“Hurricane Hits England”by Grace Nichols and “Storm on the Island” by Seamus Heaney, discuss which
poet in your opinion has conveyed the power of the storm most vividly:
Many poets write about the power of nature. Two poets who do this are
Grace Nichols in “Hurricane Hits England” and Seamus Heaney in “Storm on
the Island.” These poems vividly convey the power of the storms occurring
and the feelings which people experience during this time.
“Hurricane Hits England” is about how Nichols deals with her new life
in England and how she comes to terms with a diverse culture, compared to
the Caribbean, which she is accustomed to. She identifies herself as a
“frozen lake” and it is as if she becomes part of nature. The “frozen
lake” is a metaphor of her emotional state. The alliterative effect of the
title of the poem puts great emphasis on it and the title is written as if
it was a headline from a newspaper. This makes the words more noticeable
and more significant. The poem has an irregular structure with stanzas of
varying lengths. This reflects the unpredictable, fluid nature of the
hurricane and furthermore reflects how unpredictable women’s thoughts are.
“Storm on the Island” is about a storm which is very aggressive and
destructive and which leaves the inhabitants of the Island feeling very
vulnerable. Nichols also experiences this feeling of helplessness when the
“Hurricane” occurs. The title of this poem is very straightforward and
therefore describes precisely what the poem is about, as does the title in
Nichols poem. As there is no article before the title, there is a sense
that Heaney is not writing about one storm in particular but about many
similar storms. It also suggests that this is an occurrence that he is
used to and the present tense of the poem creates a sense of drama and
reinforces the idea that storms happen all the time. This contrasts with
Nichols poem as she is also used to the experience but she is only writing
about one hurricane that took place in the English coast in 1987. On
commenting on this Hurricane Nichols said, “For the 1st time I felt close
to the English Landscape in a way that I hadn’t earlier. It was as if the
Caribbean had come to England”. “Storm on the Island” is structured in one
long stanza unlike “Hurricane Hits England”, which is split into several
stanzas. There is no set rhyming structure but there are words that rhyme
such as, “hits” and “spits”. In “Storm on the Island” the rhyme is used to
emphasise the violent nature of the storm. This differs from Nichols poem,
which does not rhyme at all.
In “Hurricane Hits England” Nichols addresses the theme of coming to
terms with a new culture. Nichols feels a lack of identity as she is
disconnected from her homeland. This is shown we she says, “O why is my
heart unchained?” However, the hurricane helps to reconnect her to herself
and therefore helps her to find her identity. This is because the
hurricane is familiar and reminds her of the Caribbean thus comforting her.
Through her search for an identity Nichols felt vulnerable as she
says, “Talk to me Hurricane”, she feels alone and is asking for help from
the god of her ancestors. Heaney also experienced this feeling of
vulnerability and this was triggered due to certain aspects of nature.
This contrasts with “Hurricane Hits England” as through nature Nichols is
comforted and regains her identity but nature has done the opposite to
Heaney by unsettling him. The theme of nature is therefore explored in
both poems but it has very different effects for the poets in each of the
poems. When Nichols says, “I am aligning myself to you”, we realise that
the storm has made her feel more settled and connected. When the hurricane
arrives she describes it as a “sweet mystery” who has come to “break the
frozen lake” in her. This shows that the storm has melted away her
insecurities and vulnerability. In “Storm on the Island” Heaney tells us,
“we are being bombarded by the empty air”. The use of “bombarded” shows
that Heaney feels suffocated by the storm and nature has therefore
The theme of fear is explored in both “Storm on the Island” and
“Hurricane Hits England”. This is because it is something that we all
suffer no matter what culture we belong to. Despite the fact that Nichols
and Heaney are from different cultures, they both experience the same
“Hurricane Hits England” has an irregular structure written in eight
stanzas of varying lengths and the variation of lengths is used to show the
unpredictable nature of a hurricane. This also highlights how
unpredictable a woman’s thoughts are and we can see that Grace Nichols
thoughts are not organised.
By contrast “Storm on the Island” is written in blank verse. The poet
uses natural patterns of spoken English to maker the reader think that
Heaney is talking to them. By addressing the reader directly using phrases
such as “you know what I mean” he is creating a link between the reader and
the narrator. It also sounds more conversational. The use of present
tense in the poem also creates a sense of drama and makes the reader feel
closer to this experience.
In “Hurricane Hits England” the first stanza is written using a third
person narrator, which introduces us to the poet. The remainder of the
poem is in 1st person as Nichols addresses the gods directly, almost like a
prayer. This 1st person narration perhaps reflects Nichol’s search for
identity as at the beginning she feels detached from her culture and
therefore from herself but then as time goes on she finds her own identity.
Nichols speaks to four gods: “Hurracan”, “Oya”, “Shango” and “Hattie”.
“Hurracan” is the Caribbean god of the storms/wind. “Oya” is goddess of
wind and change and it comes from Nigeria where Nichols ancestors were
taken as slaves. “Shango” is the god of thunder and lightning and “Hattie”
is the name of a hurricane Nichols remembers from her childhood in the
Caribbean. These gods, which Nichols mentions in “Hurricane Hits England”,
illustrate her cultural background. This is because in the Caribbean gods
are very important; they are looked up to and seen as protectors of the
people. This shows that she has had a very different cultural upbringing
from Heaney who was brought up in Northern Ireland and did not have the
same connection with gods. Nichols may want to appeal to the gods because
she feels that they will protect her whilst she is in a different culture
Unlike “Hurricane Hits England”, “Storm on the Island” is told through
the eyes of the inhabitants of the Island who are caught up in the storm.
This becomes apparent due to the use of the word “we” in “Storm on the
Island”. This makes the reader feel closer to the poet and his subject.
The use of the word “we” also creates a mystery about who he is with.
“Hurricane Hits England” is full of despair because Nichols uses
phrases such as “heavy” and “shake foundations”. This shows the dramatic
effect of the storm on her. It also has a reflective tone, as Grace
Nichols seems to look back on her life in the Caribbean. During an
interview she once said, “When I’m in England I am always looking back.
Both as a writer and as an individual, I’m always looking at both worlds”.
Grace Nichols had lived in the Caribbean before moving to London and
therefore she was used to the hurricanes that occurred there. Moreover the
poet is veryinquisitive as she is asking questions such as “Tell me why
you visit an old English coast?” and “What is the meaning of old tongues
reaping havoc in new places?” This gives the poem a questioning tone.
Furthermore this shows her continual search for identity in a new culture.
In the last two stanzas there is a feeling of expectation when she says,
“come to let me know”, she is anticipating that something is going to
Heaney creates a calming atmosphere at the beginning of the poem.
This is shown in the lines, “we are prepared” and “the wizened earth has
never troubled us.” The mood then changes with the word “Blast” which is a
good use of onomatopoeia as it adds a dramatic edge to the poem and brings
it to life. Heaney has also used enjambment here in “when it blows
full/Blast” this conveys the impression of a sudden gust of wind blowing in
the start of the line. The use of enjambment also has dramatic effects.
The use of onomatopoeia also captures the violence of the storm. The
dramatic mood of the poem continues until the last line, “Strange, it is a
huge nothing that we fear.” This line brings back the calmness to the poem
and is also very peaceful. It is a very unusual description and is very
Nichols uses the metaphor of the “Howling ship”, which is a strong
visual image, to create an ominous and creepy atmosphere. Onomatopoeia is
also used in this phrase in the word “Howling”. This phrase strikes fear
in the reader with its haunting sounds. To bring the Caribbean into the
poem she uses the similes, “like some dark spectre” and “falling heavy as
whales” this is important, as she wants to reflect both cultures in the
poem. This conveys to the reader that she is fond of both cultures. She
would like to express her fondness for her homeland but she would also like
to depict her new home, which is very different. “Their cratered graves”
gives the poem a negative atmosphere and brings in the theme of the death.
This makes you think of a cemetery. The metaphor of the “frozen lake”
tells us that the poet has been frozen by being away from her country, so
that the arrival of the hurricane can help ‘break the ice’ and allow her to
live more comfortably in her new home and culture. The alliterative effect
of “their crusted roots/their cratered graves” adds emphasises to what the
writer is trying to say. In the line, “Oh why is my heart unchained”
Nichols is telling us that she no longer feels trapped in the different
culture that she is experiencing and that she now feels free. The image of
the chains is also suggestive to of the history of slavery, which her
ancestors encountered. Nichols writes, “Come to let us know that the earth
is the earth is the earth”. This is to remind us that beneath superficial
differences, we’re all connected and share a common experience. The
repetition used contributes to the musical/lyrical effect of the poem and
is perhaps like a chant/spell. Nichols contradicts herself in this poem as
the hurricane creates fear in her but also reassurance. This reflects her
emotions for example “the blinding illumination” describes lightning and
perhaps the illumination of her emotions and this is an oxymoron. The use
of the oxymoron further highlights Nichol’s emotions at this time, as she
feels confused, vulnerable and disconnected from identity. Also, the trees
are uprooted, like she has been.
Nichols uses the images of the whales such as “falling heavy as
whales” in her poem as she they are typical to the Caribbean. This
highlights her closeness to the country from which she originated.
The image of the whales that Nichols uses is contrasted with the
images of the cats that Heaney uses in his poem such as “tamed cat/turned
savage”. This is because cats are familiar to him just like whales are
familiar to Nichols and highlights the cultural differences between the two
poets. Another experience that is common to Heaney is storms as he has
experienced many of these from living in Northern Ireland. The hurricane
is also common to Nichols, as she has experienced many hurricanes due to
living in the Caribbean.
The alliterative effect of “space is a salvo” in “Storm on the
Island” serves to remind us that this is the shortest sentence in the poem
and the poet wants to highlight this. Also, the ‘s’ alliteration
throughout the poem creates soft sounds and highlights the hissing of the
wind. Heaney uses the simile, “spits like a tame cat turned savage” helps
the reader to imagine the sound of the sea spray. It also shows a possible
change in the sea from something positive to something negative and makes
the sea sound savage and angry. The use of onomatopoeia in “spits and
hits” helps the reader to imagine the violent sounds by emphasising the
words. It also personifies the savage sea as an animal. The earth is
personified in the line “it has never troubled us” it is as if the earth is
a considerate friend who wants to spare them the trouble of harvesting.
Another example of personification is the use of the word “wizened” which;
shows that the Island is almost like helpless old women. The enjambment
used in “A tame cat/Turned savage” shocks us because of the sudden change
in temperament and this effectively reflects the sudden change that
occurred in the wind. The reader is left feeling uneasy at the thought of
war due to the strong phrases used. Military language such as, “strafes”,
“salvo” and “blast” to highlight the violent nature of the poem and to help
us imagine sounds of war. The military language makes the reader feel
scared and wary because it reminds you of war and fighting. A possible
reason for the use of military language in “Storm on the Island” is due to
Heaney’s past. As a young child Heaney would watch the American soldiers
who were preparing for the Normandy invasion of 1944. They were stationed
close to his home so this would have been a familiar site for him.Heaney
chooses to address the reader directly in the lines, “so, as you can see”.
This is because he wants the reader to clearly see what he is trying to
say. By addressing the reader it puts emphasis on what Heaney is actually
saying and this is very important. The isolated long phrase, “Nor are there
trees…too” creates a crescendo, just as the tragic chorus would in an
opera as the tension builds.
Personally I think that out of the two poems Seamus Heaneys poem
contains the best portrayal of the power of a storm. This is because he
uses very effective images to highlight how violent and destructive the
poem is. He uses military language that brings the poem to life and this
is very effective. He has also been able to create suspense and tension by
the way he structured his poem and especially in the enjambment in the line
“A tame cat/Turned Savage”.
Grace Nichols was also very effective in her portrayal of a storm and
I felt that it was good that she was able to incorporate both cultures into
her poem. Her thoughts and feelings shone through in the poem and this
made the reader feel closer to the subject. I felt that Heaney’s poem was
more simplistic than Nichols and this made it easier to read and understand
what was occurring. This may have been because of Nichols continuous
changes of emotions and feelings. Although Nichols used very striking
adjectives, I felt that Heaney’s military language was more effective in
portraying the power of the poem and brought it more to life.
By Grace Armstrong