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“No Men Are Foreign” by James Kirkup is an inspirational poem that serves to communicate to the reader the poet’s strong dislike for wars and their apparent futility. This poem tries to convey the message of a universal sense of brotherhood.
The author opens the poem by reminding us that no man on the planet is strange, and no country is foreign. There is a single breathing body beneath (under) all the uniforms (clothing). In other words, everyone on the planet has the same body. As a result, we must never regard people from different countries as strangers. The poet states in the third verse that our brothers (people from other nations) walk on the same earth as we do, implying that the earth is the same wherever on which we all lie. It’s worth noting that the poet refers to people from other countries as our brothers.
The poet claims in the second stanza that people in other countries are also aware of the sun, air, and water, implying that they receive the same sunlight, air, and water that we do. They, like us, enjoy quiet harvests after a long winter of the war. Peaceful harvests represent peace, whereas war’s lengthy winter of starvation represents the harm inflicted by warfare. These conflicts are waged in the name of nationalism, which the poet despises. The poet goes on to add that foreigners’ hands are like ours, and they work just as hard to earn their bread and butter as we do.
The poet says in the third stanza that we should realise that they have eyes that wake or sleep like ours. They also have the emotional strength, which can be earned by love. People in every country live a common life that we can recognise and comprehend.
The poet says in the fourth stanza that if someone tells us to hate our brothers (those who live in other nations), we should remember that we are only hurting ourselves. We will be dispossessing, betraying, condemning, or using weapons against none other than ourselves. As a result, we must remember that we are only hurting ourselves.
The poet says in the final stanza that we will contaminate the soil. The hells of fire and dust will rob us of the innocence of air that we have all around us. In the poem’s final sentence, the author reminds us that no man is foreign and no country is unfamiliar. This poem is a message to all humans that we should love one another and never treat strangers as such.
Textual questions and answers
(i) “Beneath all the uniforms…” What uniforms do you think the poet is speaking about?
Answer: The poet is referring to the various types of uniforms worn by soldiers in different countries.
(ii) How does the poet suggest that all people on earth are the same?
Answer: Despite wearing different uniforms during wars, all men, according to the poet, have the same human body, walk on the same earth, are blessed by the same sun, air, and water, eat crops grown by them, have worked as hard as each other, have eyes that wake and sleep, and are all strong, but each can be won by love, and a common life beats in all. He implies that all people on the planet are the same in this way.
2. In stanza 1, find five ways in which we all are alike. Pick out the words.
Answer: Five words that show that we are alike in stanza 1 are:
(i) no men are strange
(ii) no countries foreign
(iii) Beneath all uniforms, a single body breathes like ours
(iv) the land our brothers walk upon is earth like this
(v) in which we shall all lie.
3. How many common features do you find in stanza 2? Pick out the words.
Answer: Common features found in stanza 2 are:
(i) They too, are aware of sun, air and water,
(ii) Are fed by peaceful harvests,
(iii) starv’d by war’s long winter,
(iv) Their hands are ours, in their lines we read, labour not different from ours.
4. “… whenever we are told to hate our brothers…” When do you think this happens? Why? Who ‘tells’ us? Should we do as we are told at such times? What does the poet say?
Answer: This happens whenever two countries’ leaders disagree and war threatens. Disagreement arises as a result of power struggles, land disputes, terrorist instigation, and so on.
It is usually the leaders of a country who ask us to hate our brothers from other countries. No, we must avoid war with our brothers at all costs. This is usually said by people who have their own veiled selfish intentions at heart, according to the poet. And we should never listen to them or act on their advice because fighting our brothers betrays, deceives, and condemns our human selves while also defiling the earth.
Additional/extra questions and answers/solutions
1. According to the poet how is the earth defiled?
Answer: The earth is defiled, according to the poet, when we take up arms against our brothers on the orders of our leaders and wage war. Wars pollute the entire environment, contaminating the land, air, and water on the planet.
2. How is the land of our enemies the same as ours?
Answer: The land of our enemies is the same as ours because we both walk the same earth and will one day be buried in it, our land and our enemies’ land are the same.
14. How do all humans on the planet live and suffer in the same way?
Answer: According to the poet, everyone lives and suffers the same way. Everywhere, the human body is the same. Everyone lives under the same sun and breathes the same air and drinks the same water. When there is peace, everyone benefits. When there is a conflict, everyone goes hungry. Everyone is equally destroyed by war.
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