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Level 14

John Agard - 'Checking Out Me History'


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Dem tell me / Wha dem want to tell me
Straight away, Agard begins his poem with a stark contrast between himself and the oppressive British education system through the exclusive pronoun "Dem" ('them') and his personal pronoun "me", foregrounding the poem's themes of identity and opposition.
Bandage up me eyes with me own history / Blind me to me own identity
The highly emotive verbs "Bandage" and "Blind" create the sense that his history is being deliberately hidden from him. The repetition of the intensifier and adjective "own" establishes the connection between "history" and "identity".
1066 and all dat
The impersonal and indefinite pronoun "that" dismisses British Euro-centric history: either an irrelevant or so well know it needs no explanation.
But Toussaint L'Ouverture / no dem never tell me bout dat
The double negative of "no" and "never" emphasises the sense of anger Agard expresses in being denied "me own history". L'Ouverture is parallelled by Dick Whittington is this stanza, comparing a brave and powerful general and revolutionary with a pantomime character to enhance the triviality of what he was taught.
Toussaint de beacon
The hopeful metaphorical noun "beacon" stands as a direct contrast to the 'blinding' experienced by Agard earlier in the poem, adding to a semantic field of light and illumination alongside "vision", "see-far woman", "fire-woman", "star" and "yellow sunrise".
Nanny de maroon
Leader of escaped slaves who led Jamaican resistance against the British Lord Nelson, establishing free settlements in Jamaica. Throughout the poem we see examples of colonising Europeans (e.g. Columbus) set in opposition to the oppressed colonised. Just as Agard now launches his own rebellion against his education.
a healing star / among the wounded / a yellow sunrise / to the dying
Metaphors or light, life and warmth creating the sense of her importance, power, and Agard's anger at her relatively ignored status in popular white British culture.
Dem tell me wha dem want to tell me
Repeating the Patois of the first stanza to reassert his anger. By choosing to write in Patois rather than Standard English, Agard accesses his linguistic (language) heritage rather than being constrained by the grammar rules of colonial powers.
But now I checking out me own history / I carving out me identity
The emphasis placed on the final noun by the poet alerts us to the main theme of the piece whilst the lack of punctuation throughout allows the piece to remain open and continuous. The powerful, active verb "carving" - with its hints of violence but also creation - forces us to recognise the energy and passion needed to resist powerful institutions and 'check out' information and ideas they would rather keep hidden. This isn't just about race and heritage (though that is dominant); it's about any fight for independence against systems of control.
Level 15