Analysis of Island Man
Millie Manning 10.1
Island man is a poem by Caribbean poet Grace Nichols. The poem tells the story of a Caribbean man who wakes up every day in London, dreaming he is in the Caribbean. The poem is written in 3 main stanzas, with the final line being separate to the 3. There is no definite rhyme except for the occasional couplet for example ‘of grey metallic soar’ followed by ‘to dull north circular roar’. This occasional rhyme helps the poem become more typical of the poetic style and allows the poem to be more easily read. The poet writes in a laid back manner, with no use of punctuation which allows the poem to flow evenly and represents how the sea and dreams flow. Enjambment is used in the way some lines run into others and finish on different lines to which they started. This makes the poem relaxed and easy to read. The poet writes as if she knows what it is like to feel homesick, as imagining a place is not an easy thing to do if you have no experience of it. This also makes the poem more personal and relatable and allows us to really imagine what it is like to come from a bright island to an alien, dull city halfway across the world.
The irregular length of each poetic line is a representation of the sea and the uneven lapping of waves, this allows the reader to understand the themes of the poem and imagine themselves near the sea. The simple language that is used shows the man is not fully awake during the poem and is still in the simple land of sleep and dream. The poet uses many poetic skills to get across the ideas of dreaming and longing for a faraway place. One of the first skills Grace Nicholls uses is the use of the senses in the line ‘the sound of blue surf’; this helps the reader imagine the sound of the sea and the sight of the sea in their heads. The poet personifies the line ‘sun surfacing defiantly’. This allows us to see the sun as a person rising every day in the Caribbean to shine brightly over everyone. This line also juxtaposes the absence of the sun in London and England compared to the bright, always present sun in the Caribbean. The line also represents how the ‘island man’ belongs in the Caribbean as the sun belongs in the sky. Juxtaposition is also used in the next line ‘small emerald island’, the beautiful Caribbean island the ‘Island man’ is used to, is a stark contrast to dull grey London city life.
Grace Nicholls uses metaphor in the lines, ‘comes back to sands of grey metallic soar’, this links the Caribbean to London as the sands of grey metallic soar represent sand suns of grey skyscrapers, this again is a stark contrast between something natural and something unnatural. Metaphor is used again in the line ‘his crumpled pillow waves’ as the creases in the pillow remind the ‘island man’ of the waves he knows best, the waves of the sea. The lines ‘groggily groggily’ and ‘the surge of wheels’ are set apart from the rest of the poem to symbolize the physical distance the man is experiencing from the Caribbean to London. They also suggest he is maybe coming back into reality from his dream, as the main poem is his dreams and those lines set apart are him coming back into reality. The line ‘groggily groggily’ backs this up as a reluctant and slow awakening. The writer repeats the word groggily to really get across the fact the man does not want to wake up at all and wants to stay in his dreams of his ‘emerald island’. ‘The surge of wheels’ suggests the man is trying to push all thoughts of London out of head as he wants to stay in the Caribbean. The penultimate line ‘island man heaves himself’ also shows how the man is reluctant to leave his dream and return to London life. The poet uses ambiguity in the line ‘in his head’, this suggests either the man is not at home, or home is in his head. The real meaning of the line is not made clear we have to decide ourselves what the poet means. The line ‘steady breaking and wombing’ represents the sounds of the waves. The word ‘breaking’ could be linked to the fact the man is settling them moving. He is never fully settled before he has to move, just like the sea, which when you just think is settled, will become choppy.
The word ‘wombing’ is a made up word by the poet, this represents how safe we are in the womb, and because of the meaning of the sentence it is placed in, may show how safe the man feels in the sea, as we feel safe in the womb. The poem has both happy and sad themes in the way that, happiness is portrayed through the man’s happy memories of home, and the sadness is portrayed in the fact he is not in fact home, he is in London. This allows us as the reader, to feel the man’s sadness and happiness at thoughts of his homeland. It allows us to step into his skin. This contrast of happy to sad is also represented in stanzas 2 and 3 where there is juxtaposition between the bright words used to describe the island in stanza 2 compared to the simple, dull words used to describe London is stanza 3. The poem finishes with the line ‘Another London day’. This is a very definitive and conclusive line as it shows the man has finally woken up to routine. This also suggests these dreams of home are not a one off, and every day the man wakes up to be disappointed because he’s not in the Caribbean but in London. Overall I think that the poet does a very good job in using descriptive skills and language to allow the reader to really get into the shoes of the character. Although I would usually find it hard to relate to a poem with themes like this as I have only ever moved once in my life, and then it was within the same city, the way the poet writes the poem and the clever poetic tricks she uses, really got me into the brain of the ‘island man’ and I really felt what he was feeling and longed for an Island I have never even been to.