Hurricane Hits England

Grace Nichols

In 1987 hurricane-force winds hit the southern coast of England and caused a great deal of damage to the landscape. Large numbers of trees were uprooted, for instance. Hurricanes are rare in England but common in the Caribbean where Grace Nichols grew up. This poem explores the arrival in England of an aspect of the author's past.

The Speaker
The poem is mainly written in the first person narrative, from the point of view of a woman lying awake listening to the wind. There is a short introductory stanza written in the third person but most of the poem is an address to the winds, or the gods controlling them.

The Narrative
A woman from the Caribbean is lying in bed listening to the wind. It reminds her of the winds back home and she questions them about their presence in her new home. The effect of the winds brings the English landscape closer to the woman.

The Voice of the Woman
From line 7 to the end of the poem, we hear the voice of the woman. She speaks to Huracan the West Indian god of wind, Oya, Shango, two storm gods, originally of the Yoruba people of Nigeria, and Hattie, a Carribean hurricane. She calls Hattie her "back home cousin" as it is not a god but a storm she remembers from her youth and therefore she feels close to it. (All hurricanes are given names by meteorologists.)

In this poem a natural event leads the poet to develop a new understanding
Which words in lines 4 to 7 convey the strength and threat of the hurricane? Identify the different elements of nature that are mentioned in the poem. What effect do each of these have upon the speaker? How does the speaker compare herself to nature in the final stanza? Why does she make this comparison? (think back to Search for my Tongue)

In this poem a natural event leads the poet to develop a new understanding The poem is structured around three different types of sentence form: statements, commands and questions. Look at all the sentences in the poem and identify them as either a statement, command or question.

Stanza 3, lines 12-17, is the start of a series of questions which she puts to Huracan, Oya, Shango and Hattie. She asks why the hurricane is visiting the English shores, and provides the hint of an answer herself in the form of another question: What is the meaning Of old tongues Reaping havoc In new places? The "old tongue" would be what she has left behind her, her old culture and ways of speech, and their arrival in England causes "havoc". She sees her immigration to England as being uprooted from one place to go to another. (The idea of being uprooted is seen in two metaphors of trees later in the poem.)

The question in stanza 4, lines 18-21, is a continuation of the previous one and omits the phrase 'what is the meaning of'. On the surface it refers to the lightning produced by the storm contrasted with its effect on power supplies many houses were without electricity for days after the 1987 storm. But the oxymoron of 'blinding illumination' also refers to the speaker's growing understanding of herself and her attitude to the English landscape.

The next question uses a metaphor of trees falling "heavy as whales", their roots crusted with earth, leaving huge holes like "cratered graves". The hurricane has ripped the trees up and torn them out of the ground. On a personal level this must represent the woman being ripped up from the ground where she grew, leaving behind a great gap. The effect on her of leaving her own culture is so great that it has to be compared with whales crashing into the sea. Finally she asks: "O why is my heart unchained?" What does she mean? What was it chained to? I think her heart was chained to her home, her culture, but the arrival of the hurricane in her new home has brought her old and new lives together. She has been freed from the old links because the storm has shown her the new place can be the same as the old.

Her decision in stanza 6 to align herself with Oya, god of thunder and lightning, means that she has realised that the hurricane and the wind have not come to harm but to work for her good. This is borne out by the metaphor in stanza 7, which is of a frozen lake now being broken within her. A frozen lake is obviously very cold and has no movement or life. Her inner life has been frozen over as an effect of her uprooting herself. If the lake is now breaking it suggests to us that her inner numbness is being broken too. This, together with the idea of the trees of her inner landscape being shaken, completes the message from the hurricane that "the earth is the earth is the earth." What are we to understand by this? Surely that the earth is solid and that she can belong anywhere.

The poem is highly irregular in both line and stanza length, perhaps to suggest the unpredictability of a hurricane. Repetition is often used as a structuring device: Talk to me ... is used three times to suggest the speaker's insistent questioning of the wind. The idea of a strong wind picking things up and carrying them along is enhanced by the repetition of 'I am' in lines 27 to 30. I am aligning... I am following... I am riding... The question 'What is the meaning ...' appears twice and is present by implication in line 18. The last line That the earth is the earth is the earth achieves part its effect by its insistent repetition. All of these effects add to the rhythmic patterning of the poem and the kind of language you might expect in a prayer or incantation.

Towards the end of the poem two exclamations are used. O why is my heart unchained? suggests a sense of sudden realisation and understanding. Ah, sweet mystery... expresses the woman's excitement at the power of the storm and the understanding that it has brought to her. The tone of the poem becomes more positive as it progresses. The first stanza, with its image of the woman lying awake half the night listening to the howling wind, seems fearful and uncertain. The questions in the second section of the poem suggest progress towards understanding and the exclamations in the final section give the impression of joy and excitement.

Like newspaper headline

Hurricane Hits England
What is the meaning of trees Falling heavy as whales Their crusted roots 5 questions Their cratered graves? O why is my heart unchained? Moment of release

It took a hurricane, to bring her closer Third To the landscape. person Half the night she lay awake, The howling ship of the wind, Metaphor and simile Its gathering rage, Like some dark ancestral spectre. Fearful and reassuring. Talk to me Huracan Change to 1st person Talk to me Oya Talk to me Shago Commanding And Hattie, tone - imperatives My sweeping, back-home cousin. Metaphor Tell me why you visit An English coast? What is the meaning Of old tongues Link ± SFMT - roots Reaping havoc In new places? Contrastive pair The blinding illumination, Even as you shortCircuit us Into further darkness? Metaphor for change

Tropical Oya of the Weather, Change to certainty I am aligning myself to you, I am following the movements of your winds, I am riding the mystery of your storm. Ah, sweet mystery, Come to break the frozen lake in me, Shaking the foundations of the very trees within me, Come to let me know Link ± That the earth is the earth is the earth. SFMT roots

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