In this essay I am going to compare and contrast the way the poets convey their views of immigration.
‘Hurricane Hits England’ by Grace Nichols explores her feelings of loneliness and solitude until a storm reunites her with her Caribbean past. ‘Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan’ by Moniza Alvi shows how clothes represent her split-nationality.
At the start of ‘ Hurricane hits England’ the character feels some distance, or lack of connection with her new country. She doesn’t feel quite at home and the country is still alien to her.
The first stanza explores these feelings and feelings of fear during the storm, particularly in lines four and five. In line four Nichols uses the metaphor ” The howling ship of the wind,” showing that the storm is riding the raging wind which creates fear within her. Also in line five she expresses how the storm becomes stronger as it causes increasing devastation. Line six is where she first realises how it is linked to her past. She thinks the storm is “like some dark ancestral spectre,” which has come to remind her Caribbean past. The poet draws attention to the fact that it is It is like a ghost from her previous Caribbean life has come to visit her making her think about the storms she has experienced before. She explains these feelings as “fearful yet reassuring.” This is a paradox because both ideas contradict each other. The use of paradox deepens the message given from the sentence, thus showing that all her feelings about the storm are in conflict. On one hand she finds it liberating because she can set her feeling free. However on the other hand she finds the storm terrifying.
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The second stanza talks about the West African weather gods. She personifies making them sound personal to her, like a family friend. Particular phrases are repeated to create rhythmic pattern in the poem. The repeats help us visualise the power of the West African weather gods that are part of the hurricane. Phases are echoed to make it sound as if the woman is reciting a spell or a prayer to the Gods. She also calls the gods her sweeping back home cousins, using personification to talk to them making them mortal or personal to her.
The third stanza links to the second stanza; she asks why the West African gods visit her in England. She asks the question ” Tell me why you visit an English coast?” This is written in non-standard English, which reflects her Caribbean accent. Non-standard English is often used in Caribbean speech and writing and Nichols uses this to express how she used to live in Guyana. Nichols also asks another question, ” What is the meaning of old tongues reaping havoc in new places?’ This question asks why storms, which frequently visited her in Guyana have now visited her in England. At this point she also uses old language in the phrase ‘old tongues’ to represent the winds of the hurricane she remembers from her childhood. The poet’s uses of a metaphor can be seen with ‘ reaping havoc’. This intensifies the idea of great destruction and devastation caused by the storm.
The fourth stanza begins with the juxtaposition, ‘ The blinding illumination’. Two contrasting ideas have been placed next to each other to accentuate one or both of them. This describes the radiant lightning which cannot be seen because of its brightness. She asks why the ‘blinding illumination’ exists when the hurricane is causing ‘darkness’ by damaging electricity lines and power sources.
The fifth stanza contains lots of natural imagery, mainly to describe the winds effects on the countryside. For example, “trees falling heavy as whales” is used because it describes the huge trees, which fell like whales as a result of the rain and gale force winds. The phrase “crusted roots” describes how the roots from the trees were old and encrusted into the ground. The second phrase ” cratered graves,” describes how during and after the storm the trees were uprooted leaving a colossal crater in the ground where the roots were previously. These similes are used to ask why the storm has uprooted the roots. It is similarly a question to ask what has been uprooted in her life because of the storm.
After the fifth stanza there is a separate metaphor, “O why is my heart unchained?” This question is a personal question, which asks about the effect of the hurricane on her. The other questions ask about the effect of the hurricane on the land. This draws attention to the fact that the storm has let her feelings free but nothing else could. It is separated from the rest of the poem because it is a significant line in the poem. It is where she realises that she can feel at home in England as well as in Guyana. In stanza seven she becomes excited because she feels that she is ‘riding the mystery of your storm’ as if the power of the wind has become her power. There is also more repetition of lines here as in lines eight to ten. These emphasize the fact that she is going to listen to the storm and decipher the mystery of the storm.
In the final stanza she shows how the storm has affected her. She describes it as a ‘sweet mystery’. It was sweet because it unchained her feelings and it was a mystery because she didn’t know why it did. The metaphor “come and break the frozen lake within me,” refers to how the character was frozen by being away from her own country. However the arrival of the hurricane helped ‘break the ice’ and allow her to live more comfortably in her new home. The second metaphor “shaking the foundation of the very trees within me,” reinforces how the storm terrified her even though she had experienced many before. The last line ” the earth is the earth is the earth,” contains repetition to emphasise the message. She says that no matter where you are on the Earth, it is still the Earth and you can be comfortable no matter where you are. She concludes that that is how the storm makes her feel. She can now feel comfortable in her new country and can feel at home in this culture.
The poem is written in eight stanzas all of different length. The lines are also different lengths. This helps the reader understand how unstable the hurricane is and how unpredictable her thoughts are.
The first stanza of the poem is in the third person; this is where the woman introduces herself to the reader. After the first stanza the rest of the poem in written in first person. This is used to describe how the hurricane changes her emotions throughout the duration of the storm. The first line ‘It took a hurricane, to bring her closer to the landscape,’ summarises how the hurricane changes her feelings towards her new country. This may be a reason why the first stanza is written in third person, to make it detached from the rest of the poem.
Nichols uses a lot of natural imagery especially those relating to water and trees. She uses water descriptions because it is the water that separates her from her home country. She uses water to symbolise the distance between her and her home country, Guyana. Nichols has created a sympathetic tone for the poem by using destruction words often involving trees. She feels sorry for the trees which have been uprooted by the storm therefore creating sympathy. She asks, “Why you visit an English coast?” This shows that she is confused about why the storm came to visit her in her new country.
In the first stanza of ‘Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan’ the character describes the presents her Aunts gave her. The character doesn’t quite know what to think about the presents. She describes the Salwar Kameez using strong, bold colours like ‘Peacock-blue’. However for the second Salwar Kameez she uses the simile “glistening like and orange split open,” this makes it sound beautiful yet slightly fiery and dangerous. This is very similar to the way she describes the ‘candy-striped glass bangles’. The sound attractive red and white bangles but after ‘snapped, drew blood’ they sound hazardous.
In lines nine to eleven she describes how the Pakistani fashion has changed since she lived there. She says the Salwar bottoms were ‘broad and stiff’ which is different to what they were before. This shows how things have changed since she once lived there.
Next she uses assonance to accent the colour of the Salwar Kameez. The ‘apple-green’ sari bought for her ‘teens’.
In the second stanza she uses alliteration to describe the ‘ satin-silken’ top making it sound beautiful like the rest of the Pakistani clothes. The character says that the clothes look and make her feel ‘alien in the sitting room’ when the sitting room is usually the place where you feel most at home. This shows how she feels that she cannot fit in because she has no fixed nationality.
Alvi uses a simile in the sentence ‘I could never be as lovely as those clothes’. This creates the sense that she likes the clothes but she could never wear them because she would not fit in in England. In lines twenty to twenty one she explains how she ‘longed for denim and corduroy’ which is western clothing. Then in line twenty-two to twenty three she explains how she ‘was aflame’ in the Pakistani clothes. This emphasises the fact that she liked the Pakistani clothes but she could never wear them in public because she would stand out in the crowd more that she does already. She was too embarrassed to wear them in case people looked at her and noticed her half nationality. Next Alvi reminds the reader that she could never not be embarrassed by wearing the Pakistani clothes because she is of no fixed nationality ‘ unlike Aunt Jamilia’.
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In the beginning of stanza three she uses juxtaposition to describe the ‘camel-skin lamp’. The ‘cruelty and the transformation’ of the camel-skin lamp are to contrasting ideas therefore making it a juxtaposition. The lamp is beautiful yet cruel. Using the camel-skin lamp the poet attracts attention again to the half nationality of the reader. The clothes are the characters equivalent of the camel-skin lamp. They are beautiful clothes yet she cannot wear them because she can never fit in both in England and in Pakistan. ‘Marvel at the colours like stained glass’ shows how the colours on the clothes are those of marvel and beauty but the character can only look at them like stained glass.
In stanza four Alvi draws attention to the fact that her Pakistani mother loved her ornate, filigree jewellery, but when it was gone it was sorely missed. Her mother wanted her to cherish the clothes she had been given and look after them so that she will never forget her Pakistani past. Next, Alvi shows how the clothes were ‘radiant’ in her wardrobe even though she isn’t wearing them, they seem full of light and beauty compared with her other things. She is drawn to the rich colours, the same as she is drawn to her mother’s jewellery and her parents’ camel-skin lamp. The next lines represent how in return her Aunts wanted western clothing, like the clothes she really wants to help her be happier in England.
In stanza five the idea that she will never fit in in England if she wears her Pakistani clothes is reinforced. The Salwar Kameez ‘ didn’t impress her school friend’ because it was different to western clothing. Lines forty-four to forty six show how she secretly likes the clothes because she ‘often admires the mirror-work’ and she tries to glimpse herself in them.
Lines forty-seven to fifty four recall images from her past in Pakistan. The ‘glass circles’ remind her of the portholes on the boat which she travelled on to get to England. The use of assonance here with ‘prickly heat had me screaming on the way’ emphasises the discomfort and distress that she experienced on the way to England. The next few lines show how she was alone when she first arrived in England and how she is still alone now after year of living here.
In stanza six she pictures where she was born in Pakistan. She describes how Pakistan was a broken country, which was not fit for her to live in. She personifies the war and fractured land to say that it was ‘throbbing through newsprint’ showing that is was all over news headlines. Next, she imagines her Aunts wrapping her presents for her. Her descriptions make it sound like her Aunts live in confinement because of conflict. This is why she doesn’t go back and also because she will be at the bottom of the caste system.
In stanza seven she imagines herself living in Pakistan. Herself at the bottom of the caste system, working as a beggar or a sweeper-girl because she has ‘no fixed nationality’. The last sentence is an image of her ‘staring through fretwork’ looking at the ‘Shalimar Gardens’. However she is only staring at it from the other side of the fence because she thinks she will not be welcome there. She feels she cannot fit in anywhere.
The poem is written in free verse: the phrases are arranged loosely across the page. It is divided into stanzas of varying length. Alvi wrote it like this because it is more like the way people talk. There is not set pattern to the poem so Alvi broke up the lines to create emphasis. For example, “I longed Denim and corduroy” and “I tried to glimpse my self in the miniature glass circles.” It helps us picture what the girl is doing. The poem is a sequence of personal memories. ‘I’ is repeated a lot in the poem because the poem is all about how the character wants to fit in. When people are remembering things, their minds often drift from one image to another. The poem does the same and sometimes it surprises the reader by fixing on odd details – like the ‘tin boat’ (Line 54).
Alvi uses bold, strong colours to describe the Pakistani clothing but to describe the Western she uses no description at all. This is because the Pakistani clothing is made to stand out to represent her past and the English clothing is made to represent her wants.
I think Alvi wants the poem to be read in a grateful yet confused way. It should be read gratefully because the character is thankful for the beautiful clothes but she would rather English fashion items. However, it should be read in a confused way because the character cannot decide whether she is more Pakistani or more English.
Alvi uses a lot of descriptive words relevant to destruction. This is because she is broken herself and her home country is destroyed because of conflict. She also uses these words to describe the clothing. Such as ‘ drew blood’ and ‘split open’. This also represents how she feels because of her nationality.
Both poems show ideas of immigration and how they affect the immigrant. Both poets’ show their feeling after having emigrated to a country that was linked to their family or their home country. Nichols was originally from Guyana, which is a British colony; she already had links to England because of this. By the end of ‘Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan’ Alvi realises that everything is part of her families past, the Pakistani life and the future life in England. They both have links to England.
At the end of the poem Nichols realises that no matter where you are on the Earth, you are still who you are and you can be happy where ever you are on the Earth. This is why Nichols wants it to be read in a grateful way, because she is grateful that the storm made her think of her past and how it is linked to her future. However Alvi never realises that her past can be linked to her future. When she is sent the presents she is grateful for them but all she longs for is English fashion clothing to help her fit in better in England. She never gets them during the poem, therefore she never get a happy ending.
To sum up I would say that the poet feels weary about the subject. The poet wants us to understand how difficult it is to emigrate and how you can feel weary until something reassures you that you will be happy in your new home. This poem will be useful for all immigrants who have already emigrated or people who are thinking of emigrating. It will help them figure out where they are supposed to be and how they are linked to their new country. Another purpose for the poem could be for people to read to understand the feelings of immigrants. They need time to adjust to their new surroundings.
From reading these poems I have learned that deciding to emigrate is a big decision and it isn’t as easy as it sounds. My final view of the poems are that they are a good read for people who are unsure or weary about their life and a great read to understand immigrants thoughts.
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