No Men Are Foreign
The poem tells us that all the divisions based on nation, caste, colour, creed or religion are baseless since we all are similar in our basic need of the common resources for our life. We all have a common source of origin and we all are dependent on the same resources for our survival. Since we are all same, we must shun all violence of all kinds and unite to make our lives better. ‘Uniforms’ here signify the armies of the several countries who are constantly at war in the name of nationhood, religion or caste. ‘Single body’ breathes refers to the inherent similarity between all human beings. ‘Peaceful harvests’ refers to the fact that it is only in the times of peace that a civilization progresses. It is only in time of peace that everybody lives in harmony and contentedness. In fact if a war is raging in a country then that country faces the threat of starvation since all sorts of production comes to a halt. This very idea is conveyed by ‘war’s long winter’. War renders a land barren. It makes the life of the people and the lands infertile, both of them are unable to create anything meaningful. ‘Hands’ and ‘lines’ stand for products and goods and literature respectively which come from various places. ‘Hells of fire and dust’ could refer to a wartime destruction of a civilization. It does obliquely refer to the atomic bombs which created as scene similar to this. In fact many scientists predict that in the event of a nuclear holocaust the entire earth will be covered with so much dust that the earth will be bound for a very long time in nuclear winter where in the absence of the sunlight nothing will grow.
The theme of the poem is pretty simple which deals with the theme of universal brotherhood. The poem says that we all humans are alike in our basic constitution sharing all the natural resources of the earth which blesses all humans alike.
As we can see from the word ‘remember’ the poem appears to be quite a didactic one which gives us the lesson that all humanity is alike in their heart and spirit. It seems to follow the Hindu ideal – ‘वसुधैव कुटुम्बकम् ‘, which means that the entire world is a family and nobody is a stranger. Ironically, however, we Indians, the originators of the idea have forgotten it and have come to be as xenophobic as any other culture in the world. However, we also have a rich heritage of cultural cohesion and co existence which is hardly displayed by any other culture. The poem is pretty simple and clear in its appearance. As already pointed out the tone of the poem is didactic and thus has to be as lucid as possible. We can pay attention to the number of metaphors which though not very forceful, yet create a sense of sensitive connections with the semantic values embedded in the text. Like any great idea the ideas referred to here are also simple and thus reach towards greatness. The poem composed partly in assonance and partly in blank verse are characteristic of the modernity of the poem but the lack of sophistication and linguistic ambivalences make the poem very much Victorian or at least pre-Modern in its meaning and approach. Interestingly the structure of the poem is very compact which helps make the message of the poem loud and clear. It seems as if the poem is written to be included in the syllabus of school children so that they are saturated with the message of universal brotherhood.
The poem is rich in its images. When the poet mentions that no men are strange and no countries foreign, paradoxically we think of all those people who are strange and all those countries which are foreign. We think of the differences that we have with these people and wonder as to what the poet really means to say and then as the poet elaborates we understand the hidden meaning of the line that what differences we see is only of the body and appearance and spirit wise and soul wise we are alike. Here we could install a comparison between this poem and a poem by William Blake – The Little Black Boy (Songs of Innocence). In the latter poem Blake too points out the fact that soul wise we all are one. Here of course the colour white has been gloried as the original colour of all souls which do signify (if unconscious) traces of racism. Kirkup, however, steers clear of all such controversies by basing his refrain of unity in terms of the shared natural resources of the earth like sun, wind, water and land. Next important image appears to be the image of the uniform which seems to be a memento of the recently concluded world war which bled the half of the world dry. One of the main reasons behind the world wars was colonial greed which instituted much hatred among the various races in the names of colour and geographical differences. The uniform is the signifier of imperialism which ultimately led to the two destructive wars. The poet calls for a cease fire and asks to shun the killing of another man only because he wears a different colour of uniform. The diametrically opposite images of ‘peaceful harvest’ and ‘war’s long winter’ are well placed to create a sense of immediate and striking contrast. The images signify the abundance in the times of peace and the scarcity caused due to war. Kirkup seems to remember the gruesome details of the deaths that were caused not due to bullets but due to the lack of food. War not only robs a civilization of its immediate lives but like a cancer keeps feeding on the culture inside, often rearing its ugly head in the form of diseases and famines. We could also point out the haunting images of fields being burnt in wars after bombings. Such images are to be found in the Vietnam War where American forces sought to starve the brave freedom fighters of Vietnam by destroying their crops. In simple metaphors Kirkup, presents to us all the goods and products that we so unconsciously consume with relish and provide ourselves to the foreign countries in the line –“Their hands are ours and in their lines we read A labour not different tan our own.”
In our contemporary globalised world of interdependencies and multiculturalism the xenophobia at one level seems to have been done away with but on another level, the hatred of the ‘other’ seems to have become all the more potent not only in the developing nations where the immigrants are constantly competing with the natives for resources but also in the developed nations where the immigrants are asking for their share of wealth and respect. In the light of this statement the poem becomes all the more pertinent but interestingly Kirkup doesn’t present a situation where the cultures clashes within a given boundary but when they are separated by deserts and oceans.
Q: Why is war’s long winter starved?
A: Due to war there is everything short in supply. So people suffer or die in war times.
Q: Explain ‘in their lines we need…’?
A: It means the lines of luck that astrologers read in ones palm.
Q: What is that force that can win over other’s strength?
A: It is ‘love’.
Q: What can be recognized and understood?
A: Common life can be recognized and understood.
Q: What shall happen if we hate our brother’s?
A: If we hate our brothers we shall deprive ourselves of what we are. This will mean self-betrayal or self-condemnation.
Q: What shall happen to the earth?
A: the earth shall be defiled.
Q: When do we defile the earth?
A: When we take arms against each other. We defile the earth.
Q: How is the air? How is it insulted?
A: It is full of innocence. It is insulted when there occur wars or hatred controls the mind of the people.
Q: What should we remember?
A: We should remember that no men are foreign and no countries strange.