From the Immigrants
The Emigrants by Edward Kamau Brathwaite
The poem from The Emigrants by Edward Kamau Brathwaite is the thoughts of an indigenous inhabitant, the persona, thinking of the invasion that has been so abruptly brought upon them which they must now face. We know that the persona is one of the inhabitants because in line four and twelve, the repetition of “my” personalizes what is happening, coming from an inhabitant’s perspective. The themes perception versus reality, power, discovery and war throughout the poem explain and break down the content of the poem.
Columbus, an explorer is searching for new lands for Queen Elizabeth, these tie in with the themes of discovery and power. He is discovers a new land that is inhabited by a race that he had never come across before. Lines eleven and twelve continue to tie in with the theme power, “deck watched heights he hoped for, rocks he dreamed, rise solid from my simple water. ” Columbus believes that by discovering this new land he will not only obtain power and glory and riches from the Queen but also much more that he can obtain from this land.
War and danger are also major themes in this poem. “As he watched the shore, the slaughter that his soldiers…” this shows us that Columbus’ invasion brought death and suffering to the inhabitants as they tried to protect themselves. Furthermore while referring to how the island tried to defend itself, the poet talks of the response of Mother Nature towards the invasion. “Parrots screamed”, emphasizes not only the disruption of nature but also how the parrots may have reacted to defend their habitat.
In addition, “birds harshly hawking, without fear” and “Crabs snapped their claws” both continue to show the response of the natural habitat towards the invasion and how they will defend their land, showing Columbus that he is not welcome. For this reason, Columbus men retaliate and fight the indigenous people’s defense resulting in all out war. These themes slowly flow into a major theme, perception versus reality. In stanza twenty one the last four lines of this stanza are significant, “What did this journey mean, this ew world mean: dis- covery? Or a return to terrors he had sailed from. Known before? ” These lines are significant because, Columbus has just left Spain after Spain is experiencing political controversies and he perceives that by discovering new land he will escape from this and hopefully put a stop to these fights within Spain’s empire.
However, when Columbus discovers this land that is already inhabited and that he must now fight for it, the true reality is that he has left one fight, in Spain, to enter another, in this “new world. In the poem from The Emigrants its form gives us an idea of what actions are going to take place or are already taking place. The form of the poem is free verse, in addition, there is little punctuation and the lines of the poem are broken up. The poet’s decision to use little punctuation gives an idea that the persona, an indigenous inhabitant of the island, is having continuous thoughts of ideas and actions of this abrupt invasion of Columbus and his people.
This also ties in with the poem’s main form, free verse, the poem’s content, the persona’s thoughts are fluently and freely being stated mentally. Figuratively speaking, in a way, as each thought or idea comes to the persona’s mind, the poet quickly takes note of it. In addition, the poem is breaking into many stanzas also ties in with the above statements. An example of this can be seen in lines thirty four and thirty five where the word “discovery” is broken after its first syllable and carried on to the next line, “new world mean: dis- covery?
Or a return to terrors. Even though throughout the poem the stanzas are broken apart mid sentence, these lines are not only significant because they are broken apart by a word but also because it helps emphasize and symbolize the disruption and destruction that has been brought upon the island. Throughout the poem the poet uses many figurative. Such devices are onomatopoeia, alliteration, repetition, oxymoron and irony. An example of repetition can be seen in lines ten and twenty five “Columbus from his after-”, it is repetition because both lines are exactly the same.
In addition, some examples of onomatopoeia and alliteration can be seen in lines seven “flapping flag”, eight “harshly hawking” and thirty eight “splashing silence. ” These are examples of onomatopoeia because flapping, hawking and splashing are all sounds while the phrases are also examples of alliteration because respectively, there is the repetition of the f, h and s consonants. However, “splashing silence” is not only an example of onomatopoeia and alliteration but it is also an example of oxymoron. An oxymoron is where contradictory terms are joined together to form a phrase or statement. Splashing silence is an oxymoron because it is contradicting itself, where “splashing” makes a sound and whereas when there is “silence” there are no hearable sounds. As stated in the previous paragraph where there is a case of the word “discovery” breaking apart after its first syllable, it is also a form of irony. It is ironic because you can’t discover something that has already been discovered and is now being inhabited by a different race. It can also be interpreted cynically, where the writer can be seen as cynical towards Columbus and his actions.