Poem with an explanation: the hill, the valley, and the mountain

the hill
did look down
on the valley
and chastised it
for being so low

the wind blew
the rain fell

the mountain
looked toward the sky

 

This poem is about care for the elderly and perspective.  It is about relative positions in life.

In the poem there are three people: the valley, the hill, and the mountain.  The valley represents the elderly person.  The hill represents the adult child of the elderly person.  The mountain represents the child of the adult child.  This is three generations.

In the poem, the adult child is frustrated with their elderly parent.  They look down on them and chastise them for their physical incapability.  They can’t understand why the elderly person can’t be like themselves.

The adult child is oblivious to the progression of life.  In the poem there are three stages: a mountain, a hill, and a valley.  As a mountain erodes it becomes a hill.  As a hill erodes, it becomes a valley.  The adult child is criticizing their elderly parent for their physical incapability, not realizing they are moving in the same direction.  They don’t see their own erosion (represented by the wind and rain).  They don’t see where they’ve been, and they aren’t realizing where they are going.  They don’t realize they will be elderly someday, and therefore they don’t have compassion on someone who is elderly.

The mountain, representing the person in the third generation, has their focus somewhere else.  They don’t see the hill or the valley.  This shows that they are oblivious both to the treatment of their elderly relative, and of the reality that they will one day be in that position.  They don’t see the future implications for themselves.  They are concerned with other things.

It can sometimes occur in the care of the elderly, that the caregiver doesn’t see themselves in the one they care for.  They don’t see that they too will be in that position.  It can also be the case that younger generations are concerned about other things and don’t see the actions of caregivers or the condition of the elderly.  The poem is meant to highlight these things.

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Poem with an explanation: a whole new meaning

Words you can’t pronounce
take on a whole new meaning
when they’re inside of you
or someone you know.

 

This poem is about cancer.  Cancer is filled with all sorts of terms.  There are disease names, medicine names, names for things in blood tests, and more.  The terms are often about complex ideas and they can be hard to pronounce.

If a person doesn’t have cancer, or isn’t close to someone who has it, these terms don’t have much meaning.  A person not close to cancer might hear them in an ad for a medicine for example, and they don’t know what the terms mean and don’t pay much attention to them.

The experience though is different for a person with the disease or for someone close to them.  These obscure terms all of a sudden have a meaning and significance.  A measure of something in the blood or a medicine name have a whole new meaning when they’re personal.

The idea of this poem is to point out the idea of perspective; the idea that importance depends on situation.  This idea comes up at many instances in life.  How many times, for example, have you heard a news story about something unrelated to you?  What happened?  You may have forgotten about it right after you heard it.  If though, the story was personal to you, you may have listened intently and even acted on what you heard.  There is a difference based on situation.

This notion applies to so many things.  Debt, prison, disease, natural disasters, and a multitude of negative things, take on a whole new perspective when they are personal.  All of a sudden information about them matters.

This is an important idea for people.  Realizing it can help promote empathy.  Once you realize that something obscure to you can be important to someone else, you can better put yourself in their situation and can better understand how they feel.

Poem with an explanation: For the heart, for the mind

The glossy,
there on the carpet of red,
but in the pond,
something different.

Falling down,
with the glance,
and seeing looks,
that aren’t there.

In the fun house,
it isn’t so.

“The white coats,
might be the answer,”
so the voice,
does quietly say.

Hearing the sound,
of the eyes,
there’s nothing like a statue,
to be seen.

But a voice,
from so nearby,
says to see,
what’s really there.

It breaks the glass,
and blows the fog,
and shines a light,
on what is clear.

For the heart,
for the mind,
but for the world,
no more.

Steps and green,
steps and green,
a different white coat,
and different words.

For the heart,
for the mind,
for the one,
who’s beautiful.

 

This poem is about a woman struggling with her weight and body image.

In the first stanza of the poem, the woman compares images she sees to her own.  She sees beautiful women in magazines (The glossy) and she sees beautiful celebrities (there on the carpet of red), but in the mirror (but in the pond) she sees herself as looking different because of her weight (something different).

In the second stanza, the woman’s self-esteem falls as she looks in the mirror (Falling down, with the glance).  She has this feeling that people are looking at her physical flaws (and seeing looks) even though they aren’t (that aren’t there).

In the third stanza, the woman’s view of herself is distorted like the image in a fun house’s mirror.  She sees herself as looking worse than she really does (In the fun house, it isn’t so).

In the fourth stanza, the woman considers having weight reduction surgery (“The white coats, might be the answer,” so the voice, does quietly say. – the white coats representing doctors in lab coats).

In the fifth stanza, the woman feels that she is being judged by the looks of others (Hearing the sound, of the eyes).  She sees an image of perfection in her mind, like a Renaissance era statue, and sees herself as falling short of this ideal (there’s nothing like a statue, to be seen).

In the sixth stanza, something makes the woman reconsider her thoughts.  Somewhere in her life she has heard that value isn’t based on looks (But a voice, from so nearby, says to see, what’s really there).

In the seventh stanza, the woman considers this idea of self-worth.  The more she considers it, the more her view of herself changes.  She stops looking in the mirror (It breaks the glass) and she sees things more clearly (and blows the fog).  The more she considers it, the more she sees where her value really is (and shines a light, on what is clear).

In the eighth stanza, the woman sees her weight loss differently.  She feels that it is important for her health (For the heart), and for her wellbeing (for the mind), but realizes that she isn’t going to do it to satisfy what she believes society is telling her about weight (but for the world, no more.).

In the ninth stanza, the woman exercises and changes her diet (Steps and green).  She also sees a doctor (a different white coat), but for advice on improving her health and not for surgery to improve her looks (and different words.).

In the tenth stanza, the woman loses weight for her health (For the heart) and wellbeing (for the mind), and for herself (for the one), who she now realizes is beautiful (who’s beautiful.).

P. S. If you like poems with explanations, please take a look at Understanding: poems with explanations.

Poem with an explanation: silver clouds

one hundred and fifty
over ninety
quickly
the silver clouds form

This poem is about blood pressure.

The poem describes a situation of high blood pressure.  The blood pressure is one hundred and fifty over ninety.  This is related in the first two lines of the poem.

This reading causes the person who has it to worry.  Their worry is described as “silver clouds” in the poem.  The silver clouds forming quickly is a reference to a name for the element mercury: quicksilver.  Blood pressure can be measured in millimeters of mercury and this relates to that.

Poem with an explanation: Don’t ever go

Hello.

Is it play time?

Time for a walk?

Hey, what’s that?

What’s this thing?

Is this moving?

Where’s home?

Hello.

Hello.

This is bad.

This is bad.

What’s this place?

This doesn’t look good.

This is that place, isn’t it?

Noooooooooooo.

Why this place?

Why?

Was it the shoes?

The noise?

Something?

It’ll change.

It will.

Home is good.

Home.

Home.

Home.

Is it time to go?

No, that’s the wrong way!

This is bad.

This is bad.

Who’s that?

Ahhhhhh!

That was bad.

Who’s that?

What are they doing?

Ahhhhhh!

Ahhhhhh!

This is bad.

This is bad.

You’re not nice.

You’re not nice.

Is it time to go?

Leaving?

Yea!!!

Hurry.

Into the thing.

It’s moving.

It’s moving.

What’s that?

Home?

Home?

Home!!!

Home!!!

Yea!!!

Hello.

Hello.

It was horrible.

Horrible!

Don’t ever go.

Don’t ever go.

 

This poem follows the thoughts of a dog during a trip to the veterinarian.  The dog is simplistic in how he views things and sees things from an emotional level.  Things are either good or bad.

Although the poem is about a dog, it can be viewed as a metaphor for the human experience with medical care.  The human experience in medical care can be one of uncertainty, fear, and feeling that things are happening to you.  The dog’s experience reflects this.

The poem starts with the dog greeting his owner (Hello.)  The dog questions why his owner is there (Is it play time? Time for a walk?)

The dog has a harness put on and is taken to a car.  When he sees it, he doesn’t know what it is (Hey, what’s that?).  When he gets inside, he questions it further (What’s this thing?).

As the car starts to move, the dog questions what is happening (Is this moving?).  He wants to go back to where he was happy.  He wants to go back home.  He expresses this through a question (Where’s home?).

The dog feels a sense of abandonment from his owner.  He says Hello twice to his owner hoping to get some sort of comfort.  When he does not, he feels the negativity of his situation (This is bad.  This is bad.).

When they arrive at the vet, the dog questions where they are (What’s this place?).  The smell of the place fills the dog with foreboding (This doesn’t look good.)  The dog realizes where it is and questions it (This is that place, isn’t it?).  The realization fills the dog with despair (Noooooooooooo.)

The dog wonders if he is being punished (Why this place? Why?)  He questions if it is because he chewed shoes (Was it the shoes?), barked (The noise?), or anything else (Something?).

Fearing the place, and hoping for reprieve, the dog promises to change (It’ll change.  It will.)

The dog doesn’t like where he is.  He thinks of his happy place (Home is good.)  While he waits, he keeps thinking of it (Home.  Home.  Home.)

The dog and owner are then called into the examination room.  As his owner gets up, the dog think’s it is getting relief (Is it time to go?).  As the dog is lead further into the office, he realizes he isn’t going home (No, that’s the wrong way!)

When the dog goes in the office he is very scared (This is bad.  This is bad.  This is bad.)

The veterinary assistant comes in.  The dog question who it is (Who’s that?).  The assistant takes the dog’s temperature, which the dog does not like (Ahhhhhh!  That was bad.)

The veterinarian then comes in.  The dog again questions who it is (Who’s that?)  The vet then checks the dog over, which the dog doesn’t like (What are they doing?)

The vet then gives the dog two vaccinations.  Both fill the dog with pain (Ahhhhhh!  Ahhhhhh!).

The dog doesn’t like where he is (This is bad.  This is bad.)  He feels a sense of betrayal from his owner (You’re not nice.  You’re not nice.)

At this point, the dog’s owner gets up to leave with him (Is it time to go?).  The dog, in disbelief, questions if they are leaving (Leaving?)

When the dog realizes they are, he cheers (Yea!!!).  He wants his owner to hurry (Hurry.) and get into the car (Into the thing.)

As they drive away, the dog is filled with glee and it cheers (It’s moving.  It’s moving.)

As they go, the dog recognizes the area as familiar (What’s that?)  He thinks they are getting near home (Home?  Home?).  When he sees his home he cheers (Home!!! Home!!! Yea!!!).

When the dog arrives home, he greats another dog that lives with him (Hello.  Hello.)  He tells the dog of his experience (It was horrible.  Horrible!) and warns the dog to never go (Don’t ever go.  Don’t ever go.)

Poem with an explanation: so far away

1, 2, 3, 4

1

1, 2, 3, 4

1

 

1 minute later

10

 

Doing the math

moving faster

 

Doing the math

so far away

 

1, 2, 3, 4

1

1, 2, 3, 4

1

 

This poem is about exercise and weight loss.  In the poem, a person is moving on an elliptical machine.  They have decided that they want to burn five hundred calories in their workout.  They believe if they do this, they will lose weight.

The person starts to move and they count their steps as they look at the calorie counter on the machine.  They count four steps (1, 2, 3, 4) and notice the counter go up one (1).  They count another four steps (1, 2, 3, 4) and see the counter go up again.

They watch a clock for a minute (1 minute later) and see the counter is at ten (10).

They do the math in their mind (Doing the math).  If one minute burns ten calories, then fifty minutes would burn five hundred calories.  They realize how long a time fifty minutes is and realize they need to move faster (moving faster).

As they move, they do the math again.  They have heard, although aren’t certain, that to burn one pound of fat they need to burn three thousand five hundred calories.  They do the math in their mind to figure out how many days they will need to run on the elliptical (Doing the math), and realize they have a long road ahead of them (so far away).

As they move they decide to just keep moving.  They count their steps (1, 2, 3, 4) and see the counter go up one (1).  They count again (1, 2, 3, 4) and see it go up again.

The poem has some form.  Stanzas 1 and 5 are the same.  The first lines of stanzas 3 and 4 are the same.  Every line that starts with a number starts with the number 1 (the number 10 starts with the number 1).

Poem with an explanation: building castles

building castles
not knowing
they are made of sand

 

This poem is about doing something without the realization that it will be undone.  This idea could apply to many situations.  As an example, imagine someone starts a business.  They spend a great deal of effort setting it up.  They make it exactly how they want.  In a year though, the business the fails.  The person thought they were building something that would last.  Instead, they built something that disappeared.

This particular poem was based off of the idea of weight loss.  Sometimes when a person loses weight, they keep it off for a while, but they gain it back.  When the person lost the weight they thought it was permanent.  Instead, things went back to the way they were.  This idea was represented symbolically by the idea of person building what they thought was a stone castle, but it turned out to be a sand castle.  A sand castle is a temporary structure that will quickly disappear.

The idea of the poem is to contrast the idea of perceived permanence, with the reality of temporariness.

Poetry essay: Interpreting poetry

As a reader of poetry, you may from time to time try to interpret the poetry you read.  There are a number of reasons you might do this.

First, a poem might not be clear with a first reading.  You might read a poem and not fully understand what it is talking about.  This could motivate you to try to go through the poem to decipher the meaning.

Second, some poetry might appear clear in meaning, but could have hidden symbolism.  As a reader, you might be interested in trying to discover what this is.

Third, poetry sometimes has context.  For example, it could be related to a specific place or a specific time.  Looking into the poem with the context in mind, could enhance your understanding of it.

Fourth, interpreting poetry can help you write poetry.  By figuring out what poems mean you can learn how incorporate different meanings into your own work.

It’s a little difficult to describe how to interpret a poem.  In some sense, you simply read it and try to figure out what it means.  In some cases you might do research (for example, looking up a proper noun mentioned in a poem), but in other cases you might just be reading.

Rather than listing a methodology for interpreting a poem, it seemed like it would be better to simply show the process.  With that in mind, below is poem that will be interpreted.

The poem to be interpreted is Among the planets.  It appeared in the November 6, 2017 blog post on this blog.  It was written by M. Sakran.

While it may seem odd for a person to interpret a poem they wrote, this poem was chosen partially because of that.

This poem was a poem with an explanation.  The explanation of the poem is below it in the post.  As this is being written, the explanation has not be read since it was posted.  M. Sakran is not clear at this time what the poem means.

The idea was to interpret a poem for which the right answer was known.  This way, the effectiveness of the interpretation could be gauged.  If a poem by another poet was chosen (or one without an explanation) there would be no way to know if the interpretation was right.

This poem was written long enough ago, that at this moment, M. Sakran is not clear on its meaning.  This makes it a good candidate for interpretation.

Here is the poem:

Among the planets

There’s a counting,
is it a fortnight?
There’s a counting,
every other Mars.
But one is missed –
what is that,
a cycle of the Moon?

The sandy beaches,
of a moon of Jupiter,
an imagined place,
of forgetfulness.

Alone,
in the silence of a cave,
of Pluto,
as if transported,
from place and time,
watching the Sun,
go in circles and circles,
as night approaches.

 

Here’s an attempt to interpret its meaning:

The title is “Among the planets” presumably this has something to do with the sky.  It might have to do with patterns, as planets follow orbits.  It could have to do with time, as the sky is used to tell time.  It might have to do with large things.

There’s a counting, is it a fortnight?

This is the first sentence of the poem.  It asks a question.  Someone in the poem is gauging time, but is not sure how long that time is.  They are trying to figure it out, and think it might be a fortnight.  A fortnight is two weeks which is fourteen days.  The number fourteen might mean something or it could simply be that roughly that amount of time has passed.

There’s a counting, every other Mars.

This is the second sentence of the poem.  It repeats the idea from the first sentence.  Someone in the poem is trying to gauge time.  In this line, they seem to be gauging time by the orbit of Mars.  Mars might relate to Tuesday.  Tuesday in Spanish is Martes, which derives its name from the planet Mars.  This ties back into the idea of two weeks.  The person in the poem is noting something that happens every other Tuesday.  One Tuesday, to the one after the next, is one day over two weeks.

But one is missed – what is that, a cycle of the Moon?

This is the third sentence of the poem.  Again, there seems to be some idea that the person in the poem is having trouble gauging time.  They think it has been two weeks, or every other Tuesday, but something does not add up.  They might be missing a Tuesday.  Something in their time calculation is not working.

The poem says, a cycle of the Moon.  A cycle of the Moon would refer to a month, which is approximately one cycle of the Moon.  Maybe the person in the poem thinks two weeks have passed, but since the month changed, they are not sure.  They don’t seem to be sure how many days have passed because they can’t just subtract the current date number from the previous one.  This is because the days started over when the month changed.

The sandy beaches, of a moon of Jupiter, an imagined place, of forgetfulness.

This is the fourth sentence of the poem.  The first part The sandy beaches, seems again to go back to time.  Sand is in an hourglass and that could be the reference.  Maybe it means there is a lot of time because there is a lot of sand on a beach.

Of a moon of Jupiter, an imagined place, of forgetfulness seems to go back to the idea that the person is not sure of the time.  A moon of Jupiter is familiar, in that it is a moon like the Moon, but it is unknown.  The person in the poem seems to referring to the idea that they are confused.  The person’s thoughts might be somewhere else, which is why they are unsure of the time.

Alone, in the silence of a cave, of Pluto, as if transported, from place and time, watching the Sun, go in circles and circles, as night approaches.

This is the last sentence of the poem.  Alone, in the silence of a cave, of Pluto, as if transported, from place and time might refer to the idea that the person in the poem is lost in their thoughts.  They mind is on something far away (like Pluto) and this has caused them some isolation (Along, in the silence of a cave).  They are separated from where they are (as if transported, from place and time).  The person seems to have something occupying their thoughts.

The next part says, watching the Sun, go in circles and circles, as night approaches.  This again refers to the idea of time.  On the Earth, it appears that the Sun circles overhead.  This is how days are measured.  The person in the poem, who is lost in their thoughts, is watching the days go by.  The poem ends with as night approaches, which may refer to the idea that the person ends in darkness.  The person ends in confusion.

The main theme of the poem seems to be that a person is having trouble gauging how much time has passed because they have something on their mind.

So, the above is one interpretation of the poem.  Again, it was written before the actual explanation of the poem was read.  Below is the actual explanation of the poem form the original blog post:

This poem is about an elderly person in a nursing home.  The person is supposed to be visited by their family every other Tuesday, but their family missed the last visit.

In the poem, it is the fifth Tuesday.  The person’s family came on the first Tuesday.  They were supposed to come on the third Tuesday, but did not.  Now it is the fifth Tuesday, which is the next scheduled visit day.

The poem starts with a question, There’s a counting, is it a fortnight?  The elderly person is trying to think about how often their family visits.  They wonder what a time period name for every other Tuesday might be.  They have trouble counting the days, but think that it might be called a fortnight, which is fourteen days.  They are somewhat upset and aren’t able to focus and know how many days it really is.

The elderly person continues to think about the time between visits.  They describe “every other Tuesday” as “every other Mars.”  Tuesday, in Spanish is called Martes, which is a reference to Mars.  The idea of astronomy as a background idea continues in the poem.

They then describe the idea that one of the visits was missed (But one is missed).  Again, they are having trouble counting and wonder if that is a month between visits (what is that, a cycle of the Moon?).  This again is an astronomy idea in the background.

The poem then partially shifts perspectives.  In the next stanza, there is a blurring of the point of view of the elderly person and that of their family.

The elderly person imagines their family being somewhere fun and far away (The sandy beaches, of a moon of Jupiter).  Their thoughts are imaginary though (an imagined place).  Their family is just out living their lives as normal.  The place though, and this is a blending of the viewpoints, is one of forgetfulness.  The elderly person imagines their family forgetting them, and, for the most part, at least at times, their family does.

The perspective then shifts back to the elderly person.  They think of their reality as, “Alone, in the silence of a cave, of Pluto“.  The person is alone, as in the sense that they have no company.  They have no one to talk to (in the silence), and they feel hidden (of a cave).  The place the person is at is described as being of Pluto.  Pluto, at one time, was the farthest planet from the Sun.  This describes the person’s separation from their family.  Also, Pluto is no longer a planet.  This idea describes the sense of demotion the person feels in their sense of abandonment.  The detachment and separation the person feels is further described as if transported, from place and time.

The elderly person is in their room and they feel the days pass.  This is described as “watching the Sun go in circles and circles“.  The person has a sense that they will die soon (as night approaches).  There’s a sense of dejection.

 

This poem, in some sense, is about neglect by apathy.  The person’s family sees the elderly person as an obligation.  They see them as something that takes up time.  They feel the visits are a burden.  This is demonstrated in part by the fact that the visits are scheduled and sparse.

The person’s family isn’t mean in a sense.  They just feel detached from the elderly person.  They don’t feel a strong connection.  Seeing the person is almost viewed like completing community service to them.

The poem focuses on the perspective of the elderly person.  There is the idea, that a missed visit is very important to them, but not important to their family.

Astronomy was used in the poem as a descriptive tool.  The idea was to make the feelings of the person seem larger in a way.

 

As can be seen, the interpretation of the poem written for this post, wasn’t entirely accurate.  It did get a sense of the passage of time, but it missed the underlying meaning of the poem.  It was close in the sense that the person in the poem is concerned about time and they have something on their mind, but it missed the main idea of the poem.

This exercise is a good illustration in poetry interpretation.  It shows how some symbolism can be deciphered, but also how it can be difficult to sometimes truly understand the meaning.

While it might seem like the interpretation was unsuccessful, it should not be viewed as such.  The interpretation was an exercise.  It was an attempt at understanding.  Part of worked, part of it did not.  That being said, it still was a good learning tool.

In trying to interpret poems, a reader might have to accept that they will never know if they are right, and, they might have to accept that in some instances, they will be wrong.

This does not detract from the value of the interpretation though.  The exercise has value in itself, but also, as long as a person gains something from a poem, it was worthwhile.  Although they might not have interpreted what the poet intended, as long as the reader learns in some way, it had value.

M. Sakran recommends that readers spend some time trying to interpret poems. It can be a very good learning experience and it can improve a person’s ability to read and write poetry. If you are interested in practicing with poems that have detailed explanations provided, check out Understanding: poems with explanations.  It has twenty poems along with detailed explanations.  It can be a useful tool in learning how to interpret poetry.

Poem with an explanation: Judgement

A penny taken.

“Into the cage!”
“Into the cage!”

A dollar in the pocket.

“No, it’s not the same.”
“It’s not the same.”

 

This poem is about judgment.  In the poem there are three people.

The first person is in the first stanza.  This person stole something small in value.  Symbolically, this refers to the idea that the person committed a small wrong.

The second person appears in the second stanza.  This person is judgmental.  They see the transgression of the first person and condemn them.  They want them punished severely.

The third person appears in the third and fourth stanzas.  This person points out that the second person is guilty of greater transgressions than the first person.  In the poem, the first person stole a penny.  The second person stole a dollar.  This symbolizes that the second person has done much worse, although it is hidden (in the pocket), than the first person.

The second person speaks to the third person in the fourth stanza.  They can’t see the connection.  They can’t see how what they did is wrong.  They can’t see how their condemnation of the first person, is a condemnation of themselves.  They think the first person should be judged harshly, but don’t see how they themselves should be.

Poem with an explanation: emptiness grows

emptiness grows,
and unlike the supposed living,
there is no relief,
with time

the flock flies above,
looking toward horizons,
while there beneath the stone,
the bear lies

nuts and berries,
are absent the hands,
the smell of roast turkey,
fills the air

under the stone,
the night falls,
as the emptiness grows,
in silence

 

This poem is about hunger.  In the poem there is a homeless person who has not eaten for days.

In the first stanza, the person’s hunger grows (emptiness grows).  This ailment, unlike something caused by a virus, does not heal with time (and unlike the supposed living (a virus may or may not be living), there is no relief, with time).

The homeless person is outside beside a building.  People move about around him (the flock flies above).  The people are focused on their lives (looking toward horizons) and don’t notice the man.  It is as if he is hidden (while there beneath the stone, the bear lies).

The man wants for simplicity.  There is this idea, that a person lost in the wilderness, will gather the simplest foods: nuts and berries.  This level of food is what the man desires, but he does not have it (are absent the hands).  About him though, people have an abundance of luxurious food (the smell of roast turkey, fills the air).

The man is metaphorically hidden and covered (under the stone).  In his hunger, he passes away (the night falls).  The stone also symbolizes a tomb.  His death has left an emptiness in the world (as the emptiness grows) but it is not noticed (in silence).

 

The above was a poem with an explanation.  The idea is to help readers learn about poetry through the explanation given.  Readers can learn about symbolism and metaphor by reading how they were applied in a particular situation.

If you like poems with explanations, please consider purchasing a copy of Understanding: poems with explanations.  It is an eBook that contains twenty poems with explanations.  It is available for $0.99 plus tax where applicable.

Understanding: poems with explanations by M. Sakran