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CSEC English B: All English B Poems (2018-2023)

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

David Rubadiri

From the west

Clouds come hurrying with the wind

Turning sharply

Here and there

Like a plague of locusts

Whirling,

Tossing up things on its tail

Like a madman chasing nothing.

Pregnant clouds

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,

Women,

Babies clinging on their backs

Dart about

In and out

Madly;

The wind whistles by

Whilst trees bend to let it pass.

Clothes wave like tattered flags

Flying off

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

Gabriel Okara

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

Olive Senior

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

chocolata, cerassie

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.

Stewart Brown

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

William Wordsworth

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!


Orchids

Hazel Simmons-McDonald

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

Lorna Goodison

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

father.

She is prepared, she is done.

Absalom.

It is the Constant Image of Your Face

Dennis Brutus

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.


God’s Grandeur

Gerard Manley-Hopkins

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

Elma Mitchell

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,

Of course.

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,

To come

Of right.

For justice must be done

Specially when

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

Another day

Given the urge.


Test Match Sabina Park

Stewart Brown

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

Langston Hughes

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.

That’s American.

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

James Berry

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

Stephen Spender

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

Wilfred Owen

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

Martin Carter

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.


Ol’ Higue

Mark McWatt

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

night,

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.


Mirror

Sylvia Plath

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.


South

Kamau Brathwaite

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

Mervyn Morris

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.

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