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Grace Nichols

a
English: Poems from Different Cultures and Traditions Cluster 2

Grace Nichols was born and educated in Guyana in the West Indies.
She came to Britain in 1977.

Hurricane Hits England


Glossary
hurricane hurricane-force storms hit the South of England in
October 1987, felling 15 million trees
Shango the mythical African Lord of war and fertility, and also
the god of thunder
Oya the wife of Shango, known for her intelligence and
independence, but also the strong wind which
precedes the thunder
Hattie the name of the hurricane which devastated the
Caribbean in October 1961

Read and revise


This poem is about a woman who moves from one culture to
another, and feels isolated from it, until a natural event brings
her to a new understanding. Read the poem through once, noticing
the cultural references and the movement from questions to a
definite conclusion.
1 The poem is structured around different sentence forms –
statements, commands and questions. Look at all the sentences
in the poem, identifying them as statement, command or question.
Identify exactly where the questions begin. In what ways might the
statements at the end be the answer to the questions? You might
come back to this at the end.
2 The poem is arranged in stanzas of irregular length. The sentence
forms partly explain the arrangement. Only one stanza consists of
a single line, which makes it stand out from the rest of the poem.
Why do you think the poet has made this choice? Think about the
question itself, and notice where it comes in the changes from one
sentence form to another.
3 Certain words are repeated. There are three groups of three in the
language of the poem. Looking at the beginning of the lines will
give you two of them. Where is the third? How does this fit the
60 conclusion of the poem? ’Conclusion’ has two meanings, remember.
4 The hurricane brings the speaker ’closer / To the landscape’ (lines
1–2). Closer to which landscape? Remember the title. What does
this suggest she has been feeling until this moment? ’The

Grace Nichols Hurricane Hits England


landscape’ means the country, and how it looks, but makes the
reader of this poem think of something else too. What? Think
about the last line of the poem.
5 The wind is described as a ’howling ship’ (line 4). The sea is
mentioned several times in this poem, perhaps not surprisingly.
A ship, however, suggests a voyage. How does this remind you of
the situation of the speaker?
6 Which words in lines 4–7 convey the strength and threat of
the hurricane?
7 Some of the words are doing something else, though. What does
the word ’ancestral’ imply? Whose past is being summoned up, like
a ’spectre’ (a ghost)? How might the wind be ’reassuring’? What
does it remind the speaker of?
8 Line 8 is the first change of sentence form, from statement to
command – ’Talk to me’. There’s another change, though. How does
the word ’me’ mark a change from the first stanza? Why do you
think the poet has chosen to begin in third person, and move
to first? Think about the feelings of being distanced, and
being involved.
9 The names of the gods recall the culture that the speaker used to
belong to, and the name of the hurricane recalls an event in that
place. How else does the poet remind you of the old place in the
second stanza – and how close she feels to it?
10 Lines 13 and 14 form the beginning of the questions that the
speaker asks – this is what she wants the gods to ’talk’ to her
about. ’Tell me’ is the stem for all the questions, which run to line
27. These lines are the transition, though. Is this sentence a
command, or a question?
11 The hurricane is compared to ’old tongues’ (line 16). How is the
hurricane a reminder of ’old tongues’? Think about her past, and
the second stanza.
12 What ’old tongues’ are referred to in the poem, and what ’new
places’ (lines 16–18)?

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13 The fourth stanza (lines 19–22) describes lightning – but the
speaker is asking about its meaning. Changing from light to dark
quickly might remind you of where the speaker actually is. How?
English: Poems from Different Cultures and Traditions Cluster 2

Look back to the first stanza. But ’illumination’ can mean


something else, too, in the same way that ’darkness’ can mean
ignorance. What ’illumination’ does the speaker have at the end
of the poem?
14 How does the poet remind you of the sea again in the fifth stanza
(lines 23–26)?
15 Line 27 is the only single line stanza, and it is the last question –
the culmination of the questioning, before the answers. What do
you think the speaker’s heart is ’unchained’ from? What was it
’chained’ to? Is this a good thing, or not? Think carefully about
this – there are several possible meanings.
16 The answer to the questions seems to be to change. How do the
verbs in lines 29–31 suggest movement and change? The speaker’s
resolve seems to be to follow nature – how?
17 A ’mystery’ (line 32) is something difficult to understand, but
magical too. What has ’come to’ the speaker has been hard to
understand, but it is magical. What is it, apart from the hurricane
coming to England? Think about the last line.
18 How does the speaker compare herself to nature in lines 33 and
34? Why? Think about the first two lines. Why does she feel she
has been a ’frozen’ lake? Think about how she has felt in England
up till this moment. The wind is from the tropics – ’Tropical Oya
of the Weather’ (line 28).

Final thoughts
The hurricane from the tropics lets her know that ’the earth is the
earth is the earth’ (line 36). The poem has mentioned old places
and new places; old tongues; the past and the present; old homes
and new homes and how somebody moving from one place to
another feels. What does the last line of the poem say about all of
this? How does the poet underline the importance of this, by the
way the last line is written?

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Comparisons
You might compare this poem with:
• Love After Love / Presents from my Aunts . . . (identity)

Grace Nichols Hurricane Hits England


• Island Man / Half-Caste (people)
• Nothing’s Changed / Presents from my Aunts . . .
(first person)
• Night of the Scorpion / from Search For My Tongue
(cultural references)
• Presents from my Aunts . . . (places)
• Two Scavengers in a Truck / Half-Caste (universal ideas)
• Presents from my Aunts . . . / Island Man (two cultures)
• Limbo / What Were They Like? (traditions)

Questions
Foundation Tier
Compare the ways in which the poets present people in Night of the
Scorpion and one other poem of your choice from this selection.
Write about:
• what the different people are like
• what the poets think about them
• how the language brings out what the people are like
• how the language shows what the poets think about the people
• which poem you prefer and why.

Higher Tier
Compare Hurricane Hits England with one other poem, showing
how poets reveal their ideas and feelings about the particular
cultures they are writing about.

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