What is it?

Mary Majanja

‘What is it?’, by Mary Majanja, is a riddle poem that forces the reader to examine the definition of beauty and what it means to be beautiful.


Mary Majanja

Mary Majanja is a poet known for her poem ‘What is it?’

Her best-known piece suggests that the poet is interested in themes of beauty and social standards.

‘What is it?’ by Mary Majanja is a riddle poem that forces the reader to examine the definition of beauty and what it means to be beautiful. Majanja is careful to leave hints throughout her poem that strongly guide the reader towards the answer to her riddle.  She highlights concepts regarding the thought process of a person who experiences beauty, the effects beauty has on individuals, the understanding of beauty as an impression, and how exactly an individual processes the beauty that they encounter. ‘What is it?’ accurately dives into the abstract body of beauty.

What is it? by Mary Majanja


What is it? Analysis

First Stanza

What is it that makes your mind travel,
what I that creates the wonder that yearns in your heart.
What is it that keeps you interested and in your own creation of marvel,
What is it that makes you question your own part.

Majanja initiates ‘What is it?’ by introducing it as a riddle poem. The very first line displays the idea of “mind travel”; this is significant as it tells the reader that the subject of the poem not only relates to deep thinking but the reader must also force himself to think hard in order to learn anything about this poem.

The second line imposes the thought that there is something that has the capability of actually creating “wonder” that in turn “yearns” for something more in your heart. The reader learns quickly that the subject of the poem is something powerful, powerful enough to be the cause of yearning. Lines three and four discuss keeping interest aflame in “the marvel” of your own creation and what part you had to play in it. These concepts play an important role in cluing the reader into what the answer to this riddle poem could be. What makes it important that you continue to wonder about your own creation? The fact that none of us would be able to advance in any way if we took no interest in who we are, and what made us the way we are.

There is also a driving force that questions what part we ourselves take in creating ourselves. The reader later learns that the answer to these questions in beauty. It is beauty that opens up our minds so that we begin to process what we consider attractive. It is beauty that generates the awe we feel at things that are striking and catch our eyes. It is also beauty that makes us question how much we control the parts about us that others find attractive. Majanja has carefully picked abstract concepts to link with the subject of beauty seeing that beauty and what is considered beautiful is heavily dependent on the individual who is assessing it. That is why Majanja chose to focus and highlight the thought process of a person in relation to the topic of beauty right in the first stanza.


Second Stanza

I am, I am thee that creates posterity in any language,
I am thee that lies within what you behold.
I am thee that brightens your heart with damage,
I am thee that whispers to your heart and creates a mould.

The beginning of the second stanza of ‘What is it?’ reveals that the subject of the poem is an entity on its own, which we find later to be correct, as “beauty” is a unit that can be discussed constantly only to find something new within it time and time again. Line five reinforces this idea by claiming that beauty “creates posterity in any language”.  It is important to recognize the significance of language in our lives, no one cannot survive without it; here Majanja emphasizes the importance of beauty as she claims that beauty is the driving force of keeping language alive.

Line six is a dead giveaway to the answer of ‘What is it?’, due to the famous quote of “beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder”. By incorporating this quote into her poem Majanja makes it very easy for her readers to understand what her poem is about, and this is significant as from this point onwards the reader can indulge in the poem knowing the answer. Line seven uses an oxymoron to emphasize the diverse role beauty plays in the lives of different people. Just as beauty “brightens” the lives of those that pause to appreciate it, it easily “damages” those who fail to take the time to understand and appreciate it.

The last line of this stanza demonstrates that what we consider as beautiful, “moulds” and basically influences our opinions and bias towards the world. What a person considers beautiful forms their perception of what is superior or better in relation to others, which in turn aids in forming their personality. This stanza obviously focuses on the effects of beauty on each individual.


Third Stanza

Provoking no thoughts,
I thrive on emotion.
The brighter I am when you notice my elegance,
the sweeter I am when you sense my premonition,
when all you feel is my significance in all its essence.

The first two lines of the third stanza expose Majanja’s beliefs that for every person, thoughts are built and not “provoked” by beauty just as it thrives on human emotion in order to influence individuals. This notion is a valid impression as it is obvious that emotions are heavily impacted by what any individual considers beautiful, and beauty of things that are found beautiful never aggravates a thought process, rather it softens a person’s outlook on life.

Line eleven moves forward by discussing that the more intense the beauty is the grander the “elegance” is as well. It is a very simple concept that if you find something striking and it amazes you how beautiful it is you will naturally notice how graceful and elegant it is in your eyes, mind, and heart. Line twelve explores the idea that when a person recognizes the influence of beauty in his/her life it becomes rewarding for him/her to understand the intuition that this beauty provides. This idea is identical to the concept that the more a person is in tune with something the more it becomes a part of who they are.

Line thirteen clearly proclaims that it is after all the above-mentioned things that you can truly understand the significance at the core of the concept of beauty. This stanza was used by Majanja to dive into the core or essence of beauty.  It truly investigates the definition of beauty and how it relates to individuals; giving the reader a better understanding of how enormous the effects of an abstract idea like beauty can truly be.


Fourth Stanza

This is the end of my appeal to you,
No need to feel blue.
Now you’ll know who I am what I entail and where your desire of me hails.
I am Beauty and despite laying in the eyes of the beholder we all adapt and share those works and creations that collectively portray a gorgeous moment.

The final stanza of this riddle poem is obviously important as it gives the reader the answer to the riddle that has been read so far. It is quite fitting that the first few words that initiate the stanza are “this is the end”, because it truly is. Also, in the first line, the reader is clued into the fact that Majanja has been ‘appealing” to the reader throughout ‘What is it?’ for a better understanding of the notion of beauty.

Line fifteen suggests in jest that the reader might be feeling “blue” for the reason that the game of guessing is about to come to an end; however, the situation is quite the contrary as the reader (understandably) is just wanting the answer by now. Line sixteen is a continued teaser that proclaims that soon the reader will know the who what and wheres of the poem once the answer is revealed.

Line seventeen finally reveals the long-awaited answer; the subject of this entire poem was: beauty. Here, Majanja reincorporates the famous quote to emphasize that it should have been clear when this was mentioned before what the subject of ‘What is it?’ actually was. This line also mentions that despite beauty being unique to every individual it also has something that is shared by all those that “behold”  it; which is the process of registering that beauty into our minds and lives. Also, everyone may experience beauty in their own personal ways the process of the experience is the same; this means that every person must involve their own bias and emotions into whatever they perceive in order to truly experience and observe true beauty.

Noor Rehman Poetry Expert
Noor has an Honours in the Bachelor of Arts with a double major in English Literature and History. She teaches elementary and high school English, and loves to help students develop a love for in depth analysis, and writing in general. Because of her interest in History, she also really enjoys reading historical fiction (but nothing beats reading and rereading Harry Potter!). Reading and writing short stories and poetry has been a passion of hers, that she proudly carries from childhood.

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