Compare the ways in which poets present their ideas and attitudes in
Vultures and Limbo.
In this poem, Edward Kamau Brathwaite uses the game Limbo and limbo
dancing to represent his memories of the slave trade. The poet uses
the limbo stick to describe the action of the slaves: the stick is
lowered towards the ground - the slaves are being forced down into the
holds of the ship, becoming more down trodden as their lives are taken
Also Limbo can be seen as a 'child hell' for un-baptised Catholics,
the slaves on the ship feel as though they're in hell.
Dancing beneath the limbo stick is used in representation of the
slaves actually aboard the ship. Many slaves would die and a
combination of luck, chance and determination decided who would
survive, just as it is touch-and-go whether or not the limbo dancer
will make it under the stick without touching it.
The poet also uses the stick as a source of comparison: the whip used
to beat the slaves and the stick used to beat the drum, as the slaves
rowed themselves further towards life imprisonment. Finally, when the
slaves reach the shore and they climb up out of the darkness, in
chains, are criminals (which is ironic as it is the slaves as it is
the slavers who are evil and unjust), the stick is being raised and
the game 'won'. There is a constant reference to the words 'dark' and
'darkness' (e.g. 'the long dark night', 'the darkness is over me',
'the dark still steady' etc.) throughout the poem and this puts
emphasis on the mood the poet is trying to re-create.
Overall the poet's memories are saddening but not with anger. They are
written in first person singular, as if by the slave but also as if we
were the slave - seeing through their eyes. Another point I have
noticed is that the poem is all about one. 'We' is never used. The
slave seems alone. He feels no companionship with the other slaves,
who are not once mentioned. Nor does he express any remorse or emotion
for those slaves who died those who, in a sense, touch the stick (as
in a game of limbo). He talks only about I, himself. He survives
When the slaves reach the shore of the 'new world' where they would be
working on the sugar plantations the slave steps onto the 'burning
ground', so in a sense escaping from the ship and starting a fresh
The poem is set out in 2 columns with 2 lines grouped together. The
poem has a chant like rhythm, like a song. The poet uses a lot of
repetition in the poem, and also the incorrect word order and layout
of the words I think emphasises the language barrier the slaves were
I think the poem shows us a sad truth that has happened in the past.
Being a Negro himself and an ancestor to the slaves Edward Brathwaite
I believe understands the anguish and strife these humans were made to
face. The poem although quite short, is very detailed, but one has to
try and look beyond the words to see...