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Edward Kamau Brathwaite: Limbo

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Edward Kamau Brathwaite: Limbo This poem tells the story of slavery in a rhyming, rhythmic dance. It is ambitious and complex. There are two narratives running in parallel: * the actions of the dance, and * The history of a people which is being enacted. Going down and under the limbo stick is likened to the slaves' going down into the hold of the ship, which carries them into slavery. In Roman Catholic tradition, limbo is a place to which the souls of people go, if they are not good enough for Heaven or bad enough for Hell. More exactly, according to the Catholic Encyclopaedia, it is "...the permanent place or state of those unbaptized children and others who, dying without grievous personal sin, are excluded from the beatific vision on account of original sin alone." The Italian poet Dante, imagines Limbo to be in the first circle of Hell, and to contain the souls of both unbaptized infants and virtuous pagans. It has come to mean any unpleasant place, or a state (of mind or body) from which it is difficult to escape. The story of slavery told in the poem is very easy to follow, yet full of vivid detail and lively action. The poem has a very strong beat, suggesting the dance it describes: where the word limbo appears as a complete line, it should be spoken slowly, the first syllable extended and both syllables stressed: L�m-b�. While the italics give the refrain (or chorus) which reminds us of the dance, the rest of the poem tells the story enacted in the dance: these lines are beautifully rhythmic, and almost every syllable is stressed, until the very last line, where the rhythm is broken, suggesting the completion of the dance, and the end of the narrative. This poem is suited to dramatic performance - there is the dancing under the limbo pole (difficult for most Europeans) ...read more.


The religious metaphor is repeated, as the bursting of the pipe becomes a "rush of fortune", and the people who come to claim the water is described as a "congregation" (people gathering for worship). The water is a source of other metaphors - fortune is seen as a "rush" (like water rushing out of the burst pipe), and the sound of the flow is matched by that of the people who seek it - their tongues are a "roar", like the gushing water. Most tellingly of all, water is likened to "silver" which "crashes to the ground". In India (where Ms. Dharker lives), in Pakistan (from where she comes) and in other Asian countries, it is common for wealthy people to throw silver coins to the ground, for the poor to pick up. The water from the burst pipe is like this - a short-lived "blessing for a few". But there is no regular supply of "silver". And finally, the light from the sun is seen as "liquid" - yet the sun aggravates the problems of drought. The poem is written in unrhymed lines, mostly brief, some of which run on, while others are end-stopped, creating an effect of natural speech. The poet writes lists for the people ("man woman/child") and the vessels they bring (". ..with pots/brass, copper, aluminium,/plastic buckets"). The poem appeals to the reader's senses, with references to the dripping noise of water (as if the hearer is waiting for there to be enough to drink) and the flashing sunlight. We have a clear sense of the writer's world - in her culture water is valued, as life depends upon the supply: in the west, we take it for granted. This is a culture in which belief in "a kindly god" is seen as natural, but the poet does not express this in terms of any established religion (note the lower-case "g" on "god"). ...read more.


* How do the people try to make sense of the scorpion's attack, or even see it as a good thing? * Are scorpions really evil? Does the poet share the peasants' view of a "diabolic" animal? * How does the attack bring out different qualities in the father and the mother? * What does the poem teach us about the beliefs of people in the poet's home culture? * In what way is this poem rather than a short story broken into lines? * How does the poet make use of what people said, to bring the poem to life? Chinua Achebe: Vultures This is one of the most challenging poems in the anthology. The vultures of the title are real birds of prey but (like William Blake's Tyger) more important, perhaps, for what they represent - people of a certain kind. Chinua Achebe is a Nigerian writer, but has a traditional English-speaking liberal education: the poem is written in a highly literate manner with a close eye for detail. The poem introduces us to the vultures and their unpleasant diet; in spite of this, they appear to care for each other. From this Achebe goes on to note how even the worst of human beings show some touches of humanity - the concentration camp commandant, having spent the day burning human corpses, buys chocolate for his "tender offspring" (child or children). This leads to an ambiguous conclusion: * on the one hand, Achebe tells us to "praise bounteous providence" that even the worst of creatures has a little goodness, "a tiny glow-worm tenderness"; * On the other hand, he concludes in despair, it is the little bit of "kindred love" (love of one's own kind or relations) which permits the "perpetuity of evil" (allows it to survive, because the evil person can think himself to be not completely depraved). We are reminded, perhaps, by the words about the "Commandant at Belsen", that Adolf Hitler was said to love children and animals. ...read more.

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