Monsoon History Poem by Shirley Lim: Summary and Analysis

Read our detailed notes below on the poem Monsoon History by Shirley Lim. Our notes cover Monsoon History poem summary and detailed analysis.

Monsoon History: The Poem

The air is wet, soaks

Into mattresses, and curls

In apparitions of smoke

Like fat white slugs furled

Among the timber

Or silver fish tunnelling

The damp linen cover

Of school books, or walking

Quietly, like centipedes,

The air walking everywhere

On its hundred feet

Is filled with the glare

Of tropical water

Again we are taken over

By clouds and rolling darkness

Small snails appear

Clashing their timid horns

Among the morning glory

Vines

Drinking Milo,

Nyonya and Baba sit at home.

This was forty years ago.

Sarong-wrapped they counted
Silver paper for the dead.

Portraits of grandfathers

Hung always in the parlour.

Reading Tennyson, at six

p.m. in pyjamas

Listening to down-pouring

Rain: the air ticks

With gnats, black spiders fly,

Moths sweep out of our rooms

Where termites built

Their hills of eggs and queens zoom

In heat. We wash our feet

For bed, watch mother uncoil

Her snake hair, unbuckle

The silver mesh around her waist,

Waiting for father pacing

The sand as fishers pull

From the Straits after monsoon.

The air is still, silent

Like sleepers rocked in the pantun,

Sheltered by Malacca.

This was forty years ago,

When nyonya married baba

 

Monsoon History Poem Introduction:

The poet remembers her family way of life in Malacca forty years prior. The artist is from a Peranakan family (Baba and Nyonya). These individuals are the descendants of the Chinese family who came to Malacca in the fifteenth century. They have embraced the way of life, dressing, nourishment and dialect of Malacca. The poet recalls how a stormy day amid the rainstorm season influences the life around. She depicts her adolescence, practices and conventions in an ordinary Baba-Nyonya family.

Monsoon History Poem Summary:

THE AIR IS WET, SOAKS

INTO MATTRESSES, AND CURLS

IN APPARITIONS OF SMOKE.

The air in the whole atmosphere in wet, damp and full of moisture. This moisture can be seen everywhere even the mattresses can be seen as dam and, similarly, this wetness and moisture is also curling up reaching everywhere as smoke flies in every direction.

LIKE FAT WHITE SLUGS FURLED

AMONG THE TIMBER,

OR SILVER FISH TUNNELING

THE DAMP LINEN COVERS

OF SCHOOLBOOKS,

Similarly this moisture is also evident in the plantation etc. as well and the trees are fully watered. The dew drops and the drops coming down from the clouds can be seen both on the surface and the inside of the trees. The wetness of the air, shows that it sustains all forms of life. Even destructive pests thrive. For example “fat white slugs” A lot of reference to the air being filled with moisture shows that it is going to rain. The moisture has even reached to the school books and the books can be seen as damped with the moisture.

OR WALKING

QUIETLY LIKE CENTIPEDES,

THE AIR WALKING EVERYWHERE

ON ITS HUNDRED FEET

IS FILLED WITH THE GLARE

OF TROPICAL WATER.

The water and moisture has been personified as walking everywhere in every direction. The poet has compared the moisture to the small insect which crawl or walk in different directions, similarly this moisture and water is also walking with hundred metaphorical feet it various directions. The poet shows that the air is filled with water and it seems that the rain is about to pour down from the clouds.

AGAIN WE ARE TAKEN OVER

BY CLOUDS AND ROLLING DARKNESS.

The poet says that the clouds are gathered in the sky to shower the rain. With the moving clouds in the sky the darkness has got spread in the sky and on the earth as well. This shows that the clouds are very heavy and the rain is going to be a torrential rain. Now the rain has been showered and got a stop as well.

SMALL SNAILS APPEAR

CLASHING THEIR TIMID HORNS

AMONG THE MORNING GLORY

VINES.

The poet explains that the rain has stopped for a while to allow other activities to take over, like the snail appearing after the shower in the morning glory plant.

DRINKING MILO,

NYONYA AND BABA SIT AT HOME.

THIS WAS FORTY YEARS AGO.

SARONG-WRAPPED THEY COUNTED

SILVER PAPER FOR THE DEAD.

PORTRAITS OF GRANDFATHERS

HUNG ALWAYS IN THE PARLOUR.

The poet gives us a clear picture of the lifestyle of her family. He says that the picture which he presents is of forty years ago. He says Nyonya and Baba are sitting at home drinking milo. The poet is in a safe, secure environment sitting at home. They are counting silver paper for their dead ancestors. This is a Chinese custom to show respect for the dead. Although the parents have adopted a lot of the Malay tradition, some of the Chinese customs, especially in this case, to show respect for the dead is practiced. On the wall, the picture of the grandfather is hanging as well.

READING TENNYSON, AT SIX

P.M. IN PAJAMAS,

It is around six clock in the evening when the poet is reading the verses of famous Victorian English poet Tennyson.

LISTENING TO DOWN-POURING

RAIN:

He is reading the verses and listening to the falling down waters of rain. This creates a beautiful scene when the books is being read and the rain is coming down words with its own aura and musical rythym.

THE AIR TICKS

WITH GNATS, BLACK SPIDERS FLY,

The air is blowing and is umpteen with the small insects and black spiders flying here and there. These insects can also bite the poet.

MOTHS SWEEP OUT OF OUR ROOMS

WHERE TERMITES BUILT

THEIR HILLS OF EGGS AND QUEENS ZOOM

IN HEAT.

The mother of the poet, in the meanwhile, sweeps out the termite with its eggs through which it has made a safe heaven for himself and where the queen of this termite lives in heat. So the mother of the poet has swept out all these from the living rooms so that they could not disturb the sleep.

WE WASH OUR FEET

FOR BED,

The poet says that they means the family members who live together in the house wash their feet before they go to bed.

WATCH MOTHER UNCOIL

HER SNAKE HAIR,

UNBUCKLE

THE SILVER MESH AROUND HER WAIST,

The mother undo her hair and unbuckle her silver belt that has been meshed around her waist.

WAITING FOR FATHER PACING

THE SAND AS FISHERS PULL

FROM THE STRAITS AFTER MONSOON

The mother waits for them to come to bed. The father is probably a middle man, trying to buy fish from the fisherman.

THE AIR IS STILL, SILENT

LIKE SLEEPERS ROCKED IN THE PANTUN,

SHELTERED NY MALACCA.

THIS WAS FORTY YEARS AGO,

WHEN NYONYA MARRIED BABA.

It is now peaceful and quiet like when the people have gone to sleep after listening to pantuns. This was the poet’s life forty years ago in Malacca when Nyona got married inside the community to Baba. The poet explains  that the Peranakan (Baba-Nyonya) family live in a close-knit community. By marrying from only within the community, they were able to preserve their interesting blend of eastern and western tradition.

Monsoon History Poem Themes:

The themes of the poem could be childhood memories, family relationships, and adherence to cultural values.

The poem plays around the dominant theme of childhood memories which the poet recollects her memories of forty years ago. The poet narrates the story of monsoon night when the rain was coming down and she was reading the poetry of Tennyson.

Family relationship is also a theme of this poem. The poet wants to show the love of the family and they all follow their mother. The love is shown clearly when the mother awaits them to follow the bed in the night.

Adherence to culture is also one of the theme of the poem, they are counting the sheets in the poem which is a way of respect to the elders in their tradition and culture. The poet wants to highlight the real value of their tradition and culture and wants to inculcate that culture and adherence to it is the essence of life.

Monsoon History Poem Analysis:

  • The poem is written in free verse.
  • The setting of the poem is Malacca which is the hometown of the poet.
  • The poem revolves the incident that happened on the monsoon night in the home of the poet.
  • The language used is very simple and contain Malaysian words as baba, nyona, pantun and sarong.
  • The poet has used simile in the fourth line of the poem. Like fat white slugs- water vapor in the resembling worms crawling along the wood.
  • Next simile has been used in the line 9. Walking quietly like centipedes– the air feels damp on the skin as if the centipedes are crawling everywhere.
  • Another simile is used in 43rd line. Like sleepers rocked in the pantun– the atmosphere is peaceful and calm, resembles an image of people sleeping soundly.
  • The poet has used metaphor in the line 3rd. The air……curls…apparition of smoke– the air is humid and the water vapor resembles curls of smoke.
  • Another metaphor is used in the line 37th. Her snake hair– the mother1s hair falls form her bun and uncoils like a snake.
  • The poet used personification in line 16th. Small snails appear/clashing their timid horns– snails are like people who are timid.