Hurricane Hits England
by Grace Nichols
To the landscape.
Half the night she lay awake,
The howling ship of the wind,
Its gathering rage,
Like some dark ancestral spectre.
Fearful and reassuring.
Talk to me Huracan
Talk to me Oya
Talk to me Shango
My sweeping, back-home cousin.
Tell me why you visit
An English coast?
What is the meaning
Of old tongues
In new places?
The blinding illumination,
Even as you short-
Into further darkness?
What is the meaning of trees
Falling heavy as whales
Their crusted roots
Their cratered graves?
O why is my heart unchained?
Tropical Oya of the Weather,
I am aligning myself to you,
I am following the movement of your winds,
I am riding the mystery of your storm.
Ah, sweet mystery,
Come to break the frozen lake in me,
Shaking the foundations of the very trees within me,
Come to let me know
That the earth is the earth is the earth.
“Hurricane Hits England” was written by the poet Grace Nichols, who was born in Guyana and moved to England in 1977. The poem’s speaker, who can be read as a representation of Nichols herself, is an immigrant living in England. When a hurricane hits the English coast, the speaker wonders why this familiar feature of her childhood in the West Indies has followed her to such a vastly different landscape. Ultimately, the hurricane brings the speaker to a new sense of home and identity, as she comes to understand that “the earth is the earth is the earth.” Nichols first published the poem in her 1996 collection titled Sunris.
“Hurricane Hits England” Summary
The speaker says that a hurricane was the one thing that helped her feel more connected to her new country. She was up for half the night listening to the whistling wind of the storm, which was like a huge ship. As the wind built up strength and power, it was like some dark ghost of her ancestors, at once frightening and comforting in its familiarity.
The speaker tells Huracan, god of storms, to talk to her. She tells Oya, god of wind, lightning, death, and rebirth, to talk to her. She tells Shango, god of thunder, to talk to her. She calls out to Hurricane Hattie, whom she refers to as a cousin that swept across her homeland.
The speaker asks why these gods are visiting the coast of England. She wonders what it means to hear old languages causing mayhem in new lands.
She wonders about the meaning of the storm's lightning, with its blinding brightness, even as it shuts off England's electricity and makes the world around the speaker even darker.
She wonders what it means that trees are falling over in the wind, as heavy as whales, their roots covered in crusty bark, making giant holes in the land like graves.
The speaker wonders why her heart has been set free. She declares her allegiance to the tropical weather gods, following the movement of their winds and following their mysterious storm.
The sweet mystery of the storm has arrived to break the speaker's frozen inner self, to shake up the roots of the trees within her. It has come to let me the speaker know that the earth is always the same earth, wherever she goes.
“Hurricane Hits England” Themes
Home and the Natural World
“Hurricane Hits England” evokes the homesickness and disconnection people can feel while living in new, unfamiliar landscapes. The poem’s speaker (whom many people take to be a representation of the poet, Grace Nichols) is an immigrant living in England. The speaker is surprised when a hurricane, a familiar feature of her childhood in the West Indies, arrives at the English coast. At first, the hurricane seems to make the speaker homesick. Ultimately, though, the hurricane helps the speaker feel newly connected to England, as she finds comfort in the knowledge that the natural gods of her homeland exist even in this unfamiliar place. “The earth is the earth is the earth,” the speaker concludes, suggesting that people remain connected to the natural world, and thus to their homelands, wherever they go.
The speaker acknowledges that, until the arrival of the hurricane, she felt alienated from her surroundings. She says that it “took a hurricane” to help her feel “closer / To the landscape,” implying that up to this point, she has felt distanced from England—a place with vastly different climate and terrain (and, of course, culture) than the Caribbean.
And when the hurricane first arrives, it seems to make the speaker acutely aware of her longing for her home: she asks the hurricane to “[t]alk to [her],” and it makes her think of her “cousin” Hattie—the name of a massive hurricane that hit the Caribbean in 1961. Ferocious as it may be, the hurricane is also something comforting and familiar to the speaker in that it offers her a sense of connection with the world she came from.
At the same time, the hurricane makes the speaker feel like a piece of that world exists even in England. The speaker feels freed upon the storm’s arrival, declaring that she is now “unchained” and “following the movement of [its] winds.” The hurricane isn’t tethered to one place, which seems to make the speaker realize that home itself doesn’t have to be static, unmoving, or anchored; it can travel with, and within, the speaker.
The speaker thus describes the hurricane as “break[ing] the frozen lake in [her]” and “[s]haking” the “trees / Within her.” If the “frozen lake” represents the speaker’s disconnection from her new landscape, then this encounter with hurricane has helped to break that ice—to help her feel a deep connection to the entire earth, of which England is also a part. The poem suggests, then, that nature can both remind people of their homes, and offer them home in the earth itself.Where this theme appears in the poem:
- Lines 1-37
Immigrant Identity and Belonging
While the poem explores the relationship between the natural world and home, it also explores the complex ways that immigrants may struggle with their sense of identity in a new country. The hurricane can be read as a representation of the speaker’s Caribbean heritage, and the poem seems to suggest, at first, the speaker feels that these aspects of her identity have no place in England. Ultimately, though, the poem suggests that the speaker’s Caribbean roots are a crucial part of her identity that she carries with her wherever she goes. In fact, the poem implies that it is only by affirming these aspects of their identity that immigrants can find a true sense of belonging.
When the speaker describes the hurricane, she is also talking about herself: the hurricane represents the speaker’s Caribbean heritage. Yet at first, the speaker questions what the hurricane is doing in England. By extension, she seems to question what she is doing in England and whether these aspects of her identity have any place there.
The speaker compares the hurricane to “old tongues,” suggesting that the hurricane represents her “old tongue,” or the languages of her country of birth. And indeed, the hurricane prompts the speaker to address it in Yoruba with such words as “Oya” and “Shango.” The speaker also refers to Hurricane Hattie, a real hurricane from 1961, as her “back-home cousin,” implying that such storms are part of her family, roots, and heritage.
Yet the speaker describes the hurricane, at first, as causing “havoc” or chaos, and questions what it is doing there. In other words, the speaker questions what place these parts of her identity could have in England; she seems to feel that such reminders of her former home could destabilize her life in this new one.
Ultimately, though, the speaker affirms the place that both the hurricane and she have in England. While the speaker says that the hurricane is “[f]earful,” she also says it is “reassuring”: feeling connected to her roots is comforting. And the fact that the hurricane has shaken up the speaker’s life seems to be a good thing: as the speaker is confronted with certain parts of her identity, she says that her heart has been “unchained.” By declaring her allegiance to the storm—by reclaiming her roots, language, and heritage—the speaker has found a sense of freedom and liberation.
The speaker also asserts that it “took a hurricane” to “bring her closer / To the landscape” of her new country. The poem suggests, then, that by embracing those parts of her identity that seemed not to belong, the speaker can finally feel “closer” to this new place. The speaker seems to recognize that she is who she is wherever she is, and thus finds a sense of belonging in herself.
As the poem describes the speaker’s experience of the hurricane, then, it also describes her reckoning with her own identity. The poem implies that for the speaker, reclaiming those aspects of her identity that seem not to belong is a crucial part of finding belonging.Where this theme appears in the poem:
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Line-by-Line Explanation & Analysis of “Hurricane Hits England”
It took a ...
... To the landscape
The title, “Hurricane Hits England,” lets the reader know that the poem will describe a hurricane that unexpectedly arrives off the English coast. Hurricanes and other tropical storms are familiar features of the Caribbean (where the poet and, readers can reasonably assume, the speaker of the poem, is from), but are very rare in England.
The speaker says that it took this hurricane-like storm to help her feel closer to the English “landscape.” In other words, the speaker has felt alienated from the English landscape up to this point, and the hurricane—a reminder of the speaker's homeland—helps her feel more connected to her new country.
These opening lines are filled with crisp consonance that adds intensity to the speaker's language: note the sharp /k/ sounds of "took," "hurricane," "closer," and "landscape."
Also note how, in this opening stanza of the poem, the speaker refers to herself in the third person, as “her” and “she.” This third-person point of view suggests that the speaker is still somewhat alienated from herself and her surroundings; she describes herself as though from the outside. As the storm unfolds over the course of the poem, though, this point of view will shift, demonstrating the sense of belonging and self-identity that the speaker finds through the storm.
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