‘Us’ by Zaffar Kunial is an eight stanza poem that is divided into seven sets of three lines, also known as tercets, and one final single line stanza.There is no specific pattern of rhyme in ‘Us.’ rather, a feeling of unity is achieved through the repetition of images associated with the ocean, specifically waves and shorelines. In regards to the meter, the majority of the lines contain ten syllables, but there are a few instances in which there are eleven instead. This makes all the lines appear to be around the same length.
A feeling of continuity is also achieved through the use and reuse of the word “us” and examples of the ways it plays out in contemporary society. The first part of the poem focuses on the ways that we are divided, aka, us verses them, and the second on how “us” could become synonymous with the human race. Just as the speaker wants his personal relationship to bridge its various gaps, he wants the same thing for humankind as well.
Summary of Us
‘Us’ by Zaffar Kunial describes the ways that the word us means both separation and unity and how that gap could be bridged.
The poem begins with the speaker describing how “us” feels like undulations of the oceans. It is like the rising and falling of waves. Sometimes, as in the second stanza, us means “me” and can be used aggressively. It can also speak to separation, as in the third stanza.
But, the speaker has something else in mind for it. He hopes that all of humanity will be able to leave their mutual shorelines and meet somewhere in the middle in the waves. This is the same approach, although it is a risk, that he’s taking with his personal relationships.
You can read the full poem here.
Poetic Techniques in Us
One of the techniques that Kunial makes use of in ‘Us’ is enjambment. It occurs when the poet breaks one phrase into multiple lines. The cut-offs are situated at unnatural seeming moments and change the pace at which a reader consumes the text.
He also uses another similar technique, caesura. A reader will see this happen when one line is split in half. There are two phrases, each of which contains the same number of syllables, sometimes on either side of a comma or semi-colon.There is an example in the second stanza (line three) and in stanza five (line one), along with others.
Analysis of Us
In the first stanza of ‘Us’ the speaker begins by saying that he thinks that the word “us” exists in “undulations.” Wth this phrase he is referring to the way he sees it moving, up and down, rising and falling, sometimes appearing like an outline. It is like the waves in the ocean, if those waves were compressed into a thinner band. So thin, that from one coast one could “reach out to / the next.”
The first stanza ends with the word “to,” a great example of enjambment. The unnatural break in a reader’s speech pattern forces one down to the next line in order to finish the phrase. The drama of this literary technique also gives the metaphor greater importance.
Another technique a reader should take note of in this line is caesura. This occurs when one line is split in half. There are two phrases, each of which contains the same number of syllables. The second line of the first stanza is a good example of this.
After picking up the ending of line three, the poet’s speaker suggests that this feeling around the word “us” comes from his identity as someone from the Midlands of England. Kunial is from Birmingham, adding to the reader’s perception that he is in fact the speaker in the text. He adds, that when he was young,
us equally meant me,
says the one, ‘Oi, you, tell us where yer from’;
As a young man he might say a phrase such as that in the third line of this stanza. He speech has changed since then, but what’s important is how he and his peers used to use “us.” While referring to a group, it could also be used as an alternative to “me.” This is the first part of a larger meaning Kunial constructs around the word and what it does, and could mean in the future.
He goes on to add the example of football fans. They all share “the one fate.” The sport, and those who support various teams, are connected through their support. They form collectives based around a mutual interest. Therefore, they are can create their own “Mexican wave.”It occurs when large fan group in the stadium raises their arms in succession, is referred as referred to as a stadium wave.
This is another example of aggressive separateness of and how only a specific collective “us” is important. The wave itself is the embodiment of the connection this group shares. A reader should take particular note of the fact that the image of the wave as turned up again, just as in the first stanza.
The shore comes back into the text in the first line of the fourth stanza. Those who participate in this wave, and in equal measure, those who don’t are all part of both sides of a shoreline. We all exist in,
A shore-like state, two places at once, God
knows what’s in it;
The speaker goes on to use the phrase “God / knows what’s in it.” This saying has two different sides. It means that no one on earth knows what in the middle or how the two sides could come together. The poet clearly hopes that eventually this will be the case though.
He adds in the fifth stanza of ‘Us’ that he is “unsure” about “us.” This is the first time that he speaks to a specific person. The “us” now includes a group of two. He wonders if there is something in him that “has failed the course.” Perhaps there is something inherently separate about him.
In the third line he says that he would “love to think that” he could stretch to the other side of the shore, to reach his partner and bridge their separateness. If this happened, there would be “us.” For the first time the word “us” is not in italics in the text. This makes it seem less exacting, or as it was at the beginning of the poem, divisive. Now it is achievable, something unifying.
The speaker’s tone continues to lighten in the next lines, but everything is not perfect. There are “waves” between the shores that are “too wide for words.” The division between the poet and this other person is a large one. It is impossible to define or talk one’s way out of.
In lines two and three he makes use of anaphora. This is a kind of repetition that focusses on the words or phrase that begin a line. In this case, Kunial repeats “I hope you…” twice. He says,
I hope you get, here, where I’m coming from.
I hope you’re with me on this – between love
The first of these two lines as two sides, just like the shore. He wants his listener to get where he is, aka to his side of the shore. He wants them to understand him, and be “with” him “on this”. It is in the middle of these two separate shores, amongst the waves that is going to be the best space.
Stanzas Seven and Eight
The place the speaker wants to end up is an optimistic one, and it leaves the poem on an uplifting note. He hopes that they will find themselves between Love / and loss”. This is a place where he’d give away his separateness and focus on the “one stress” that he wishes the universe would devote itself to, “Us.”
The poem concludes with one final line that professes the speaker’s hope that he isn’t “too far wrong” with his choice to focus on “Us”. He knows it might be “far-fetched” but he is going to hope it is possible that they might come together in the middle of their separate shores.