Structure of the Poem "Island Man"

Much is made of the musicality and imagery in poetry, but ultimately it is structure that creates a poem worth reading. Structure deals with the form of stanzas, the rhyme and rhythm, and the type of poem. In "Island Man," Grace Nichols creates a structure that supports the speaker's wistful longings for his home while understanding his present situation.


The first element to study in regard to structure is the type of poem. "Island Man" does not fit into any specialty category like haiku or sonnet, but the way the lines are designed and mostly unrhymed makes this poem a free verse. Free verse is an open form of poetry; it does not subscribe to a strict rhyme or rhythm scheme. Free verse does contain stanzas, or groups of words that are set apart to make a particular point. The poem is set up with five stanzas of varying length. Each line varies in length as well, from as little as one word to as many as six.

Meaning of Stanzas

In the first stanza, Nichols shows a man waking up to the sounds of the sea. In the second stanza, she continues this theme with the wild birds and the fishermen coming back after a long day. At the end of stanza two, Nichols writes, "he always comes back groggily groggily." This line links the second and third stanzas, and while it appears to be talking about a tired fisherman returning from his day, it also refers to the worker in the third stanza. The fourth stanza compares the crumpling of the man's pillow in bed to the crackling of the sea, and the final stanza is one brief line, "Another London day."

Rhyme Scheme and Repetition

Most of the poem is written in free verse, without specific rhyme scheme. Nichols does employ some rhyme, like the words "sea" and "defiantly" in stanza two. In stanza three, however, Nichols does portray a traditional rhyme scheme of abcb, which means the second and fourth lines rhyme with each other. Since this stanza talks about the islander's demands in England, it makes sense that it is more structured, just like his life in London. The view of the island time is freer, just like the speaker's image of the island. She uses repetition in the lines "Come back" to emphasize how the island calls the speaker, but he must always return to the reality of London. She also repeats "groggily" and "muffling," two words she uses to straddle the two worlds.

Structure and Meaning

The poem's stanzas are split between a simpler life on the island and the hectic life in London, which mirrors the way many people live. According to Andrew Moore of Universal Teacher, "Many Afro-Caribbeans in Britain live a split existence. They may yearn for the warmth and simple pleasures of the islands they think of as home, yet they find themselves, with friends and family, in a cold northern climate." The fact that the poem is structured around the speaker waking up in the morning and crumpling his pillow, adds to the dream-like quality of his island longings.

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