by John Agard

Excuse me
standing on one leg
I’m half-caste

Explain yuself
wha yu mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean when picasso
mix red an green
is a half-caste canvas/
explain yuself
wha u mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean when light an shadow
mix in de sky
is a half-caste weather/
well in dat case
england weather
nearly always half-caste
in fact some o dem cloud
half-caste till dem overcast
so spiteful dem dont want de sun pass
ah rass/
explain yuself
wha yu mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean tchaikovsky
sit down at dah piano
an mix a black key
wid a white key
is a half-caste symphony/

Explain yuself
wha yu mean
Ah listening to yu wid de keen
half of mih ear
Ah looking at u wid de keen
half of mih eye
and when I’m introduced to yu
I’m sure you’ll understand
why I offer yu half-a-hand
an when I sleep at night
I close half-a-eye
consequently when I dream
I dream half-a-dream
an when moon begin to glow
I half-caste human being
cast half-a-shadow
but yu come back tomorrow
wid de whole of yu eye
an de whole of yu ear
and de whole of yu mind

an I will tell yu
de other half
of my story

Summary of Half-Caste

  • Popularity of “Half-Caste”: Written by a Guyanese poet, John Agard, this beautiful poem first appeared in the collection of the same title, Half-Caste and Other Poems. It first appeared in 2005. The collection highlights his identity, diasporic tendencies, colonial past, and racism. The poem beautifully highlights racism and Agard’s assertion about the absurdity of this notion. The beauty of the poem lies in the pidgin English that he uses to present his argument.
  • “Half-Caste” As a Representative of Racism: The poem presents the speaker, who is none other than the poet himself, speaking about his mixed racial background. He is of the view that if he is standing on one leg, he seeks an apology from the readers, but his argument is how he could be half-caste if the mixing of colors on some canvas by Picasso could not be that. He then questions the meaning of why people call persons like him half-caste. He moves to the next argument relates to the weather of England, which is stated as overcast or composer Tchaikovsky’s mixture of the symphony that is not called half-caste. The speaker’s argument is that he would now use only half of his organs to listen to the full questions of his interlocutor. Then he would come to know the next day why he is doing so. This would force him to listen to his half of the story with full attention to know his individuality and identity.
  • Major Themes in “Half-Caste”: The poem “Half-Caste” presents racial issues, identity crisis, the interrogative nature of the victims, and mental agony over this racial issue are major thematic strands. The poet presents racial issues when he questions that first, he seeks pardon. The first issue is that they are called half-caste, meaning they are not fully British or mixed blood. This derogatory term continues beguiling their relations as it is considered a racist comment that they do not tolerate. The poet highlights his right to interrogate the victimizers so that he can ask them questions about different treatments, such as about Picasso’s paintings and Tchaikovsky’s symphonies, to highlight how they are different and that the same derogatory term is not used in relation to such things. Therefore, he is of the view that they are undergoing this mental agony of being the targets of their derogatory terms.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in Half-Caste

John Agard has beautifully used various literary devices to make his poem impactful for his readers. Some of the major literary devices used in this poem are as follows.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /a/ in “when yu say half-caste” and the sound of /o/ in “in fact some o dem cloud.”
  2. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /d/ in “I dream half-a-dream” and the sound of /s/ in “I’m sure you’ll understand.”
  3. 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;

an I will tell yu
de other half
of my story

  1. Irony: Irony is a figure of speech in which words are used in such a way that their intended meaning is different from the actual meaning of the words. The poem is ironic in several ways, first through Picasso and then through Tchaikovsky.
  2. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. John Agard has used imagery in this poem such as “half-caste till dem overcast”, “in fact some o dem cloud” and “so spiteful dem dont want de sun pass.”
  3. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between objects different in nature. The writer has used metaphors such as Picasso mixing red with green, light or shadow, half-caste weather, or half-caste symphony.
  4. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. The poem shows symbols of weather, colors, and music to highlight racism.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in Half-Caste

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

  1. Diction: It means the use of language. The poem shows the use of pidgin English which is informal as well as casual.
  2. Free Verse: It means to use poetry without any rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. This poem is written in free verse.
  3. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are four stanzas in this poem, with each comprising a different number of verses.
  4. Tone: It means the voice of the text. The poem shows a casual, sarcastic, and ironic tone.

Quotes to be Used

The following lines are useful to quote when narrating a story.

an I will tell yu
de other half
of my story