For many poets, English is a second language. Many poets feel trapped between two cultures. Choose 3 poems we have studied which show this.
The collection of three poems I have chosen to use give an in-depth incite into the fears and feelings that an outsider goes through after settling in to a new country. The cultural differences between the poet’s home countries and their new home country become very clear and this major life change is mainly what fuels their discontent. All three of the poems give the impression that the poet is unattached and that they feel as if they are not a member of any nation. All these problems are shown in the three poems and by the end of each poem the reader almost feels as if they have some role to play in this person feeling so alone.
The first of the three poems is called, “Search for my tongue,” and it is about the poet searching herself for her mother tongue. The poem starts with a sense of bereavement as the poet mourns the loss of her mother tongue. The first few lines give the sense that the poet is proud of her roots and that her mother tongue is one of the only things left that attaches her to her home country. Her feelings towards her roots are strong and in the last few lines of the play we see how deep her roots go. The poem describes how her new language has starved her old one and how she strives to be able to speak as fluently as before. She seems to almost feel hate towards the new language that has starved her much loved mother tongue. She uses blunt sensual expressions to describe her emotional turmoil which shows how much her mother tongue means to her. “Mother tongue would rot. Rot and die in your mouth, until you had to spit it out.”
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The whole mood of the poem changes during the line, “I thought I spit out but over night while I dream, it grows back,” The but is pivotal in this line as it swings the mood of the poem around completely. The return of the mother tongue is signified by the six lines of translated Arab compete with phonetic expressions for the reader’s benefit. After this section of Arab text the poem suddenly springs into life. The sudden reappearance of the mother tongue is described using spring imagery. This may be used to signify the blossoming of her mother tongue after being dormant through the dark ‘winter’. This new soft and gentile description of her feelings is a lot different from the dark, harsh description that was existent at the start of the poem. This shows that when she has her mother tongue at her disposal she feels more relaxed and a lot happier with her new surroundings. The mother tongue gives her a feeling of a greater identity and a little bit of her past culture may help soften her evident homesickness.
“Half Caste,” is a poem which takes on the term ‘Half Cast’ and the feelings that go through the mind of an half cast person. There is a great feeling of entrapment as the reader reads this poem as the poet comes across as being slightly aggressive and he uses the word, ‘You’ which automatically accuses the reader not a selected minority. This direct approach shows that this person is angry at the entire nation and that their frustration is down to the British people labelling people ‘half caste’. He uses phonetic language throughout the poem and that it's like he's teasing people who think he's "only" half-caste. He uses comedy but at the same time he is teasing the reader as he is making people think again about how half caste doesn’t mean half minded.
At the start of the poem he says, “Excuse me standing on one leg, im half caste,” This quote is written to be slightly ironic as throughout the rest of the poem he questions the discrimination against half-caste people. It also seems to be the poets English ‘half’ as in the next paragraph the text changes and it becomes clear that this is his Caribbean ‘half’. The way in which this poem is written shows the personality split that the poet must feel. Sometimes he may feel proud to be English and another day he may be ashamed to be Caribbean and vice versa. Throughout the poem the phrase, “explain yuself,” is repeated many times and it shows that he is disgraced by the actions of the reader and that he wants some reason to why he is subject to being tossed into a separate group to the average Englishman. He shows that a commonly used word like ‘Half Caste’ can be hurtful to someone of a mixed race.
The poet is similar to the poet in the first poem because they both feel detached from their backgrounds and they both have come from different countries. “Search for my tongue,” and ,”Half Caste,” both deal with different problems when migrating to a new country. “Search for my tongue,” deals with the torment of losing touch with your past language and culture. “ Half Caste,” deals with the discrimination against foreigners which is mostly spoken by people who don’t believe they have said anything wrong. This unawareness to the hurt such a widely excepted phrase like ‘Half Caste’ can cause someone needs to be improved and “Half Caste,” highlights this.
The third poem, “Presents from my aunts in Pakistan.” is similar to the other two as the poet feel alienated from her past home and her present home. The quote, “I was alien in the living room.” The poet’s unease opening her presents shows that she feels she doesn’t belong to that culture anymore. The fact that she is half English makes her feel that she isn’t Pakistani enough to be able to were these clothes. The fact that she is half cast makes her feel detached from both her current and her past cultures. She is stuck in the middle of two worlds, much like John Agard in the poem, “Half cast”.
As the poem goes on the poet searches her memory for any hints towards her past. Her memories of Pakistan to her are properly one of the most important things she has as they confirm her identity. Her Aunts gifts bring out a reaction in her friend which shows the large cultural differences between the two countries. The quote, “Didn’t impress the school friend who sat on my bed, asked to see my weekend clothes,” shows that to the English friend her Pakistani clothes were boring and she asked to see her casual wear instead of admiring the dazzling colour. In Pakistan these clothes would be rated very highly amongst teenagers and this huge difference in opinions give her a option, to be a English girl or a Pakistani girl. This indecision shows how she is stuck between two cultures. The poem says that she "longs" for denim and corduroy indicating her English side, but she also wants her parent's Pakistani camel skin lamp. When the lamp is switched on, it shows a wonderful array of colours, but when it's off it becomes dull. Maybe this represents the colourfulness of the Pakistani culture in comparison with the colourless English culture.
In conclusion these three poems give the reader a different view of people who are half-caste or who have emigrated to a different country. They show the torment of not being fully attached to a certain culture and also the strain of adapting to a new language and a new culture. The poets of these three poems help the reader consider issues that they would have never thought about before for example the offence of being called ‘Half-Caste’.