Limbo by Edward Kamau Brathwaite

Goes through the structure, language, culture and more!! :D

  • Created by: Emma
  • Created on: 21-04-11 10:54

Limbo Overview

Limbo is about a slave ship. Both Structure and Language help to describe the slave ship in greater detail. The poem could also link to purgatory and playing a game of limbo. We will explore these details later on.

The slave ship is described in very dark ways. Near the end of the poem, some music begins to play with 'saves' the people onboard.

The end of the poem is when the ship reaches land.

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Limbo Language - Negative

Limbo uses Language very effectively to help us to understand just how bad the conditions on the Slave ship were.

'silence in front of me'            This is negative imagery and could describe when the slaves were about to get onto the ship. This is becuase it is infront of him.

'long dark deck... long dark deck'          This line is repeated to emphasise to us just how bad the ship was for all the slaves.

'stick is the whip'           Is an example of more negative imagery and could also be an example of onomatopoeia (where the words sound like sounds) when it says 'whip'.

'down, down, down'         This is an example of negative imagery and could symbolise the waves of the sea, purgatory (in between heaven & hell) and a limbo game. It could also reflect slavery as it is all hard work and horrible.

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Limbo Language - Positive

Positive language is used to emphasise the end of the slaves' trip on the ship. This is them feeling very relieved and happy that they made it (even though they had a really horrible time).

'sun coming up'      This could be pathetic fallacy (weather reflects the mood) as the slaves begin to feel happy(er) at this point. It is also positive imagery as the sun always makes us feel happy and excited.

'up, up, up'         This is positive imagery, and could reflect the waves again, a limbo game again. It could also show that the song they are listening to is very upbeat and lively.

'music is saving me'       Shows how the music is saving the slaves. It also shows that they've turned to the music to help them escape from reality of being on an awful slave ship.

'out of the dark'          Is positive imagery and shows that the trip is coming to an end.

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Limbo Structure

Limbo is structured in a long stick shape. This reflect the limbo stick / game of limbo that is mentioned throughout the poem.

Two fonts are used in the poem to show the limbo is important and make it stand out. It emphasises the 'chorus' part:

limbo, limbo like me, limbo, limbo like me


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Other things about Limbo


Limbo is like a song, the repeated parts makes it like a song! It is a song about slavery and the rhythm and rhyme reflects the cultural music of Africa. There are clear drum beats throughout.


There is no punctuation apart from the end of the poem. This could show that it is the end of the journey. It could also show that it just goes back to normal from there. Another thing the full stop could show is the song just gets repeated, the horrible events just keep happening to these poor slaves.


'on the burning ground' shows how the land they have reaches is like HELL and very negative imagery to describe this. The ending contrasts to the positive lines at the ending of the poem.

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Paul Dutton


A detailed guide to the poem which includes some key quotes. Useful for some quick revision.



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