Argumentative 2010 1st Place
Professor: Dr. Jessica Tvordi
War and oppression are archetypes for some Middle Eastern cultures in our past and present eras. In his poems “Here We Shall Stay” and “A Million Suns in My Blood,” Tawfiq Zayyad uses imagery to express the emotions of the Palestinian people in an earlier and a more recent conflict. The rallying cry of an oppressed group is symbolized in “Here We Shall Stay,” while “A Million Suns in My Blood” is the resolute mantra of a single captive. Both poems share the theme of constant resistance to the oppressor. Although this theme could imply the use of force to defy the oppressor, the imagery presented in both poems results in a call for firm, quiet resistance, not violent warfare.
In “Here We Shall Stay” resistance is evident in the images of the mundane daily activities the oppressed people participate in. The oppressed sing songs of defiance and “sweep the sick streets with [their] angry dances” (line 22). Unbeknownst to the oppressors, their captives “snatch a crumb for [their] children” while scrubbing floors (14). Instead of wielding swords or designing bombs, these people are slowly, consistently avoiding complete obliteration by winning everyday battles. Their resistance is unrelenting because they “Keep on making children / One revolutionary generation / After another” (24-26). Even the natural act of reproduction is resistance. This oppressed people do not need hostilities to win their war. They are “living roots [who] hold fast / And - still - reach deep in the earth” (49-50). Resistance is embedded in their souls and the souls of their children. These oppressed people are resisting every day simply by living.
The theme of resistance to oppression is presented in “A Millions Suns in My Blood” as the image of inward defiance instead of physical rebellion. After the oppressors stripped the speaker of food, water, knowledge, love, home, and even “the flowerpots on the balcony” his will to resist is not deterred but amplified (9). He says, “In their chain, my pride / Is fiercer than all arrogant delirium. In my blood a million suns / Defy a multitude of cruelties” (15-18). Instead of lashing out in foolish hostility toward his enemy, he resists inwardly by becoming stronger. After subjugation, his pride becomes stronger than the arrogance of his captors, and his blood thickens enough to withstand further cruelties. In the final stanza the speaker says, “[My] hands are steady and enduring. / The hands of the oppressor / However hard / Tremble!” (27-30). The oppressor, despite his malice, has lost what gives him power over the speaker. As the enemy loses heart and conscience through cruelty, the oppressed man’s will to overcome his captor is strengthened.
Zayyad also employs the image of a firm resistance in both “Here We Shall Stay” and “A Million Suns in My Blood” by using resilient objects to represent the oppressed narrators. The mantra of the oppressed residents in Lydda, Ramla, and Galilee is “Here we shall stay / Like a brick wall upon your breast” (3-4). This image, a simile for the Palestinians whose resolve to resist their oppressors, is immovable and suffocating like the brick fortress. The speaker of “A Million Suns in My Blood” explains that he was stripped of everything “Except / A heart / A conscience / And a tongue!” (11-14). These indestructible possessions he is left with are vital in his resistance because no amount of torture can take them away. By using these resilient representations, Zayyad presents real-life images that give substance and meaning to the firm, steady resistance found in both poems.
The images in both of Zyyad’s poems call for resistance, but neither poem encourages a bloody battle. Resistance is evident in the daily activities of the oppressed group, and it is apparent in the soul of the captive Palestinian. The oppressed are tough but don’t show their strength with hostility; instead, they are constant irritants to their captors “Like a splinter of glass, [or] like spiky cactus” wedged in the body (“Here We Shall Stay”, 6). Resistance can manifest itself in many forms, but the imagery in “Here We Shall Stay” and “A Million Suns in My Blood” lends itself to an effective, firm, yet quiet resistance, not warfare.
Zayyad, Tawfiq. “Here We Shall Stay.” Literature: The Human Experience. Ed. Richard Abcarion and Marvin Klotz. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006. 495-496.
---. “A Million Suns in My Blood.” Literature: The Human Experience. Ed. Richard Abcarion and Marvin Klotz. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2006. 497-498.