Poems 'Half Cast' by John Agard and 'Search for My Tongue' by Sujata Bhatt

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Everybody needs a sense of belonging. That is who they are, where they come from, and who they belong to. A person without an identity does not exist, it’s as if they are in no mans land, neither here or there.

Culture is the main ingredient in the recipe of an identity, to spice up an identity you can add heritage, a name, traditions, emotions, tastes, and genes. As the DNA in each identity is different every identity in a person is unique, and individual.

As we all know, no two people are the same.

I will be discussing two poems in this essay, the first being a poem written by John Agard called “Half Caste.” Agard was born on the 21st of June in 1949. He moved from Guyana to England in 1977. Like many people in the Caribbean Agard is mixed race. His mother is Portuguese and his father is black. Agard loves living in England: “The diversity of cultures here is very exciting.

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However there is one thing he does not like, and that is the racial origin views. He dislikes the word “Half Caste” which is used to describe a person of a mixed race. This term is still used by many today, and is now considered as rude and insulting. This might have led John Agard to write the poem “Half Caste” to express his views and opinions on this offensive expression.

The second poem I will be discussing and comparing is written by Sujata Bhatt called “Search for My Tongue”.

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She was born in 1956. Sujata was born in the Indian state of Gujarat. She moved to the United States where she learnt English. Now she lives in Germany. Sujata wrote this poem as she was afraid she might lose her original language whilst studying in America. Sujata referred to her mother language as “the deepest layer in her identity.”

” Half Caste” is a basic story of a coloured young man, who belongs to a mixed race. Throughout the poem he is talking directly to the reader. After reading “Half Caste” you can immediately assume the poet is of a different culture, his identity has come from two different worlds hence the title “Half Caste” half meaning two parts of something.

“Search for My Tongue,” is about a girl who has got two languages. She has a mother tongue and a different language which is spoken where she lives. She feels afraid that she may loose her mother tongue because she can’t bring it out into the open.

The message I feel Agard is giving is simply getting the reader to think deeper into the term of “Half Caste,” and how it could offend a majority of the community. It’s as if he is forcing the reader to question their thoughts on “Half Caste”:

“Explain yuself…when yu say half caste.”

This quote is an excellent example of how the poet wants the reader to acknowledge this poem, he really wants to get their minds to open up and to start thinking, he wants them to feel the anger and pain he feels. He does this by using emotive and positive language. By using words like “Explain” again and again he encourages the reader to really question themselves, which I think is a very effective technique to use, to grasp the readers’ attention and make them fully aware of his emotions.

When we compare this with Sujata’s message, we see that it is different unlike Agard, who is more demanding and aggressive she is calmer. I felt after reading these two poems this related two different personalities, and how they both deal with their dilemmas in their identity. Sujata wants the readers to put themselves in her position. We could argue that maybe this a cry for help rather then an argument. We could suggest Sujata was asking the audience for help rather then getting angry and abrupt:

“I ask you, what would you do”

This quote is a perfect example on how Sujata portrays herself to the audience. In the above quote she is simply asking the reader what would you do, if you were in my position. Both poets ask the reader to put themselves into their shoes, but Sujata asks in a more reserved and polite manner, unlike Agard who uses more forceful language and has a harsher approach. Agard uses a much more forceful tone to convey his anger. From this we can see how different both poets are.

To express his confusion and anger Agard uses many powerful negative and positive images, he uses a very effective writing device called juxtaposition. For example he mixes beautiful art, by an amazing artist, Picasso, and calls it a “Half Caste” canvas:

“yu mean picasso mix red an green…is a half caste canvas”

Here Agard is simply saying If Picasso’s exquisite art, which many of his paintings made up by a mixture of colours is accepted as beautiful, then why can’t a “Half Caste” person be treated the same, and be seen in the same way? These beautiful paintings are made with a mixture of colours therefore he is expressing he is just as beautiful as those paintings.

After all Picasso’s paintings aren’t called “half” when he uses two different colours. So neither should a human, coming from two different backgrounds!

Another idea of imagery Agard uses to express his anger is through describing the English weather. The weather is an excellent example to use as it is full of contrasting colours. He expresses how the weather is always a mixture of “light an shadow” therefore the weather is “Half Caste” weather. But it is never called that. Leading back to his point of being called “Half Caste.” if weather is never labelled as a “half” then neither should he. He uses juxtaposition again here as he mixes good weather (“light”) and bad weather (“shadow”) together.

John Agard uses the example of the famous musician and composer Tchaikovsky, to re- iterate his point. He really wants the reader to see how pathetic it is to judge something as “half” worthy because they are a mixture of colours:

“an mix a black key

Wid a white key

Is a half caste symphony.”

This quote is similar to the one earlier about Picasso and his pieces of art. Agard is arguing that when Tchaikovsky plays music he mixes black and white notes together yet gets no objection and creates exceptional music. It’s not acknowledged or seen as a “half symphony.” (Even though he is mixing black and white). Therefore he is expressing it is not right to call a person “Half Caste” because they are of a mixed raced. I felt that Agard is effectively showing his anger and feelings through his language; I felt the language was incredibly forceful and argumentive. This really made me think more into the message he was attempting to portray.

In Sujata’s poem, she uses the same technique as Agard; she too uses a variety of positive and negative images. She immediately starts the poem with a negative image. This is when she describes her mouth of having two tongues in it:

“…had two tongues in your mouth.”

This image could represent that she is possibly choking, because of these two tongues in her mouth. It’s an ugly image; it makes her look like a deformed person. This quote shows that she is different from an ordinary person she has two languages, and refers to them as “two tongues.”

Another harsh image Sujata makes is when she talks about the mother tongue:

“rot and die in your mouth…”

Sujata is expressing that one of her tongues will rot, and later die. This is yet another negative image. She feels as if slowly her mother tongue will rot and die. It’s as if she is hopeless, and that in order to survive she feels she has to kill one of her tongues, and then finally “spit it out”. Here Sujata uses a violent image to emphasize how she feels; the fact that she has to “spit” out her tongue portrays her anger, and makes her look hopeless.

By reading this quote I can picture her face and her expressions very clearly, unlike Agard’s poem where we could only hear his voice, and not see his face.

Towards the end of the poem, Sujata uses some beautiful natural imagery. She uses the idea of a flower opening up. This could tell us something is being reborn:

“the bud opens, the bud opens in my mouth,”

Here Sujata compares her tongue to a “bud,” instantly the reader thinks of a flower. Flowers are attractive, and colourful, and connate happiness and new beginnings. Sujata is explaining that her tongue “blossoms” out of her mouth, like a flower, opening up. I felt this was an effective, positive image to use. It was a positive end to the poem; this quote gave the reader a definite ending, unlike Agard who leaves an “open ending,” with questions unanswered.

Throughout Agard’s poem certain phrases were repeated for example “Explain yuself” is the opening phrase to most stanzas in the poem. Agard repeatedly uses this phrase right up until the end of the poem. Another word that is continually repeated is “half.” I think by using this repetition Agard is attempting to force the reader to question their thoughts into “Half Caste.” By constantly repeating words in his poem Agard is bullying the reader into a corner, it’s as if he is hammering his thoughts into their heads. Repetition has successfully helped Agard to keep his argument alive and strengthens his point and opinions on the term “Half Caste.”

This is different when we compare Sujata’s poem. She decides not to use repetition or anger to emphasize her argument; instead she sticks to formal, language, to convey her emotions. I noticed that unlike Agard who wants the reader to constantly question themselves,” wha yu mean” she wants the readers to listen and to understand how difficult it is for her to cope with two “tongues.”

Unlike Sujata, Agard has decided not to use Standard English. Instead he writes in a Caribbean dialect, for example “yu”. I think Agard has done this simply to show off his culture and identity to the reader. He is proud of where he has come from and the language that is spoken. To me it shows Agard is speaking from the heart, which I think is important and had an impact on me, as the reader.

Agard also refused to use any grammar or punctuation in the poem. This could be to show his anger, and that he is rebelling against grammatical rules. However we could argue that Agard has not used punctuation because many of his poems are performed aloud, and therefore he feels punctuation is not necessary:

“…caste canvas/”

As you can see from the above quote, the punctuation is very basic. There are no full stops in “Half – Caste.” instead Agard uses / to separate each stanza. Agard may feel grammar and punctuation is not necessary in a poem, his main aim is to get the message across and I feel he has successfully achieved this by using such strong emotive language.

Agard uses lower case where capital words should be used for instance “picasso” and “tchaikovsky” language like this represents that maybe the poet may not have been educated.

On the other hand, Sujata does use Standard English. Throughout her poem Sujata uses formal, language, and refuses to use non Standard English. Different to Agard, Sujata also uses the correct grammar and punctuation. From this we could argue that maybe Sujata is of a higher status and is more educated then Agard:

“if you had two tongues in your mouth,”

The language used here is of a much higher quality, then the language used in Agard’s poem. She uses accurate punctuation in all places, separating each sentence with a comma. This is different to Agard who instead uses / to separate each stanza. Unlike Agard, Sujata may feel punctuation and accurate grammar is important. As the reader I felt this showed how different the two poets were, it strengthened my point that I made earlier in saying both poets were from different backgrounds.

The language used in “Half Caste” is extremely demanding and is assertive of its reader. Agard emphasizes his anger and feelings to the reader. He wants them to see how things are from his point of view:

“Excuse me…Explain yuself…”

By using emotive language we could argue that maybe he is making the reader a bit scared. He keeps questioning the reader again, and again. Putting them on a spot, demanding the reader to think and question their feelings again. He is assertive, yet a little nervous. We could argue that he is also trying to reassure himself by repeating certain phrases. “Explain yuself.” This could be a sign of insecurity, and showing signs of confusion. We could also argue that Agard is convincing himself, that what he is saying is right, showing sings of paranoia.

When we compare this with Sujata’s uses of language we can see that it is different. Sujata doesn’t feel the need to use such vigorous language. Instead she puts the reader directly into her shoes; this is by writing in her “mother tongue:”

“munay hutoo kay aakhee jeebh aakhee bhasha”

This quote is an example of Sujata writing in her “mother tongue,” as the reader I felt much more involved. She writes in her “mother” language whilst she dreams. We could argue that she has no control over this. By writing in her first language, I felt she was speaking from the heart and brought out her true colours. Which I feel is important to everyone and adds to the recipe of creating an identity. Going back to the essay question “Feeling whole and comfortable with who we are is important to us all” and by Sujata writing in her “mother” language we could suggest that she is feeling “whole” and happy with who she is. I think by writing her “dream” in her “mother tongue” she is asking the reader to dream with her. She really wants the audience to feel and understand her, and by involving the reader directly she has effectively made that impact.

Throughout both poems there is a steady tone, however in Agard’s poem he is more forceful he wants the poem to flow, but he still wants it to be effective and carry out the message.

Agard uses very demanding language to express his anger he is feeling. He is angry at the fact that people who come from a mixed background are labelled “Half Caste.” As he is mixed race he feels he is not treated as a whole person, he believes that everyone should be treated fairly:

“I’m half caste.”

Agard doesn’t want to be called “half.” He feels as if he is treated as a half of a person. With only half a mind, and half an opinion. He constantly repeats the word “half” so it can firmly set in the readers head. Agard labels himself “Half Caste,” to simply show how he feels. Why does he brand himself in this way!

Agard and Sujata both feel strongly about their situations, both poets feel they are not “whole.” Starting with Agard’s poem, he feels that by being branded “Half Caste,” he is not treated as a “whole.” In contrast to Sujata’s poem we could argue that she is struggling to cope with two languages, and that sometimes she has to hide her “mother tongue” away. This could suggest she might feel insecure, and not a whole person, as part of her has to be hidden, bringing the reader to believe she is repressing her full identity.

I felt as the reader, it made me think that maybe we are being a bit cruel by calling members of a mixed race “Half Caste” this poem made me think twice about this potential racist term. Agard has successfully carried out his message, and made the audience understand things from his point of view. He has questioned the reader: are we racist? Cruel? Or just plain stupid?

Similar to Agard’s poem, Sujata also made an effect on the reader, I felt we are forced to think how hard it must be for her, having to deal with two tongues, and having to juggle between them.

“I ask you,”

Here again, she directly asks the reader for their thoughts on her situation. This keeps the reader engaged, and makes them think how difficult it is for her. By using a direct approach I felt this was an effective way to keep the reader involved.

Different aspects of culture are presented in both poems; poets convey culture through their language. The main aspect of Agard’s culture is shown through the dialect. Agard is proud of his culture and the way he speaks:

“ah rass/”

Agard is proud of his culture, he is happy to speak in his own dialect. We could argue that this quote is a sign of frustration.

Agard is pleased to admit that he is from a mixed race; by simply talking in his own language he is defending his culture. Throughout the poem he constantly demands the reader to think, he has a harsh approach. We could argue it’s similar to being in a court of law, and the poet is the prosecutor and the reader is the accused as he is very forceful:

“wha yu mean”

By repeating this term many times Agard argues his point, of being called “Half Caste.” here he is simply expressing his anger and emotions of being labelled “half.”

This is similar to Sujata’s poem as she is too proud of her culture, even though she feels she has to keep it hidden, and may not be able to use it as much as she would like to. By writing parts of her poem in her “mother” language she is showing off her culture. Towards the end of the poem she expresses her views on her “tongue.” That is everytime she feels her “mother tongue” is lost it “blossoms” out of her mouth. Here we could argue that she is not embarrasses but in fact proud of her culture when writing in her “mother tongue,” this could evoke that she is more comfortable in herself. Unlike Agard who never really shows any sign of comfort in his poem.

Identity is very important to both poets, after reading both poems, I noticed they emphasized on just how much feeling “whole” meant to them.

Agard sees himself as a whole, but he feels other people refer to him as “half,” so basically he feels he has not been given a full identity. Sujata dislikes having to keep her “mother tongue” and feels she is keeping a slice of her identity hidden.

Going back to the essay title “Feeling whole is important to us all.” Therefore Agard and Sujata have every right to argue and defend their rights. They have both successfully expressed their feelings and emotions on how important it is to feel “whole.” Both poets have asked the reader into different ways to step into their lives. Agard did this by hammering his thoughts and pushing arguments. Sujata achieved this by using a more subtle and calmer approach.

Personally I felt Agard made a greater impact on me, his arguments were clear and concise, and effectively kept me (the reader) on my toes. Overall I felt both poems effectively portrayed the poets’ emotions, with successful images and emotive language.

Cite this page

Poems 'Half Cast' by John Agard and 'Search for My Tongue' by Sujata Bhatt. (2020, Jun 02). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/poems-half-cast-by-john-agard-and-search-for-my-tongue-by-sujata-bhatt-essay

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