Different Cultures - Cluster 1

Revision notes for the first cluster of poems in the Different Cultures section. 

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  • Created on: 09-05-11 19:54

Limbo by Edward Kamau Brathwaite

The term "Limbo" - the dance; the place between heaven and hell; in limbo (stuck between in the middle of two situations)

What's it about? - The poem using the limbo dance as an extended metaphor, using it to describe slavery The poem mimics the rhythm of the dance. 

Setting - The ship: "stick hit sound, and the ship like it ready" and "stick is the whip, and the dark deck is slavery". Africa is evoked: "sun coming up" and "the dumb gods". Limbo is an ancient dance native to African culture and lifestyle. Hell is evoked: "the dark deck".

Themes - The idea of the slaves being stuck in limbo - trapped between their backgrounds and their new lives as slaves. Slavery and corruption. The clash of cultures, the different languages led to a silence between them: "Silence in front of me". The strength of the slaves, enabling people to survive in ill-fated circumstances. 


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Limbo by Edward Kamau Brathwaite

Feelings and Attitudes - Anger is the first emotion put forward by the poet but admires their strength then celebrates the slaves' survival.

Style - Strong rhythm and ryhme echoes the limbo music. Symbolism: the stick is a symbol of oppression. Images of darkness at the beginning of the poem. Repetition of "limbo like me" makes the reader consider the phrase. Negative diction eg dark, silence stresses the loneliness of being in captivity. By line 40 more positive images. The sun smybolises a bright new life and "raising me" and "saving me" suggest a period of hope.

Key lines - "And" at the beginning suggests it isn't the start of the suffering.  Line 12 and 13 - strong alliteration adds to the impact of the beating of the slaves. Lines 16 and 17 are similar lines - suggest he feels completely trapped. Line 40 and onwards, turning point in poem, darkness is replaced by light, there is a new hope, he is ascending out of the misery of slavery. Line 49,3a\/. 50, 51 - The slow three step beat suggests a weary but steady emergence from slavery. Full stop at the end represents the end of the dance, the voyage and perhaps his life.

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Nothing's Changed by Tatamkhulu Afrika

What's it about? The poet is returning to District Six, an area only for white people during apartheid except he feels nothing has changed, even though the law was abolished in 1990.

Setting - District Six, in Cape Town, an area that was declared for whites only during 1964. It is now an area of contrast: the upper class restaurant and the working man's cafe. The setting represents the differences in the living standards of some black and white commmunities in South Africa, even today.

Themes - Racial separation and discrimination. Anger. Alienation (feeling excluded). The impact of childhood memories, they remain with us throughout our lives.

Feelings and Attitudes - Anger at the racial inequality that still exists. Bitterness and resentment in his contrasting descriptions of the white people's inn and the black people's cafe (lines 17-40). Violent feelings at the end of the poem: "shiver down the glass".                                                                   

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Nothing's Changed by Tatamkhulu Afrika

Style - Very harsh and bitter. Contrast and comparisons between the luxurious setting of the smart restaurant and the cheap cafe. Symbolism: The glass of the inn becomes a metaphor for apartheid and also represents the racial divide. Assonance: eg "ice white" and "spit a little" is used to stress the character's anger. Alliteration of the harsh "c" sound also expresses the poet's anger. Onomatopoeia allows us as readers to follow the man on his journey, literally and metaphorically.

Key Lines - Line 8 "Amiable weeds". The poet prefers the weeds which belong to the area than to the splendour of the newly planted trees by the hotel (line 21). Line 11 onwards: the list is polysyndetic (uses a lot of "ands"). This builds up tension and show's the poet's anger is rising. Line 18 "flaring like a flag". This similie shows the proud and insulting domminance of the inn - it seems to be taunting him. Line 19 "it squats". An ugly word suggests the inn doesn't belong there. Line 25: "No sign says it is, but we know where we belong". There is no offical segregation, but the feeling of inequality continues. Line 32 "Down the road."  The inn and cafe are close to each other, but completely separate. Line 48 "Nothing's changed." Short sentence makes it reflective and concludes the poem on a negative.

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Island Man by Grace Nichols

What's it about? - In this poem, a man from a Caribbean island is living in London. He wakes up with dreams and thoughts of his homeland, but he's slowly forced to return to the reality of city life. It is a very nostalgic poem.

Setting - The poem is set in London, but the place that is described beautifully is the island in the Caribbean.

Themes - Alienation and lonliness. Feeling separted from home. Imagination (dreams) and reality.

Feelings and attitudes - As readers we feel empathy towards the man i.e He returns "groggily" and "muffling" to reality. A subtle resentment at the London lifestyle. Finally a sense of dread at the prospect of "Another London day".

Style - Imagery: More vivid words used to describe the Caribbean island to help us picture it better in our minds. The absence of punctuation allows the poem to flow, giving it a dream-like quality. Dreamy language. Some words are strongly linked to sleeping or waking up.

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Island Man by Grace Nichols

Others have confused double meanings eg "soar", "surge" and "roar" all associated with the sea. Contrasting descriptions which hint that the man would much rather in back in the Caribbean, than in London. Irregular structure - the line lengths and number of lines in each stanza vary, creating a muddled, sleepy feel. It also represents the waves the man is dreaming about or even a city skyline.

Key lines - The title suggests that the man is all alone. Line 1: "Morning". The shortness of the opening line sugests he's jolted awake. Line 5: "...wombing" suggests the comfort and security of his birth place. Line 12: "Comes back to sands". The rare use in a capital letter marks the turning point in the poem. Also, "sands" should be "sounds", but because the man is tired and is still thinking of the beach. Also, sand is everywhere on an island, the "grey metallic soar" is surrounding him, instead of the sand. Line 17: "...his crumped pillow waves". This is a metaphor. His dreams of the sea comfort him. Line 18: "heaves himself". Life is a struggle, both physically and mentally. "Another London day" There is no full stop, so it is forever going. "Another" suggests he does it everyday.

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Blessing by Imtiaz Dharker

What's it about? - The poem describes the scene in an Indian village when a water pipe bursts. It portrays how precious the water is to the community.

Setting - In an Indian village that has been without water for a long time.

Themes - The daily struggle to survive in a developing country. The power of nature - water can transform a scene and the lives of the people in it.

Feelings and attitudes - Firstly, a real desperation because of the lack of water. Secondly, a sudden urgency in collecting the water. And finally a sheer delight at the rare pleasure of having water to drink.

Style - A positive diction eg "kindly", "silver", "sun", "polished to perfection", "the sudden rush of fortune". These positive words emphasise what a blessing the water is. Onomatopoeia allows us to hear the effects of the water. Metaphorical language used to describe water make it seem valuable. eg. "fortune" and "silver" and "blessing".

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Blessing by Imtiaz Dharker

Religious imagery e.g "a roar of tongues" reminds us of a choir singing, or when Christians feel as if they are full of the holy spirit, many start talking in tongues. The people are referred to as a "congregation" which is what we call a group of people in church, and the title is called "Blessing" which is part of a church service and is considered to be holy.

Key lines - Line 1 "The skin cracks like a pod". This refers to the people's dry skin, or to the cracks in dry ground. The image created makes the scene more vivid. Line 6: "The voice of a kindly god". This is a metaphor; the sound of the water was so good that it sounds like a voice of a kindly god. It is also personification. The water is given human, in fact superhuman, qualities and is appreciated as something special. Line 11: "roar of tongues". Although it can be considered religious it also emphasises both the extent of the rush, and the commotion the water has caused. Third stanza - enjarnment increases the pace. Also "ground, found, around". The irreguar rhyme scheme adds to the bustling feel of the rush of water. Lack of punctuation and short lines reflect the frantic rush for water.

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Two Scavengers in a Truck, Two Beautiful People in

What is it about? - The poem describes how two pairs of people from different backgrounds cross one another's paths. The poet describes how far apart the pairs are in social terms, even though they are very close physically. The poem questions whether America is really a democracy.

Setting - The poem is set in San Francisco at some traffic lights on a main street.

Theme - Social injustice

Feelings and Attitudes - The poet is fascinated with the extremes in society but is also critical of society for allowing these extremes. There is a sense of the binmen longing for a life they cannot have and the rich couple being unaware or unconcerned by the contrast.

Style - Narrative quality; it reads like a story. The language is simple and direct

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Two Scavengers in a Truck, Two Beautiful People in

and the lack of punctuation allows the scene to unfold without interruption. Contrast is used effectively throughout the poem to stress the differences between the characters. It starts immediately in the title and continues through out the poem. The two couples are juxaposed through out the poem to highlight the contrast between them. Repetition emphasises that the poet does not believe this is true and wants the reader to consider it ie Line 30 and 33 + Line 8 and 9. It also gives off the sense of a sarcastic toneSimilies: the binman is described as a "gargoyle" and "Quasimodo" which are both ugly creatures. The layout of the poem  highlights the contrast and differences between the two pairs. The poet makes comparisons between them eg Line 11, 12 and Line 24, 25. There is something in common between the rich and poor. The poem emphasises the theme "time". There is this brief moment shared between these two pairs eg Line 31 "...instant" and Line 1 "...waiting for the light". The two binman are looking down at the cool couple in the car, it is supposed to be the other way round! Finally, the last word is "democracy". This layout leads to the stress on this last word, where the poet sarcastically refers to the idea of everyone having an equal say.

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Night of the Scorpion by Nissiu Ezekiel

What's it about? The poet describes a night when his mother was stung by a scorpion. He descibes the reactions of various people, including the locals, religious people and his father. His mother recovers and is glad the scorpion stung her and not her children.

Setting - In a village in India.

Theme - The selfless love mother's have for their children. The strength of childhood memories - the poet remembers the night in great detail. The closeness of some communities everyone went out to help the poet's mother.

Feelings and attitudes - The poet is frightened by what is happening, but admires his mum's courage. There is a sense of panic in the villagers' reactions - even the poet's dad who is described as rational tries different religious rememdies into order to help his wife. The poet seems critical of religion.


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Night of the Scorpion by Nissiu Ezekiel

Style - The poem has a narrative quality. It is in free verse and reads like a story. It's all from the child's perspective eg "giant scoripon shadows" are a terrifying image, especially for a child, the poem starts with "I" so it's in first person, but he was an onlooker, there was nothing he could to to help his mum. Imagery: the idea that the scorpion is the devil runs throughout the poem. The words "Evil One" and "diabolic" are used in reference to it. Rhythm of the lines echo normal speech so it sounded like we were listening to a story. Repetition of "may". Chants are used by the peasants, suggesting that they were supersitious and bellieve that such actions can sure the woman. The holy man is sent for, not a doctor as we would expect in our society. It also sounds like a prayer. The final three lines are separated from the rest. It makes this bit stand out from the rest of the poem and shows the clear contrast to the panic of the poem.

Key lines - Line 8 "...like swarm of flies" This similie makes the villagers seem panic-stricken and are making a lot of noise, dashing by. Flies are annoying, just like the other villagers. Line 31 "the peace on each face". There is an ironic feel - their reaction has been far from understanding and peaceful.

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Vultures by Chinua Achebe

What's it about? - The poem describes two vultures in a tree. The day before they ate the insides of a dead animal, but today they are now showing affection to one another. The poem highlights how love and brutality can exist side by side. It makes the point of by describing a commandant in a German concentration camp. After killing Jews, he stops off at the shop to get his children chocolate. The poet finishes by saying that there are two ways to look at it: on one hand you could be grateful that such an evil person has a shred of decency in him, or that the good inside that person will always be infected with evil.

Setting - The vultures' tree and the concentration camps of Nazi Germany.

Theme - The duality of life. The many sides of a human heart. The contrast between nature and human nature: the vultures have to eat the dead to survive; the camp commandant kills people because he has been ordered to.

Feeling and attitude - The poet finds the appearance and behaviour of the vultures and the Commandant unpleasant. But he is not shocked by it. His disgust is

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Vultures by Chinua Achebe

unemotional and detacted which is there to probably shock the reader. Finally, the poet is unsure about how to look at the face that people are capable of both kindness and cruelty.

Style - The lines are irregular length and there is no regular rhyme scheme. This helps reinforce the unpredictable. Irony: it is ironic that the Commandant is part of the cruel process of gassing the Jewish people, but he has the kindness to stop and buy chocolate for his children. Contrast: the poem opens with Pathetic fallacy and bleak diction eg "greyness" and "drizzle", yet the vultures leans towards each other "affectionately". The Commandant goes home with the smell of "human roast clinging" to his nostrils, but he is going home to his "tender offspring". The contrast expresses the theme of duality. The poem is very dark, especially at the beginning. Personification of love and evil: "...turned to the wall!" Love ignores evil, instead of triumphing over it, there exist separtately. "clinging rebelliously". Evil is personified as a persistent reminder of what the Commandant has been doing. The poet also has a very contemplative tone. He doesn't seem appalled by the unpleasant behaviour, but contemplative. He uses phrases and words such as "Strange"

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Vultures by Chinua Achebe

which sounds like he is stopping to ponder it. He then invites the reader to decide towards the end of the poem. The link between the vultures and the man is crucial. It's as if the poet has seen the vultures feeding and it's reminded him of the fact that people do dreadful things. The vultures are a way of introducing the subject, then the Commandant is the poet's example.

Key lines - Line 19 "...hollowed remnant". The vultures see the corpse as an object rather than something that was once alive. Line 34, 35 "...hairy nostrils...". The Commandant is physically unattractive, just like the vultures. Line 39 "...Daddy...". The Commandant has a different name when connected with his family - like a different version of himself. Line 50, 51 "lodged the perpetuity of evil." The poet seems to think evil will never go away - it is part of human nature. The poem also concludes on a dark note.

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What Were They Like? by Denise Levertov

What's it about? - The poem is a series of questions and answers about the Vietnamese war which lasted from 1954 until 1975. It is written as though Vietnamese culture is a thing of the past after the war took place.

Setting - It is written as a discussion between two people. The solider is describing Vietnam before and after the war. It is suggested that before the war Vietnam was a beautiful and tranquil place with lanterns lighting the paths, and pretty blossoms but after the war the place was filled with charred bones, dead children and combed and silent fields.

Theme - The atrocities of war: how people's lives can be destroyed by war. The celebration of another cuture: the poet writes about Vietnam in a positive manner; it suggests the place was a beautiful and happy place before the war.

Feelings and attitudes - On the surface, the tone is formal and unemotional eg Question 1. But really the poet is sad at what has happened and angry at those responsible eg Answers 3, 4. Finally there is a sense of regret eg Answer 6.

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What Were They Like? by Denise Levertov

Style - The poem is laid out as a set of questions in the first stanza, which are answered in the second. The second stanza is full of poetic phrases as it describes the place before the war with its people whose "speech...was like a song". Interrogatives are used to make the reader consider particular subjects. The solider is being asked the questions, but so too are the readers of the poem. The title itself is a question. All of the questions asked cover different aspects of culture: technology, religion, clothing, art and language. Violent words and images are portrayed through out the poem to show the poet's disapproval of the war eg "hearts turned to stone", "bitter to the burned mouth", "bombs smashed those mirrors" and "time only to scream". However, positive diction is applied to the place and people before the war eg "pleasant ways" and "delight in blossom". The speech and language of the Vietnamese is described as being a "like a song". The use of contrast is used effectively to stress what the country is now like after the war. This allows the poet to convey her disapproval of the war.The alliteration stresses the positive qualities of the Vietnamese: "moths in moonlight" .The soft "m" sound emphasises the peace and quiet of the country before the war. "bitter to the burned mouth" Another alliteration, but contrasting. The harsh sounds reinforces the horror of the bombing.

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What Were They Like? by Denise Levertov

It is writen in a very formal tone: Answers 1 and 3 start with "Sir". It is also writen in a very respectful language. The poet sees the Vietnamese people and culture as beautiful and admireable and it comes across in her poem with her complimentary  use of language.

Key Lines - Question 1 "Did the poeple of Viet Nam..." The poet uses the Vietnamese spelling rather than the Western verson. This is to show her respect towards the people of Vietnam, that she sees things from their point of view and it also highlights the ignorance of foreigners. Question 5 "Had they an epic poem?" An epic poem is a traditional poem that everyone belonging to a culture knows about. Answer 6 ".....Who can say? It is silent now."  The answers conclude with a question - they haven't really answered anything. The culture seems to be lost forever.

Vietnam war - A civil war between the north and south of Vietnam. The American's got involved with the south over fear that the communists will dominate the country.


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