An Exploration of Grace Nichols Resentment at the Legacy of the Slave Trade Through Her Poem ‘Taint’

The Atlantic slave trade began in the sixteenth century and was abolished in the British Empire in the early nineteenth century - An Exploration of Grace Nichols Resentment at the Legacy of the Slave Trade Through Her Poem ‘Taint’ introduction. During four centuries American and Europeans nations obtained enslaved people from African slave-traders (although some were captured by Europeans slave traders). Born in Guyana in 1950, author and poet Grace Nichols moved into England in 1977 where she has compiled several books of poetry, many of which discuss the slave trade. Her poem “taint” is an illustration of her resentment at the legacy of the slave trade.

The title of the poem itself is significant; a one emotive word impact: “Taint” which means spoil, stain or tarnish, a negative word that introduces the reader to what’s to come. I would also argue that the lay-out of the poem complements this notion; the layout is effectively disorganised with stanzas and lines of different sizes, which can be qualified as visually unsightly. Her first stanza begins with the word “But” which would usually imply a response to an on-going conversation but the rest of the sentence gives the impression the author is making a plea: ‘But I was stolen by men’

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I believe the use of the pronoun at the first person signifies that, however Grace Nichols hasn’t lived the experience narrated in the poem, she adopts the persona of her ancestors as if it did happen to her. The first person will be consistently used throughout the poem and contribute in making the reading/experience much more personal. With the use of strong emotive vocabulary such as “stolen” I believe Grace Nichols wants to show the reader how she felt like a possession.

The use of “stolen” rather than “kidnapped” dehumanises and the use of passive tense indicates that it was against her will: she was stolen; things were being done to her and she was not in control. All of which contribute to convey a feeling of defencelessness. Making a pause, a one line gap, she then goes on to say: ‘the colour of my own skin’ The phrase doesn’t start with a capital which suggests a continuation of the previous sentence. The pause is giving a dramatic aural effect as if the author couldn’t write them down or say these words straight away, horrified of the cruel truth they hold.

I believe that, through this pause, Grace Nichols wanted to show her resentment at the betrayal of black slave-traders that ruled the slave-trade for centuries, delivering black slaves, slaves of the same colour that of their own, to white merchants. The author reinforces the idea of helplessness when she describes herself as being “borne away”. By means of metaphors and animal imagery, Grace Nichols appears to be comparing these men to the devil itself, she refers to them as men with “hoofs” and “talons”, features usually associated with the Devil.

Meanwhile it is possible that the use of verb such as “had become” and “had turned” are highlighting her belief that these men went through a transformation and we could recognize that it is their actions that turned them in Devil-like creatures. The last three lines of this stanza are interesting both for their vocabulary and their structure: ‘bearing me down / to the trail / of darkness’ Here I believe the author wanted to show that she was held against her will and going to a place she didn’t want to go and the use of vocabulary such as “darkness” seems to indicate the mood of the poem.

The lines are becoming shorter and it seems as if it illustrates her state of mind at that moment: low, lower, lowest in the darkness. In the next stanza, the phrase “the colour of my own skin”, used earlier on, is being repeated to emphasise Grace Nichols’s disgust at being not only “stolen” but also “traded” by her own people. The poet used further animal imagery to describe herself and high effect tricolon: ‘traded like a fowl like a goat like a sack of kernels I was’ Once again the imaged vocabulary emphasises the horror of being dehumanised, devalued and traded like worthless goods (compare to a human life).

The author uses another tricolon to accentuate her feelings: ‘traded / for beads for pans / for trinkets? ’ We can also notice the first (and last) punctuation sign of the poem: An interrogation mark which emphasises the author disbelief and resentment. It also looks as if Grace Nichols is asking the reader to think about this and as I read the poem I could almost hear her voice asking me “Can you believe this? ” The last two stanzas of the poem are much shorter (2 lines each) and for the first time the reader is introduce to Grace Nichols of today which brings her views in the actuality.

Contradictory vocabulary is used: “forget” and “remember”. I think Grace Nichols is acknowledging that she has not come to term with her ancestral history which she seems to have absorb as her own and the fact that she uses the word “daily” seems to indicate that she is still very much dealing with these issues to today’s date: ‘Daily I rinse the taint of treachery from my mouth’ Grace Nichols has effectively uses numerous writing techniques in ‘taint’ to convey her ideas and feelings to the reader.

As a white reader, I felt uncomfortable reading this poem as if the guilt of my ancestors (the white tradesmen) was lying on my shoulder. May be this was intended by the author who seemed to be, herself, carrying the suffering of her ancestors (the black slaves). Furthermore it could be argued that Grace Nichols is stressing an issues that is still of actuality in some part of the word and far from a selfish plea, I see in her words an appeal from all those that have suffered, still suffer and struggle to come to term with it.

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