Robert Harrison 11S
GCSE English Literature Coursework Poems from different cultures
In this essay I am going to look at and compare two poems called Half-Caste by John Agard and Search for My Tongue by Sujata Bhatt. Half-Caste is about being mixed race as Agard’s mother was white but his father was black and he came to England from the Caribbean. The word 'half-caste', can be used to describe people of mixed race but is considered rude and insulting.
Search for My Tongue is about Bhatt who was born in India and spoke Gujarati as their first language but then moved to the U.S. and learnt English and describes what it is like to speak and think in both languages.
Both Poems use a mixture of English and their own language which in the case of Half-Caste is Agard’s West Indian Dialect and in Search for My Tongue is Bhatt’s native language Gujarati.
In ‘Search for my tongue’ there are two meanings as a tongue is not only the part of your mouth, but also it can mean a language, so your mother tongue is your first language. The poem seems to be about Bhatt feeling that she is losing her first language and she is trying to find it again. Whereas in ‘Half-caste’ Agard is writing about how other people view people of mixed race and is asking them questions by saying ‘explain yuself’, which is repeated throughout the poem and it almost seems that he is having an argument with someone.
This is a preview of the whole essay
‘Search for my tongue’ begins with Bhatt telling the reader what it is like to have ‘two tongues in your mouth’, which is a metaphor meaning she knows two languages. Bhatt is saying that one language doesn’t know the other and she has to thinks differently in each language, she says ‘You could not use them both together’, so perhaps she feels like the languages are so different to each other that she has to use either one or the other and that she’s a different person when she uses the other language. It seems she is getting the reader to imagine what it is like to be forced to learn a foreign language and to fear losing your mother tongue as she asks questions such as ‘what would you do’ and ‘if you lived in a place’.
In ‘Half caste’Agard starts the poem with a joke about standing on one leg because he is half-caste and goes on by making fun of people who use the word 'half-caste' and asks do they think that ‘when picasso mix red an green is a half-caste canvas’ which is like saying Picasso wasn’t a good painter because he mixed colours in his paintings. Agard then goes on to say just because the English weather may be a mix of half light and half shade doesn’t mean it is ‘half –caste weather’ or because Tchaikovsky
played both the black and white keys of the piano he made a ‘half-caste symphony’. Agard seems to be saying that just because he is half-caste it doesn’t make him half a person and is challenging people who think that people who are mixed race are not as good as them.
Whereas Bhatt has used metaphors in her poem such as the language being a tongue and her tongue being a plant or a flower, to show the reader what it is like to speak two languages, Agard has used comparisons such as the weather and famous artists to make the reader see that it is stupid to judge people by their colour.
When Bhatt says she ‘had to speak a foreign tongue’ she is talking about having to learn English otherwise people wouldn’t understand her, she seems angry about it as if she was forced to learn it and worries that her ‘mother tongue would rot’. She talks about her mother tongue going rotten that she ‘had to spit it out’ and she thought that she was losing her first language but then goes on to say that she still dreams in her mother tongue and this part of the poem is written in Gujarati. Whilst she dreams in her mother tongue she talks about it growing as if it were a flower. She uses metaphors to describe it growing back such as ‘a stump of a shoot’ and ‘the bud opens in my mouth’ and describes how ‘it pushes the other tongue aside’. Here Bhatt is describing an image of how as she is dreaming her mother tongue gets stronger and grows and becomes her first language again,
In ‘Half caste’ Agard uses words such as 'Explain yuself’ and ‘half’ that are repeated a few times throughout the poem which seems like he is challenging or arguing with people who view people who are mixed race as half-castes. The poem isn’t angry though and is full of humour as he is making fun of people who are racist and have half a mind or half an eye or ear. He is saying here that such people should see and listen to what he is saying and to open their minds and listen to what he is saying by telling the ‘other half of my story’.
The mix of both English and his Caribbean dialect works really well in the poem and he uses ‘yu’ instead of you or your and ‘dem’ instead of them. This is like he is using a mix of words as he is mixed race and he sees himself as both English and Caribbean. In the same way in ‘Search for my tongue’ Bhatt uses both languages in the poem as a way of showing the reader what it is like to speak, think and dream in two different languages.
To conclude I feel that the poems are similar in many ways as they both use a mix of the poets own language and English but the express the writers feelings in different ways as Agard is challenging other peoples views about people who are mixed race whereas Bhatt is writing about her own experiences of having to speak two languages.