Updated: Nov 5, 2020
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For the JUNE 2018 – JANUARY 2023 CSEC English B Examinations, the following poems are prescribed from A World of Poetry for CXC (Hazel Simmons-McDonald and Mark McWatt New Edition):
An African Thunderstorm- David Rubadiri
Once Upon a Time- Gabriel Okara
Birdshooting Season- Olive Senior
West Indies, U.S.A.- Stewart Brown
Sonnet Composed Upon Westminster Bridge- William Wordsworth
Orchids - Hazel Simmons-McDonald
The Woman Speaks to the Man who has Employed Her Son - Lorna Goodison
It is the Constant Image of your Face- Dennis Brutus
God’s Grandeur- Gerard Manley Hopkins
A Stone’s Throw- Elma Mitchell
Test Match Sabina Park - Stewart Brown
Theme for English B - Langston Hughes
Dreaming Black Boy - James Berry
My Parents- Stephen Spender
Dulce et Decorum Est- Wilfred Owen
This is the Dark Time, My Love - Martin Carter
Ol’Higue- Mark McWatt
Mirror - Sylvia Plath
South - Kamau Brathwaite
Little Boy Crying - Mervyn Morris
In this lesson, you will find each of these poems in the order given above.
An African Thunderstorm
From the west
Clouds come hurrying with the wind
Here and there
Like a plague of locusts
Tossing up things on its tail
Like a madman chasing nothing.
Ride stately on its back,
Gathering to perch on hills
Like sinister dark wings;
The wind whistles by
And trees bend to let it pass.
In the village
Screams of delighted children,
Toss and turn
In the din of the whirling wind,
Babies clinging on their backs
In and out
The wind whistles by
Whilst trees bend to let it pass.
Clothes wave like tattered flags
To expose dangling breasts
As jagged blinding flashes
Rumble, tremble and crack
Amidst the smell of fired smoke
And the pelting march of the storm.
Once Upon a Time
Once upon a time, son,
they used to laugh with their hearts
and laugh with their eyes:
but now they only laugh with their teeth,
while their ice-block-cold eyes
search behind my shadow.
There was a time indeed
they used to shake hands with their hearts:
but that’s gone, son.
Now they shake hands without hearts
while their left hands search
my empty pockets.
‘Feel at home!’ ‘Come again’:
they say, and when I come
again and feel
at home, once, twice,
there will be no thrice-
for then I find doors shut on me.
So I have learned many things, son.
I have learned to wear many faces
like dresses – homeface,
officeface, streetface, hostface,
cocktailface, with all their conforming smiles
like a fixed portrait smile.
And I have learned too
to laugh with only my teeth
and shake hands without my heart.
I have also learned to say,’Goodbye’,
when I mean ‘Good-riddance’:
to say ‘Glad to meet you’,
without being glad; and to say ‘It’s been
nice talking to you’, after being bored.
But believe me, son.
I want to be what I used to be
when I was like you. I want
to unlearn all these muting things.
Most of all, I want to relearn
how to laugh, for my laugh in the mirror
shows only my teeth like a snake’s bare fangs!
So show me, son,
how to laugh; show me how
I used to laugh and smile
once upon a time when I was like you.
Birdshooting season the men
make marriages with their guns
My father’s house turns macho
as from far the hunters gather
All night long contentless women
stir their brews: hot coffee
wrap pone and tie-leaf
for tomorrow’s sport. Tonight
the men drink white rum neat.
In darkness shouldering
their packs, their guns, they leave
We stand quietly on the
doorstep shivering. Little boys
longing to grow up birdhunters too
Little girls whispering:
Fly Birds Fly.
West Indies, U.S.A.
Cruising at thirty thousand feet above the endless green
the islands seem like dice tossed on a casino’s baize,
some come up lucky, others not. Puerto Rico takes the pot,
the Dallas of the West Indies, silver linings on the clouds
as we descend are hall-marked, San Juan glitters
like a maverick’s gold ring.
All across the Caribbean
we’d collected terminals – airports are like calling cards,
cultural fingermarks; the hand-written signs at Port-
au-Prince, Piarco’s sleazy tourist art, the lethargic
contempt of the baggage boys at ‘Vere Bird’ in St. Johns...
And now for plush San Juan.
But the pilot’s bland,
you’re safe in my hands drawl crackles as we land,
“US regulations demand all passengers not disembarking
at San Juan stay on the plane, I repeat, stay on the plane.”
Subtle Uncle Sam, afraid too many desperate blacks
might re-enslave this Island of the free,
might jump the barbed
electric fence around ‘America’s
back yard’ and claim that vaunted sanctuary... ‘Give me your poor...’
Through toughened, tinted glass the contrasts tantalise;
US patrol cars glide across the shimmering tarmac,
containered baggage trucks unload with fierce efficiency.
So soon we’re climbing,
low above the pulsing city streets;
galvanised shanties overseen by condominiums
polished Cadillacs shimmying past Rastas with pushcarts
and as we climb, San Juan’s fool’s glitter calls to mind
the shattered innards of a TV set that’s fallen
off the back of a lorry, all painted valves and circuits
the roads like twisted wires,
the bright cars, micro-chips
It’s sharp and jagged and dangerous, and belonged to someone else.
Sonnet Composed Upon Westminister Bridge
Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth, like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;
Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!
I leave this house
box pieces of the five-week life I;ve gathered.
I’ll send them on
to fill spaces in my future life.
One thing is left
a spray of orchids someone gave
from a bouquet one who makes a ritual of flower-giving sent.
The orchids have no fragrance
but purple petals draw you
to look at the purple heart.
I watered them once
when the blossoms were full blown
like polished poems.
I was sure they’d wilt
and I would toss them out with the five-week litter.
They were stubborn.
I starved them.
They would not die.
This morning the bud at the stalk’s tip unfurled.
I think I’ll pluck the full-blown blooms
press them between pages of memory.
Perhaps in their thin dried transparency
I’ll discover their peculiar poetry.
The Woman Speaks to the Man who has Employed her Son
Her son was first made known to her
as a sense of unease, a need to cry
for little reasons and a metallic tide
rising in her mouth each morning.
Such signs made her know
That she was not alone in her body.
She carried him full term
tight up under her heart.
She carried him like the poor
carry hope, hope you get a break
or a visa, hope one child go through
and remember you. He had no father.
The man she made him with had more
like him, he was fair-minded
he treated all his children
with equal and unbiased indifference.
She raise him twice, once as mother
Then as father, set no ceiling
On what he could be doctor,
earth healer, pilot take wings.
But now he tells her he is working
for you, that you value him so much
you give him one whole submachine
gun for him alone.
He says you are like a father to him
she is wondering what kind of father
would give a son hot and exploding
death, when he asks him for bread.
She went downtown and bought three
and one-third yards of black cloth
and a deep crowned and veiled hat
for the day he draw his bloody salary.
She has no power over you and this
at the level of earth, what she has
are prayers and a mother’s tears
and at knee city she uses them.
She says psalms for him
she reads psalms for you
she weeps for his soul
her eyewater covers you.
She is throwing a partner
with Judas Iscariot’s mother
the thief on the left-hand side
of the cross, his mother
is the banker, her draw though
is first and last for she still
throwing two hands as mother and
She is prepared, she is done.
It is the Constant Image of Your Face
It is the constant image of your face
framed in my hands as you knelt before my chair
the grave attention of your eyes
surveying me amid my world of knives
that stays with me, perennially accuses
and convicts me of heart’s-treachery;
and neither you nor I can plead excuses
for you, you know, can claim no loyalty –
my land takes precedence of all my loves.
Yet I beg mitigation, pleading guilty
for you, my dear, accomplice of my heart
made, without words, such blackmail with your beauty
and proffered me such dear protectiveness
that I confess without remorse or shame,
my still-fresh treason to my country
and I hope that she, my other, dearest love
will pardon freely, not attaching blame
being your mistress (or your match) in tenderness.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
A Stone’s Throw
We shouted out
'We've got her! Here she is!
It's her all right '.
We caught her.
There she was -
A decent-looking woman, you'd have said,
(They often are)
Beautiful, but dead scared,
Tousled - we roughed her up
A little, nothing much
And not the first time
By any means
She'd felt men's hands
Greedy over her body -
But ours were virtuous,
And if our fingers bruised
Her shuddering skin,
These were love-bites, compared
To the hail of kisses of stone,
The last assault
And battery, frigid rape,
For justice must be done
It tastes so good.
And then - this guru,
Preacher, God-merchant, God-knows-what -
Spoilt the whole thing,
Speaking to her
(Should never speak to them)
Squatting on the ground - her level,
Writing in the dust
Something we couldn't read.
And saw in her
Something we couldn't see
At least until
He turned his eyes on us,
Her eyes on us,
Our eyes upon ourselves.
We walked away
Still holding stones
That we may throw
Given the urge.
Test Match Sabina Park
Proudly wearing the rosette of my skin I strut into Sabina England boycotting excitement bravely something badly amiss.
Cricket. Not the game they play at Lords, The crowd- whoever saw a crowd At a cricket match? – are caged vociferous partisans, quick to take offence.
England sixty eight for none at lunch. ‘What sort o battin dat man? Dem kaaan play cricket again, praps dem should-a-borrow Lawrence Rowe!’
And on it goes, the wicket slow as the batting and the crowd restless. ‘Eh white bwoy, how you brudders dem does sen we sleep so? Me pay me monies fe watch dis foolishness? Cho!’
So I try to explain in my Hampshire drawl about conditions in Kent, about sticky wickets and muggy days and the monsoon season in Manchester but fail to convince even myself.
The crowd’s loud ‘busin drives me out skulking behind a tarnished rosette somewhat frayed now but unable, quite, to conceal a blushing nationality.
Theme for English B
The instructor said,
Go home and write
a page tonight.
And let that page come out of you—
Then, it will be true.
I wonder if it’s that simple?
I am twenty-two, colored, born in Winston-Salem.
I went to school there, then Durham, then here
to this college on the hill above Harlem.
I am the only colored student in my class.
The steps from the hill lead down into Harlem,
through a park, then I cross St. Nicholas,
Eighth Avenue, Seventh, and I come to the Y,
the Harlem Branch Y, where I take the elevator
up to my room, sit down, and write this page:
It’s not easy to know what is true for you or me
at twenty-two, my age. But I guess I’m what
I feel and see and hear, Harlem, I hear you.
hear you, hear me—we two—you, me, talk on this page.
(I hear New York, too.) Me—who?
Well, I like to eat, sleep, drink, and be in love.
I like to work, read, learn, and understand life.
I like a pipe for a Christmas present,
or records—Bessie, bop, or Bach.
I guess being colored doesn’t make me not like
the same things other folks like who are other races.
So will my page be colored that I write?
Being me, it will not be white.
But it will be
a part of you, instructor.
You are white—
yet a part of me, as I am a part of you.
Sometimes perhaps you don’t want to be a part of me.
Nor do I often want to be a part of you.
But we are, that’s true!
As I learn from you,
I guess you learn from me—
although you’re older—and white—
and somewhat more free.
This is my page for English B.
Dreaming Black Boy
I wish my teacher’s eyes wouldn’t
go past me today. Wish he’d know
it’s okay to hug me when I kick
a goal. Wish I myself wouldn’t hold back when answer comes.
I’m no woodchopper now
like all ancestors.
I wish I could be educated
to the best of tune up, and earn
good money and not sink to lick
boots. I wish I could go on every
crisscross way of the globe
and no persons or powers or
hotel keepers would make it a waste.
I wish life wouldn’t spend me out
opposing. Wish same way creation
would have me stand it would have
me stretch, and hold high, my voice
Paul Robeson’s, my inside eye
a sun. Nobody wants to say
hello to nasty answers.
I wish torch throwers of night
would burn lights for decent times.
Wish plotters in pyjamas would pray
for themselves. Wish people wouldn’t
talk as if I dropped from Mars.
I wish only boys were scared
behind bravados, for I could suffer.
I could suffer a big big lot.
I wish nobody would want to earn
the terrible burden I can suffer.
My parents kept me from children who were rough
Who threw words like stones and wore torn clothes
Their thighs showed through rags they ran in the street
And climbed cliffs and stripped by the country streams.
I feared more than tigers their muscles like iron
Their jerking hands and their knees tight on my arms
I feared the salt coarse pointing of those boys
Who copied my lisp behind me on the road.
They were lithe they sprang out behind hedges
Like dogs to bark at my world. They threw mud
While I looked the other way, pretending to smile.
I longed to forgive them but they never smiled.
Dulce et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick, boys!—An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime.—
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dreams before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues—
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.
This is the Dark Time, My Love
This is the dark time, my love,
All round the land brown beetles crawl about.
The shining sun is hidden in the sky
Red flowers bend their heads in awful sorrow.
This is the dark time, my love,
It is the season of oppression, dark metal, and tears.
It is the festival of guns, the carnival of misery.
Everywhere the faces of men are strained and anxious.
Who comes walking in the dark night time?
Whose boot of steel tramps down the slender grass?
It is the man of death, my love, the strange invader
Watching you sleep and aiming at your dream.
You think I like all this stupidness-
gallivanting all night without skin
burning myself out like cane –fire
To frighten the foolish?
And for what? A few drops of baby blood?
You think I wouldn’t rather
take my blood seasoned in fat
black-pudding, like everyone else?
And don’t even talk ‘bout the pain of salt
And having to bend these old bones down
To count a thousand grains of rice!
If only babies didn’t smell so nice!
And if I could only stop
Hearing the soft, soft call
Of that pure blood running in new veins,
Singing the sweet song of life
Tempting an old, dry-up woman who been
Holding her final note for years,
Afraid of the dying hum…
Then again, if I didn’t fly and come
to that fresh pulse in the middle of the
how would you, mother,
name your ancient dread,
And who to blame
for the murder inside your head…?
Believe me –
As long as it have women giving birth
A poor ol’ higue like me can never dead.
I am silver and exact. I have no preconceptions.
Whatever I see I swallow immediately
Just as it is, unmisted by love or dislike.
I am not cruel, only truthful ‚
The eye of a little god, four-cornered.
Most of the time I meditate on the opposite wall.
It is pink, with speckles. I have looked at it so long
I think it is part of my heart. But it flickers.
Faces and darkness separate us over and over.
Now I am a lake. A woman bends over me,
Searching my reaches for what she really is.
Then she turns to those liars, the candles or the moon.
I see her back, and reflect it faithfully.
She rewards me with tears and an agitation of hands.
I am important to her. She comes and goes.
Each morning it is her face that replaces the darkness.
In me she has drowned a young girl, and in me an old woman
Rises toward her day after day, like a terrible fish.
But today I recapture the islands'
bright beaches: blue mist from the ocean
rolling into the fishermen's houses.
By these shores I was born: sound of the sea
came in at my window, life heaved and breathed in me then
with the strength of that turbulent soil.
Since then I have travelled: moved far from the beaches:
sojourned in stoniest cities, walking the lands of the north
in sharp slanting sleet and the hail,
crossed countless saltless savannas and come
to this house in the forest where the shadows oppress me
and the only water is rain and the tepid taste of the river.
We who are born of the ocean can never seek solace
in rivers: their flowing runs on like our longing,
reproves us our lack of endeavour and purpose,
proves that our striving will founder on that.
We resent them this wisdom, this freedom: passing us
toiling, waiting and watching their cunning declension down to the sea.
But today I would join you, travelling river,
borne down the years of your patientest flowing,
past pains that would wreck us, sorrows arrest us,
hatred that washes us up on the flats;
and moving on through the plains that receive us,
processioned in tumult, come to the sea.
Bright waves splash up from the rocks to refresh us,
blue sea-shells shift in their wake
and there is the thatch of the fishermen's houses, the path
made of pebbles, and look!
Small urchins combing the beaches
look up from their traps to salute us:
they remember us just as we left them.
The fisherman, hawking the surf on this side
of the reef, stands up in his boat
and halloos us: a starfish lies in its pool.
And gulls, white sails slanted seaward,
fly into the limitless morning before us.
Little Boy Crying
Your mouth contorting in brief spite and hurt,
your laughter metamorphosed into howls,
your frame so recently relaxed now tight
with three year old frustration, your bright eyes
swimming tears, splashing your bare feet,
you stand there angling for a moment’s hint
of guilt or sorrow for the quick slap struck.
The ogre towers above you, that grim giant,
empty of feeling, a colossal cruel,
soon victim of the tale’s conclusion, dead
at last. You hate him, you imagine
chopping clean the tree he’s scrambling down
or plotting deeper pits to trap him in.
You cannot understand, not yet,
the hurt your easy tears can scald him with,
nor guess the wavering hidden behind that mask.
This fierce man longs to lift you, curb your sadness
with piggy-back or bull fight, anything,
but dare not ruin the lessons you should learn.
You must not make a plaything of the rain.