Martin Carter was born in Georgetown, the capital of British Guyana on June 7 1927. He attended a prestigious boys school, Queen’s college. He became a civil servant after living school and started writing militant political journalism under a pseudonym. In 1953, he was imprisoned without trial for protesting against British rule. In 1954, he wrote the “Poems of Resistance” where he expressed his fierce anger and developed an international reputation. He served for 1 year as a UN representative after the independence from British rule was granted in 1966. His poetry contrasts of Guyanan life from hope to sadness and misery as at the time of writing Poems of Resistance Guyana was under British Government and suffering from oppression even though Guyana was given adult universal suffrage in the 1950s. Through his poems, Carter fought strongly for universal suffrage and expressed loyalty to his people and country. Martin Carter died on December 13, 1997 at the age of 70.
This essay will discuss the theme of resistance in two Carter’s poems, looking specifically at main themes, narrative, key symbols & images, colour/light/dark, repetition, alliteration & sound, mood & tone and structure.
The first poem I will be discussing is called “This is the dark time my love”. The main theme of this poem is resistance from oppression, destruction of Guyanese culture and the presence of the British troops. For example, the oxymoron “festival of guns” suggests a war-like environment and the term festival could refer to the large number of people involved or to the usually happy or ‘festive nature of Guyanan people contrasted with the oppressive ‘gun’. The poem is in the form of a warning to his people about the activities of the British, who are described in the poem as “strange invaders” and “brown beetles”. The poem also emphasises the frustration, oppression, destruction, death and anger of the people of Guyana. Carter uses the phrase “red flowers bend their heads in awful sorrow to show the misery of Guyana and the question “whose boots of steel tramps down the slender grass?” indicates the destruction of Guyana as a beautiful country.
Carter uses lots of symbols in this poem. For example “brown beetles” is a metaphor for British soldiers. He also uses oxymoron to emphasise war and destruction. For Example, “festival of guns”, “carnival of misery” and “season of oppression”.
Carter uses lots of colour in this poem to emphasise the misery of the people of Guyana. Colours like “dark time”, symbolises war, “shinning sun is hidden in the sky” which means darkness overshadows the people of Guyana. He also uses colours or words that evoke colourful images. For example, “red flowers”, “season”, “carnival”, “dark night” and “grass” to show the anger, misery and dashed hope of the people of Guyana. But repetition of the title of the poem “This is the Dark Time My Love emphasises Carter’s love and loyalty to his people and country and to warn them of the British, but also to encourage resistance. In this poem, Carter uses few alliterations which are; “brown beetles” and “shinning sun” to create a rhythmic effect. The poem is short in structure with three stanzas and twelve lines, which helps to reflect the mood and tone of this poem. The tone is sad and that of warning
Through this poem, Carter shows in this poem that the British act of oppression and leadership is wrong. He also that the actions of the British had a bad effect on the society and culture of Guyana. For example, he used the words “red flowers bend their heads in awful sorrow”, which could be a metaphor for the people of Guyana being frustrated and in misery.
The second poem I will be discussing is called “The Death of a Slave”.
The main theme of this poem is resistance from slavery, torture and lack of human rights. The last sentence reinforces this theme and expresses anger, with the words “time plants the seed of anger”. In other words, the anger and hatred felt by the slave towards the owner will be passed on from generation to generations. The poem is like a story of slavery, following the slave from day to night. Carter introduces his character using the words “the cane field is green dark green green with a life of its own” which symbolises a setting for slavery. He then talks about the slave, as having a life of its own, “the heart of a slave is red deep red red with a life of its own” which means that a man’s life shouldn’t be controlled. This also shows that the slave is alive. Carter writes about the day being torturous and hard. He tells us about the whips used on the slave “day passes like a long whip over the back of a slave” and also likens the day to the whip so that the reader associates both the day and the whip as painful for the slave. In the fourth stanza, Carter refers to the night as being silent “night comes from the river in a boat of silence” and also talks about death “dark is the shroud”, “the shroud of night”. Carter then goes on to write about the death of the slave “his drum is silent” signifying the cease of heartbeat. Carter shows in this poem that, morally, slavery is wrong and that it leaves a society scattered and angry; “time plants the seed of anger.
Carter uses a lot of symbols in this poem. For example “cane field” symbolises a place of work and could also represent a prison for the slave. “Day” suggest torture and a period of work; “river” refers to life, escapism and freedom. He also uses other symbols like “birds” to convey freedom, peace, life and dreams “Night”, implies death and rest, “forest” could symbolise nature and life Earth suggests burial, death and the possibility of growth. Seeds may mean beginning of life and the whip is an instrument of torture that drives the slave on. Carter also used lots of colours in “Death of a slave”. Example, green to convey life, nature, happiness, brightness, Red signifies blood, danger and the slave’s heart, White could refer to peace, joy, beauty and happiness, Day suggests brightness but in contrast dark may refer to death, torture and pain. Carter also uses other colour representatives like dim, deep, sun, river, forest, earth and seeds, so that the reader has a vivid image in their mind of the world in which the slave exists.
Carter uses repetition to emphasise the images he uses and what he is writing about. He repeats the following words: “green”, “with a life of its own”, “slave”, “day”, “whip”, “river”, “flying”, “white birds”. Carter repeats these words to help the reader understand what he is writing about and also to help the reader have a good imagination of the storyline in the poem. Carter uses alliteration in the third verse; “flying flying flapping” to represent the sound made by the wings of birds while flying, flying to freedom unlike the slave. Carter uses a sad tone from the beginning, but expresses anger and also optimism at the end of the poem. It is obvious he was in a bad mood.
“Death of a Slave” is long in structure with five stanzas and twenty-nine lines. The first and second stanzas represent day. They show that daytime for the slave is short but also hard work. In the third stanza, Carter introduces night “the sun falls down like an old man”. The fourth and fifth stanzas are long and represent night. It shows that the night is long.
In the first poem “This is the dark time, my love”, Carter uses many language techniques and sound effects. He mostly uses metaphor, for examples, “brown beetles” is a metaphor for soldiers, “Red flowers”, is a metaphor for the people of Guyana “Slender grass” could also be a metaphor for the people of Guyana and imply the natural beauty of the country “Strange invader” is perhaps a metaphor for British troops. Carter also uses personification for example “red flowers bend their heads in awful sorrow”. He also uses Oxymoron to contrast between happiness and festivity and sadness and misery. It gives the reader a review of guyanan life that is from joy and happiness to sadness and misery. For example, “festival of guns”, “carnival of misery” and “season of oppression”. Carter’s use of also alliteration emphasises darkness and war. For example “shinning sun” and “brown beetles”. Assonance; “season oppression” also appears in this poem. The use of poetic language and sound effects in this poem emphasises the intended meaning to the reader and to convey a certain mood or tone, which in this poem is sad.
In the second poem “death of a slave” Carter also uses poetic language and sound effects for example, similes such as “day passes like a long whip”, “night comes from river like a thief”, “silent like night”, “hollow like boat” allow Carter to offer comparisons and help the understand the meaning of the poem a greater degree. He also uses metaphor on few occasions “day is a burning whip”; “time plants the seeds of anger”. There is the presence of personification “day is a burning whip biting the neck of a slave”; “night comes from deep forest in a boat of silence”. The comparison of day with a burning whip implies hardship and torture. “Dark is the shroud” is a metaphor for death, “drum” is maybe a metaphor for the heart. Carter uses enjambment from the beginning of the fourth stanza (14th line) to the 26th line as well as alliteration/rhythm “flying flying flapping”.
Martin Carter portrays the theme of resistance in the two poems differently. In the first poem, “This is the dark time, my love”, Carter starts talking of oppression and its effect almost as soon as the poem begins. He emphasises a stronger resistance in this poem than he does in “Death of a Slave” where he shows less resistance. He presents “Death of a Slave” more like a story by the structure. He writes about the activities of the slave during the day and the effects of night on the slave.
Judging from the way the poems were written, a reader comes to the conclusion that Carter uses figurative language more than sound effects. In the first poem “This is the dark time, my love”, Carter mostly used metaphors and it is short but well structured. But, in the second poem “Death of a Slave”, Carter mostly used similes. He structured the poem to reflect the different parts of the day so that the poem is long and in my opinion, brilliantly structured.
Martin Carter is a Guyanan poet and the two poems discussed in this essay form part of the poems of resistance collection. The poems use for resistance from the ownership and encourage readers to think about human rights cultural needs. The first poem, “this is the dark time, my love” is mainly about British military presence, destruction misery and dashed hopes. “Death of a Slave” was written more like a story about slavery describing the slave’s life from the beginning of the day to the end, night. I think the themes of resistance in these poems are clear and effective because Carter emphasises it with the use of repetition and figurative or poetic language. I think the poems are interesting because they are informative. They inform the reader of the British presence in Guyana slavery, amongst other things. These poems also inform us about the people of Guyana and how slavery and colonisation have affected them historically and culturally. My opinion is that slavery, racism and oppression shouldn’t be encouraged. As Carter expresses in his poetry, They leave people in misery. Do you think they should be encouraged?