The poem is about the poet's uncle, and how the modern world has spurned his craftsmen's skills.
Despite his skill, the uncle is poor and 'most days he was hungry'. His workshop where he could bring wood to life is 'shattered'. The result of this poverty and disregard is that the uncle turns inwards and works on a carving, a sculpture that becomes the 'image of his anger'.
Brathwaite appears to be angry at the world for what it has done to his uncle and how its choice of cheap, mass-produced goods has destroyed genuine skills and crafts.
Although mostly the uncle is presented sympathetically by the poet, he does not shy away from presenting the terrible effect on his uncle of the word's neglect. His anger is embittered, it gnaws away at him; he is 'eaten by pox, ravaged by rat'. The uncle ends the poem as a deeply embittered man.
Brathwaite uses a lot of sensual imagery to bring the scene of the workshop to life: We hear the 'quick sandpaper' and the 'blasts of heavy hammer', and see the 'intersecting x of folding chairs', feel the 'smoothing', of the 'white wood.'
He also uses alliteration and variation in line length to imitate the sounds and rhythms of the workplace.
Brathwaite also employs personification, to convey the closeness between his uncle and the wood he works, and a metaphor of a journey into a jungle.
The poem falls into three pretty distinct sections, and as it is a fairly long poem this seems a sensible way to tackle it. The first and third sections are the most important and we will spend most time on them.
Section 1: Lines 1 - 20.
The two questions to consider for this section are:
What impression do we get of the workshop, and what view does the poet present of his uncle?
From the amount of detail and its concentration into 20 lines we get the impression of a busy, sociable place.
The table below features some quotes about the uncle with analysis of both what they tell us about him, and the way they are written.
|The knuckles of his hands were silvered knobs of nails hit, hurt and flattened out with blast of heavy hamme.||His work is hard, painful at times. He has become like the pieces of furniture he has made. The poet uses internal half-rhymes and alliteration to make the lines feel, thick, physical, like the work.|
|He was knock-knee'd, flat footed and his clip-clop sandals slapped across the concrete||The uncle is not presented sentimentally - he's far from perfect. He has physical disabilities. Alliteration, onomatopoeic words and rhyme are used to make us hear the line.|
|There was no shock of wood, no beam of light mahogany his saw teeth couldn't handle||The poet is proud that his uncle was so skilled, strong and capable. The full stop makes the claim sound unquestionable.|
|A key hole care tapped rat tat tat||He is delicate and careful as well as strong and powerful. The first image makes us think of surgery - emphasising the uncle's skill. An onomatopoeic effect is created.|
|Cold world of wood caught fire as he whittled||The uncle brings life and energy to the world. The uncle is like a god, wizard or magician, passing on heat, energy, enthusiasm, life.|
What can we tell about the poet's feelings for him?
Overall what impression do these descriptions create of the uncle?
Section 2: Lines 21-26
In these lines we hear about how the modern world prefer 'fomica', 'steel' and 'rubber' to the uncle's carefully crafted wooden furniture.
Which words tell us what the poet's own attitude is?
Section 3: Lines 26- 47
As the uncle works on the wooden carving he is working his way back into his own deep, dark ancestral past. He is working his way to a sort of heart of darkness.
In other words he is exploring his own thoughts and feelings as he is working the wood, and the wood is revealing something buried deep beneath the surface levels of the uncle's character.
See if you can pick out the words or lines that suggest the metaphor of a journey.
What is revealed by this exploration of the deeper, murkier parts of the uncle's mind is Ogun, the image of his anger. But this is not a powerful positive thing the uncle has found within himself.
What words or parts of the description of the idol make it clear that it is an image of negative anger, bitterness and despair?
- The idol is dumb, it cannot help the uncle. Its eyes are 'shuttered', communicat-ing nothing.
- Its face is 'ruined ...eaten by pox (disease), ravaged by rat/ and woodworm.'
- The mouth is compared o a 'cistern' and, like the eyes, is 'dry', suggesting a lack of emotion.
- The throat is parched 'cracked', 'crying for the desert'. It is desperate and cannot speak.
- It is an image of 'lost pain, lost iron'.
The ancient religious idol that he carves is in the end an expression of anger, grief and loss.
But like his skill with wood it is of no use in the modern world.
In all poetry questions you will be asked to write about the following:
[*]The subject(s) of the poem [*]The attitude of the poet [*]The poetic devices the poet uses
In other words you will be asked about what the poet is writing about, what the poet feels about the subject(s) and how the poem is written.
|The poem is about the feelings of the poet towards his uncle. The uncle is a highly skilled craftsman, but he is poor because the world prefers cheaper mass-produced furniture.|
|This makes the uncle turn inwards; he finds deep within himself a sense of ancient anger, an anger that is no good to him.|
|The poem is full of praise for the uncle and anger at the way he has been neglected by the world. The poet feels pity for the terrible effects the neglect and poverty has had on his uncle.|
|The poet appears to understand the uncle's situation but feels powerless to help.|
|Brathwaite uses sensual imagery, enjambment, onomatopoeia and alliteration to create the sights and sounds of the workshop.|
|Later he employs a metaphor of a journey to explain the process of the sculpting.|
|The final image of the idol is very vivid and visual.|