Hurricane hits England
by Grace Nichols
The poem, Hurricane Hits England, came about as a result of an actual hurricane or great storm, as some people liked to call it, that did hit England back in 1987. Millions of trees came down across England, especially on the South coast where I live. I remember walking around the parks the day after the hurricane and feeling very moved by the sight of all those uprooted trees. They seemed like beached whales to me, huge murdered creatures.
Because I’d never associated hurricanes with England (a regular Caribbean phenomenon) the manifestation of one in England took on a deep significance for me. It was as if some invisible but potent connection had taken place between the two landscapes. As if the voices of the old gods from Africa and the Caribbean were in the winds of the hurricane as it raged around Sussex.
The gods mentioned in the poem are all associated with storm-weather. Huracan, for example, is the Carib god of Hurricane, and the Caribbean gets its name from the native Carib Indians. Shango is the Yoruba god of thunder and lightning; Oya, the Yoruba goddess of the winds represents sweeping change; Hattie, is the name of a hurricane that caused great damage and loss of life in the Caribbean and central America in 1961.
Of course you don’t know how a poem is going to turn out until you’ve written it. You might have a rhythmical notion in mind and images such as ‘whales’ or ‘crusted roots’ but in the actual act of writing, a lot of different things are happening; sub-conscious connections are being made; metaphors formed such as - the howling ship of the wind. The poem seems to have a mind of its own and also becomes a process of discovery or surprise for the poet.
Now that I’ve written Hurricane Hits England, I can see for example that it has an incantatory trance-like quality about it, as if the woman seems possessed by the winds and by the gods she calls on. Although the opening stanza of the poem is in the third person -
took a hurricane to bring her closer to the landscape
- in the rest of the poem she speaks in the first person –
come to break the frozen lake in me
- as if the hurricane has broken down all barriers between her and the English landscape.
In some mysterious way, it seems as if the old gods have not deserted her completely, connecting her both to the Caribbean and to England which is now her home. Indeed to the wider planet as she asserts –
the earth is the earth is the earth.