'The Émigree' - Key Quotations

"There once was a country… I left it as a child"

- STANZA 1 -

CONTEXT:

The opening line of the poem. We learn that the speaker moved from one country (we assume it's their home country) to another when they were young.

THEMES:

Culture; Identity; Displacement; Migration

LANGUAGE:

Verb = "left" - makes us wonder why the speaker left. Was it dangerous? Were they sent away?

Elipsis = suggests that the speaker is pausing for reflection as they remember their home country.

Phrase = "There once was a country" - poem begins in a similar way to a fairy tale or nursery rhyme. Perhaps the speaker remembers this country as a wonderful, magical place?

"but my memory of it is sunlight-clear"

- STANZA 1 -

CONTEXT:

The second line of the poem which refers to the speaker's memory of their home country.

THEMES:

Culture; Identity; Memory; Nature

LANGUAGE:

Adjective = "sunlight-clear" connotes positivity and brightness, suggesting that the memories of the country are good ones.

"The worst news I receive of it cannot break / my original view"

- STANZA 1 -

CONTEXT:

The speaker refers to news they hear about their home country. We never find out exactly where this country is, but it can be inferred that it is one plagued with war and oppression.

THEMES:

Stubbornness; Opinion; Memory

LANGUAGE:

Verb phrase = "cannot break" - shows a stubbornness and reluctance to even consider information that doesn't match up with the speaker's positive, magical memory of their home country.

"The white streets of that city, the graceful slopes / glow even clearer as time rolls its tanks"

- STANZA 2 -

CONTEXT:

The speaker describes what we can infer as being their home city.

THEMES:

Memory; Purity; Peace; War; Conflict

LANGUAGE:

Juxtaposition = the purity implied by "white streets" along with the "graceful slopes" create a positivity that juxtaposes with the negativity of conflict and violence that comes from "tanks".

"like a hollow doll, opens and spills"

- STANZA 2 -

CONTEXT:

The speaker discusses what it was like leaving and moving to a new country, knowing only the language they had learned at home.

THEMES:

Identity; Overwhelmed; Migration

LANGUAGE:

Simile = "like a hollow doll" suggests that the speaker has had their identity ripped from them, leaving them "hollow" (adjective). This could have been the result of the oppressive regime they may have been fleeing from, or because of the new, unfamiliar culture they now found themselves in.

"l can’t get it off my tongue. It tastes of sunlight."

- STANZA 2 -

CONTEXT:

The final line of the second stanza cleverly links back to the metaphor of sunlight in the first. The speaker is here referring to the language of their home country.

THEMES:

Identity; Language; Nature

LANGUAGE:

Extended Metaphor = "tastes of sunlight" links back to sunlight metaphor in stanza 1. Again, emphasises the positivity and happiness that is tied to these memories of the speaker's homeland.

Phrase = "can't get it off my tongue" suggests that the speaker's home language is constantly on their mind, furthermore implying that thoughts of their homeland and culture are too.

"I have no passport, there’s no way back at all / but my city comes to me in its own white plane."

- STANZA 3 -

CONTEXT:

The speaker explains how it's impossible for them to return to their home country, but that they often 'see' it in their memories.

THEMES:

Memory; Loss; Identity

LANGUAGE:

Determiner phrase = "no passport" - the determiner "no" indicates here that the speaker is without the ability to move around or go back to where they are from. They are stuck where they are, possibly even trapped.

Noun = "passport" could not only represent the physical document required to move from country to country, but it may also represent the speaker's own identity. There's no way back to that culture because the speaker has lost that part of their identity.

"They accuse me of being dark in their free city. / My city hides behind me."

- STANZA 3 -

CONTEXT:

The speaker here discusses the difficulty of living in a foreign city/country.

THEMES:

Trapped; Uncertainty; Migration

LANGUAGE:

Pronouns = "they" and "their" (third person) refer to the people whose home the speaker is now in. These people are suspicious and unsure of the speaker due to his/her strong desire to return home. Despite this, the first-person pronoun "my" shows that the speaker's home city remains with them, giving them strength and resilience.

Personification = The "city hides behind" the speaker, as if it was a person trying to keep out of sight. This could suggest that the speaker's city is in such a bad way, due to conflict/oppression, that it is not viewed highly by those from more civilised countries.