Poems “Island Man” and “The Fringe of the Sea”.
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I recently read two poems, entitled “Island Man” and “The Fringe of the Sea”. These two poems are similar in many ways, but also have conflicting ideas. They both have connections to the sea, through the content of the poems, but also through the authors. Grace Nichols is the author of “Island Man”, and she was born in Ghana, and now living in Britain. A.L. Hendriks wrote “The Fringe of the Sea”, and she was born in Jamaica, but also now lives in Britain.
The poem “Island Man” is about and for, “a Caribbean man in London who still wakes up to the sound of the sea”. The First line is one word, “Morning”. This emphasises the word “morning”. It makes it seem important, which it is, because it is the main theme in this poem. When you hear the poem, you may also hear “Mourning”. This gives the idea that it is sad, there seems to be sorrow in mornings. Most people don’t like mornings, they suggest work, tiredness. This is like the Island Man, he doesn’t seem to like morning because he has to wake up and leave his dreams of an island.
Then it says “and island man wakes up”; this introduces the Caribbean man. He has no name throughout the poem, which makes it more generalised, and so appeals to more people. For example, it would not be a very popular poem if it says “and Dave wakes up”. The next lines “to the sound of blue surf // in his head” have a strong rhythm, a sort of beat. It suggests harmony, but the second line “in his head” suggests sudden discord. The alliteration of the ‘s’ sounds changes so a “h”. The “s” could also be suggesting the sound and regularity of the surf, or waves breaking.
On the next line this is an example of internal rhyming, between “breaking and wombing”. “Wombing” suggest things like warmth, and loving. This makes you think that the island man thinks of the sea and his island as very important to him. He seems to long for them, as a child longs for a mother.
“Wild seabirds // and fishermen pushing out to sea.” This suggests everyone is active and busy, living a lifestyle very different to one you might live in London, a lifestyle that island man has left this life behind. The present participle “pushing” suggests energy, unlike the “groggy” island man. The “sh” sounds in “fisherman” and “pushing” are onomatopoeic, they suggest the waves and the sea. The word “sea” in this line also rhymes with ‘defiantly” in the next line, “The sun surfacing defiantly”. This line again suggests energy, and determination, like a need to get up.
“From the east // of his small emerald island” The word emerald suggests rich, lush green, vegetation, and brings to mind the turquoise seas and green tropical islands. It could also just be suggesting that the island is precious to him, because an emerald is a precious stone.
By now you see that there is no structure to the poem or the sentences, it is written in freeverse. The next line is a good example of that, as it goes: “he always comes back groggily groggily.” The lack of structure could suggest a dreamlike state, or tiredness, no order. ‘Groggily’ suggests that he is in a drunken state, as grog is a name for an alcoholic drink, and is repeated to emphasise it.
“Comes back to sands // of a grey metallic soar.” This compares the island and London. The island is green and rich, with blue seas. It is colourful and lively, while this idea of London sounds dull and bland. It brings to mind pictures of grey buildings, grey skies, dust and dirt, but “soar” brings to mind freedom, or height. But in this context it makes me picture smog, grey skies and concrete. While this is not like the way London is, it is unclean and monotonous compared to a rich tropical island, and you can see why island man seems reluctant to return.
The next lines “to surge of wheels // to dull North Circular roar” suggest the sounds and movements of the waves. “Surge” seems onomatopoeic; connoting the sound of the waves rushing up or down a beach, but it is not the sea, but the cars on the roads of London.
“Muffling, muffling” The word is repeated, or emphasised. It could suggest the muffling of the traffic, this Man trying to soften the noise with his pillow, trying to get back to his dreams, but it could also be his dreams being muffled, and dragged away by the hostile noise of the cars. “His crumpled pillow waves” seems to suggest the sea again, by using the word “waves”. “Island man heaves himself // Another London day.” The first line in this quotation suggests that effort is used, he is still tired, unenthusiastic about this new day. “Another London day” suggest that what happened is regular, and not just a one off event. Every day he awakens to the sound of the sea in his head and every day he is dragged from his pleasant dreams to the realities of modern day life.
The second poem is “The Fringe of the Sea”. It has some similarities and some differences compared to “Island Man”. The first verse gives a good example of this: “We do not like to awaken // far from the fringe of the sea, // we who live upon small islands.” The theme is very similar, a person or people not wanting to leave their home next to the sea, but in “Island Man” the man has left the island, and so the locaton of the two poems is different. Also “Island Man” is written in a third person narrative, as the emphasis is on ‘he”, but “The Fringe of the Sea” is written in first person, as the focus is on “we”, and as such it conveys a greater sense of community. Also “Island Man” was written in freeverse, to give the impression of dreaminess, but “The Fringe of the Sea” is written with more structure. Each verse has three or four lines, which gives a sense of order, but like Island Man there is no defined rhyming patterns in this poem.
The second verse is of four lines, “We like to rise up early, // quick in the agile mornings // and to walk out only little distances // to look down at the water,” The first line contrasts with “Island Man” quite clearly. It suggests eagerness to amaken, while Island Man wants to stay asleep, and to return to his dream island. The second line again suggests energy, “agile” makes morning soundlike a deer, fast and sure footed, and therefore it is different to Island Man. Yet the third line is of similar theme to “Island Man”. “Walk out only little distances” suggests unwillingness to leave the island that they live on.
The third verse, “To know it is swaying near to us // with songs, and tides, and endless boatways, // and undulate patterns and moods” suggests that the island community never tire of the sea and the island, not unlike the island man. “To know it is swaying near to us,” The present participle here suggests ever changing movement, and “undulate patterns and moods” also suggests this, so the sea never seems the same, like the saying “you can never cross the same river twice”. The sea may look the same, but to the natives they know that it isn’t.
“We want to be able to saunter beside it // slowpaced in buring sunlight // bare armed, barefoot, bareheaded” This is different to the second verse, but similar to “Island Man”. This suggests a leisurely, relaxed life, nan stressful, the kind that the island man would like, but in the second verse there is the suggestion of energy. This verse sounds peaceful, because the rhythm appears to slow down, lazy like the island man. The next verse, “and to stoop down by the shallows // sifting the random water // between assaying fingers // like farmers do with soil” tells me that the island people are dependant on the water. In a way they harvest the water, for fish, but the man in “Island Man” is not dependant on it, because he lives far away from his homeland.
“And to think of turquoise mackerel // turning with consumate grace // sleek and decorous // and elegant in high blue chambers.” This describes mackerel as precious, possesing natural beauty, like ornaments in their metaphorical chambers. “Island Man” describes the island as “his small emerald island”, like the “turquois mackerely”. Both descriptions could merely be describing the colour of the items, or they could be describing them as precious, like the stones whch they are described as.
The next verse is “We want to be able to walk out into it // to work in it // dive swim and play in it.” The people of this island want many things, all of which they can get easily, because they are all simple things. They enjoy their life on the island and they love the sea, but although all they ask are simple things, they are very lucky. The Island Man can only dream of such things, things with he desires, but cannot have, whether it is through choice or not.
“To row and sail // and pilot over its sandless highways // and to hear // it’s call and murmurs wherever we may be.” This verse talks of the sea’s “sandless highways”, rowing and sailing. The sea is the only road available to the island people, boats and rafts are their vehicles, but in “Island Man” it says “to surge of wheels” and ‘to dul north circular roar”, which is very different to life on an island. “And to hear // it’s call and murmurs wherever we may be.” This is very much true for “Island Man”, because he hears the sea of the island in his head, in London, and everywhere. It shows how attracted some are to the sea, especially after living near it.
The last verse of “The Fringe of the Sea” is much more inclusive than “we”. “All who have lived upon small islands // want to sleep and awaken // close to the fringe of the sea.” The inhabitants of small islands, it says, are very attracted to the sea, but also so is anyone who has ever lived in such a place. They would hate to leave it, for any place, but some may have to, be it because of illness, work or anything, like Island Man. He left his island, and now seems to regret it and dreams of it every day.
After analyzing each poem, I have decided that I do not prefer either of the poems: I my opinion both are equally good. The last two verses of “The Fringe of the Sea” bring to mind a picture or a black beach in Hawaii, because if I ever lived there, I am sure I wouldn’t ever want to leave. “Island Man”, in my opinion, was more enjoyable to read, and very well written. It brings to mind a part of Meditaion XVII by John Donne, The Island. Island Man cannot exist on his own, cut off from the rest of society, and that may be why he moved to London, and although the wants to return to his solitary island, he does not, possibly for the same reason.