Limbo by Edward Kamau Brathwaite

Notes on Limbo by Edward Kamau Brathwaite

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Limbo by Edward Kamau Brathwaite
Poet & Context
Born in Bridgetown, Barbados, on May 11, 1930.
Worked as an education officer in Ghana and taught at the University of the West Indies, then
returned to England and received his Ph.D. from the University of Sussex in 1968.
His poetry traces historical links and events that contributed to the development of the black
population in the Caribbean and is distinguished by its experimental linguistic explorations.
He is also the author of two plays and several collections of essays and literary criticism.
He is a professor of comparative literature at New York University
The poem is set in the 18th Century, with the African slave trade
European countries took African people and traded them as slaves
They were carried in the holds of ships ­ dark, cramped, dirty and diseased places.
They were forced to dance in order to keep them looking strong for sale, they invented the
limbo dance as a way of keeping fit while chained to iron bars
Ideas & Emotions
Tells the story of slaves crossing the Atlantic in slave ships, and their sense of being forced
down, as if under a limbo bar, but finding strength in their music, enabling them to be strong
Structure & Rhythm
Drum beat can be heard throughout the poem, like the drum beat which the slaves would
dance to
Song type structure, with the italic sections repeated like a chorus
Title, Limbo, has multiple meanings, all of which link to the poem:
o In Roman Catholicism, a place on the border of hell or heaven, where dead
unbaptized infants and the righteous who died before the coming of Christ go.
o A place or state of oblivion to which people or things are put when cast aside,
forgotten, past, or out of date
o An intermediate, transitional, or midway state or place.
o A place or state of imprisonment or confinement.
o A dance from the West Indies, in which the dancer bends backward from the knees
and moves under a horizontal bar that is lowered after each successive pass.
Silence is metaphorical for death which the music rescues him from
Drummers may refer to slave drivers whipping them, in the line "the drummers are praising
me" it could be interpreted that they have found if they like the punishment, the power of it
is no longer controlling them. Next line "the dumb gods are raising me" suggests he finds
strength in punishment
Mostly monosyllabic words give strong rhythmic sound like that of a drum beat or whip,
along with constant alliteration of harsh sounds gives cruel sound to poem
The phrase "dumb gods" suggests a feeling of abandonment by their gods, and how the
Catholic Church did nothing to help them. Could also suggest that the slave drivers have lost
power over them, as they have learnt to find reward in their punishment.
No punctuation until final full stoop, which could suggest an end to the ordeal as they have
reached their destination, or that this is a cycle that will be repeated again and again.

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Yet as
they are able to walk slowly on this ground it could suggest that they have conquered it.…read more


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