Oppdatert: 10.02.2018

'Remember the Ship'

by John Agard (with some comments)

As citizen
of the English tongue

I say remember
the ship
in citizenship

for language
is the baggage
we bring -

a weight
of words to ground
and give us wing -

as millennial waters
beckon wide

and love's anchor
waiting to be cast

will the ghost of race
become the albatross
we shoot at our cost?

I'm here to navigate -
not flagellate
with a whip of the past

for is not each member
of the human race
a ship on two legs

charting life's tidal
rise and fall

as the ship
of the sun
unloads its light

and the ship
of night
its cargo of stars

again I say remember
the ship
in citizenship

and diversity
shall sound its trumpet
outside the bigot's wall

and citizenship shall be
a call
to kinship

that knows
no boundary
of skin

and the heart
offer its wide harbours
for Europe's new voyage

to begin

John Agard was born in 1949 in the colony British Guiana (Guyana since 1966). In 1977 he moved to England where he has made his career as a playwright, poet and short-story writer.
In much of his poetry, he writes in Caribbean Creole, which is the vernacular in his home country. Agard is a performer-poet and sound is always very important in his poems, where, apart from the sounds of the spoken word, he is inspired by African rhythms, jazz, rap and song. Agard has travelled extensively throughout the world performing his poetry.

Source: scribd

The Albatross

An albatross following a ship means good luck.
However, to kill an albatross at sea is instant bad luck, and foreshadows that something very bad will happen.

The Theme

This is a poem advocating the equality of all human beings without regard to ethnicity and cultural background. We all belong to the human race!
It is tempting to widen the scope of the poem from Europe to include the whole world by changing the two last verselines into 'for the world's new voyage to begin'.
In any case this poem emphasizes the necessity of challenging old-fashioned and devastating opinions and attitudes as a contribution to the struggle for a new and better world without racism.
This is also the message of the poem.

The 'ship'

This is obviously the central metaphor of the poem, and it is used in different combinations ('ship', 'citizenship', 'kinship') mostly indicating something positive.

The 'ship' is something dynamic creating change. The ship 'of the sun' (The Empire Windrush???) represents hope and happiness, while 'the ship of night' is the ship of hopelessness, despair, sorrow and tears.
Often, a 'ship' symbolizes the span of a human's life. In this case I do think the 'ship' symbolizes humanity and the global society.

The 'citizenship' connotates society, community and unity.

The 'kinship' has more or less the same connotations as above, but indicates an even closer and more familiar level.

The Form

The sentences are broken up into verselines in a way which may be considered chaotic, just like life itself. Life IS chaotic!
However, the enjambment ties the different verselines together making them meaningful in spite of the chaotic fragmentation.
There is no obvious rhyme in the poem.
The rhythm, however, is mainly iambic, which, combined with colorful words providing rich connotations, gives the poem a powerful beat.
The essential 'ship' metaphor is repeated several times, which ensures the delivery of the central message.
The allusion to the Biblical battle of Jerico is used to emphasize how the bigot can change his stubborn opinions and attitudes by a new and better society built on respect and tolerance.
Note: Considering what the Israelites did to the more or less innocent population of Jericho, I doubt whether this allusion should be studied in detail...

To the teacher:

Let your students work with the text in groups for about 15 minutes.
Discuss the stanzas and verselines and try to figure out possible interpretations. Student's associations may often be different from your own - and they may be good!
Let the groups read the text as rhythmic as they can. Do they feel the beat? Let them explain...
Present at least two of the metaphors in the text: the use of 'the ship' - and 'diversity' which sounds 'its trumpet'
The first one is bright and clear, while the second one may be a bit more problematic.
If the allusion is the Biblical Battle of Jericho, is it acceptable that all living creatures within the city, men, women, children, animals, are slaugthered by the victorious Israelites?

Examples of allusions:

  • “He was a Good Samaritan yesterday when he helped the lady start her car.” This refers to the biblical story of the Good Samaritan.
  • “She turned the other cheek after she was cheated out of a promotion.” This comes from teaching of Jesus that you should not get revenge.
  • “This place is like a Garden of Eden.” The Garden of Eden was the paradise God made for Adam and Eve.
  • “You are a Solomon when it comes to making decisions.” This refers to King Solomon, who was very wise.
  • “When the volcano erupted, the nearby forest was swallowed up in dust and ash like Jonah.” Jonah was a person who was swallowed alive by a whale.
  • “It is raining so hard, I hope it doesn’t rain for 40 days and 40 nights.” This makes a reference to the biblical story of Noah and the ark he built. He was told by God that it would rain for 40 days and 40 nights and flood the land.
Source: Your Dictionary


'One of the most central challenges today is inability to understand intercultural communication. How does this affect us, and what can we do to minimize the problems this may cause?'

oppdatert 10.02.2018
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