‘Immigrant’ is a short autobiographical poem of Fleur Adcock that focuses on immigration of people and this is done through the imagery of birds. It is a throwback on time when she first moved to Britain from New Zealand. The poem ‘Immigrant‘ is in the collection of poems titled ‘The Inner Harbour’ which was published in 1979.
About the Poet
Kareen Fleur Adcock was born on February 10th 1934 in Papakura, New Zealand. Adcocks family moved to England in 1947. Fleur Adcock studied at Wellington Girls College and Victoria University of Wellington. The Adcocks returned to New Zealand and she worked as a lecturer and librarian in many institutions in New Zealand. She migrated to Britain in 1963 and was known as a British poet. Apart from writing she also worked as a commentator on poetry for the British Broadcasting Corporation. She also translated contemporary Romanian and medieval Latin poetry into English. Her poems are famous for the serene domestic lyrics with occasional use of irony combined with morbid and fantastic imagery.
The year was 1963 and the month November and by this time it was eight months since Fleur had come to London. She was walking and stopped on a low bridge ‘to watch the pelicans’. They are floating on the river like swans. They were arching ‘their white necks’ over their ‘bundles of wings’ which were ‘slightly ruffled’. They were burying their ‘awkward beaks’ in the water of the lake. It is cold and she clenches her fist inside her expensive coat and quietly tests her accent to see if her New Zealand accent is creeping into her English. She tests her accent saying ‘St. James Park’. Fleur wanted to be a typical English woman, so she was dressed as one with the classic high street chain of Mark Spencer. Yet she was not confident about her accent, she felt it still carried a New Zealand drawl to it.
‘Immigrant’ is a short poem with eight lines split into two stanzas of unequal number of lines, 5 and 3. . There is no specific rhyme scheme or meter. The tone is intimate as she is speaking her mind and in first person. Metaphor is used in saying the pelican was ‘swanlike’. Fleur tells her story in the first four lines. The pelican is not a native bird of England but the swan is. Having migrated the pelican is trying to behave and float like the swan but what gives away is her beak. Almost all other parts are almost similar to the swan. So the pelican feels ‘awkward’ about the beak and tries to hide it in the water. Now Fleur’s situation was also the same. She had tried to make the best of her outward appearance but feels awkward about her accent and was trying to hide it from others. She is practising the right accent. In many ways the pelican and the poet are the same as immigrants to London.
When words in a line start with the same letter the poetic device alliteration is said to be in use. The alliterations used in this poem are
over only…burying awkward beaks…clench cold
Enjambment is used with the thought in line being carried on to the next. The examples of enjambment are
they float swanlike, arching their white necks
over only slightly ruffled bundles of wings,
I clench cold fists in my Marks and Spencer’s jacket
and secretly test my accent once again:
In Fleur’s words about the poem “‘Immigrant’ looks back from some years afterwards to the time when I first arrived in London from New Zealand feeling very foreign, in fact very colonial with my New Zealand accent which I hastened to get rid of, and my Marks & Spencers clothes – I was trying to pass as a genuine Londoner like so many others. I would walk around St James’s Park sometimes at lunchtime and I would see the swans who were actual English birds on the lake, and the pelicans who were immigrants like me and I tended to identify with the pelicans.”