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Analysis of Paul Muldoon’s : “Meeting the British”

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Analysis of “Meeting the British” by Paul Muldoon
“Meeting the British” recounts the experience the Indians had when meeting the British in the 18th century. The events of the poem recount the event where a group of British commanders met an Ottawan tribe and handed blankets infected with smallpox to them. The horrendous deeds of the American colonization are recounted through the eyes of one of the natives and his relation with the British. What makes this poem, so grand is the resonance that Muldoon provided the poem with. He gave it the tone of a person who lived and died in that era, a person who knew Englishmen and was able to communicate with them. However, in the poem the barriers between the Native Americans and the Englishmen are well-known since they do not even communicate well. They resort to broken French to be able to communicate, which makes the differences between both, greater. Muldoon uses traditional verses, as well as traditional forms of narrative, such as sonnets; ballads, and dramatic monologs. However, he alters them, turning ancient forms of poetry, into contemporary pieces.
In this essay, we shall do an analysis of the poem, and focusing on three subjects: theme; diction and imagery. That way, we aim to gain a thorough understanding of the poem, and the historical situation surrounding it. However, our focus is going to be on providing a general approach that leads to grasping the significance of the poem and an in-depth analysis of all the elements present in the poem.

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ANALYSIS OF THE POEM
Theme. This poem is about the moment Native Americans and European met during 1763 when a group of British officers handed infected blankets to an Ottawan tribe. Although the characters featured in the poem were not responsible of that so-called handout of blankets, it does not matter who is featured, as long as it conveys the significance of the situation. As we have said, this poem has a great historical significance since it recounts a culture clash. Englishmen intended to eradicate. Given the fact that Muldoon is an Irish recounting a tale of colonialism, we can see a parallel between British colonization of Ireland and America. “Meeting the British” does not only speak about the Native Americans, it also speaks of the British dominance over the world. Despite the fact that Muldoon’s early poetry featured Gaelic as the chosen language, he decided to write in English as a way to be understood by all the Anglophone audience. “The sky was lavender/and the snow lavender-blue.” (Muldoon) This remarks concerning the state of the sky, reflects colonialism, as the flower does not come from America and is a product of a former power who intends to civilize and change the values of the original inhabitants of America.
Tone. The poem uses a series of motifs and images that are carefully chosen to convey the complex relations between a colonial power and a weak subject. The tone of the poem is communicative, as it intends to show the cultural differences between Natives and Englishmen. “We met the British in the dead of winter./The The sky was lavender” (Muldoon) The image of winter and the mauve color of the lavender convey a sense of dawn. If we follow this argument, we can say that the poem is trying to convey the end of an era, and the beginning of another, the period of the white men.
Diction. The song features nine slant-rhymed couplets. In the same way, it holds many multicultural traits as it is written both in English, and French. In that way, French is used as a vehicular language, used as a neutral language employed by both parties to converse and exchange ideas. Also, the structure of the poem, and the way language is used to how the story is unfolding, and how the conflict between two cultures, resolves. The slant rhymes of the poem aid the narrative and convey a sense of story, creating an argumentative narrative. Besides, when looked carefully, the diction of the poem, and the way it is written intends to separate two worlds that will never mix. In a way, British and Natives are like water and oil, they will never mix.
Imagery. The poem shows us a plethora of images. In this essay, we shall show three pictures and explain the significance they have in the poem.
Lavander: Lavander means the foreign, the different. In a way, the flower means the colonialism. As it is used to show a difference from the tobacco of the Native Americans. The smell of lavender is an alien smell, and the British officer uses it to remind his homeland.
Tobacco: Tobacco is the smell of the natives. Moreover, as the poet says “Neither General Jeffrey Amherst nor Colonel Henry Bouquet/could stomach our willow-tobacco.” (Muldoon). The poem uses the differences between lavender and tobacco to create a separation between two worlds. Tobacco is the lavender of the Natives, and its smell is how they assert their individuality, and tribal status.
Blanket: The blankets are the primary object in this poem. The whole narrative shows the many ways British intended to gain control over the Ottawa tribes. The blankets were made to help the tribes escape the cold but instead were used in a primitive chemical warfare.
As we can see, the poem shows us a powerful set of images and situations that recount the tale of two cultures meeting before one decides to vanquish the other. Moreover, it shows that civilization is not always the safest, nor the greatest bet, as it always comes with hidden costs and death. It is true that America’s colonization made the country what it is now, but the methods used are highly questionable. That is what Muldoon wants to convey. The idea of how two different cultures collided, and the defeat of the natives. In a strict sense, this story is parallel to what happened in Ireland, and by establishing that pattern, Muldoon shows himself as a man who is against colonialism.
Works Cited
Muldoon, P. “Meeting the British.” Poetry By Heart RSS. 1987. Web. http://www.poetrybyheart.org.uk/poems/meeting-the-british. 9 June 2015.

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