This free verse poem in 5 irregular verses (not stanzas, because
stanzas use rhyme) deals with the poet’s memories of his
long dead, Gaelic speaking Aunt Julia. Gaelic is the Scots language.
It is not commonly spoken now, so the fact that she speaks it,
(and, I get the feeling, speaks it exclusively) already marks
her out as different. I sense a feeling of helplessness in the
poet who “could not answer her…could
not understand her.” Despite this, the succeeding
verses demonstrate a growing understanding and admiration of
this eccentric woman which overcomes the language barrier.
This sense of differentness or eccentricity is reinforced in
the second verse in which she is presented wearing men’s
boots when not showing her peat stained bare feet. A tremendous
sense of power is conveyed in this verse, in her “strong”
foot in its manly footwear. At the same time, she is admirable;
“her right hand drew yarn/marvellously
out of the air.”
In the third verse we are presented with the poet’s sense
of wonderment that he feels utterly safe and secure despite the
darkness and the primitive accommodation: “hers
was the only house…”
contrasts strongly and surprisingly with the crickets “being
Verse 4 lists the things with which he associates her in a
series of metaphors. At least 3 of these, the water, the wind
and the eggs, are strongly connected with nature. The other
descriptions are more homely and relate to her clothing and
habits of economy. (This last is not a metaphor). For the poet,
Aunt Julia seems to combine the strength of nature and the security
The final verse of the poem begins by repeating the opening.
It is almost as if we are back, with the poet, to the beginning
of their relationship before understanding developed. He laments
the fact the she died before he could speak any of her language,
yet her death is presented in quite comforting terms; the “absolute
black” of her grave replicates the “absolute
darkness” of the box bed in which he felt so safe.
Furthermore, the fact that he still hears her in the “seagull’s
voice” is comforting; even in death she is communicating
in a foreign language, still intimately connected with the forces
of nature. I almost feel that Aunt Julia IS a force of nature,
to the poet.
Grammatically speaking it is Aunt Julia who is “getting
angry, getting angry” because of the lack of communication
at the end of the poem. Maybe she was frustrated by his lack
of her language. Maybe this is also a transferred epithet type
thing, and he is also getting angry at the unanswered questions.
I do get the feeling, though, that what she WAS, ultimately
was enough for him.
I like this poem. Didn’t think I was going to.
I like this one, too. Am I mellowing in my old age, or are
the new poems better?
This is a free verse poem in 6 irregular verses. It shifts
between tenses, using the present tense in the 1st 2 verses
for a relived memory, past tense in verse 3 for a recollected
memory and present tense in verses 4,5 & 6 for the here
and now of the poem. It’s very visual throughout.
The 1st verse brings us into a very warm, shared moment of
intimacy between father and son. The picture of them silently
“looking at the harbour lights
listening to the surf
and the creak of coconut boughs”
The 2nd verse shows us the admiration the poet has for his
father’s methodology and empiricism (by which I mean the
fact that he is governed by fact and evidence). There is some
entertaining irony in the fact that the exclamation mark indicates
that the poet feels passionately about his father’s lack
of passion (if you see what I mean). I also like the harvest
metaphor that the poet uses; winnowing means sifting grain from
chaff (waste). I enjoy the way that the poet has described the
quest for a very hard, factual truth by using a beautiful figure
of speech, by definition NOT literally true. (Maybe I’m
This admiration of his father’s methodology extends into
verse 3 as the poet recalls an episode from his childhood. The
father seems to have got forensic ideas pre CSI. Reason seems
to be supreme in this verse, with the father’s experiment
showing “where the murderer
must have stood”. The admiration
is still there, but the 2nd half of the verse reveals the price
the child pays for the father’s search for truth. This
fear is not reasonable, but very real to the child.
Now we move into the present tense, the here and now of the
poem. Reason, which seemed so invincible, is defeated by nature:
“All the arguing in the world
will not stay the moon.”
The idea of the personified moon’s far flung geographical
journey seems to me to unite the world in time and space. It
brings a sense of continuity and cohesiveness to the poem. The
biographical note at the top of the page tells us that the poet
has a mix of ethnic roots. The moon brings all this together,
uniting contrasts, as she turns “away
/ from land to the open sea.” Simpson confirms
“nothing in nature changes, from that day
And the light that used to shine
At night in my father’s study
Now shines as late in mine.”
The poet is aware that he is his father’s son, continuing
a tradition, united under the moon. As Wordsworth would have
it, “The child is father to
After the Deluge
The title refers to a saying by Louis XV of France “Apres
moi le deluge”, intimating that he was all that
was holding back chaos. He enjoyed an extravagant and decadent
life style and it was in the reign of the Louis after him, Louis
XVl, that the French Revolution brought the chaos earlier predicted.
In this poem an un-named dictator, perhaps un-named because
he is representative of a type, is shown living a similarly
extravagant lifestyle which provokes a political “deluge”.
In this poem, however, we see what happens to the dictator in
consequence of the catastrophe he precipitated – “after
the deluge”. This deluge is a flood, but not of
water; this flood is of the disorder that washed away money
Whoever this dictator is, he enjoyed a lifestyle of obscenely
conspicuous consumption, as described in the first stanza. The
careless, defiant waste of resources here described should be
set against what is known of the poverty of Nigeria and the
Nigerian people. Despite the straightforward narration of the
facts, the poet communicates a sense of disgust at this excess.
Stanza two introduces us to the financial and political corruption
of this dictator and there is a certain ambivalence here; whilst
admiring the skill with which he manipulates money, conveying
this admiration through an acrobatic metaphor –
“Leap from Tokyo to Buenos
Turn somersaults through Brussels”
- the poet can clearly see the damaging global political consequences
of theses actions:
“It cracked the bullion market open wide.
Governments fell, coalitions cracked
Insurrection raised its bloody flag
From North to South.”
Note the emphatic alliteration in “coalitions
cracked” and the personification of insurrection.
Despite all of his wealth, even in his glory days there is
a sense that he is a prisoner in a cage of his own making; Stanza
three suggests that he is trapped, isolated, held at a distance
from his native land with which he does not engage firsthand
but through technology:
“He knew his native land through iron
His sight was radar bowls, his hearing
Electronic beams. For flesh and blood,
Kept company with a brace of Dobermans.”
There is almost a sense of pity here for the man who has sacrificed
real human contact for money and power. Almost.
The reference to the widow’s mite is biblical; Jesus
watched rich people coming to the temple and making a huge show
of giving their alms. Then he saw a poor widow come and furtively
give a tiny coin, as if she were ashamed of how small the amount
was. Jesus said that, because she had virtually nothing, what
she had given was far more valuable than the larger amounts
the rich had given out of their excess. You’ll find the
story in Luke 21: 1-4. (It might remind you of that bit in Pygmalion
when Higgins and Pickering discuss what Eliza’s suggested
fee is really worth.).
Anyhow, the reference is a bit problematic; he’s hardly
giving his all, as she did. I think the suggestion is that he
only gives a small amount, a mite, like she did, despite the
huge resources he has available to him. He certainly makes a
big deal of what he gives. Note the oxymoronic nature of “discreetly
In stanza four we find out what happens to him “after
the deluge” and learn that “He
escaped the lynch days. He survives.”
The contrast between the extravagance of stanza 1 and the
bare survival of stanza four is telling. In the poet’s
dream the dictator is forced to engage with the reality he had
previously kept at bay-
“I dreamt I saw him on a village
Water line, a parched land where
Water is a god
That doles its favours by the drop
And waiting is a way of life.”
Even so, maybe believing that there is a way back to his affluence,
the dictator refuses to give up-
“Rebellion gleamed yet faintly in his
Traversing chrome-and-platinum retreats”
-despite his obvious irrelevance-
“Hubs of commerce smoothly turn without
His bidding, and cities where he lately roosted
Have forgotten him, the preying bird
The metaphor here is of a bird of prey. The point being made
is that, despite his earlier pretensions, he is ephemeral, of
no lasting significance. It’s a bit like Ozymandias
by Shelley. Look it up. Really, do!
The closing stanza, stanza five, suggests that his continued
existence is more of a punishment than a mercy:
“They let him live, but not from pity
Or human sufferance. He scratches life
From earth, no worse a mortal than the rest.”
That phrase, “no worse…”
is interesting; is the poet suggesting that everyone would behave
as the dictator did, given the opportunity?
Back in the dictator’s past life, of which he can only
now dream, his luxurious home is colonised by the forces of
nature and decay. This is SO much like Ozymandias,
and you’re not going to look it up, are you, so…
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal these words appear:
'My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my works. Ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
I don’t much like this but I shall try to be positive
This poem is about women washing clothes in the river and how
much this activity has become a part of the fabric of their
In the first stanza the river is personified and given a sense
“the river beats itself
against the stones
And washes them”
It is as though the river chooses this behaviour, identifying
itself with the washerwomen. The picture painted uses both aural
and visual detail: “clouds of
frothy spray” and “the
thousand tones / Of an orchestra”, bringing a sense
of immediacy to the writing. The alliterative f sounds in “Or
foaming fumbles” intensify the stress on those
words, enhancing the rhythmic pattern being created in these
early lines. Try reading it out loud to see if you can hear
what I mean; I think the rhythm being created is of the stones
being washed by the water, as the clothes are washed by the
Like the river, the women are also washing. Their humming equates
to the orchestral sounds of the river; we can see a strong sense
of identification between the river and the women. As the women
wash, “families of bubbles”
are created and destroyed. These are a metaphor for the community
of which the women are a part; their transience reflects the
ephemeral nature of life:
“To be destroyed
Like all the baffled hopes that had their little suns
Tossed on the furious drifts of disappointments.”
Yet their tenacity in the face of the powerful waters represents
the indomitability of the human spirit:
“But all the tide
Cradles these clinging bubbles ever still, alike
The friendly little hopes that never leave the heart.”
Stanza two, a much shorter stanza, makes much use of assonance
and onomatopoeia. All of those “s” and “sh”
sound echo the whooshing of the river, again creating a sense
of immediacy and presence. The washing rhythm is re-established,
so that though the “slender
shoulders” of the women contrast with the “big
hall of rushing waters”, we nevertheless have the
sense that they are part of a whole. The rhyming of “shoulders”
adds to this impression, as women and nature are connected.
The women seem powerless, with their “slender”
shoulders and their “rags”,
but still they are “stubborn”
and their heaving is “steady”.
I feel that the poet admires their determination and persistence.
The women seem to be plugging themselves in to the power of
nature (I may be going a bit nuts at this point) as
“They keep a sort of time/With
their thoughts.” These thoughts are described as
being in tune with the river:
“These were unchanging
Like the persistent music here
Of swirling waters.”
Furthermore, the activity of washing is linked to the activity
“The crash of wet clothes beaten on the
The sound of wind in leaves,
Or frog croaks after dusk, and the low moan
Of the big sea fighting to the river’s mouth.”
In the final stanza this sense of unity becomes rather oppressive
and despairing; we read that the women have “resigned
themselves to day long swishing”. Even the natural
world seems oppressed: “wet
cloth chafing the very stone”; the foliage is isolated:
“clumps of tall stems standing
alone,/Apart, like band leaders or sentinels”.
In this final stanza the imagery of music changes to that of
war; “band leaders”
are transformed into “sentinels”;
the “hum” of the
women becomes the hum of insects, likened in a simile to the
sound of war planes - “bombers
on a plotted course”.
Look at the repetition of the word “must”
in the phrase “They must
hear”. It suggests that the women have no options
in their lives, that the continuance of the status quo is inevitable.
The poem ends in negativity
“As dead ones flutter down like living things
Until the shadows come.”
Cheery little piece, isn’t it? But this is my personal
response. Maybe you like it; Convert me, please! I have a funny
feeling about this one, that it might show up on the higher
Wedding in the Flood
This free verse poem tells the story of a wedding in the flood
season, focussing on the small visual details as seen through
the eyes of the people involved although, as the pre release
intro suggests, "it is the monsoon
rain which is the real protagonist of this story".
The present tense is used throughout, giving a sense of immediacy.
The first voice we hear is that of the girls' mother, grieving
over the loss of her daughter and worrying about her prospects.
The reference to the "whine"
of the clarinet, playing what should be celebratory wedding
music, reflects the mother's "sobs".
The narratorial voice then takes over, filling in with exposition.
We see the specific cultural identity of the poem coming through
in the, at this stage, quaint reference to the Pakistani proverb
about rain being caused by girls who lick pots in the kitchen.
The nature of the dowry - "a
cot, a looking glass, a tin trunk"- is described,
at this stage in positive terms - "beautifully
painted in grey and blue".
Verse 2 is given over mainly to the voice of the bridegroom,
who is presented negatively through the use of the word "gloats"
and through his appearance based, mercenary, blaming attitude;
"If only her face matches her hands,
and she gives me no mother-in-law problems,
I'll forgive her the cot and the trunk
and looking glass. Will the rain never stop?
It was my luck to get a pot licking wench."
It is interesting to see that the references to the proverb
and the dowry are less positive in this verse; plainly this
is not the dowry the bridegroom wanted, and he takes the proverb
seriously rather that seeing it as quaint.
It is not until verse 3 that we hear from the bride. The main
sense used here is that of touch; she is in the dark, with wet
feet, feeling cold and scared. Her fear and insecurity is revealed
by her anxiety about the now choric reference to the cot, trunk
and looking glass, though her submerged but more major concern
is "What sort of a man is my
husband?" Because the structure of the poem has
already introduced us to him, in no complimentary fashion, we
are unable to anticipate a happy answer for her.
At this point the danger presented by the "swollen
river" is reintroduced via the slipping feet of
the palankeen bearers. A link seems to be being made between
the risks offered by the river and by the marriage.
In verse 4 we meet the bridegroom's father, and are immediately
able to see the source of the son's undesirable attitudes; the
father's mercenary and condemning approach is brought into focus
by reference, again, to the proverb and the dowry, which is
deemed of low value because the items are "all the things
that she will use!"
It is made clear that he had been expecting more personal
advantage, in the form of cattle. Once again we are reminded
of the danger of the journey, because "The
light is poor, and the paths treacherous," and of
the overwhelming river, which is associated with "fear".
The final verse belongs exclusively to the narratorial voice.
The mercenary element persists with the reference to the fact
that "a wedding party always
pays extra" and the dowry makes its final, by this
time devalued and trivialised appearance.
Metaphor, arguably personification, is used to describe both
the "angry" river and the ferry which "disgorges"
its load; I feel that the image of the ferry, at least, is more
that of a monster spewing out its victims, Charybdis like, than
of a person. Either way, both river and ferry cease to be inanimate
and gain definite identities. The ferryman is reminiscent of
Charon, who carried the dead over the river Styx to Hades.
The final 6 1/2 lines, if I am reading them correctly, seem
squalidly comic, in a "Carry On" film kind of way;
The reference to the clarinet filling with water can be seen
as a sexual image, particularly when juxtaposed with the line
"Oh what a consumation is here"
and the information that
"in an eddy, among the willows downstream,
The coy bride is truly wedded at last."
OK. Further discussion with Mr Sheehan and Mrs Partridge (who
are ganging up against me!) leads me to review my position on
this. I have been convinced that this is about death, the ultimate
consumation; Hamlet described death as "a
consumation / Devoutly to be wish'd" so there are
very respectable literary precedents. Further, the palankeen
can be seen as a coffin, carried as it is by "bearers".
In this reading, then, the whole wedding party dies as a result
of the flood. The sexual imagery is still there - sex and death
have always been linked in literature - but it is representative
of death rather than being an end in itself.
Mr Sheehan argues that Taufiq Rafat sees the flood as sweeping
away the old way of doing things, such as the arranged marriage
described here, to make way for the new.
Maybe I'm responding to this poem in too much of a European
feminist way, but I feel that the poet is presenting the attitudes
expressed by the male characters in it as patriarchal and chauvinist.
The sequence of events described is comic but the overall feel
of the poem, especially in terms of the potential of happiness
for the bride, strikes me as negative and hopeless.
I, too, sing America
This poem is a dramatic monologue in response to Walt Whitman’s
poem “I Hear America Singing”
I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear;
Those of mechanics--each one singing his, as it should be, blithe
The carpenter singing his, as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his, as he makes ready for work, or leaves
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat--the deckhand
singing on the steamboat deck;
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench--the hatter singing
as he stands;
The wood-cutter's song--the ploughboy's, on his way in the morning,
or at the noon intermission, or at sundown;
The delicious singing of the mother--or of the young wife at
work--or of the girl sewing or washing--Each singing what belongs
to her, and to none else;
The day what belongs to the day--At night, the party of young
fellows, robust, friendly, Singing, with open mouths, their
strong melodious songs.
What Hughes is doing is to assert that the black community
– “the darker brother”-
is also a part of America and has something to contribute to
the song: “I too sing America.”
The word “brother”
is an assertion of equality of status, despite the inequality
of treatment described in stanza 1:
“They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,”
This is symbolic of the repression experienced by the coloured
As the stanza continues, Hughes demonstrates a refusal to be
put down and the confident preparation for and expectation of
a better future-
“But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.”
This confidence carries through into the second stanza, evidenced
both by the use of the future tense with no conditionality and
by the phrase “Nobody’ll
and “Then” sit
alone on the line, emphasising them.
This is not aggressiveness, though; stanza three reveals Hughes’
belief that the society in which he lives has the capacity to
undergo moral and attitudinal change:
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed-“
In the final line “I, too,
am America” the poet substitutes “am”
for “sing”. This
is a clear assertion of identity and belonging.
And this one is also good.
This is a free verse poem in 7 irregular verses. It addresses
the serious issue of cultural identity, and conflicting identities
(look at against Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan?)
but in a playful tone using anecdote, colloquialism and enjambment
to create informality. The anecdote is, presumably, of a real
experience. The poet uses this experience to introduce an illuminating
and entertaining confrontation between reality and metaphor
– tongue as organ and tongue as concept.
The poet has gone to the dentist and her tongue keeps getting
in the way of what he is trying to do. He tells her to learn
to keep her tongue still. The female poet finds this entertaining
since, as a Moslem woman who likes to speak her mind, she has
often been advised to do just this! Demure quietness is a requirement
for a Moslem woman in a patriarchal (male dominated) society.
In verse 3 he tells her to forget her tongue. Again, he means
the organ which is getting between him and the back tooth. Again,
she sees the metaphor; she has often forgotten her tongue and
let it run away with her, causing to her to say things considered
inappropriate to her cultural identity.
Verse 4 juxtaposes the comic image of the poet, mouth full
of dentistry, with the serious question of who, in fact, she
which of my many tongues
should I forget?
There are so many in here
and I fear they’re not all mine,
Here the different facets of her identity are presented as
tongues, the different languages or ways of speaking she uses
to engage with the world. She is beginning to feel confused
by the many aspects of herself. The use of the word “combat”
in verse 5 indicates that she is struggling to reconcile her
On the way home from her successful visit to the dentist she
has an epiphany (moment of realisation):
“There’s something to be said,
for giving in.”
Since relief came, dental wise, from relaxing and stilling
her tongue, maybe this could work on the other levels of her
life too. Perhaps life doesn’t always have to involve
“combat” and “trauma”.
This is a serious issue, but since it is presented in a comic
way, with the grotesque simile of her “smug
tongue…like a happy slug”, we are not allowed
to take it too seriously. In this poem the poet seems to toy
with serious issues, at the same time refusing to take them
or herself too seriously.
This free verse poem describes the poet's two encounters with
a beggar, on the way to and from town, and the emotions provoked
in him by those encounters. The vocabulary used to describe
the beggar on the first encounter projects a curious mixture
of aggression and vulnerability; his hand is "thrust"
out in a way which is "demanding"
and yet he is also "small",
his eyes are "receding into bone",
he is "shivering"
and "too thin". The
simile "small and crumpled as
a towel" powerfully evokes a sense of his powerlessness
and disposability. The simile "black
as biltong", with its reference to dried meat, suggests
the physical dessication and weakness of the beggar. The poet
notes that all of this combines, "denying
the truculence of the hand." It is as if these parts
of his body have different identities, as if the hand is acting
out of desperation, against its will or better judgement.
The poet refuses to give and is immediately assailed by a sense
of guilt which he would rather not feel and which he tries to
annoyed that I was annoyed,
and swatting off shame"
The metaphor of his shame as a persistent and irritating insect
On the way back from town the weather changes and so does the
attitude and behaviour of the poet. The vocabulary becomes positive
"a suddenly clear
of summer round the bend,
white sails in the Bay,
birds grown garrulous again."
in contrast with the earlier negativity of "grime",
The alliterative "s" words build towards the climactic
"sang of summer",
demanding the triumphant stressing of these words.
The poet is moved to look for the beggar who now is presented
as being like a piece of rubbish
from any of the other
drifts of debris in the lane."
Despite his belief that the beggar is "Drunk
again", the poet nevertheless gives him money. The
use of the word "penance"
suggests that this is as much to assuage his own conscience
as to benefit the beggar. The alliterative p sounds of
"paused, then pressed
my penance into his palm"
drive home the pressing action.
The simile "Quick as a trap",
with its snappy consonants, creates a sense of the speed of
the beggar's response. It becomes clear that the poet had misjudged
the beggar who is, in fact, "sober"
and now holds on tightly to the gift.
The poet, however, seems to feel no better about himself having
given; there is irony in the words "blessed
me for my kindness", as the poet is well aware that
this is not what motivated him. The words "the
bribe my guilt refused" show that his conscience
will not be bought off; he is trying to assuage his guilt for
passing by at first by giving the second time, but his inner
morality will not let him off the hook.
The final image of the beggar is as, again, a piece of debris,
something abandoned, "as though
a car had flung him there". The reference to the
"healing of the sun"
might be seen as suggesting that the free gifts of nature are
more gracious and valuable than the reluctant sops to conscience
given by such as the poet.