The Mara Crossing, by Ruth Padel, details the expansive topic of migration. This includes cell, insect, animal, plant, and human migration, as well as migratory evolution, and the science, context, and/or background of all these things. I decided to look at the idea of Englishness through the lens of human movement and foreign elements in conjunction with ‘The Docks of London’ essay in Woolf’s ‘The London Scenes’ and also with consideration to a poem briefly mentioned in class, ‘The Soldier’ by Rupert Brooke. These three sources I believe can give a sense of Foreign Englishness.
The Mara Crossing begins its journey by anchoring itself in London saying, “London is immigrant city… [it] was created by migration”. From my own experience of being in London, I know how true this is having met and seen much an incredible variety of people living there. I believe, however, that this quote can extend beyond just the migration of people to include the movement of foreign physical objects as well as unseen, but certainly not unfelt, spheres of influence. In the essay on the Docklands in ‘The London Scenes’, Woolf describes the place thus: “One hears the roar and the resonance of London itself”. Woolf is basically saying that the convergence of foreign commodities on this place of commerce are a defining element of Englishness.
Padel’s books states that, “Bird migration is the heartbeat of the planet… millions of birds are weaving the world together all the time”. Certainly this quote can be translated into the modern human realities of fast-paced shipping routes and the interconnectivity the internet brings us and can change to mean that every space is constantly influencing the spaces it’s connected to, or “weaving the world together”. Padel herself says in her poem ‘Flight of the Apple’, “Because everyone, given time, / changes everyone else”. This constant change and movement is another form of migration, it “is part of the restless, constantly self-renewing nature of all life, in creative tension between the fixed and the wandering” (Padel). This statement compliments a statement that Woolf makes in her Docklands essay, “The only thing, one comes to feel, that can change the routine of the docks is a change in ourselves”. The constant change the docklands see is simply the “wandering” nature of life as people are effected by new, foreign influences.
Thus far we’ve delved into the effect of foreign elements on a sense of Englishness but what about vice versa? In 1914 Rupert Brooke touched upon this very subject in his poem ‘The Soldier’.
If I should die, think only this of me:
That there’s some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam;
A body of England’s, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.
Our class’s study of spatiality comes to mind while reading this poem because Rupert Brooke is quite literally a foreign element in a land that is not England. Brooke is saying that if he should die there, his Englishness – his English identity – would forever alter the spatial practice of the piece of land where he is buried, “there’s some corner of a foreign field / That is forever England”. He is saying that he would become part of the history and he would influence that place. This gives us another sense of Foreign Englishness.
We’ve been told by our readings that it is essential to keep history in mind whilst trying to gain an understanding of Englishness but I also believe that one must also keep in mind both the historical foreign influences and also the ever-occurring ones. The world is ever changing – ever migrating like Padel says and it’s safe to say that it’s ever weaving together through intersecting influences. This gives us a sense of Foreign Englishness but also begs the question: Will the world someday reach a state of cultural equilibrium? Just food for thought…