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Poem analysis (2)


Task

Analyse how the speaker’s views are presented. Focus on structure, use of language and poetic devices.

Solution

The speaker of the poem lays down his thoughts as a firm, dedicated vision: He 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. 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, especially 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 to 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.

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