Updated: May 28, 2021
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.
This poem is written in the context of the pain and suffering associated with war, and specifically the struggles of Guyana during British colonization in 1953. At that point, the constitution had been suspended to allow Britain to send soldiers into Guyana to crush the uprising of the people. It is likely that the ‘love’ spoken of by the persona is his country, however it could also simply be a woman who he loves. The poet communicates a gloomy atmosphere plagued with the sentiment of doom due to oppression by soldiers and weapons of terror. Nature reflects this gloom, as seen in the absence of sunlight and drooping flowers. The people of the country are all melancholy and anxiety-stricken, visibly oppressed by the spoils of war. Death (and war) is personified as a man who tramples not only nature, but the peace and dreams of the persona’s country underfoot. The mood of the poem is dismal and gloomy. The tone is pessimistic and sad, and the themes include war, conflict, doom, death and despair.
“This is the dark time, my love,”
The persona begins by declaring the dismal nature of their current time. This time is characterized by darkness, and therefore a sentiment of impending doom and unfavourable outcomes. The titular line conveys that the persona is speaking to someone, his ‘love,’ which could simply be his lover, but could be better interpreted as being his country (like how the persona of ‘It is the Constant Image of Your Face’ (Dennis Brutus) refers to his country as his ‘dearest love.’
“All round the land brown beetles crawl about.”
This refers to the British soldiers who occupied the country during this time. Note the use of alliteration here in ‘brown beetles.’ The persona communicates a landscape filled with the soldiers, corresponding to the atmosphere of war.
“The shining sun is hidden in the sky Red flowers bend their heads in awful sorrow.”
Now, nature seems to reflect the dismal mood, the ‘dark time’ if you well. The sun does not shine in the sky, so it is not just dark in the sense of gloom, but also literally, with the absence of sunlight. The sun, like any sign of positive outcome or optimism is hidden. Reinforcing the mood, the poet personifies red flowers by saying that they ‘bend their heads in awful sorrow.’ The flowers are given the quality of emotion and reflecting that emotion. Thus, even the flowers are mourning the dark times of death and sorrow. They are the colour red (the colour of blood), essentially the only colour mentioned in the poem.
“This is the dark time, my love, It is the season of oppression, dark metal, and tears.”
The persona describes this dark time as a season, characterized by endless oppression, the dark metal of the machines of war and sadness. Note the repetition of the word ‘dark,’ which communicates the pessimistic outlook and an atmosphere of terror. The ‘dark metal’ likely refers to tankers and guns which oppress the people of the persona’s country.
“It is the festival of guns, the carnival of misery. Everywhere the faces of men are strained and anxious.”
The poet utilizes two oxymorons here (two contradicting ideas in close succession). He refers to this dark time of war as a festival (associated with joy and celebration) of guns (machines of terror, oppression and violent death). Quite incompatible/contradictory terms. He continues by describing it as a carnival (associated with fun and the joy of children) of misery (a terrible emotion of helplessness and despair). The persona remarks the strained emotions in the faces of everyone around him- including his own countrymen and the soldiers.
“Who comes walking in the dark night time? Whose boot of steel tramps down the slender grass?”
The poet uses rhetorical questions to lead into the reveal of a personification of war and death. It hints at something being closely related to dark times such as these, who has a ‘boot of steel.’ This reflects the oppressive and abusive effect war has, pressing down on not only the environment, but on the people of the country as well. It tramples the grass underfoot, showing blatant disregard for nature- opting instead to fulfil selfish goals through needless death and suffering.
“It is the man of death, my love, the strange invader Watching you sleep and aiming at your dream.”
The poet personifies death as a strange invader to the persona’s country. This man of death is said to not only crush nature under his steel boot, but also watch the persona’s love sleep and aim at destroying her dream. If the love he refers to truly is his country, then the man of death aims to wreck any possibility of realization of the dream held by the country overall- one of freedom and independence. The war and conflict spurred by the invasion of soldiers to crush resistance and attempts at liberation directly intends to destroy the dreams and optimism of the people of the country overall.