Once upon a time Essay
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These ‘mechanical birds’ are books, with many ‘wings’, meaning pages. The body shrieking without pain is laughter and the eyes melting are the reader’s tears. “Model T is a room with the lock inside – A key is turned to free the world For movement, so quick there is a film To watch for anything missed”. These seventh and eighth stanzas are talking about a car. This is simple as Raine refers to “Model T”, a well-known car. Raine says it is a room because you go inside of the car and you are away from the outside world.
You need a key to turn the car on and off and to lock the car. As you read on, you can see some of the poet’s influences for his writing. Raine is participating in a very ancient poetic ancient tradition. If you look at the poem as a series of riddles to be deciphered by the reader, then that takes us back centuries to the riddle poems in Anglo Saxon literature.
In stanzas 10-13, the following lines are- “In homes, a haunted apparatus sleeps, That snores when you pick it up. If the ghost cries, they carry it To their lips and soothe it to sleep with sounds.
And yet they wake it up deliberately, by tickling it with a finger”. This is a reference to a phone, a ‘haunted apparatus”. If it cries- ‘rings’, we pick it up to our lips and ‘soothe it to sleep with sounds’, meaning we speak into it. If we tickle it with a finger, we dial into it. The following lines have possibly the most bizarre descriptions of the whole poem- “Only the young are allowed to suffer Openly. Adults go to a punishment room With water but nothing to eat. They lock the door and suffer the noises Alone. No one is exempt And everyone’s pain has a different smell”.
These are probably the hardest stanzas in the poem, but with some hard thinking, the lines all make sense- A “punishment room with just water” is a bathroom. When Raine writes, “only the young are allowed to suffer openly” he is talking about a baby getting their nappies changed in the open. Yet, us adults have to go to the bathroom and suffer our pain alone. Raine has written three exceptional stanzas, nobody really thinks about their own or other people’s daily use of the toilet. It is generally unspoken about and could almost be seen as a taboo subject, not to be raised in public.
The last two stanzas end on a peaceful note- “At night when all the colours die, They hide in pairs And read about themselves – In colour, with their eyelids shut”. This is a normal full day seen in the Martian’s eyes. It has now come to an end, reading about yourself in colour with your eyes shut, is quite obviously understood as dreaming. These two poems both share one very significant subject which links them together overall, but it is important to state first the similarities and differences between each person’s work.
Gabriel Okara seems to feel strongly about the idea of such falseness in our mannerisms and ways of speaking in everyday western life, as it is not like the hospitable place his homeland was. Gabriel Okara seems to be speaking from his own mind, about how he feels about this environment. Craig Raine has been born and bred in England, and doesn’t talk about a strange westernised country like Gabriel Okara, but about life on this planet in general. Craig Raine does not seem to be annoyed at our everyday customs (or if he is, he hides it in his wording very well), merely humoured at how humans generally structure their lives.
With Gabriel Okara’s style of writing, there are no riddles to unveil and his poem is structured very differently in contrast to Craig Raine’s. Okara simply starts with “Once upon a time, son”, which is straightforward enough, rather than “Caxton’s are mechanical birds with wings”, which can baffle most readers. Gabriel Okara is quite dark about the ‘cold’ place he has come to, not at all like his native Nigeria. He certainly did not intend to humour the readers. I think that Raine wrote this poem to give his mind a rest from the real world.
Perhaps he wrote it for pleasure and humor. I think this would be an enjoyable type of poem to write. Raine wanted his readers to be humored, to see life through somebody else’s eyes, who has never seen life on Earth before. Also, the Martian seems merely bemused by human life and our everyday rituals. Mysteriously, the Martian never discusses what life on his planet was like, unlike Gabriel Okara whom describes the warmth he used to experience before. However, despite these many differences, the poets come together on one extremely important subject.
It is, the way we take our lives for granted while others, unsuspectingly wander around feeling confused at all the social and physical complexities of the strange and alien world around them. The poets both write about separate characters commenting on their experience in another place, and not feeling at ease with it as the other members of the population are. It is true that one poem is quite dark and the other is lighthearted, the stanzas and couplets are differently placed, the wording is different etc, but overall, the characters in question are both feeling out of place and confused about all the common perplexities.
They comment on life on this Earth we experience every day and take for granted. We hardly notice how a car may sound to an outsider or how “It was nice having you here today with us” could hurt a guest or client who knows you didn’t mean what you said. We are all so accustomed to our lives; we do not think much of how it may seem to anybody else who has never been in that state of environment.