Moniza Alvi, 'The Veil'


Moniza Alvi, 'The Veil'


  • Intro

    Moniza Alvi was born in Pakistan but moved to Hertfordshire as a child. Her first two collections explored her Pakistani background and sense of dislocation between cultures, but in her more recent work she uses her experience to ask more expansive and political questions.


    'The Veil' is from a collection, Europa, which is thematically based on the greek myth of a Phonecian princess, Europa, raped by Zeus in the form of a bull. There is violence here, between East and West, between men and women, between humans and land. 'The Veil' is a poem that takes these themes and firmly locates them in the modern era, when the headscarf has become a potent symbol. But poetry is not political rhetoric. Alvi’s poem explores the multi-faceted nature of this symbolism, presenting us with image upon image of things that are concealed, protected, veiled, such as we 'read the newspapers through a haze', so that we challenge polemical and reductive statements.

  • Audio

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  • Transcript

    Audio transcript

    Moniza Alvi reading 'The Veil':


    A poem from Europa. Subject of controversy; controversial dress: the veil.


    We thought we knew the sky spread out above us

    but now it too is veiled. 

    We read newspapers through a


    The rose wears a veil though

    it cannot shield us from its thorns.

    What is a veil but a kind of


    light as gossamer

    or dark as the River Styx.

    Behind it eggs are cracked open

    and the yolks run everywhere.

    All we'd ever wanted to see

    flickers across its window:

    A boulevard

    A skating rink




    The veil with its hidden waist and hips

    Its energies, its limitations.

    The capacious veiled veil.

    The world itself

    is veiled.

    The receding east.

    The receding west.

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