“Hurricane Hits England”by Grace Nichols and “Storm on the Island” by Seamus Heaney, discuss whichpoet in your opinion has conveyed the power of the storm most vividly:Many poets write about the power of nature. Two poets who do this areGrace Nichols in “Hurricane Hits England” and Seamus Heaney in “Storm onthe Island.” These poems vividly convey the power of the storms occurringand the feelings which people experience during this time.
“Hurricane Hits England” is about how Nichols deals with her new lifein England and how she comes to terms with a diverse culture, compared tothe Caribbean, which she is accustomed to.
She identifies herself as a”frozen lake” and it is as if she becomes part of nature. The “frozenlake” is a metaphor of her emotional state. The alliterative effect of thetitle of the poem puts great emphasis on it and the title is written as ifit was a headline from a newspaper. This makes the words more noticeableand more significant.
The poem has an irregular structure with stanzas ofvarying lengths. This reflects the unpredictable, fluid nature of thehurricane and furthermore reflects how unpredictable women’s thoughts are.
“Storm on the Island” is about a storm which is very aggressive anddestructive and which leaves the inhabitants of the Island feeling veryvulnerable. Nichols also experiences this feeling of helplessness when the”Hurricane” occurs. The title of this poem is very straightforward andtherefore describes precisely what the poem is about, as does the title inNichols poem. As there is no article before the title, there is a sensethat Heaney is not writing about one storm in particular but about manysimilar storms. It also suggests that this is an occurrence that he isused to and the present tense of the poem creates a sense of drama andreinforces the idea that storms happen all the time. This contrasts withNichols poem as she is also used to the experience but she is only writingabout one hurricane that took place in the English coast in 1987. Oncommenting on this Hurricane Nichols said, “For the 1st time I felt closeto the English Landscape in a way that I hadn’t earlier. It was as if theCaribbean had come to England”. “Storm on the Island” is structured in onelong stanza unlike “Hurricane Hits England”, which is split into severalstanzas. There is no set rhyming structure but there are words that rhymesuch as, “hits” and “spits”. In “Storm on the Island” the rhyme is used toemphasise the violent nature of the storm. This differs from Nichols poem,which does not rhyme at all.
In “Hurricane Hits England” Nichols addresses the theme of coming toterms with a new culture. Nichols feels a lack of identity as she isdisconnected from her homeland. This is shown we she says, “O why is myheart unchained?” However, the hurricane helps to reconnect her to herselfand therefore helps her to find her identity. This is because thehurricane is familiar and reminds her of the Caribbean thus comforting her.
Through her search for an identity Nichols felt vulnerable as shesays, “Talk to me Hurricane”, she feels alone and is asking for help fromthe god of her ancestors. Heaney also experienced this feeling ofvulnerability and this was triggered due to certain aspects of nature.
This contrasts with “Hurricane Hits England” as through nature Nichols iscomforted and regains her identity but nature has done the opposite toHeaney by unsettling him. The theme of nature is therefore explored inboth poems but it has very different effects for the poets in each of thepoems. When Nichols says, “I am aligning myself to you”, we realise thatthe storm has made her feel more settled and connected. When the hurricanearrives she describes it as a “sweet mystery” who has come to “break thefrozen lake” in her. This shows that the storm has melted away herinsecurities and vulnerability. In “Storm on the Island” Heaney tells us,”we are being bombarded by the empty air”. The use of “bombarded” showsthat Heaney feels suffocated by the storm and nature has thereforeunsettled him.
The theme of fear is explored in both “Storm on the Island” and”Hurricane Hits England”. This is because it is something that we allsuffer no matter what culture we belong to. Despite the fact that Nicholsand Heaney are from different cultures, they both experience the sameemotions.
“Hurricane Hits England” has an irregular structure written in eightstanzas of varying lengths and the variation of lengths is used to show theunpredictable nature of a hurricane. This also highlights howunpredictable a woman’s thoughts are and we can see that Grace Nicholsthoughts are not organised.
By contrast “Storm on the Island” is written in blank verse. The poetuses natural patterns of spoken English to maker the reader think thatHeaney is talking to them. By addressing the reader directly using phrasessuch as “you know what I mean” he is creating a link between the reader andthe narrator. It also sounds more conversational. The use of presenttense in the poem also creates a sense of drama and makes the reader feelcloser to this experience.
In “Hurricane Hits England” the first stanza is written using a thirdperson narrator, which introduces us to the poet. The remainder of thepoem is in 1st person as Nichols addresses the gods directly, almost like aprayer. This 1st person narration perhaps reflects Nichol’s search foridentity as at the beginning she feels detached from her culture andtherefore from herself but then as time goes on she finds her own identity.
Nichols speaks to four gods: “Hurracan”, “Oya”, “Shango” and “Hattie”.
“Hurracan” is the Caribbean god of the storms/wind. “Oya” is goddess ofwind and change and it comes from Nigeria where Nichols ancestors weretaken as slaves. “Shango” is the god of thunder and lightning and “Hattie”is the name of a hurricane Nichols remembers from her childhood in theCaribbean. These gods, which Nichols mentions in “Hurricane Hits England”,illustrate her cultural background. This is because in the Caribbean godsare very important; they are looked up to and seen as protectors of thepeople. This shows that she has had a very different cultural upbringingfrom Heaney who was brought up in Northern Ireland and did not have thesame connection with gods. Nichols may want to appeal to the gods becauseshe feels that they will protect her whilst she is in a different cultureand environment.
Unlike “Hurricane Hits England”, “Storm on the Island” is told throughthe eyes of the inhabitants of the Island who are caught up in the storm.
This becomes apparent due to the use of the word “we” in “Storm on theIsland”. This makes the reader feel closer to the poet and his subject.
The use of the word “we” also creates a mystery about who he is with.
“Hurricane Hits England” is full of despair because Nichols usesphrases such as “heavy” and “shake foundations”. This shows the dramaticeffect of the storm on her. It also has a reflective tone, as GraceNichols seems to look back on her life in the Caribbean. During aninterview she once said, “When I’m in England I am always looking back.
Both as a writer and as an individual, I’m always looking at both worlds”.
Grace Nichols had lived in the Caribbean before moving to London andtherefore she was used to the hurricanes that occurred there. Moreover thepoet is veryinquisitive as she is asking questions such as “Tell me whyyou visit an old English coast?” and “What is the meaning of old tonguesreaping havoc in new places?” This gives the poem a questioning tone.
Furthermore this shows her continual search for identity in a new culture.
In the last two stanzas there is a feeling of expectation when she says,”come to let me know”, she is anticipating that something is going tohappen.
Heaney creates a calming atmosphere at the beginning of the poem.
This is shown in the lines, “we are prepared” and “the wizened earth hasnever troubled us.” The mood then changes with the word “Blast” which is agood use of onomatopoeia as it adds a dramatic edge to the poem and bringsit to life. Heaney has also used enjambment here in “when it blowsfull/Blast” this conveys the impression of a sudden gust of wind blowing inthe start of the line. The use of enjambment also has dramatic effects.
The use of onomatopoeia also captures the violence of the storm. Thedramatic mood of the poem continues until the last line, “Strange, it is ahuge nothing that we fear.” This line brings back the calmness to the poemand is also very peaceful. It is a very unusual description and is veryunexpected.
Nichols uses the metaphor of the “Howling ship”, which is a strongvisual image, to create an ominous and creepy atmosphere. Onomatopoeia isalso used in this phrase in the word “Howling”. This phrase strikes fearin the reader with its haunting sounds. To bring the Caribbean into thepoem she uses the similes, “like some dark spectre” and “falling heavy aswhales” this is important, as she wants to reflect both cultures in thepoem. This conveys to the reader that she is fond of both cultures. Shewould like to express her fondness for her homeland but she would also liketo depict her new home, which is very different. “Their cratered graves”gives the poem a negative atmosphere and brings in the theme of the death.
This makes you think of a cemetery. The metaphor of the “frozen lake”tells us that the poet has been frozen by being away from her country, sothat the arrival of the hurricane can help ‘break the ice’ and allow her tolive more comfortably in her new home and culture. The alliterative effectof “their crusted roots/their cratered graves” adds emphasises to what thewriter is trying to say. In the line, “Oh why is my heart unchained”Nichols is telling us that she no longer feels trapped in the differentculture that she is experiencing and that she now feels free. The image ofthe chains is also suggestive to of the history of slavery, which herancestors encountered. Nichols writes, “Come to let us know that the earthis the earth is the earth”. This is to remind us that beneath superficialdifferences, we’re all connected and share a common experience. Therepetition used contributes to the musical/lyrical effect of the poem andis perhaps like a chant/spell. Nichols contradicts herself in this poem asthe hurricane creates fear in her but also reassurance. This reflects heremotions for example “the blinding illumination” describes lightning andperhaps the illumination of her emotions and this is an oxymoron. The useof the oxymoron further highlights Nichol’s emotions at this time, as shefeels confused, vulnerable and disconnected from identity. Also, the treesare uprooted, like she has been.
Nichols uses the images of the whales such as “falling heavy aswhales” in her poem as she they are typical to the Caribbean. Thishighlights her closeness to the country from which she originated.
The image of the whales that Nichols uses is contrasted with theimages of the cats that Heaney uses in his poem such as “tamed cat/turnedsavage”. This is because cats are familiar to him just like whales arefamiliar to Nichols and highlights the cultural differences between the twopoets. Another experience that is common to Heaney is storms as he hasexperienced many of these from living in Northern Ireland. The hurricaneis also common to Nichols, as she has experienced many hurricanes due toliving in the Caribbean.
The alliterative effect of “space is a salvo” in “Storm on theIsland” serves to remind us that this is the shortest sentence in the poemand the poet wants to highlight this. Also, the ‘s’ alliterationthroughout the poem creates soft sounds and highlights the hissing of thewind. Heaney uses the simile, “spits like a tame cat turned savage” helpsthe reader to imagine the sound of the sea spray. It also shows a possiblechange in the sea from something positive to something negative and makesthe sea sound savage and angry. The use of onomatopoeia in “spits andhits” helps the reader to imagine the violent sounds by emphasising thewords. It also personifies the savage sea as an animal. The earth ispersonified in the line “it has never troubled us” it is as if the earth isa considerate friend who wants to spare them the trouble of harvesting.
Another example of personification is the use of the word “wizened” which;shows that the Island is almost like helpless old women. The enjambmentused in “A tame cat/Turned savage” shocks us because of the sudden changein temperament and this effectively reflects the sudden change thatoccurred in the wind. The reader is left feeling uneasy at the thought ofwar due to the strong phrases used. Military language such as, “strafes”,”salvo” and “blast” to highlight the violent nature of the poem and to helpus imagine sounds of war. The military language makes the reader feelscared and wary because it reminds you of war and fighting. A possiblereason for the use of military language in “Storm on the Island” is due toHeaney’s past. As a young child Heaney would watch the American soldierswho were preparing for the Normandy invasion of 1944. They were stationedclose to his home so this would have been a familiar site for him.Heaneychooses to address the reader directly in the lines, “so, as you can see”.
This is because he wants the reader to clearly see what he is trying tosay. By addressing the reader it puts emphasis on what Heaney is actuallysaying and this is very important. The isolated long phrase, “Nor are theretrees…too” creates a crescendo, just as the tragic chorus would in anopera as the tension builds.
Personally I think that out of the two poems Seamus Heaneys poemcontains the best portrayal of the power of a storm. This is because heuses very effective images to highlight how violent and destructive thepoem is. He uses military language that brings the poem to life and thisis very effective. He has also been able to create suspense and tension bythe way he structured his poem and especially in the enjambment in the line”A tame cat/Turned Savage”.
Grace Nichols was also very effective in her portrayal of a storm andI felt that it was good that she was able to incorporate both cultures intoher poem. Her thoughts and feelings shone through in the poem and thismade the reader feel closer to the subject. I felt that Heaney’s poem wasmore simplistic than Nichols and this made it easier to read and understandwhat was occurring. This may have been because of Nichols continuouschanges of emotions and feelings. Although Nichols used very strikingadjectives, I felt that Heaney’s military language was more effective inportraying the power of the poem and brought it more to life.
By Grace Armstrong
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