CHECKING OUT MY HISTORY (Attitudes (Rebellious tone to them, created by…
CHECKING OUT MY HISTORY
John Agard was born in British Guiana (now called Guyana) in the Caribbean, in 1949. He moved to the UK in the late 1970s and is well known for powerful and fun performances of his work.
Dem tell me
Dem tell me
Wha dem want to tell me
Bandage up me eye with me own history
Blind me to me own identity
Dem tell me bout 1066 and all dat
dem tell me bout Dick Whittington and he cat
But Toussaint L’Ouverture
no dem never tell me bout dat
and first Black
Toussaint de thorn
to de French
Toussaint de beacon
of de Haitian Revolution
Dem tell me bout de man who discover de balloon
and de cow who jump over de moon
Dem tell me bout de dish ran away with de spoon
but dem never tell me bout Nanny de maroon
of mountain dream
to freedom river
Dem tell me bout Lord Nelson and Waterloo
but dem never tell me bout Shaka de great Zulu
Dem tell me bout Columbus and 1492
but what happen to de Caribs and de Arawaks too
Dem tell me bout Florence Nightingale and she lamp
and how Robin Hood used to camp
Dem tell me bout ole King Cole was a merry ole soul
but dem never tell me bout Mary Seacole
she travel far
to the Crimean War
she volunteer to go
and even when de British said no
she still brave the Russian snow
a healing star
among the wounded
a yellow sunrise
to the dying
Dem tell me
Dem tell me wha dem want to tell me
But now I checking out me own history
I carving out me identity
About the poem
Agard's experience to make us look at the way history is taught, and at how we conceive our identity as we learn about cultural traditions and narratives.
Toussaint L'Overture, Nanny de Maroon and Mary Seacole, told using abbreviated syntax with words missed out
"Dem tell me" to indicate the white version of history, mostly written in rhyming couplets, triplets or quatrains.
There is repetition - particularly of "Dem tell me" - throughout the poem, creating a sense of rhythm.
End rhyme is heavily used, emphasised by adapted sections of nursery rhymes
nursery rhyme characters and other non-historical people, like Robin Hood or the cow who jumped over the moon.
There's a suggestion that the version of history taught to the poet is not exactly accurate even before you consider that black people have been completely left out.
Black historical figures contain stronger imagery, with use of nature metaphors to powerful effect.
Checking Out Me History alternates between two structures, marked by two different fonts
Rebellious tone to them, created by repetition and short lines at the beginning
Meaning of history, how we come to know about the past and accept versions of history
"with vision" - Imagery of light and vision, contrast with the blindness of his formal education
Non-standard spelling is used to create the impression of an accent.
Lots of repetition makes for a strong voice. In particular the words "Dem tell me" suggest an assertive, even aggressive voice.
The sections about black historical figures feature a change in tone, with natural imagery and vocabulary such as "see-far", suggesting a celebratory tone.
The use of rhyme in the "Dem tell me" sections creates a sing-song tone that - combined with the use of nursery rhymes - suggests the narrator's contempt for the white version of history.
The last line "But now I checking out me own history" suggests determination in the narrator's voice, and a sense that things are going to change.