This poem was originally published in 1989 and describes Bhatt’s experience immigrating from India to America. Throughout ‘The One Who Goes Away,’ Bhatt eludes to her emotional struggle in understanding where she comes from and where she belongs. As the poem transitions from one stanza to the next, Bhatt’s idea of ‘home’ changes as she grows and immigrates from place to place.
Explore The One Who Goes Away
In ‘The One Who Goes Away,’ the reader follows the emotional and expressive journey of Bhatt immigrating from India and her definition of ‘home.’
The poem sees Bhatt grow from each stanza to the next, internalizing her change with the change of scenery. Every new place she travels to, her understanding of herself and her home grows stronger. Bhatt’s incorporation of personification, metaphors, and refrain shape the reader’s understanding of her journey.
You can read the full poem here.
The main theme of this poem is the use of personification and metaphors to describe Bhatt’s relationship and understanding of the idea of ‘home.’ “Away with my home / Which can only stay inside / in my blood,” at the end of the poem, Bhatt concludes that ‘home’ will always stay with her in a spiritual sense and that her ‘home’ doesn’t need a physical location.
Structure and Form
‘The One Who Goes Away’ by Sujata Bhatt is a fifteen-stanza poem written in free verse. This means the poet did not use a specific rhyme scheme. There is one example of a double rhyme in the poem, “While the earth calls / and the hearth calls,” which can also be described as a perfect rhyme.
The lines in the poem also vary in length to emphasize the shorter and one-word lines in a stanza. For example, in the first stanza, lines three through five, “The first time was the most – / was the most / silent,” as the words decrease in each line, the emphasis on the individual word ‘silent’ becomes greater.
In ‘The One Who Goes Away,’ Bhatt makes use of the following literary devices:
- Refrain: Occurs when a phrase or line is repeated at intervals within a poem, especially as an individual stanza. For instance, the repetitive use of the lines, “I am the one / who always goes away.”
- Personification: A figure of speech in which the poet describes a non-human thing or abstraction as if it were a person. For example, “While the earth calls / and the hearth calls,” two non-human things are described as if they can speak.
- Anaphora: This is the repetition of a word or words at the beginning of successive stanzas or lines. For example, stanzas nine and ten begin with the same word, ‘Look,’ to emphasize the following lines.
But I am the one
who always goes away.
of saris flapping in the wind.
In the first stanza of ‘The One Who Goes Away,’ the poet begins with a refrain that will be repeated throughout the poem. She writes, “But I am the one who always goes away,” referring to the speaker’s feelings of guilt and remorse for leaving their homeland. The following lines depict the image of the speaker emotionally absent moments before leaving their homeland.
Stanza Two and Three
To help the journey
who always goes away.
The second stanza continues with the narrative from the previous stanza. An image of the speaker setting off for a long voyage, being wished safe travels by fellow countrymen and women. The underlying tone of the stanza is envy. “… And in the end, who gets the true luck from those sacrificed coconuts?” The speaker questions their fortunes against the beggars who must scavenge for their food.
The third stanza reinforces the speaker’s feelings of remorse and guilt with the refrain, “I am the one who always goes away.” A tone that carries throughout the poem.
Sometimes I’m asked if
A place where I can stay
Without wanting to leave.
In this stanza, the speaker conveys the struggle they had determining whether or not they’ll ever find somewhere they truly feel at home. Others, perhaps friends, family, or other travelers, have questioned the speaker’s reason for leaving home. “That I can keep my soul / From wandering,” this use of personification perpetuates the desire to find a new place to call home.
Stanza Five and Six
In always being able to leave –
In stanzas five and six, the reader sees the speaker for the first time and begins to reconcile with the idea they might never find a physical place to call home. They are relishing in the positives of never being tied down to a single place.
Stanza Seven and Eight
But I never left home.
my home behind my heart.
This is the first time the speaker realizes that ‘home’ is more than just a physical place, “But I never left home. / I carried it away / with me – here in my darkness / in myself.” The use of personification to describe ‘home’ is the driving theme throughout the poem. The speaker realizes at this point even if they were to return to their homeland one day, chances are it would be unrecognizable to them.
The last lines of stanza seven, “but I managed to hide / my home behind my heart,” personifies the speaker’s awareness of the fact that they will always have memories of their homeland.
Stanza Nine and Ten
Look at the deserted beach now it’s dusk – no sun
no moon to catch
the waves in silver mesh –
beating around the bush –
Stanza nine and ten would be examples of anaphora, with the repetition of the word ‘Look’ at the beginning of the two stanzas. Both Stanzas describe the speaker’s feelings as she travels further from home. A scene was created to give a sense of silence and darkness, to symbolize the speaker’s feelings of being alone.
Stanza Eleven, Twelve, and Thirteen
While the earth calls
Come back, come back –
I am the one
who always goes away.
Because I must –
The main theme of personification continues here with “While the earth calls / and the hearth calls,” symbolizing the speaker’s desire to return home to a place they feel they belong. But in the end, the speaker knows they will not return anytime soon, “I am the one / who always goes away. / Because I must-,” they know they will continue to travel as a refugee.
Stanza Fourteen and Fifteen
With my home intact
But always changing
And the ocean lives in the bedroom.
I am the one
Who always goes
with any geography.
“With my home intact / But always changing,” the speaker in the second to the last stanza uses the metaphor of constantly moving as a way to describe them growing and changing as a person. The scenery may vary around the speaker, but the memories of their ‘home’ will always be carried with them.
In the final stanza, the speaker wraps up the poem using personification to describe what home is to them again, “Away with my home / Which can only stay inside / in my blood. In the end, the speaker concludes they will never be able to call somewhere else home, “ – my home which / does not fit / with any geography.”
The main theme of the poem ‘The One Who Goes Away’ is the repetitive use of personification to describe the speaker’s relationship to home. At the beginning of the poem, the speaker’s understanding of home is only in a physical, geographical sense. But by the end of the poem, the speaker understands home in the spiritual sense, “But I never left home. / I carried it away.”
Sujata Bhatt is famous for her work as a poet. She’s the recipient of many awards, including the Commonwealth Poetry Prize (1988) and the Cholmondeley Award (1991). Her pieces of work, ‘Monkey Shadows’ and ‘Aguatora,’ were recommended for the Poetry Book Society.
In an interview with the Carcanet Press, Sujata Bhatt mentioned she started writing poems at eight. She has an MFA from the University of Iowa and was a writer-in-residence at the University of Victoria, Canada.
The times Sujata Bhatt has spoken about Indian customs and traditions regarding books, She has repeated that it is a ‘sin’ to treat books disrespectfully. She also speaks about the respect one must show to the Goddess who resides in the book, “Saraswati.”
Readers who enjoyed the poem should also consider reading some other Sujata Bhatt poems. For example:
- ‘The Stare’ – an interaction between a human child and a monkey child at a zoo. Conveying the peaceful curiosity the two show for each other.
- ‘Partition’ – describes a woman’s journey to a railway station to provide for those in need.
- ‘A Different History’ – curiously revisits the poet’s history.
- ‘The Peacock’ – was inspired by the poet’s interaction with a peacock.