Ellis Island

Ellis Island

By Joyce Hemsley

In days of long ago,
how did Europeans enter America?
I read the history and now I know.
They arrived at Ellis Island
at the mouth of the Hudson River
often on a sunny day, but sometimes
they would shiver.

The Island was given a second name…
‘Isle of Tears’ as when immigrants

failed the acceptance test, they
cried away their fears. But millions
of hopefuls were invited to set foot
in America, to live out their dreams
and fantasies forever and a day,
thankful for the gift which brought
success their way.

Beginning of the eighteenth century
Britain’s Samuel Ellis gave his name

bringing more interest and immigrants
to an Island of prosperity and fame.
Mothers and fathers came with children,
I mention just a few… Irving Berlin,
Claudette Colbert, Sam Goldwyn,
Bob Hope, Al Johnson ~ and many more,
finding success through Ellis Island door.

Summary of Ellis Island

  • Popularity of “Ellis Island”: The poem ‘Ellis Island’ was written by Joyce Hemsley, a popular British writer, poet, and social activist. It is a nostalgic rendition of a place that had historical importance. It was published in 1979. The poem captures the speaker’s mixed feelings about the issue of immigration. It also highlights the positive aspects as well as the reality of the American dream. The speaker accounts for the significant historical events, while the realistic and factual description of immigrants made this poem echo across the globe.
  • Ellis Island” As a Representative of Pride: This poem is written from a young woman’s perspective who reflects upon important historical events. At first, the speaker wonders about the European invasion of America. Then, she thinks about the route they took to enter the land of opportunities. She further informs that Ellis Island was named the Isle of Tears because it absorbed the sufferings, painful echoes, and miseries of the poor immigrants. She admires how this magical land provided opportunities to millions of hopeless people who arrived searching for a better life. It provided shelter to many families; the poet mentions a few famous names who set foot on this island. This wonderland is still known to give them a place to live and provide them with a prosperous fortune.
  • Major Themes in “Ellis Island”: Journey to another place, problems of the immigrants, and hope are the major themes of the poem. The poem unfolds the story of the immigrants who reached Ellis Island, one of the essential historical Islands of the United States. It symbolizes the new world to the families who arrived here many years ago, seeking good quality of family life. Instead, this place fuelled their thoughts and provided them with the desired comfort of life. Although the immigrants had nothing in their pockets when they reached, their hopes and struggle brought them a lasting fortune.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used In Ellis Island

literary devices are literary tools that poets use to enhance their poetry along with filling them with a message. A few literary devices in this poem are as follows.

  1. Allusion: Allusion is an indirect reference to a person, place, thing, or idea of a historical, cultural, political, or literary significance. Joyce Hemsley has taken some words from American history such as figures by the end and the name of the island as;

“Beginning of the eighteenth century
Britain’s Samuel Ellis gave his name.”

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /e/ in “failed the acceptance test” and the sound of /uh/ in “Mothers and fathers came with children.”
  2. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound /f/ in “fantasies forever”, the sound of /k/ in “Claudette Colbert” and the sound of /m/ in “many more.”
  3. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /t/ and /l/ in “Yet only part of my blood loves that memory” and the sound of /n/ and /r/ in “yet never owned their own.”
  4. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example,

“Lands of those who followed
the changing Moon,
knowledge of the seasons
in their veins.”

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. For example, “Beyond the red brick of Ellis Island”, “I too come to this island” and “waiting for those who’d worked.”
  2. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between objects that are different in nature. The poet has used an extended metaphor of success to show how this specific island brought life to many immigrants who arrived at its door empty-handed.
  3. Personification: Personification is to give human qualities to inanimate objects. The poet personified the island in the poem such as “Britain’s Samuel Ellis gave his name” and “the mouth of the Hudson River” as if the river has a life of its own.
  4. Rhetorical Question: Rhetorical question is a question that is not asked to receive an answer; it is just posed to make the point clear. The writer asked rhetorical questions at the beginning of the poem to put emphasis on her point such as, “how did Europeans enter America?”
  5. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. “Ellis Island” symbolizes the new and better world.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in Ellis Island

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Free Verse: Free verse is a type of poetry that does not contain patterns of rhyme or meter. This is a free verse poem with no strict rhyme or meter.
  2. Rhyme Royal: Rhyme royal commonly known as septet is a seven-lined stanza used in English poetry. The poem consists of three rhyme royal stanzas.
  1. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are five stanzas in this poem with each comprising different lines.

Quotes to be Used

The lines from ‘Ellis Island’ are suitable to quote in speeches or lectures while shuffling the pages of American history.

“Beginning of the eighteenth century
Britain’s Samuel Ellis gave his name

bringing more interest and immigrants
to an Island of prosperity and fame.