David Rubadiri’s “A Negro Labourer in Liverpool” strives to highlight the plight of a negro labourer in Liverpool. The indefinite article ‘a’ points to the lack of a specific identity. They are just one among a group, one of the community, who do not necessarily possess any individual identity. They are labeled according to their work(labourer)or corresponding to their geographical location
David Rubadiri hints at the indifference of society as a whole to the plight of the labourer as he states that he ‘passes’ him. He slouches on dark backstreet pavements. His ‘marginalization’ is evident in his position ‘slouching’. Further, it is also emphasized in his being side-stepped on the pavements. Again the pavement is qualified by the phrase ‘dark backstreet’. The head is ‘bowed’ when it would have preferred to be straight. He is overcome with fatigue and totally exhausted. He is a dark shadow amongst other shadows. He has no unique identity, his life is not colourful.
The poet asserts that he has lifted his face to his, as in acknowledgement. Their eyes met but on his dark Negro face. The poet probably refers to the reflection of the speaker’s eyes in the eyes of the labourer. The eyes are foregrounded on his dark face. There is no sunny smile as he wears a forlorn expression. The sun is an important and recurrent motif in African poetry. A wise man once said that a man is poor if he does not have a penny; he is poor if he does not possess a dream. The labourer here neither has hope nor longing. Only the mechanical ‘cowed dart of eyes’ that is more mechanized than the impassive activity of the people. People in their ‘impassive’ fast-forward life fail to notice the labourer. He painfully searches for a face to comprehend his predicament, acknowledge his suffering. It expresses his utter solitude and utter desperation.
Notice that the poet shifts from the indefinite article ‘a’ to the definite article ‘the’ in addressing the Negro labourer in the second stanza. It is to assert and affirm his existence in society that the poet does the same. David Rubadiri goes on to describe him in terms of his motherland; and in terms of his emotions: ‘a heart heavy’. He bears a century’s oppression that had sought after an identity. He strives to attain the fire of manhood. But ironically, even in the Land of the free (England), he is unable to attain the same. Nevertheless, the free here are also dead, in a state of decay and stagnation, for they too grope for a light, a ray of hope.
The speaker puts forward the question:
Will the sun
That greeted him from his mother’s womb
Ever shine again?
Here his hope is the shovel.
And his fulfillment resignation
He awaits a new dawn, as fresh as that promised as he arose from his mother’s womb. He longs for the rays of hope of a sun that will never set for him. Presently his hope is his shovel-his hard work, and he discovers content in its fulfillment.
© Rukhaya MK 2010
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