The Migrant is written by Arthur LemièreHendriks and is a poem that travels through the emotional upheavals of a woman who had to migrate due to the Second World War. This poem is almost autobiographical because the poet who was a Jamaican moved from Barbados to Trinidad and Tabago, England and Bermuda and eventually settled in England in the 1970s. For Jamaicans migration is in the blood. Jamaica was an important British colony which brought in slaves from Africa. In the 1950s lot of Jamaicans moved to UK and the US for economic reasons. This poem is about the pain of migration especially when it is forced. A.L. Hendriks (1922-1992) was a writer, poet and a broadcasting director. He was also a literary critic and a columnist in the Daily Gleaner.
The woman who was moving remembered nothing about her journey. She did not know to which country she was native. She did not know if anyone paid for her voyage. All that she knew was she travelled. She reached a place and she was settling down, thinking that it was her home when she was told she was only in transit and she had to move again. She was destined for another place. When she realized that there was no escape from this new travel, she tried to postpone her departure. But her plans were in vain for as she was planning she was moving closer to the exit and this really saddened her. Finally she was face to face with the ‘inescapable’. So she read up brochures of the new place, learnt the language and filled her bosom with the currency of the new country. With fear and dread she listened to the boarding announcements. The poet who was still then the migrant moves away and becomes a fellow passenger and watches her go through the gate for embarking the plane. She is lonely, fearful and so is the poet as he fingers his own documents and ‘shuffles forward in the queue’.
The structure of the poem is used to tell a story and to show movement. It is a free verse poem and the style is prose poetry. An action and a progression of the action are given in each of the stanzas. The poem has six stanzas which has no known rhyme, meter or rhythm. Till the last stanza the focus is on the lonely woman and in the last stanza rather the last two lines the poet reveals that he is a fellow migrant. These twists, generally brought in stories are very interestingly utilized in the poem and it does create an impact on the reader. The language used is simple yet formal. It gives a bureaucratic tone as it is about migration. The words that indicate this are ‘transit, departure, eventually. There is a sense of detachment when there is a formal tone to the poem. It truly reflects the mood of the woman as she is also detached about what has happened and is happening around her. The woman is being by observed by someone who has gone through the same trials and is a fellow passenger of the woman.
Migration is the main theme of the poem and all the problems and sorrows attached with it are brought out vividly in the poem. Lack of control over what is happening in her life is a theme which is evident. She has accepted the fact that she has no real control over her life. In many ways every single person in this world is swayed by the uncertain. The woman in the poem does not know where she came from and is not very concerned where she is going either. She accepts she is in transit. To go through major changes in life is harrowing especially if it is happening in old age.
This relocation and acceptance indicates a larger thought and that is of slavery. People have been uprooted from their countries, forcibly moves, made to work and then moved again. They had to do this without a whine or a whimper and this is what the woman is doing. All that she tries to do is postpone her plans of departure.
A.L Hendriks’ choice of words leaves little for interpretation as it direct and to the point. The imagery used is mostly to understand the setting. Travel brochures, strange currency, Embarking Passengers Only door all indicate her travel. We don’t get more details of the migrant. All that we know is that it is a lady. Whether she is young, middle aged or old is not known. This makes it easier for the reader to see ourselves in her place.
Her destination is not clear but it is a place she does not want to go. So the reader empathises with only the present situation of the migrant. About her past a little is known and about her future nothing is known. So the reader sees the migrant in the present situation. ‘Facing the inescapable’, these lines state that her fate is sealed, as does the gate, which says, ‘Embarking Passengers Only’.
There is an imagery of slow pace in the whole poem. The speed and the age of the narrator who is the co-passenger as well is seen in the last line
“Shuffle forward in the queue.”
“Until it was broken to her” has imagery too. When some news is conveyed, the phrase ‘broke the news,’ is used. In this poem also it is used in the same manner. The migrant thought she had firmly settled in her place when the news was broken to her, the news was conveyed that she had to leave again to a new place. The word ‘broken’ also creates imagery that the news broke her heart. It is very beautifully placed by the poet.
The title is The Migrant and so it is not personalised. It could be any migrant. There is no identity to the migrant so the reader can easily empathise. From the title till end the poem has a detached tone. In the last two lines alone there is a mild personal touch which is a little jerk for the reader.