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”Island Man” by Grace Nichols and ”I Shall Return” by Claude McKay

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  • Pages: 8
  • Word count: 1755
  • Category: Poems

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We live in a society where culture and identity are very important. Culture is the distinctive practices and beliefs of a society. Culture is all about where we live, our language, the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the celebrations we celebrate and the things we value.

Many people who live in poorer countries move over to the bigger cities were there are more jobs and money. Many people end up living in a place they don’t know.

In English we have studied five poems from another culture, which was Jamaica. All the culture poems we studied were mostly about a man or woman wanting to go back to Jamaica. We have to do our coursework on this topic and the five poems I have chosen to look at are, ‘Island Man’ by Grace Nichols, which is about a Caribbean man who has moved to London, ‘I Shall Return’ by Claude McKay, which is about a man who promises to return to Jamaica one day. ‘An Old Jamaican woman thinks about the Hereafter’ by A.L Hendricks, which is about an old woman who wonders what will happen when she dies. ‘Song of a banana man’ by Evan Jones which is describing a man’s day at work. The final poem I am going to look at is ‘The Lament of the banana man’ by Evan Jones, which was written by the same man who wrote ‘Song of the banana man’ and it is about what would happen if someone left their native country and moved to England.

I chose to do culture because I liked finding out what it was like for people having to move from their country to somewhere completely different.

The first poem I am going to look at is ‘Island Man’ by Grace Nichols. The poem is about a Caribbean man who has moved to London and in the morning he wakes up to the sound of the sea in his head.

For a few seconds every morning he still thinks he is in the Caribbean.

The first word of the poem, ‘morning’ sets the scene for the rest of the poem. The line, ‘The island man wakes up to the sound of blue surf in his head,’ tells us the man imagines blue waves in his head. Right from the start of the poem we learn that the poet’s homeland is very important to him.

The line, ‘the steady breaking and wombing’ is comforting, the word ‘breaking’ is a sea sound and the word ‘wombing’ is a surf sound.

The second stanza is like the Caribbean man is coming out of his dream. The words ‘Emerald Island’ are a colour metaphor and he makes it sound like the island is precious to him. Emeralds are precious stones. The words ‘groggily, groggily’ are like an echo, reflecting the sleepy mood of the island man.

In the third stanza we learn what London is like. The words ‘grey metallic soar’ gave a strong impression of the traffic and the city life. The line, ‘North circular roar,’ North circular is a road in London and the Caribbean man lives near it. The word ‘heaves’ means he doesn’t want to do something but forces himself to do it. This verse is in complete contrast to the earlier images of Island life.

In the last line the phrase, ‘Another London day,’ the man is saying that he is ready to face another day in London. The Caribbean man lives in London but wakes up in his home, which is the sea.

I think this poem is really well written because you can picture the man waking up every morning in what he thinks are strange surroundings.

The second poem I am going to look at is ‘I shall return’ by Claude McKay. The poem is about a man who was born in Jamaica but emigrated to America when he was twenty-two years old. He expresses his love for the country Jamaica where he spent his childhood.

The poet makes a promise to himself in the poem to return to Jamaica one day. The line, ‘I shall return’ is repeated six times in the poem because it is used to express his desire to return home.

The poem is written in the form of a sonnet, which is normally used in a love poem because he loves his country Jamaica so much.

The line, ‘to laugh and love and watch with wonder-eyes’ is a nice, calm, peaceful tone. It is used to give a slow pace and effect. The words, ‘forest fires’ and ‘blue-black’ is alliteration. More alliteration is, ‘that bathe the brown blades of the bending grasses’, ‘fiddle and fife’ and ‘dances, dear delicious.’

The words ‘Golden noon’ and ‘Sapphire skies’ are colour metaphors; they give a warm image and show us that Jamaica is very precious to him. The line, ‘To ease my mind of long, long years of pain’ gives us an image of the man’s unhappiness. The feelings the poet associates with Jamaica is that he is happy when he looks at or thinks of his country.

In the poem, the colours brighten up the poem; show warmth, they are pleasant and precious. When the poet returns to Jamaica he imagines himself by the streams, looking at the blue-black skies, sapphire skies and the rushing mountains. The poem has a calm, peaceful and positive atmosphere.

Looking back at Jamaica the man remembers dances, singing, the native living and his simple life. ‘Long, long years of pain’ could have been caused by not been able to go home and see his friends and family, being on his own and living in a place where he knew nobody.

This poem made me feel sorry for the man because he can’t go home to his home country; the poem has a dream like quality. This poem is probably the dream of anyone who has ever emigrated somewhere, to go back to his or her home.

The third poem I am going to look at is ‘An Old Jamaican woman thinks about the Hereafter’ by A.L Hendricks and the poem is about an old woman who wonders what will happen when she dies. She remembers all the good things about where she lives and where she grew up and spent all her life. At the end of the poem she remembers her neighbour who she doesn’t get on with.

The old woman has lived all her life on a small island. The parish is so dear to the old woman because it was where she was born, her family were all there and she liked the cool churchyard. The old woman has not travelled far and we know this because it says, ‘have been afraid of their pathless distances’, ‘I have never flown in the loud aircraft’ and ‘nor have I seen places.’

When it’s time for the woman to go to heaven she would feel uncomfortable if she was ‘rewarded with a large mansion.’ In the afterlife the woman would like to remember old times but live them again, occasionally have a good meal with no milk or honey, walk by the grey sea-beach with two old dogs and watch men bring up their boats from the water.

The ending of the poem is unexpected because the old woman remembers how much she doesn’t get on with her neighbour and how much she hates her. The old woman fights with her neighbour because she throws stones at the old woman’s white rooster and makes too much noise in her backyard.

I think the old woman misses Jamaica and is quite lonely where she is now. The penultimate line just drifts off as the old woman is imagining what heaven would be like.

The fourth poem I am going to look at is ‘Song of a banana man’ by Evan Jones. It is about a man living in Jamaica and how other people treat him.

The first line of the poem, ‘Tourist, white man wiping his face’ tells us that the man in the poem is black, he doesn’t like tourists and that the tourists are sweating because it is too warm for them. The words ‘Golden grove’ are alliteration. The third, fourth and fifth lines tell us that the tourist is snobby and thinks the banana man is a tramp.

The third stanza creates an idyllic impression of Jamaica.

The final poem I am going to look at is ‘The Lament of the banana man’ by Evan Jones. This poem is written in a different way to the other poems, it is written in dialect, which is the Jamaican Creole. It is a poem about a man that has left Jamaica and moved to England.

The man goes to the underground to work everyday, he works eight hours and to him this doesn’t seem like much because he worked longer hours in Jamaica. The man is quite surprised that he gets his uniform and his ticket punch free. Compared to the work he did in Jamaica, punching tickets in England is easy and if he gets bored punching tickets he just lets the people through and nobody says anything to him.

We get the impression that in Jamaica he got sick quite a lot because it says in the poem ‘sickness doesn’t touch me here.’ In Jamaica I don’t think the man had many possessions because he seemed so pleased to have a room of his own, an iron bed, a table and a chair.

In England people treat him like an outcast and stare at him, because of this he thinks they don’t want him in their country. The man wants to die in Jamaica but he says he can never go back there.

At the beginning of the poem the man is tired of England and tired of us. This stanza is soft; it drifts off, sad, tired, slow and depressed tone.

The character in the poem finds England cold and dark, we know this because it says, ‘if it col’, it col’, if it rainin’, it rainin’, I don’ mind if its mostly night.’

The character is a proud man who tends to hide his feelings because it says, ‘You won’ catch me bawlin’ ant homesick tears if I don’ see Jamaica for a t’ousand years.’

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