Search for my Tongue

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Search for my Tongue

Sujata Bhatt's poem is about what it is like to live in a foreign country, feeling disconnected from your cultural background. The poet feels, at the start of her poem, that she has lost her original language now that she is living abroad.

The poem is also about the experience of colonialism and emigration.

The lost language can be seen as representative of the loss of a cultural heritage, of values and ways of thinking. The fact that Bhatt is Asian may suggest that she is referring to how the English colonised India, imposing laws and language.

The poem is exploratory; it is a form of thinking.By the end of the poem, the poet has changed her mind. In dreams, in thesub-conscious mind, the original language still lives. The imagery of 'your mother tongue would rot' in the first stanza is reversed in the last stanzaas the 'bud' of the mother tongue re-opens.

Search for my Tongue

In the following tables are statements about the poem with supporting quotations...

Quote: Statement:
'Search for my tongue' The poet feels she has lost an important part of herself that she needs to recover to feel herself again.
'lost the first one, the mother tongue, and could not really know the other' The original language is associated with being nurturing, protecting, loving. The second language is seen to be alien. The poet feels it is not possible to fully understand or become completely part of another culture.
'if you lived in a place you had to/speak a foreign tongue' There is a suggestion that some people would not be allowed to speak their own language, that a foreign language has been imposed.
'You had to spit it out' 'The choice of words makes the original language sound like something disgusting, like phlegm perhaps. This may suggest the way the original language was seen by the foreigners as something inferior to their own language.'
'it ties the other tongue in knots' The two languages are imagined as being in battle, with the invader being defeated. Clearly this can be seen to refer to colonial powers and independence.
'Every time I think I've forgotten it blossoms out of my mouth' The first language/culture is shown to be lasting, and in the flower imagery is thought of here as something natural, beautiful and eternal.


The language of the poem is ordinary and conversational 'You ask me','I ask you' - until line 12.

In the following lines, Bhatt uses a metaphor, comparing the mother tongue to some kind of plant, and by implication, the foreign language to some kind of weed or parasite.

This imagery, taken from nature, is picked up in the final stanza where therotten stump of the mother tongue is imagined to grow again into a flower.

Search for my Tongue

Notice also the use of repetition in lines 31-32 & 34.

What is the point of the repetition here?

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The language in the middle of the poem is Gujarati. It is given equal status to the English, as it is not translated. We can hear what it sounds like, but unless we speak some Gujarati we cannot know what it means.

What is the effect on you as a reader of this section of the poem?

How might it help you to understand the poet's feelings?

In all poetry questions you will be asked to write about the following:

  • The subject(s) of the poem
  • The attitude of the poet
  • The poetic devices the poet uses

In other words, you will be asked about what the poet is writing about, what the poet feels about the subject(s) and how the poem is written.

The poem can either be simply read as being about one person's experience of moving to a foreign country and speaking two languages.
Or it can be seen as using language to represent the struggle of colonial experience. By trying to control the language colonisers tried to control the thoughts, feelings, values and ideas of the people they colonised. The poem shows how the native culture survives, at a deep level, and is able to overthrow in the end the invading culture.

The attitude of the poet is difficult to read in this poem. Clearly there is a sense of wonder about the re-flowering of the native language, and the imagery of rotting suggest some of the pain of losing access to your mother tongue.
The poem however is quietly, subtly rebellious.
It celebrates the overthrowing of a foreign language/power and the resurgence of native language/culture.

Bhatt uses a mixture of language in her poem. There is the conversational of the opening, the extended metaphor of language being like a plant, and there is also the use of Gujarati. This is a word that my computer doesn't even provide a spell-check for.
The language works by concentrating attention on the metaphor and by making us hear but not understand the Gujarati.

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