“Island Man” and “The Fringe Of The Sea” Essay
“Island Man” and “The Fringe Of The Sea”
I recently read two poems entitled “Island Man” and “The Fringe Of The Sea”. They are both similar in theme, but they also have many differences. Both poems are based on the emotions of people who live near the sea and their feelings towards it. This theme relates to both of the authors, and connects them; the author of “The Fringe Of The Sea”, A.L. Hendricks, was born in Jamaica and later in life moved to Britain. Grace Nichols, author of “Island Man”, was born in Ghana and then also immigrated to the UK.
Grace Nichols’ poem “Island Man” is about a Caribbean man who lives in London, but still longs for his home and the sea. The poem follows the man as he wakes in the morning to the memories of his home in the Caribbean and the sound of the sea in his head.
I believe that the main theme of the poem is that home is important and it will always be with you no matter what. There is also a strong theme of reluctance coming from “Island Man” to move on with his life and leave his past behind. His unwillingness to get up in the morning can also be viewed as a strong metaphor of his reluctance to leave his past behind. An interesting concept played on in the poem is that it takes place when “Island Man” wakes up – leaving him in the state of being half asleep and half awake.
This gives the author the ability to let you guess which parts of the poem are the reality, dreams and memories of his life – using this the author can entangle them together. A good example of this is the line “his crumpled pillow waves” – it shows the reality (his crumpled pillow) and as he is half awake and half asleep his dreams and memories view the crumples in the pillow as “waves”.
The theme of identity is also strong in the poem. “Island Man” is never given a name so that he can also be seen as a symbol of the people who have moved from their home countries and felt like they have lost part of themselves; their identity. Therefore “Island Man” can be seen as a representative of these people, and so I believe that they will relate with the character – this also fits in to the background of the author, Grace Nichols, so it is possible she did this so that she relates to the character. The Island in “Island Man” could also be a way of showing his emotions, e.g. he is an isolated or lonely man trapped on an emotional island.
The poem is also written in free verse, with no sentence structure or full stops. This suggests the idea of no restrictions and freedom, just like the Caribbean is for Island Man, compared to his London life.
Just before the poem starts there is information in parenthesis, this helps set the scene by giving a little information telling you what the poem is about. As soon as you begin reading the poem it is obvious that the poem is written in a first person narrative rather than a third person narrative. I believe the reason for this would be because with a third person narrative it is distanced from the character, whilst with a first person one you can sympathize with the character and you could also identify with them.
The first line “Morning” has more than just the surface meaning here, it also seems to be a pun on the word “Mourning” to suggest sadness in Island Man. More evidence for this is that the word is on its own in the line, this could be meaning loneliness, which is generally related to sadness. The word could also be viewed as a way of showing a new start, as mornings are a new start for every day, it could also be a metaphor for a new beginning in Island Man’s life. This new start would be Island Man leaving home and starting his new life in London.
The next line “and Island Man wakes up” shows that the character of Island Man has no name as he is referred to without a using a name. This suggests that he may feel like he has no identity after leaving a large part of his life behind in the Caribbean.
Line three and four are a change from the previous two as we begin to see a strong rhythm forming. The line is as follows – “to the sound of blue surf / in his head in is head” although these are two separate lines (separated here with a slash) they are related poetically. These lines use enjambment for the effect of the lines flowing into each other to make it seems like the sea. The first half flows smoothly, as does the second half, except for the final word.
The letter “S” is used in both halves to bring them together – to remind the readers of Islands Man closeness to the sea. The letter “H” (“head”) is a break from the “S’s” and therefore the rhythm is lost. The third line (“to the sound of blue surf”) has alliteration of the letter “S”. The sound of this letter is very much like that of the waves to remind the reader of the sea. To insure that this comes across to the readers there is emphasis on these letters. There is also an emphasis on the word “head” here to make the readers realize that it is only in Island Man’s head, as he also realizes the truth.
The fourth line uses two verbs, which have internal rhyme to make the line flow easier (breaking and wombing). The first verb “breaking” suggests the repetitive and steady breaking of the waves on the Caribbean sands. More evidence of this meaning the waves is the fact that the line says “the steady breaking and wombing” which clearly illustrates the waves motion. The second verb “wombing” is derived from the word “womb”; therefore this connotes warmth, maternal love and family.
Island Man would connect all of these with his home, and he would connect the first one in an emotional and physical sense. In this line the adverb “steady” is used to describe the verbs. Whilst other words could have been used to this effect I believe “steady” was chosen because the first letter is an “S”, which continues the alliteration from the previous lines – and reinforces the rhythm
The first line of the next stanza “wild seabirds” may not seem to hold much information but it seems to be comparing London and the Caribbean by using the adjective “wild” which is a contrast to the Pigeons usually found in London.
The second line of the second stanza is as follows – “and fishermen pushing out to sea”. Here we have alliteration of the letters “SH” in “fishermen” and “pushing” it is also mildly repeated in the word “sea” at the end of the sentence by using the letter “S”. Again, this suggests the sound of the sea
There is a continuing of the alliteration of the letter “S” through onto the last line of this stanza with the words “sun surfacing”. The adverb used to illustrate the sun is an interesting one (“the sun surfacing defiantly”), it seems to suggest that Island Man does not want the sun to rise over his island home, as it is defying him. This is another way of showing Island Man’s reluctance to leave his past life behind, as he doesn’t want life to go on without him. This could also mean that the sun surfaces in London when he doesn’t want it to, as it awakes him from his dreams of his past life. There is also a rhyme at the end of this line with the end of the previous line – it is “sea” and “defiantly”. Rhyme creates harmony and a relaxed atmosphere; this reflects Island Man’s thoughts about the island.
The next stanza has a situation where his memories, dreams and reality becomes entwined. There are a number of different possibilities for this stanza, and I believe the author did not make any of these possibilities singularly correct, but rather wanted the reader to guess. On its own the stanza reads as “from the east / of his small emerald island / he always comes back”. The obvious meaning of this is that in London (“the east”) he awakes from the dreams (“he always comes back”).
This possibility is based on the reality, whilst if you pair it up with the last line of the previous stanza (“the sun surfacing defiantly”) it gives it a new meaning based more on his memories and dreams and then back to reality – “the sun surfacing defiantly / from the east / of his small emerald island / he always comes back”. This possibility tells of the sun surfacing to the east of the island, which are his memories and/or his dreams. The island is cleverly described as a small emerald in the second line of this stanza, this not only relates to its colour, a lush tropical green, but also its value. An emerald, although small is very valuable and precious, as the island is to Island Man.
Before the writing continues there is a large gap, which I beielve illustrates the reluctance of Island Man in leaving his past behind, it also shows that change will take time as the lines read as “he always comes back / groggily groggily”. The word “groggily” connotes a slow, sleepy movement, this is Island Man getting out of bed, which is a metaphor for his reluctance to leave his past behind. So as it takes time to get out of bed it takes time get on with his London life.
Next the poem goes on to what Island Man comes back to – “Comes back to sands / of a grey metallic soar”. The first line is about Island Man coming back to a place of a “grey metallic soar” which is obviously London. Although there are only three words in the line they all connote a strong image of London. They seem to suggest a soaring of traffic (“soar”), a bleak landscape of buildings and a concrete jungle (“grey”) and more cars (“metallic”). It may seem that these are a strong contrast to the Caribbean, but they all have their similarities and connections, which Island Man can see, which maybe explains why he refers to it as “sands”. These similarities are sea birds rather than traffic (“soar”), jungles and trees rather than buildings (“grey”/green) and wood boats and houses rather than cars (“metallic”/wooden).
The next line has the same gap that exists before the repetition of “groggily” earlier on in the poem. However this gap is more to do with acceptance rather than reluctance as Island Man realises he must face the reality. This makes sense as the line is ” to the surge of wheels”. The word surge here is used as a contrast between the surge of wheels and the surge of the tropical waves, the shape of a wheel is also similar to that of a curling wave, and the repeating of the waves is similar to the turning of wheels.
The line following this is “to a dull North Circular roar”. The North Circular is a road in London in the shape of circle, this is a contrast to the Island home of Island Man and the roar is a contrast of the traffic and the sea. Dull is also used to compare; as the Island Man views the Caribbean as being anything but dull, whilst he views London life as being dreary. The words “roar” and “soar” rhyme but in a different way to the previous rhyme, which seemed very smooth and seemed to flow easily, whilst this rhyme is much more coarse. This is again a metaphor for how Island Man viewed the contrast between his Caribbean life and his London life.
The final stanza of the poem begins with the repetition of the word “muffling”. This suggests that Island Man is covering his head with his pillows to drown out the sound of the traffic, as he wants to keep the sound of the waves in his head. Island Man tries to hide the fact that he is no longer at home from himself in order to feel some comfort. There is more evidence for this on the next line as he seeks comfort by pretending the crumples on his pillow are the waves of the sea.
This is followed by the line “and island man heaves himself”. This is Island Man finally getting out of his bed to face the realities of his London life, and the verb “heaved” seems to refer back to the fishermen earlier. It is also a word, which connotes intense effort and energy, which again refers back to the reluctance of Island Man.
The poem is finished with a single line on it’s own, this line is “Another London day” which tells the reader that Island Man now must accept his reality in London, although unwillingly.
I personally enjoyed reading Island Man as it is very well written and the author has been very clever in disguising her message in a subtle way but still delivering the message is a powerful one. The poem also suggests the characters emotions in a realistic way using a large array of poetic devices, for instance I have never felt homesick, but thanks to the author I could sympathize for Island Man. Island Man is also a poem with many different layers to it – the poem can be viewed from many different angles to give a slightly differing meaning to it each time it is read – I personally enjoy poems like this as they tend to get better the more you read them as you reveal their different layers of meaning.
A similar poem to “Island Man” is “The Fringe of The Sea”. This poem has many similarities, but also many differences to the previous poem. This poem is about a community of Island people and their feelings rather than about a single man as in Island Man. Although Island Man himself was a representative of these people The Fringe Of The Sea is less personal than Island Man making it hard to connect with and feel for the characters. The main reason for this is that whilst Island Man deals with one person, The Fringe Of The Sea is written in first person plural (“We” and “Us” rather than “I”). This obviously distances you from the people, as you cannot get singular thoughts of a person. However it shows that these people all have the same/similar opinions, which shows that these people co-work, co-operate and live together in harmony.
The main theme of this poem is co-working – it shows that all people who live upon small islands live in harmony with each other and nature and grow a mutual respect for both of them. Unlike the previous poem there are not many themes and many different ways to look at the poem, it has instead one strong view of the poem, which is enforced throughout.
This poem is written in free verse, although mostly in stanzas of three or four lines – most lines are of a similar length, although a few aren’t. This is very different to the form and structure of Island Man, which has variable stanza and line lengths and with some lines with a large space before them and protruding out to the side of the poem. Similarly to Island Man however there is a shortage of capital letters – in both poems they are only used for pronouns or nouns (“North Circular” and “We”).
The first stanza of the poem begins with the pronoun “We” showing that it is in first person plural narrative, which differs from Island Man’s third person narrative. There is also a repetition of “We” to emphasize the point and to emphasize its meaning. In the first stanza, there are a few similarities to the poem Island Man, here is the first stanza – “We do not like to awaken / far from the fringe of the sea / we who live upon small islands”. It is apparent immediately that once again the poem is about people who live upon a small island, although there is no information about its location – as there was in Island Man (in a parenthesis at the start of the poem). Another similarity is that the word “awaken” is used in this poem, and waking up is used as a strong metaphor and theme of Island Man, these people obviously feel the same way as Island Man does about the sea – neither want to “awaken far from the fringe of the sea”. The second line of this stanza uses alliteration of the letter “F” (“far from the fringe of the sea”).
This creates a soothing sound similar to the sea waves, as it is a soft sounding letter to pronounce. Enjambment is also used to recreate the flowing of the sea waves with the lines continuing into each other. Rhythm is used here to create a sense of harmony and peace – it is used in Island Man to the same effect. Both of these poetic forms were also used to a similar effect in Island Man – alliteration was used with the repetition of the letter “S” or sometimes “SH” to reproduce the sound of the sea. Enjambment is also used in the same way in Island Man. The metaphor “the fringe of the sea” is very effective as it gives you the image of the white surf on the waves, which is similar in shape to a fringe. In the final line of this stanza (“we who live upon small islands”) the geographical difference is noted by using the adjective “small” – this compares it with larger islands such as Britain, and therefore London, so this is similarity to Island Man as well.
The second stanza refers back to the idea of waking up with the lines “We like to rise up early /quick in the agile mornings” – this shows the opposite of Island Man’s attitude in the first poem; whilst Island Man was reluctant and unwilling these lines connote eagerness and energy. However this is almost certainly how Island Man must have felt on his island, as he has different feelings away from it, so they do resemble each other in that sense – showing both sides of waking up at home and away.
Using the adjective “quick” to describe them rising in the mornings is another way of showing energy, which is a contrast to the lack of energy in Island Man. The adjective “agile” is used to the same effect to describe the morning upon the island. The next lines of the stanza reinforce the idea of being close to nature and the sea (” and walk out only small distances / to look down on the water”). One apparent difference here is that in “Island Man” every line had a meaning and held lots of information, but in “The Fringe Of The Sea”, most lines are supportive of the previous and next lines.
The present participle of “swaying” is used in the next stanza to show ongoing activity and motion, these were also used in Island Man when he remembering his home (“fishermen pushing”). Next there is a list of what the sea offers to the people – “with songs, and tides, and endless boatways, and undulate patterns and moods”. This is not totally different from Island Man; there is a short list of what Island Man remembers from his island in the second stanza of the poem (“wild seabirds / and fishermen pushing out to sea / the sun surfacing defiantly”). The term “endless boatways” is an effective one, which connotes that the islanders use the sea in the same way we use roads.
This is a contrast to modern/western life – which occur frequently in Island Man. Using the modifier “undulate” to describe the patterns of the waves portrays a strong image of their smooth continuous motion. There is no use of personification in the poem Island Man, but there is some use of it in The Fringe Of The Sea – the sea’s “moods” are referred to. Personifying the sea here connotes that they actually see the sea as a person, a part of the community, co-working with the islanders (providing food).
The fourth stanza is as follows – “We want to be able to saunter beside it / slowpaced in burning sunlight / barearmed, barefoot, bareheaded,”). It begins once again by saying what they want to be able to do by the sea, which is to “saunter” – this is very different to the cars on the North Circular in Island Man. The word “slowpaced” also works to the same effect. Using alliteration of the letter “B” creates a relaxed atmosphere, to mimic the atmosphere of island life. Alliteration is used in Island Man to create the same effect.
The first line of the next stanza reinforces the theme of being at one with nature – “and to stoop down to the shallows”. The rest of the stanza – “sifting the random water / between assaying fingers / like farmers do with soil,” uses a simile to compare island life with western life. It contrasts farmers with the island fishermen (fishermen are also noted in Island Man). This suggests that the island people view the sea as being their crop fields and soil as they depend on it just as much as farmers depend on their land for food. Both peoples (farmers and islanders), although they mostly live in different cultures, harvest in the same way – a strong similarity by use of a simile is not used in Island Man. Rather than powerful similes it gives its message through many subtle metaphors. Respect it also suggested by this simile as they co-work together, which is a strong theme in the second poem. There is good use of the verb “assaying” which contrasts farmers testing the land and the islanders testing the water to asses the quality.
Here is the next stanza – “and to think of turquoise mackerel / turning with consummate grace, / sleek and decorous / and elegant in high chambers”. The readers are told that the though of the sea and it’s harvest is enough to make them happy – this relates back to Island Man as it was only his thoughts that kept him happy. Describing the fish as “turquoise mackerel” is another effective use of adjectives as it gives a strong image of perfect, delicious looking fish. Turquoise is also a valuable stone, which connotes that the islanders see the fish as being precious to them. This is also very similar to Island Man calling his home “his small emerald island” – both use precious stones to show both colour and value of an item (“emerald island” and “turquoise fish”).
The rest of the stanza is about the similarity between the fish swimming and a sophisticated ballroom dance. The next three lines of the stanza use adjectives to describe the “turquoise fish” in a similar way that ballroom dancers can be described. These adjectives are “consummate”, “sleek”, “decorous” and “elegant” – all of which can be related to both fish swimming and sophisticated dancing, this shows that the islanders view the fish as being sophisticated and civilized and maybe as equals as they need them to survive, rather than dismissing them as nothing important as most modern/western people would nowadays. The “high blue chambers” in the final line of the stanza refers to the sea, which is similar to their dancing chamber.
The next stanza is a short one once again reinforcing the fact that these people always want to be at one with the sea – they see it as their streets – “We want to be able to walk out into it”, their offices and workplaces – “to work in it” and to recreate in it – “dive and swim and play in it”. Once again this is a list similar to the one earlier in the poem – there is also a short list in Island Man.
The following stanza is also a list of verbs, about the things these people want to be able to do in the sea. The first two lines are a contrast to Island Man’s London life (“to row and sail / to pilot over it’s sandless highways”). The lines are about transport – compared to the “soaring” cars on the North Circular in Island Man. The third line (“and to hear”) shows that the sound of the sea is enough to make these people happy – this fits in well with Island Man as he hears the sea in his head, this is enough to make him happy. The line is a short one, with a simple meaning on it’s own to emphasize just how important the sound really is to these people and how it alone makes a large difference. This poetic form is also used in the poem Island Man in the first line (“Morning”) to strongly emphasize a single point.
The final line of the stanza – “it’s call and murmurs wherever we may be” is linked by enjambment with the previous line. This is also similar to Island Man, where there are a number of lines using enjambment for effect. The line itself seems to resemble exactly how Island Man feels, which shows that the emotions of Island Man and these people are very real, as two different authors have given them exactly the same feelings and emotions. Island Man hears the sea’s call in his head and the soothing sounds and murmurs. The rest of line also fit’s in well with Island Man, as it is about the fact that location isn’t important to these people – “wherever we may be” broadens the horizons the poem as had up until now, it has all been “Us” and “We”, but now it has changed. There is no change like this in the poem Island Man because Island Man himself is a symbol of all these people.
The final stanza of the poem – (“All who have lived upon small islands / want to sleep and awaken / close to the fringe of the sea”) begins by broadening its horizons once more. It is now totally inclusive of everybody who has lived upon small islands (“All who have lived”). The poem now speaks for not only this community, but also every single community like it that exists. Rather than using a subtle metaphor for this (like Island Man does) this poem just come out and says it – and it is believable as the whole community feels the same way, so why shouldn’t every other one?
It also eases you into the situation by beginning to broaden its horizons in the previous stanza – nothing like this is used in Island Man. The rest of this stanza is merely a repetiton of the first stanza to bring everything back together and to reinforce the poem’s message. This does occur close to the end of Island Man – it says that “island man heaves himself”, which is referring back to the fishermen previously in the poem. The definitive finalizing of the poem is also used at the end of Island Man for the same purposes as it is used here in The Fringe Of The Sea.
The Fringe Of The Sea is a poem I also enjoyed reading as the author uses a number of contrasts between modern/western life and island life which really makes you think and wonder which is truly better. This poem is trying to give a simple message telling us of how content these people are with their simple lives and I believe that this point is delivered well – you can really feel the emotion of these people in the poem without using too many adjectives, or even many words as it is a simple request which is repeated throughout the poem (all that “we” want is…).
Out of the two poems I preferred Island Man, mainly for the reason that it stays as a good poem in my mind no matter how much I read it. Whilst The Fringe Of The Sea reveals its full meaning the first time around you need to read Island Man a few times to fully understand all of its meanings – I personally like this as it the mark of a good poet and it shows that lots of thought and effort have gone into the poem. For me it is the difference in depth that make Island Man the better poem of the two.