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Migrant Hostel and Crossing the Red Sea

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    In two of Peter Skrzynecki’s poems, Migrant Hostel and Crossing the Red Sea, he has expressed many interesting ideas about physical journeys. Through Crossing the Red Sea, we experience through his work ideas about the effect of a physical journey as it happens, and in Migrant Hostel, we are exposed to his ideas of the consequences of a physical journey when it appears to be in its final stages. Some of these ideas include a desire for something familiar, alienation and finally a chance to express emotions.

    Firstly, Migrant Hostel is one of Skrzynecki’s poems which expresses the consequences of a physical journey and a key idea it expresses is that towards the end of a physical journey, there can be aroused a desire for something familiar to remind the journeyer of home. This is clearly communicated in the first few lines of the second stanza which reads “nationalities sought/each other out instinctively –/like a homing pigeon/circling to get its bearings. In this line, the audience is confronted with an image of a large group of people from all different types of cultures and races, looking for those with whom they share accents and nationalities with. It creates in the reader’s mind also a sense of disorientation felt by the ‘characters’ of the text who feel as though they do not know where they are, “like a homing pigeon/circling to get its bearings” a simile which has a connotation of a bird who has been released from its cage far away from home and is trying to work out which direction home is.

    There is a certain suggested nostalgia in the next few lines, “years and place-names/recognised by accents” which also expresses a desire for familiarity in the immigrants described in this text. Also, Migrant Hostel expresses the idea that physical journeys can cause those who have traveled to be alienated from those who have not. This isolation is communicated in the very first two lines of the poem, “no one kept count/of all the comings and goings. These lines give the eerie feeling of being completely insignificant to the lives of those outside of the migrant hostel – outside of those who had traveled from one country all the way to another in search for a better life. The people outside did not have these wearies of a physical journey and are therefore unable to empathise with those who have. They are unaware, and their ignorance makes the migrants alienated from the daily lives of the Australians who were privileged as to not have to undergo trauma of such a kind.

    As well as these key ideas, Crossing the Red Sea has shown us that physical journeys can give the travelers a chance to express the emotions “that men had sworn/would never disclose”. The first instance we see this positive effect of the physical journey the migrants undertook is in the second stanza where Skrzynecki notes that “voices left their caves/and silence fell from its shackles”. This personification of the voices and also of the silence is an indication that people were starting to speak. …the sea continued –/breaking into/walled-up griefs” gives the audience an image of the sea eroding a sandstone wall, a metaphor for the emotions of the migrants, where the sea is their journey on the boat and the wall is their inner wall of grief, trauma and other negative emotions. The physical journey on which they are is breaking down walls and they are finding it gradually easier to deal with all the negative emotions welled up inside them. Echoes and reflections/of the trust/that men had bartered/for silence” indicates the new ‘agreement’ these men now have where they’ve traded silence for a time to express things they’ve been unable to deal with on their own and through this are now in the healing process which will enable them to meet the end of their physical journey with greater emotional strength. Thus, these are three of the key ideas expressed by Skrzynecki in his poetry, all of which communicate the importance and the consequences of a physical journey – both negative and positive consequences.

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    Migrant Hostel and Crossing the Red Sea. (2018, May 02). Retrieved from

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