The poem ‘electricity comes to cocoa bottom’ is written by
Marcia Douglas. She was born in the U.K but grew up in Jamaica. She is the
author of books such as: ‘The marvellous equations of the dread’ (2016),
‘Madam Fate’ (1999) as well as a collection of poetry ‘Electricity
comes to cocoa bottom’.
Marcia Douglas’s work
has appeared internationally in various journals and anthologies including
London exams – IGCSE – text book as well as the Edexcel textbook. She is also a
proud holder of the National Endowment for the Arts
Fellowship award along with a U.K Poetry Book Society Recommendation.
For the following
poem, June Owens writes in ‘The Caribbean Writer’: ‘1Some
writers leave their creative handprints in dark caves where only later
happenstance may, perhaps, discover them. Some writers stamp their entire
selves upon the language, upon a culture, upon literature and upon our
consciousness in so intimate, singular, well-illumined and indelible a manner
that there can be no mistaking their poems and prose for those of another. Such
a writer is Marcia Douglas.’
Moreover, For the purpose of this essay, I will analyze the poem and
expound upon it according to its ‘title’, ‘theme’, ‘tone’, ‘structure’ and
‘literary devices’ while also simultaneously discussing the various aspects and
meanings which the poet tries to express and are endowed within the poem. Therefore,
this essay will be divided into five subtopics.
the analysis will be based solely upon my own perspectives, how I view the poem
and what enlightment I contrive from it. Also, the essay will begin with a copy
of the full poem, followed by a short summary, followed by its analysis.
Then all the children of Cocoa Bottom
went to see Mr. Samuel’s electric lights.
They camped on the grass bank outside his house,
their lamps filled with oil,
waiting for sunset,
watching the sky turn yellow, orange.
Grannie Patterson across the road
peeped through the crack in her porch door.
The cable was drawn like a pencil line across the sun.
The fireflies waited in the shadows,
their lanterns off.
The kling-klings* swooped in from the hills,
congregating in the orange trees.
A breeze coming home from sea held its breath;
bamboo lining the dirt road stopped its swaying,
and evening came as soft as chiffon curtains:
Light! Mr. Samuel smiling on the verandah –
a silhouette against the yellow shimmer behind him –
and there arising such a gasp,
such a fluttering of wings,
such a swaying, swaying.
Light! Marvellous light!
And then the breeze rose up from above the trees,
swelling and swelling into a wind
such that the long grass bent forward
stretching across the bank like so many bowed heads.
And a voice in the wind whispered:
Is there one among us to record this moment?
But there was none –
no one (except for a few warm rocks
hidden among mongoose ferns) even heard a sound.
Already the children of Cocoa Bottom
had lit their lamps for the dark journey home,
and it was too late – the moment had passed.
this poem ‘Electricity Comes to Cocoa Bottom’, Marcia Douglas takes her
readers on a journey towards the revelation of light. She delineates the
excitement and anticipation of the children of the village at the production of
electricity and how it is a spectacle which fascinates all of them. Along with
that, she beautifully embeds her personal thoughts and perspectives within her
words and weaves them into intricate sentences for the readers to decode and
poet gives her poem the title: ‘Electricity comes to cocoa bottom’.
In the title,
the poet uses the word ‘come’ – which is defined as: 2’to
enter into being or existence; to be born’ – suggests that electricity wasn’t
currently present in the small village of Cocoa Bottom. The name of the village
could suggest that it is located somewhere in Jamaica as they grow ‘coca’ over
there. Likewise, the poet, Marcia Dougles, is from Jamaica as well therefore it
is much more logical to assume that the village is somewhere in Jamaica. Moreover, the readers can deduce from the
title the importance of electricity which is also further expounded upon
throughout the poem; and because it is a small village it does not have the
resources to generate it on a large scale.
Language and vocabulary:
the beginning of the poem the poet states: ‘Then all the children of Cocoa
Bottom went to see Mr. Samuel’s electric lights’.
The poet begins the poem by the word ‘Then’.
The foreboding of time plunges the reader directly amidst all the excitement
mingling amongst the ‘children’ who have all gathered to see ‘Mr.
Samuel’s electric lights’. Through this, the readers are capable of
perceiving the excitement and enthusiasm felt by the children induced due to
the thought of ‘electricity’, which alludes towards the fact that their village
lacked the resources needed to produce power for electricity. The readers can
also contemplate the reverence dictated for ‘Mr. Samuel’ as his name is the
only name mentioned – besides Grannie Patterson – and he owns the light, too.
Similarly, the word ‘all’ signifies the importance of this
the word ‘children’ emphasizes the fact that it is mostly the new
generation that was fascinated by this new technological development that was
soon to be part and parcel of Cocoa Bottom.
Moreover, the poet then states: ‘Grannie
Patterson across the road peeped through the crack in her porch door’
of ‘Grannie Patterson’ alludes to the poets idea which is that the old
people are reluctant to embrace with open arms
the new world’s ever growing technological gadgets and tools – maybe
because their beliefs and faith are somehow challenged and threatened by it; or
maybe because they feel like it is something beyond the reach of their mental
capacity and therefore it seems cunning and foreboding to them; hence, very
difficult to accept. However, just like ‘Grannie Patterson’ the old people are
still curious about the development of the world, which is why they ‘Peeped…
the crack’ to monitor the unfolding’s from a distance.
is of particular interest how the poet uses ‘crack’ to delineate how
Grannie Patterson views the event. It could – maybe – expound further upon the
perspective of how the very religious view the success of modern world and its
technology through a small ‘crack’ in the door; the ‘crack’, maybe
alluding towards their skepticism or their enclosed perspectives of the modern
world, its technological advances and its evolving gadgets.
towards the middle of the poem, upon the production of light, the poet states: ‘Light!
Marvellous light!’ very simply but effectively, the poet conveys the enigma
and the final product of this spectacle in a single word: ‘Light!’
The exclamation mark suggests the overwhelming feeling felt by the poet
as well as the audiences who are all observing this spectacle formulate in
front of their eyes.
Also, Through this repetition of ‘light’ the readers can
comprehend how important electricity is to the people of the village and how it
was purely a ‘marvellous’ scene for the ‘children’ to observe,
which is why they had ‘all’ gathered outside ‘Mr. Samuel’s’
Juxtaposition and contrast:
poet uses the element of juxtaposition and contrast exemplarily in order to
project her thoughts to her readers. By stating: ‘lamps filled with oil’ the
poet juxtaposes the modern world alongside with the old or the past with the
future. By this, the poet might also be trying to convey her feelings about the
lack of resources in the village or how the people living there are not modern
enough or compliant enough with the technology of the modern world. Similarly, the poet may also be trying to portray the
level of illiteracy in the village.
Likewise, it is also ironic because of the fact
that the congregation is gathered to witness the birth of light without
the use of oil, whereas the poet states ‘lamps…with oil’. This
perspective is further enhanced when the writer states: ‘…the sky turn
yellow, orange’. This is interesting because she talks about materialistic
light about to be produced just when the natural light is about to fade
away. The adjectives ‘yellow’ and ‘orange’ similarly allude
towards the ‘light’ produced naturally.
is also ironic how this, in an abstract manner, represents the human need
of creating such resources on their own will to benefit themselves; even though
if it is going against the course of nature.
Alliteration and repetition:
Through this literary devise the poet successfully narrates the
excitement of the crowd towards the production of electricity. This can be
deduced as the poet states: ‘waiting…watching’ and ‘such swaying, swaying’.
use of alliteration of these vocabularies brings both the elements of
alliteration and repetition and as such enhances the readers understanding as
to how the overzealous crowd was eager and expectant. It also builds up tension
and emphasizes the importance of the issue at hand. It also further expresses
the audiences’ elated and joyous feelings.
poet uses personification to her advantage as well in order to deliver her
feelings of contrast throughout the poem.
states: ‘the fireflies waited in the shadows, their lanterns off’ Here,
the poet personifies the ‘fireflies’ by giving them human traits –
such as the capability to ‘wait’.
However, the readers can notice an element of irony mentioned here, too
– as it is easy for the fireflies to wait knowing that they have the means of
producing electricity whereas it is tough for humans because they lack
Likewise, the poet again vocalizes the conflict between humans and
nature, suggesting how nature prevails upon humans due to its natural
characteristics and the ways in which it is created.
Furthermore, the poet then states: ‘is there one among
us to record this moment?’ The poet asks this question through the
personified voice of the wind.
the introduction of this question, the poet introduces a decline to the
happiness and the excitement narrated in the poem so far. It may also connotate the lack of
technological development for example: the absence of cameras and even
mainstream media to capture such important events in the lives of the dwellers
of Cocoa Bottom.
addition, the poet also creates a sense of anticipation through this literary
device when she states: ‘A breeze coming…held its breathe;’ This is
evident because the finale is almost here.
poet also uses a factor of similie in order to narrate her own opinions and
states: ‘…cable was drawn like a pencil line
across the sun’.
The use of this
similie explains to the readers the poet’s ability to express how the
cables were like a sketch across the sun. However, this again points towards
the concept of conflict between humans and nature; as ‘pencil’ is something
created by humans and a ‘line across the sun’ might suggest how humans have ‘sketched’
their mark on nature itself by devising such technologically advanced machines
and tools; such as electricity. But, the definition of ‘sketch’ is: a simple,
quickly-made drawing that does not have many details. Therefore,
the use of this particular word might allude towards the fact that no matter
how advanced human beings get, they will only be able to ‘sketch’ their mark
upon nature, not fully be capable of ‘drawing’ upon it, as nature has
and always will prevail upon humans and mankind.
poet begins the poem with a tone of excitement, wonder and apprehension: ‘waiting…watching’,
‘Grannie Patterson…peeped…door’ , ‘Closing. Closing’.
towards the end, the writer introduces a sad tone: ‘but there was none’.
The tone used to narrate this is sad and brimming with disappointment. It
allows the readers to perceive how the children of the village might have felt
disappointed once the spectacle had ended and they had to finally return home,
which is further stated by the poet ‘lit their lamps for the dark journey
home’ which enhances the readers understanding of the children’s
disappointment and growing sadness. While again, juxtaposing the technological
advances of a city against the lack of resources available in a village.
structure of the poem is such that it endows within it the entire summary of
the poem along with its message:
like the illuminating of ‘light’, the poem starts of immediately without
explaining what had happened before. The excitement and anticipation described
by the poet in between could suggest the flow of the electricity towards the
light bulb, which is quick and instantaneous; much like the excitement and
feelings of the children.
once the electricity has raced through the wires and generated light through
the light bulb, it lingers around for a while – just like the elated and
overwhelming feelings of the audiences who witnessed the spectacle of
electricity. In the end, when the light bulb is switched off everything turns
dark – just like how the children of cocoa bottom felt disappointed and dull
when they had to return to their homes with their lanterns guiding them through
the dark roads.
Imparting of knowledge
gathering of ‘all’ of the ‘children’ at ‘Mr. Samuel’s’
house could suggest the children’s curiosity, excitement and quest for the attainment
of knowledge imparted to them from their tutor – Mr. Samuel’s.
feelings of anticipation – ‘held its breath’, ‘Closing. Closing’
– could denote the children’s anticipation for obtaining knowledge. The
effective and elated joy felt at the illumination of ‘Light!’ could
symbolize the ‘light’ illuminated within one’s soul due to the acceptance
of knowledge and wisdom.
saddening tone of ‘but there was none’ could allude towards the scarce
resources in the village due to which the children are incapable of writing
down the knowledge given to them from their tutor. And the depressing mood
created through the statements ‘dark journey home’ and ‘the moment
had passed’ could explain how the children were sad that they had to depart
from their tutor and go back to their houses; maybe because they were incapable
of affording the payment the tutor demanded.
would like to conclude this essay by stating that these are the few aspects
upon which I have expounded in order to analyze this poem according to its
endowed message and insights which I was able to decode. However, I am certain
that there are several more aspects to this magnificent poem which I have been
unsuccessful of mentioning and denoting due to the established boundaries and
word count of this essay. Yet I still do hope that what I have mentioned is