In this poem by Mike Ramsden the author says that he is in a big hall with a crowd of people who are standing and clapping. Sometimes understanding is not just about linguistics…

Poetry as a Foreign Language


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Poetry as a Foreign Language

by Mike Ramsden

"...Not really sure I'll get much out of it,
Understand what's going on,"
I whined and vacillated.
I was assured he was big
(Though not in size)
Old, blind and from the capital.
So in I went with the rest of the faculty
To the biggest hall on campus,
Packed with more than I'd ever seen before
And when the applause started from the back
And advanced with him to the front,
It was not polite or respectful
But loud and from beyond the palms of hands,
And they were standing and clapping
The old blind poet right up to the stage
With videocams and flashlights on his face
And I knew I'd not seen the likes of this before,
And not only the intoning of the country's prayers
But the readings from the campus luminaries,
Strong declamatory stuff,
Speaking to the audience. You could
Tell this because they'd clap and cheer
Right in the middle of the poet's flow.
All this told me it was not like
My home, my country,
And when the old poet began...
But why go on?

Well, yes, I told myself,
A different tradition,
An oral society, the public
Gesture, their particular
Stage of development,
The revolution, nationhood.
The excuses flooded in.
Yes, I understood in the end.
This was not British.
This was not our language at all.

Task 1

Select the best answers to the questions about the poem.


Read text




Actually I'm arabica and I love writing English poetry but suddenly I stopped for no reason any one has explanation for such thing !

Oh my God!!! Now i got it! I got it! And I am happy!

I had not considered English as a Language spoken in differents countries, with differents cultural backgrounds, therefore i could not understand the "subtle" passage!
To me, English is just British, even though it is spread almost worldwide, and consequently it has been migled with local traditions and meanings belonging to other societies.
Now i can take a position about the interpretation: he says "this was not our language at all" because not only words and their objective meanings make a language alike, but even values, shared feeling, and the facts connected with the historical moment of a community. A language stands on a story, that one of a culture!

I have read this poem a couple of time, but frankly i struggle with understanding its meaning, especially when i handle its end, and i did not understand the first two quoted lines also.
Can you british council stuff halp me please?

Hello Wolves,

When I read the poem, what I understand is that it's spoken by a British person who's living in a foreign country. Someone has invited him to a poetry reading and he doesn't really want to go. He 'whines' and 'vacillates' and says he probably won't get much out of it -- the first two lines are what he says to the person who invites him. It seems that the poetry will be in English but he just thinks he won't get anything out of it.

And then he goes and he's surprised about the whole poetry reading. The poem doesn't even really talk about what the poems were about, but rather how the audience reacts and how the event goes, which is strikingly different to what he's used to. This makes him realise (at the end of the poem) that the English language, at least at this reading and perhaps more widely so, isn't British and so it's as if it were a foreign language.

Please note that this is what I understand. Other interpretations are also very possible, but I hope this helps you get something more out of it.

All the best,
The LearnEnglish Team

Thank you for your reply Kirk, althought the poem still dosen't make sense to me! In case like this, i think that English is more than a simple foreigne language!

it has been difficult at the beginning but then i understood everything