Anthology: Cluster 1: Revision notes

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John Agard: Half-Caste

John Agard: Half-Caste

What is it about? This poem develops a simple idea which is found in a familiar, if

outdated phrase. Half-caste as a term for mixed race is now rare. The term

comes from India, where people are rigidly divided into groups (called castes)

which are not allowed to mix, and where the lowest caste is considered

untouchable. In the poem John Agard pokes fun at the idea. He does this

· with an ironic suggestion of things only being “half” present,

· by puns, and

· by looking at the work of artists who mix things.

· It is not clear whether Agard speaks as himself here, or speaks for others.

The poem opens with a joke - as if “half-caste” means only half made (reading

the verb as cast rather than caste), so the speaker stands on one leg as if the

other is not there. Agard ridicules the term by showing how the greatest artists

mix things - Picasso mixes the colours, and Tchaikovsky use the black and white

keys in his piano symphonies, yet to call their art “half-caste” seems silly.

Agard playfully points out how England's weather is always a mix of light

and shadow - leading to a very weak pun on “half-caste” and “overcast” (clouded

over). The joke about one leg is recalled later in the poem, this time by

suggesting that the “half-caste” uses only half of ear and eye, and offers half a

hand to shake, leading to the absurdities of dreaming half a dream and casting

half a shadow. The poem, like a joke, has a punchline - the poet invites his

hearer to “come back tomorrow” and use the whole of eye, ear and mind. Then

he will tell “de other half/of my story”.

Though the term “half-caste” is rarely heard today, Agard is perhaps right

to attack the idea behind it - that mixed race people have something missing.

Also, they often suffer hostility from the racial or ethnic communities of both

parents. Though the poem is light-hearted in tone, the argument of the last six

lines is very serious, and has a universal application: we need to give people our

full attention and respect, if we are to deserve to hear their whole “story”.

What poetic features are noteworthy? The form of the poem is related to its

subject, as Agard uses non-standard English, in the form of Afro-Caribbean

patois. This shows how he stands outside mainstream British culture. There is no

formal rhyme-scheme or metre, but the poem contains rhymes (“wha yu

mean...mix red an green”). A formal device which Agard favours is repetition:

“Explain yuself/wha yu mean”, for example. The poem is colloquial, written as if

spoken to someone with imperatives (commands) like “Explain yuself” and

questions like “wha yu mean”. The punctuation is non-standard using the hyphen

(-) and slash (/) but no comma nor full stop, not even at the end. The spelling

uses both standard and non-standard forms - the latter to show pronunciation.

The patois is most marked in its grammar, where verbs are missed out (“Ah

listening” for “I am listening” or “I half-caste human being” for “I am half-caste”).

When you write about the poem you should perhaps not use the term

“half-caste” except to discuss how Agard presents it. If you need to, use a term

like “mixed race”. For older readers, especially those aware of the (nowscientifically discredited) racial theories of the Nazis, this poem seems powerful

and relevant. And in Britain today, resistance to mixed-race couples (who may

have mixed-race children) is as likely to come from an Asian or Afro-Caribbean

parent as from a white Anglo-Saxon family. (In some ethnic groups, there is

enormous family pressure to marry within the community.) Younger readers,

especially in cosmopolitan communities, may wonder what the fuss is about.

What do I need to know about the author? Yes, John Agard is indeed of mixed

race origins. Born in Guyana and emigrated to Britain. But hey, you already

guessed that right?

What are the key themes in the poem? Cultures mixing and how this should not

be seen as a bad thing.

Do I want to use it in the exam? YES, lots of meaty issues and poetic devices to

talk about. Not hard either.

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Sujata Bhatt: from Search for My Tongue

Sujata Bhatt: from Search for My Tongue

What is it about? This poem (or rather extract from a long poem) explores a

familiar ambiguity in English - “tongue” refers both to the physical organ we use

for speech, and the language we speak with it. (Saying “tongue” for “speech” is

an example of metonymy). In the poem Sujata Bhatt writes about the “tongue” in

both ways at once. To lose your tongue normally means not knowing what to say,

but Ms. Bhatt suggests that one can lose one's tongue in another sense. The

speaker in this poem is obviously the poet herself, but she speaks for many who

fear they may have lost their ability to speak for themselves and their culture.

She explains this with the image of two tongues - a mother tongue (one's

first language) and a second tongue (the language of the place where you live).

She argues that you cannot use both together. She suggests, further, that if you

live in a place where you must “speak a foreign tongue” then the mother tongue

will “rot and die in your mouth”.

The final section of the poem is the writer's dream - in which her mother

tongue grows back and “pushes the other tongue aside”. She ends triumphantly

asserting that “Everytime I think I've forgotten,/I think I've lost the mother

tongue,/it blossoms out of my mouth.”

Clearly this poem is about personal and cultural identity. The familiar

metaphor of the tongue is used in a novel way to show that losing one's language

(and culture) is like losing part of one's body. The poet's dream may be

something she has really dreamt “overnight” but is clearly also a “dream” in the

sense of something she wants to happen - in dreams, if not in reality, it is

possible for the body to regenerate. For this reason the poem's ending is

ambiguous - perhaps it is only in her dream that the poet can find her “mother

tongue”. On the other hand, she may be arguing that even when she thinks she

has lost it, it can be found again. At the end of the poem there is a striking

extended metaphor in which the regenerating tongue is likened to a plant cut

back to a stump, which grows and eventually buds, to become the flower which

“blossoms out of” the poet's mouth. It is as if her mother tongue is exotic,

spectacular or fragrant, as a flower might be.

The poem's form is well suited to its subject. The flower is a metaphor for

the tongue, which itself has earlier been used as a (conventional) metaphor, for

speech. The poet demonstrates her problem by showing both “mother tongue”

(Gujarati) and “foreign tongue” (English), knowing that for most readers these will

be the other way around, while some, like her, will understand both.

The poem will speak differently to different generations - for parents,

Gujarati may also be the “mother tongue”, while their children, born in the UK,

may speak English as their first language. The poem is written both for the page,

where we see the (possibly exotic) effect of the Gujarati text and for reading

aloud, as we have a guide for speaking the Gujarati lines.

What poetic features are noteworthy? Ms. Bhatt rewrites lines 15 and 16 in

Gujarati, followed by more Gujarati lines, which are given in English as the final

section of the poem. For readers who do not know the Gujarati script, there is

also a phonetic transcript using approximate English spelling to indicate the


There are some strong images here (spitting out your tongue!), especially

the image of the re-growing tongue which is metaphorically compared to a, ‘bud’.

There is also a questioning style, ‘you ask me’, ‘I ask you’ as if the author

is responding to a difficult question by throwing it back at the reader.

What do I need to know about the author? Born in India but studied and working

in USA, now lives in Germany with husband. She writes in English. She is

intrigued how various languages co-exist in the mind, how they interact,

interfering but also enhancing one another. In many parts of the world where

English, though not the native language, has become the people’s first language,

foreign words are seamlessly integrated into the English. Thus in Singapore

people speak a fashionable slang called, ‘Singlish’ which contains Chinese and

Malay words within its English dialect.

What are the key themes in the poem? Language here is symbolising cultural

identity and how it never really dies no matter where you live. The theme is of

culture’s interacting, clashing but also enhancing one another.

Do I want to use it in the exam? YES. There is only a limited amount of close

analysis that can be done, but you can discuss the issue the poem raises (ie.

Should people maintain their original language when they move to another

country or integrate and learn the new language) until you are blue in the face!

2 of 8

Denise Levertov: What Were They Like?

Denise Levertov: What Were They Like?

What is it about? This is a famous poem, written in 1971, as a protest against

the Vietnamese War (1954-1975. This was originally a civil war between

communist North and capitalist South Vietnam; the south received support from

western countries, notably the USA. In 1973 President Nixon withdrew the US

forces, in 1975 the armies of North Vietnam were victorious, and the country was

reunited the following year. More recently, Vietnam has adopted democratic

government and opened itself up to visitors from the west.)

What do I need to know about the author? Denise Levertov protested in public

against the war, and spent time in jail. In the poem, inspired by the violence of

the US bombing campaign, she imagines a future in which the people have been

destroyed and there is no record or memory of their culture. (In the light of the

Nazis' genocide of European Jews, this was not an unreasonable fear.) In fact,

the people and culture of Vietnam are thriving today but attempted genocide

(now we call it “ethnic cleansing”) has devastated Cambodia, Ruanda and

Burundi and the former Yugoslavia.

What poetic features are noteworthy? The poem is in the form of a series of

questions, as a future visitor might pose them to a cultural historian. The

questions might seem straightforward, but the answers are revealing. Together

they create a sympathetic portrait of a gentle, simple peasant people, living a

dignified if humble life amid the paddy fields. This contrasts with the violent

effects of war, as children are killed, bones are charred and people scream as

bombs smash the paddy fields. The final lines of the poem show how utterly the

people have been forgotten - the report of their singing (of which there is no

record) is hopelessly vague - it resembled, supposedly, “the flight of moths in

moonlight” - but no one knows, since it is silent now.

The poem shows the Vietnamese as rather childlike, innocent and

vulnerable - a way of seeing them that seemed to be confirmed by some events

in the war, lie the destruction of the forests with napalm, and by the notorious

photographic image of a naked burning child running from her devastated village.

But the people of Vietnam eventually proved more resilient than in this wellmeaning

but rather patronising western view. On the other hand, it was protests

like that in the poem that changed US public opinion, so that President Nixon

withdrew their forces from combat - which helped the Northern Communist forces

win the war, and reunite Vietnam by force.

The answers are curiously mysterious, riddle-like. The first answer twists

the question about stone lanterns to make a point about how war meant that the

people’s, ‘light hearts turned to stone.’ This twisting of the question suggests that

the respondent has their own agenda: perhaps he wishes to make a bitter point

about the war, or perhaps he is merely sad. The second answer again twists the

question to a bitter end. The third answer comes in the form of a proverb, ‘Sir,

laughter is bitter to the burned mouth’. Oriental culture is full of a love for hidden

meanings, and proverbial sayings that require wisdom to understand. The fourth

answer follows the same pattern of quizzical bitterness.

The fifth answer is different. Rather than a riddle we are presented with a

sorrowful image of what happened in the war. This is far more direct than the

previous responses, suggesting the savagery of war. The sixth answer becomes

enigmatic again and we get the strong image of the people’s singing being like,

‘the flight of moths in moonlight’, a potent image of a peaceful nation and of the

lost memory of them.

When describing the people (as opposed to war) much of the poem uses

vocabulary that suggests insubstantial things, ‘dream’, ‘echo’ and ‘moths’. This

suggests the fading of the memories. By contrast the harsh reality of war is

represented through more substantial words, ‘bombs’, ‘scream’ and ‘burned’.

The rich culture of Vietnam at peace is represented through culturally-specific

words such as, ‘jade and silver’ and, ‘blossom’.

A rhetorical question is used (‘who can say?’) to suggest the fact that the

respondent does not have all the answers. This adds to the atmosphere of

mystery and uncertainty. There is a sadness to a question that can never be


What are the key themes in the poem? How culture’s interact (ie. war and the

consequences), how culture can be lost over time

Do I want to use it in the exam? POSSIBLY. This is not the easiest of poems

but there is lots to talk about if you know a little background and there are

opportunities for very sophisticated responses.


3 of 8

Nissim Ezekiel - Night of the Scorpion

Nissim Ezekiel - Night of the Scorpion

What is it about? In this poem Nissim Ezekiel recalls “the night” his “mother was

stung by a scorpion”. The poem is not really about the scorpion or its sting, but

contrasts the reactions of family, neighbours and his father, with the mother's

dignity and courage.

What do I need to know about the author? Born in Bombay, Nisim Ezekiel would

have observed the practiced Hindu religion around him (he was not a Hindu

himself). Hinduism believes in reincarnation after death, a person’s soul is

reborn in another body such as an animal’s, maybe even a scorpion’s. The

animal that the person becomes in his next life is defined by how much good or

bad was done in the last life. Lesser animals were thought to have sinned in a

previous life. In the poem, the poet’s mother’s pain was thought to be cleansing

her or sin, ready for her next life.

What poetic features are noteworthy? The scorpion (sympathetically) is shown

as sheltering from ten hours of rain, but so fearful of people that it “risk(s) the rain

again” after stinging the poet's mother.

What follows is an account of various superstitious reactions:

· the peasants' efforts to “paralyse the Evil One” (the devil, who is identified

with the scorpion);

· the peasants' belief that the creature's movements make the poison move

in his victim's blood;

· their hope that this suffering may be a cleansing from some sin in the past

(“your previous birth”) or still to come (“your next birth”).

The poison is even seen as making the poet's mother better through her

suffering: “May the poison purify your flesh/of desire and the spirit of

ambition/they said”. The poet's father normally does not share such superstitions

(he is “sceptic, rationalist” - a doubter of superstition and a believer in scientific

reason). But he is now worse than the other peasants, as he tries “every curse

and blessing” as well as every possible antidote of which he can think. The “holy

man” performs “rites” (religious ritual actions) but the only effective relief comes

with time: “After twenty hours it lost its sting”. After all, when facing death, it is

tempting to try every solution possible.

The conclusion of the poem is its most effective part: where everyone else

has been concerned for the mother, who has been in too much pain to talk (she

“twisted...groaning on a mat”) she thinks of her children, and thanks God the

scorpion has spared them (the sting might be fatal to a smaller person; certainly

a child would be less able to bear the pain).

Ezekiel's poetic technique is quite simple here. The most obvious point to

make is the contrast between the very long first section, detailing the frantic

responses of everyone but the mother, and the simple, brief, understated

account of her selfless courage in the second section. The lines are of irregular

length and unrhymed; the lines are not end-stopped but run on (this is sometimes

known as enjambement).

Instead of metaphor or simile the images are of what was literally present (the

candles and the lanterns and the shadows on the walls). The poem is in the form

of a short narrative. One final interesting feature to note is the repeated use of

reported (indirect) speech - we are told what people said, but not necessarily in

their exact words, and never enclosed in speech marks. The poem may surprise

us in the insight it gives into another culture: compare Ezekiel's account with

what would happen if your mother were stung by a scorpion (or, if this seems a

bit unlikely, bitten by an adder, say).

Some comments about Nissim Ezekiel that you might find helpful in relation to

Night of the Scorpion are these: he writes in a free style and colloquial manner

(like ordinary speech); he makes direct statements and employs few images.

The title of the poem seems more fitting almost to an old horror film - do you think

it is a suitable title for the poem that follows?

What are the key themes in the poem? The difference between cultures and

religions, how the culture here contrasts with the western culture we inhabit.

Do I want to use it in the exam? Probably NOT. The poem is not particularly rich

in poetic features to talk about, and you need background knowledge about

Hinduism to make full sense of it.

4 of 8

Lawrence Ferlinghetti - Two Scavengers in a Truck,

Lawrence Ferlinghetti - Two Scavengers in a Truck, Two

Beautiful People in a Mercedes

What is it about? Quite simply, the rich-poor divide, the culture of the rich and

how it differs to the culture of the poor. The “Beautiful people” in the title is

perhaps written with a mild sense of irony - as this phrase was originally coined

by the hippie movement in 1967 (maybe earlier) to refer to the “flower children”

who shared the counter-culture ideals of peace and love. The couple in the poem

are not beautiful people in this sense but wealthy and elegant. In the poem the

two cultures are juxtaposed (put side-by side) and it almost seems for a moment

as if they might mix and interact. However, at the end they are still divided. Is it

ever going to be possible to truly bridge cultural gaps?

What do I need to know about the author? Born in New York (a city with a great

rich-poor contrast), as a teenager he was arrested for petty theft. Thieves are

people that arguably try to bridge the rich-poor divide, as they may be poor

themselves but exist through the world of the rich. Cities, more than any other

geographical location, are places where cultures mix and interact; you often hear

the term, ‘cultural melting-pot’ to describe such cosmopolitan areas.

What poetic features are noteworthy? The poem is deceptively simple - in places

it is written as if in bright primary colours, so we read of the “yellow garbage

truck” and the “red plastic blazers”, we get exact details of time and place, and

we see the precise position of the four people: all waiting at a stoplight and the

garbage collectors looking down (literally but not metaphorically) into the “elegant

open Mercedes” and the matching couple in it. The details of their dress and hair

could be directions for a film-maker.

Ferlinghetti contrasts the people in various ways. The wealthy couple are

on their way to the man's place of work, while the “scavengers” are coming home,

having worked through the early hours. The couple in the Mercedes are clean

and cool; the scavengers are dirty. But while one scavenger is old, hunched and

with grey hair, the other is about the same age as the Mercedes driver and, like

him, has long hair and sunglasses. The older man is depicted as the opposite of

beautiful - he is compared both to a gargoyle (an ugly grotesque caricature used

to decorate mediaeval churches, and ward off evil spirits) and to Quasimodo (the

name means “almost human”) the main character in Victor Hugo's novel The

Hunchback of Notre Dame.

The poem moves to an ambiguous conclusion. The two scavengers see

the young couple, not as real people, but as characters in a “TV ad/in which

everything is always possible” - as if, that is, with determination and effort, the

scavengers could change their own lifestyle for the better. But the adjective

“odorless” suggests that this is a fantasy - and their smelly truck is the reality.

The poem also considers the fundamental American belief that “all men

are created equal” - and the red light is democratic, because it stops everyone. It

holds them together “as if anything at all were possible/between them”. They are

separated by a “small gulf” and the gulf is “in the high seas of democracy” - which

suggests that, with courage and effort, anyone can cross it. But the poet started

this statement with “as if” - and we do not know if this is an illusion or a real

possibility. The American belief in equality is often thought to be false, as

America is not an equal society.

Visually the poem is split horizontally down the page. This perhaps

suggests the divided society that is at the heart of the poem. The poem also

looks quite messy as a result, which perhaps suggests the jumble of the city, the

mess also reflected in the scavengers’ truck.

The vocabulary is vital to understanding. The words for the scavengers

include, ‘grey iron hair’, ‘grungy’ and ‘red plastic blazers’ which suggests the poor

quality of the world they inhabit. By contrast, the beautiful people’s world is

made up of a, ‘three-piece linen suit’, ‘an elegant couple’ and a ‘casually coifed’

blond woman.

What are the key themes in the poem? Cultures mixing and interacting, culture’s

divided by wealth, bridging cultural gaps

Do I want to use it in the exam? YES, there’s lots to talk about, and lots of

important issues for discussion.

5 of 8

Imtiaz Dharker - Blessing

Imtiaz Dharker - Blessing

What is it about? This poem is about water: in a hot country, where the supply is

inadequate, the poet sees water as a gift from a god. When a pipe bursts, the

flood which follows is like a miracle, but the “blessing” is ambiguous - it is such

accidents which at other times cause the supply to be so little.

What do I need to know about the author? We have a clear sense of the writer's

world - in her culture water is valued, as life depends upon the supply: in the west,

we take it for granted. This is a culture in which belief in “a kindly god” is seen as

natural, but the poet does not express this in terms of any established religion

(note the lower-case “g” on “god”). She suggests a vague and general religious

belief, or superstition. Note that she uses the word, ‘congregation’ to suggest a

crowd, a term more normally used in a religious context.

The water is a source of other metaphors - fortune is seen as a “rush” (like

water rushing out of the burst pipe), and the sound of the flow is matched by that

of the people who seek it - their tongues are a “roar”, like the gushing water. Most

tellingly of all, water is likened to “silver” which “crashes to the ground”. In India

(where Ms. Dharker lives), in Pakistan (from where she comes) and in other

Asian countries, it is common for wealthy people to throw silver coins to the

ground, for the poor to pick up. The water from the burst pipe is like this - a shortlived

“blessing for a few”. But there is no regular supply of “silver”. And finally, the

light from the sun is seen as “liquid” - yet the sun aggravates the problems of


What poetic features are noteworthy? The opening lines of the poem compares

human skin to a seedpod, drying out till it cracks. Why? Because there is “never

enough water”. Ms. Dharker asks the reader to ‘Imagine’ it dripping slowly into a

cup; her voice here is strong, as if she were showing the reader around her

homeland. When the “municipal pipe” (the main pipe supplying a town) bursts, it

is seen as unexpected good luck (a “sudden rush of fortune”), and everyone

rushes to help themselves. But the end of the poem reminds us of the sun, which

causes skin to crack “like a pod” - today's blessing is tomorrow's drought. The

poet celebrates the joyous sense with which the people, especially the children,

come to life when there is, for once, more than “enough water”.

The poem has a single central metaphor - the giving of water as a

“blessing” from a “kindly god”. The religious metaphor is repeated, as the

bursting of the pipe becomes a “rush of fortune”, and the people who come to

claim the water are described as a “congregation” (people gathering for worship).

The poem is written in unrhymed lines, mostly brief, some of which run on,

while others are end-stopped, creating an effect of natural speech. The poet

writes lists for the people (“man woman/child”) and the vessels they bring

(“. ..with pots/brass, copper, aluminium,/plastic buckets”). The poem appeals to

the reader's senses, with references to the dripping noise of water (as if the

hearer is waiting for there to be enough to drink) and the flashing sunlight.

The poem ends with a picture of children - “naked” and “screaming”. The

sense of their beauty (“highlights polished to perfection”) is balanced by the idea

of their fragility, as the “blessing sings/over their small bones”. This also suggests

the fragility of a world dependent on water.

What are the key themes in the poem? The differences between cultures, how

climate and situation affect people’s lives and their outlook.

Do I want to use it in the exam? PROBABLY. This poem has lots of imagery to

talk about, but it is so simple there might not be enough to write unless you have

sufficient background knowledge.

6 of 8

Tatamkhulu Afrika - Nothing's Changed

Tatamkhulu Afrika - Nothing's Changed

What is it about? This poem depicts a society where rich and poor are divided.

In the apartheid era of racial segregation in South Africa, where the poem is set,

laws, enforced by the police, kept apart black and white people. The poet looks

at attempts to change this system, and shows how they are ineffective, making

no real difference. “District Six” is the name of a poor area of Cape Town (one of

South Africa's two capital cities; the other is Pretoria). This area was bulldozed as

a slum in 1966, but never properly rebuilt. Although there is no sign there, the

poet can feel that this is where he is: “...my feet know/and my hands.”

What do I need to know about the author? Afrika lived in District Six during

apartheid and was actively involved in opposing it.

What poetic features are noteworthy? The structure is clearly divided into six

stanzas, appropriate for the clearly divided apartheid society and for a poem

about District Six.

The rhyme of, ‘heels’, ‘seeds’ and ‘weeds’ perhaps suggests the footsteps

that the stanza begins with.

The second stanza concentrates on strong images of body parts, perhaps

suggesting how closely the poet’s existence is tied to the place.

The third stanza uses angry words like, ‘brash’, ‘flaring’ which shows the

poet’s anger leading up to the ‘gatepost’ and the injustice of the ‘whites only inn.’

Note the pun on the word, ‘inn’ meaning both a place to stay and the act of

entering. The alliteration of, ‘guard at the gatepost’ draws attention to this part of

the poem which holds the key issue.

The fourth stanza contains images of, ‘glass’ which is a good image for

the invisible barrier of apartheid separating white and black people. The line, ‘No

sign says it is’ echoes the line in the second stanza; in apartheid it is what is NOT

said that is important ie. people in power don’t like to talk about the division of

whites and black but it happens all the same.

The fourth stanza’s, ‘crushed ice white glass’ belongs to the rich white

areas and contrasts with the fifth stanza’s ‘plastic table’s top’ that is for the poor

black people. The line, ‘it’s in the bone’ suggests that this divide is the result of

people’s bodies, their race and colour.

The sixth stanza again shows anger, a desire for, ‘a stone, a bomb’ to

break the glass and symbolically to end the separation between white and black.

Yet the last line, ‘nothing’s changed’ suggests that the author has little hope that

such an action would make things better. A pessimistic ending.

What are the key themes in the poem? How cultures interact, one culture

enslaving another, culture trying to prevent itself from mixing with another

Do I want to use it in the exam? POSSIBLY! It’s a poem that requires some

knowledge of the context, but there is a lot to talk about if you know the issues.

7 of 8

Edward Kamau Brathwaite – Limbo

Edward Kamau Brathwaite – Limbo

What is it about? - In the 18th Century European countries took African people

and traded them as slaves – they were carried in the holds of ships – dark,

cramped, dirty and diseased places. While the slaves were on the ships they

invented the limbo dance as a way of keeping themselves fit whilst chained to

long iron bars. Today the dance remains a cultural tradition in the West Indies

which you might see if you go and visit the area.

Limbo can refer to a special dance where people pass under a pole by

leaning backwards. It can also refer to empty space (“I’m in limbo” people say,

when they don’t know what to do!). In the poem the ambiguity of the word

‘Limbo’ (the fact that it can mean different things) is exploited. By going into

slavery, the Africans are passing into a world where they mean nothing (‘limbo

like me’); on the slave ship they enter the limbo dance as a way of maintaining

their culture onboard.

What do I need to know about the author? - Kamau Braithwaite is a West Indian

writer – he often writes about how powerful countries have taken over smaller

countries and exploited them.

What poetic features are noteworthy? The repetition of the word, ‘limbo’ is key to

the meaning of the poem (see above). It provides the musical beat of the poem,

like the music that is played during the limbo dance. The word ‘stick’ is also used

ambiguously to mean both the limbo stick which is passed under and the stick of

the slavers. The word, ‘dark’ is also used a lot which suggests the void that is

limbo, but also the misery and darkness of being a slave.

Sound is vital in the poem (it’s a limbo dance!). Onomatopoeia is used in,

‘drum stick knock’ for example. The, ‘drummer’ is frequently mentioned. The

rhythm is very strong (look at lines 3-6).

The structure of the poem is in two parts and describes a journey. The

slaves are on the ship, and then arrive at their destination and step onto the,

‘burning ground’. The




and the similar use of the word, ‘up’ suggests (visually on the page) both the

slaves movement beneath the limbo stick and their movement down into and up

out of the hold of the slave-ship.

What are the key themes in the poem? – How cultures interact, one culture

enslaving another, the history of African people brought into western society, how

cultural identity is maintained despite relocation, culture represented through


Do I want to use it in the exam? YES! It’s an easy poem to talk about and good

for comparisons, though make sure you analyse it closely, otherwise you may

find yourself without enough to write!

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