By Solmaz Sharif


Look by Solmaz Sharif is a profoundly moving poem that grapples with the harsh realities of war and its effects on individual and collective identity. Solmaz Sharif, an American poet of Iranian descent, often intertwines personal history with the complex geopolitics of the Middle Eastern conflicts, thereby highlighting the intersection of personal and political realms.

The poem itself is not just a literary piece but a powerful commentary on military language and how it permeates everyday life, often distorting and desensitizing the realities of war. Sharif’s work falls within the genre of war poetry, but it stands out for its direct engagement with contemporary conflicts and its critique of the language used to describe them. Sharif’s approach is both intimate and bold, making “Look” a significant contribution to modern poetry. 📝✨

Meaning of Look

Opening section

In the opening lines of “Look,” Sharif directly addresses the reader with the imperative “Look,” which is also the title of the poem. This acts as both an instruction and a challenge, compelling the reader to see beyond the surface of the words used in military contexts. The poem begins with:

“It matters what you call a thing: Exquisite a lover called me. Exquisite.”

Here, Sharif juxtaposes intimate personal language with the impersonal language of war, setting the tone for the exploration of how language shapes perception.

Mid section

As the poem progresses, Sharif weaves in terminology from the Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, explicitly highlighting how such language is sanitized and stripped of its human element:

“Whereas (let it be known, let it be said)
He was okay and we were safe, said the report…”

These lines critique how official language masks the brutal realities of conflict and the human cost involved.

Concluding section

The poem closes on a reflective and somewhat somber note, questioning the implications of becoming desensitized to the violence described in such detached terms:

“Let it matter what we call a thing.
Let it be the exquisite face for at least 16 seconds.”

Here, Sharif calls for a pause, a moment of humanity, urging the reader to consider the power of names and the acts they describe, stressing the need for empathy and understanding.

In-depth Analysis

In “Look,” Solmaz Sharif meticulously dissects the layers of language to reveal the obscured, often sanitized violence of military jargon. Here’s how she uses various literary techniques throughout the poem:

Stanza One

  • Techniques: Uses direct address to engage the reader; juxtaposition of personal and impersonal language.
  • Themes: The distortion of reality through language.
  • Symbols: “Exquisite” symbolizes how language can be manipulated to both beautify and hide the truth.

Stanza Two

  • Techniques: Incorporation of official military terminology.
  • Themes: The clash between bureaucratic indifference and personal suffering.
  • Symbols: Military terms themselves become symbols of detachment and dehumanization.

Stanza Three

  • Techniques: Calls for introspection and empathy from the reader.
  • Themes: The moral implications of language choices.
  • Symbols: The “exquisite face” becomes a plea for seeing the humanity behind the words.

Poetic Devices used in Look

Here’s a table showcasing the top 10 poetic devices used in “Look” by Solmaz Sharif, along with examples from the poem:

Poetic DeviceDescriptionExample
AlliterationRepetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words close to each other.“Let let live, let live.”
AnaphoraRepetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of successive clauses.Whereas the word… Whereas the word…”
JuxtapositionPlacing two elements or ideas close together for contrasting effect.“Exquisite a lover called me. Exquisite.” vs. military terms
IronyUsing language that signifies the opposite, typically for humorous or emphatic effect.Describing violent acts with beautified language (e.g., “exquisite”).
MetaphorA figure of speech in which a word or phrase is applied to an object or action to which it is not literally applicable.Using “exquisite” to describe something painfully personal and then applying it to war.
PersonificationAttribution of a personal nature or human characteristics to something non-human.Giving human characteristics to words or phrases (e.g., words “calling out”).
SimileComparing two things using like or as.Not explicitly used in “Look,” but similar comparative language shapes imagery.
SymbolismUsing symbols to represent ideas or qualities.Military terms symbolize dehumanization and desensitization.
SynecdocheA figure of speech in which a part is made to represent the whole or vice versa.Using “faces” to represent whole individuals or populations affected by war.
ParadoxA seemingly absurd or contradictory statement or proposition which when investigated may prove to be well founded or true.“Let it matter what we call a thing” suggests the importance of labels while critiquing their use.

Look – FAQs

What is the main theme of ‘Look’ by Solmaz Sharif?
A: The main theme revolves around the impact of military language on perception and the humanization of war. It examines how words can sanitize and distance the reality of conflict, urging readers to see the true faces behind the terminology.

How does Solmaz Sharif use language to influence the reader’s perception in ‘Look’?
A: Sharif uses military and everyday language juxtaposed to highlight how terms used in war can become normalized, impacting how society perceives ongoing conflicts and the people involved.

Why does Solmaz Sharif include references to military dictionaries in ‘Look’?
A: These references critique how language is officially manipulated to desensitize the public to the violence of war, making it seem distant and abstract.

What poetic devices are prominently used in ‘Look’ to enhance its message?
A: Devices like juxtaposition, irony, and anaphora are used to challenge the reader’s engagement with the text and question the normalization of military jargon.

Look Study Guide

Exercise: Identify Poetic Devices

“Let it matter what we call a thing.
Let it be the exquisite face for at least 16 seconds.”

Task: List all the poetic devices used in this verse.


  1. Anaphora – Repetition of “Let it” at the start of each line.
  2. Imperative Mood – The use of commands to evoke action or consideration.
  3. Symbolism – “Exquisite face” symbolizes the human aspect hidden behind the terminology.
  4. Paradox – The use of “exquisite” in the context of war creates a paradoxical image.

This exercise helps students to delve deeper into understanding how language shapes our view of reality, especially in contexts as severe as war.