“Remember the Ship”

“Remember the Ship” is a metaphorical and symbolic poem written by John Agard. He was born in 1949 in the colony British Guyana, and moved to England in 1977. Agard is a poet, playwright, and short-story teller, and has performed his work throughout the world during his career.

The speaker in the poem refers to itself as an “I”, which can tell us that this might be ¬†Agard’s perspective. He calls himself “a citizen of the English tongue” which might verify his origin – yes, he is a citizen in an English-speaking country; but he is not originally from the U.K. or the U.S., for instance. Through the poem, the speaker refers to the Windrush Generation: it is not only written in singular form, it is also written in plural form (“we”). Another factor that hints the reader that this is about the Empire Windrush and the Windrush Generation, is the “ship”: “I say remember the ship in citizenship”. In this example, we can sense that the author does not hesitate with inclusion. It has also something to do with the Open Door Policy which dominated in the UK in the post-war period, where people from the Caribbean moved to the UK to work, in order to receive citizenship in return.

In the poem, there are references to ships and journeys. Most of these are written in a metaphorical and symbolical way. The ship is obviously the main metaphor, and is mostly used as a positive term. I believe the ship itself symbolizes the journey of life. “The ship of the sun” might represent luck and happiness, while “the ship of the night” might represent darkness and sorrow – this creates a nice contrast in the piece.

Why must we remember “the ship in citizenship”? Primarily, the arrival of the Empire Windrush to the UK is an important event of the British history. It is considered the beginning of British immigration and multiculturalism. Even though there are many political discussions and negative effects about and of multiculturalism and immigration in the UK today, the outcome of it also include benefits such as economic growth and cultural diversity.

Agard also mentions the topic of race in his poem: “will the ghost of race become the albatross we shoot at our cost?” Generally, an albatross following a ship indicates good luck. However, shooting it at sea symbolizes bad luck, and that something negative will happen. The author wants to convey that racism is an issue, and being racist will not bring happiness in life.

I believe this poem is relevant today. People are fleeing their country, and moving somewhere else for work-related reasons. It is also relevant in terms of racism. We should include one another no matter race, beliefs and where-ever we come from. I think Agard’s message in his poem is a great example most of us should follow.



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