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outdated phrase.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.
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!
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.
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.
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’
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.
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.
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.
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!