Comprehension/Analysis/Evaluation "Remember the ship" by J. Agard
- Outline the speaker’s view of himself and his fellow human beings. (Comprehension) (16 Punkte)
- Analyse how the speaker’s views are presented. Focus on structure, use of language and poetic devices. (Analysis) (24 Punkte)
- Choose one of the following tasks:
3.1 Discuss what has become of the speaker’s appeals in 21st-century Britain. Refer to work done in class. (Evaluation: comment) (20 Punkte)
3.2 A youth conference in London dealing with migration in the 21st century has chosen “Europe’s new voyage begins” as its motto, alluding to Agard’s poem (ll. 50 – 51). You as an exchange student are invited to give a debate statement discussing the topic. Refer to ideas of the poem and work done in class to write your statement. (Evaluation: re-creation of text) (20 Punkte)
The poem “Remember the Ship” by John Agard calls out to all the citizens of Europe – and quite possibly, the world as well – to heed the lessons of the past and work towards a future free of racism and narrow-mindedness. The speaker describes himself as both an individual who is part of a larger family through his mother tongue, as well as belonging to this family in such a way that it shapes his identity. When he talks about himself, his primary language becomes a form of personal identification. Beyond this, he views himself only as part of a group, yet one that is increasingly growing together. He does not view questions of race central to his own identity, but rather to the identity of the society he lives in. This society is on the verge of a new millennium and, according to the speaker, is being given a unique chance to heal – a chance to rise above old notions of race and a fixed social order, and to turn the page on a new chapter of human existence. In taking his fellow human beings into account, he does allow for the idea that some might still have racist tendencies, but he is hopeful that, ultimately, the human race, in reflecting on its challenges and recognizing past tragedies, can move on toward a brighter future. In his words, diversity inherits strength and a purpose of almost biblical proportions, so that no one can stand in its way.
The speaker of the poem lays down his thoughts as a firm, dedicated vision. He does not mince words in his strong appeal, and instead of the irony we are so used to in both our everyday encounters and artistic expressions of today, he chooses an urgent, proud voice that neither negates its heritage nor backs away from dreams of a much brighter future.
To support his poetic call to action, the author, John Agard, makes use of a seemingly simple structure. The 15 stanzas of the poem are so short that some of them hardly qualify as such; namely the last one, which only consists of two words, and is rather an afterthought. The writer has a tendency to favor three lines per stanza, but he deviates from this structure repeatedly, both with shorter and longer stanzas. The longer a passage, the more likely it is to include metaphorical language and thoughts that summarize important topics of the poem. An example of this is the metaphor of the “ship on two legs” (l. 27), which, apparently, is also a personification. Whenever the poetic imagery of the text increases in denseness, its urgent appeal for mankind to change intensifies as well. Another example of this is the personified sun, which “unloads its light” (l. 32), followed by the metaphorical “ship of night” (ll. 33f.), two phrases which evoke a joyful vision of a future where togetherness and a shared purpose trump divisive rhetoric.
The poem is built around the central metaphor of the “ship” that the speaker ascribes to the more commonplace “citizenship”. Said “citizenship” appears almost as a symbol here, and encompasses all of society, or rather an idealized version of it. Both terms appear frequently – e.g. in lines 4, 5, 23, 24, etc. – in general, repetition is a device that Agard reverts back to again and again. He uses language in circular patterns, drawing the reader in and stressing his topic to the point where the whole text almost appears like a song that repeats its chorus, and really all of its parts. He further accentuates this technique by making liberal use of enjambements. This populist, albeit popular approach can also be seen in the way the author makes use of a simple vocabulary throughout the poem. The very few times his creation veers towards anachronistic expression – such as with the negated flagellation in line 20 – the speaker is apt to explain the meaning of said word: “with a whip of the past” (l. 21).
Therefore, through this heavy use of repetition, metaphor, and personification, the speaker constantly comments on his own intentions and the poem he is “creating” – for instance, not only in repeating “remember the ship” in lines 22-23, but by introducing the repetition with the rather obvious “but again” (l. 22). Following all these devices, which also include the personified “heart” in line 48 and the metaphorical “cargo of stars” in line 35, the ending of the poem is anticlimactic, yet gripping. “to begin” are the two words Agard chooses to make his train of thought round, and also end on an uplifting note. Invoking “Europe” (l. 50) as a metonymy, the speaker breaks through the boundaries of the poem and broadens its scope to, unexpectedly, specify not just speakers of the English language, but inhabitants of a continent that is by now torn between sealing off its borders and reaching out to welcome those in need, anywhere.
In light of recent, catastrophic events around the world, such as the Paris bombings of December 2015, the discussion at the core of the poem has only gotten more intense and embattled. Whereas the speaker draws on language, one might even argue linguistics, as a unifying factor for bringing people together as on a ship – where a crew of men has a common goal – there seems to be rather little that the citizens of France, Germany, or England can agree on with regard to the ongoing refugee crisis. Britain is in the process of closing off its borders after seeing crime increase, due to both violent immigrants as well as right-wing nationalists. At the core of the debate, the author wants to whittle down to a simple battle of people with a broad horizon and an open heart versus racists; there is now a plethora of uncomfortable topics, and every day brings a changing news cycle. Agard writes that we should know “no boundary of skin” (ll. 46f.), but we increasingly talk about cultural differences, even moderates who may otherwise have a broad interest in the affairs of the world. The appeal of an open-border policy and a Europe that welcomes refugees into its warm embrace surely is obvious to anyone with an emphatic disposition. Nevertheless, when the citizens of said Europe are increasingly afraid of terrorist attacks, of new neighbours who do not agree with our basest notions of gender equality, or simply of being overrun, then the speaker’s appeals might still be an ideal – but as it is so often, one that is lost amid the everyday patterns of explosive political discussion.
And it cannot end!
Embattled and enraged in the face of terrorism and the fears a power-hungry media stokes and ignites every day, Europe’s identity now seems on the verge of collapsing. Our wonderful conference suggests imagining a future in which a voyage begins. However, for most immigrants coming to this easily glorified continent – lands whose heritage includes Homer’s prose, Rome’s grandeur, and the ingenuity of individuals as diverse as Einstein, Shakespeare, or Leonardo da Vinci – another voyage has just ended. They arrive from Syria, from Iraq, even from Turkey. They are of diverse backgrounds, often without a clear idea of the forces at play in world politics due to a lack of education in their homeland. And when they arrive, Kurds and Shiites and Sunnis are thrown together, facing one another, and often a hostile people as well, after a long and life-threatening “voyage”. This very word implies a beginning, even an adventure. And it might very well become one. Yet, for the refugees of terrible regimes, the concept of “home” holds so much more sway than an imaginary future where all is suddenly forgotten, and the ship is righted.
The poem that our conference’s motto alludes to is full of hope and vision. It imagines a Europe that embraces the promise of a multi-cultural world, one where the peoples of Europe and its many immigrants come together and find a common ground beyond cultural, religious, and even deeply personal animosity and ambiguity. Such a vision is grand, perhaps sweeping. Yet it is a very wrong focus for our troubling times. Instead, what Europe needs now is, indeed, a vision, but one that is more closely attuned to the realities at hand. The new voyage? It is one where we try to overcome our vast cultural differences. One in which we neither fail to address spiking crime rates because of fear of an anti-immigrant backlash, nor resort to silence when the mobs of “Old Europe” cry havoc and wish to seal their borders once and for all. There has got to be a middle ground between simply welcoming any man who arrives under the refugee banner, and possibly showing the cold shoulder to future individuals in dire need of help.Like all difficult political realities, this begins with a debate. It starts with politicians and ordinary citizens fighting over the right direction of their countries. It envisions how many new immigrants we can take on, and how a migrant crisis might also lead to promise and a renewed sense of purpose within countries that successfully integrate refugees. This debate is the one we need to focus on – and not a naïve call, a show of tolerance where clear minds are needed.
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