationship between the recipient of the poem and China itself, the relationship being one way and incredibly biased.

 

Analysis of All You Have is A Country

Stanza One

You are so poor that all you have is a country.
Whenever you open your mouth
(…)
to conceal your cowardice and to preempt
the onslaught of duties and hardships.

The poem begins with the direct address, ‘You’, the use of the second person enabling a sense of discomfort to begin as Jin speaks directly through his poem. There is no room to hide within the poem, with the poet directly emphasizing the behavior of ‘you’, and describing the wrongdoings. This poem, although we are not sure exactly to who it is written, becomes incredibly personal and discomforting through Jin’s chosen perspective.

The focus on poverty, ‘you are so poor’, could be Jin focusing on different classes within society, insinuating that people born into poverty may have a tendency to idolize the government, not knowing any other way. Because ‘you’ do not have many possessions, you emphasize the importance of patriotism, ‘All You Have is A Country’ being a core faucet of self-identification. It is true, those born into more wealthy areas or families have the opportunity and privilege to travel beyond the city or country they were born into, allowing for patriotism to become less important as they can simply leave. To those who have less money, ‘a country’ could be all you have, it, therefore, becoming the most important thing.

The tendency of ‘you’ in the poem to ‘talk about the country’ is emphasized, with the patriotic love of China being the core of conversation ‘whenever you open your mouth’. The nonchalance of ‘whenever’ suggests that this is common, the subject always being at the forefront of conversation with ‘you’.

Although, Jin introduces the narrative idea that this person has left ‘China’, it is now a country ‘to which you can no longer return’. We do not know the reason for their departure, yet they still idolize the country, perhaps suggesting they did not leave due to their own desire.

The final three lines of the first stanza point to the idiocy of patriotism, with Jin suggesting that those who are patriotic simply use their country as a ‘giant shield’, hiding their ‘cowardice’ from public view by aligning themselves with a larger political force. Jin could be discussing independence here, with free and individual thought perhaps suppressed by political assimilation into a larger cohort – in this case hiding behind the political ideas of a whole country.

 

Stanza Two

You dare not take these as your rights:
(…)
for the fairy tale of patriotism.

The new conditions that the ‘you’ of the poem finds in their new location, ‘warm sunlight, clean water, fresh air’ seem superfluous, with the recipient of the poem ‘not tak[ing] these as your rights’. It seems that ‘You’ want to move back to China, and are therefore not adjusting or accepting the conditions of this new country. Jin is critical of China, suggesting that elsewhere you can find ‘a happy mood’, something not achieved in China on ‘an ordinary day’.

Jin describes patriotism as a ‘fairy tale’, suggesting a child-like ignorance. Those that blindly follow organizations as big as countries risk seeming ignorant, patriotism more recently being associated with ideas such as racial discrimination and xenophobia. Jin argues that ‘you’ ‘grieve’ the loss of patriotism, the poet being critical of those who associate themselves with a tendency towards patriotism.

 

Stanza Three

You dare not take a country as a watchdog—
a good dog wags its tail to please its master,
(…)
telling it, “You won’t have food
if you continue to misbehave like this.”

The anaphoric chime of ‘You dare not take’ suggests a lack of bravery or independence to the ‘you’ of the poem. Jin suggests that countries are like ‘watchdogs’, behaving either well or badly. Yet, the poet insinuates that ‘you’ do not have the personal strength to stand up to a ‘bad dog’, never being able to discipline a country for lack of individual vigor. Jin criticizes those who follow countries blindly, even when they have no power to condone or reprimand the behavior of that country.

 

Stanza Four

Actually, you are merely a grain of rice
(…)
of your suffering and happiness.

The final stanza epitomizes Jin’s anti-china rhetoric, presenting the country through ‘China’s Teeth’ to compound a sense of the evil and unsettling nature of the country. To China, the ‘you’ of the poem is ‘merely a grain of rice’, the minimization through ‘grain’ and insignificance of ‘merely’ insinuating the unimportance of the individual when compared against a whole society. Yet, although insignificant, ‘You’ never stop ‘treating it as your god, your universe’, emphasizing the blind idolization which patriotism can lead to. Jin makes no attempt at disguising his critique of patriotism, suggesting that it is the marking of someone who lacks individuality, and will follow their country blindly, no matter their fate.

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Jack Limebear
About
Jack is undertaking a degree in World Literature and joined the Poem Analysis team in 2019. Poetry is the intersection of his greatest passions, languages and literature, with his focus on translation bridging the gap.
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