June 11, 2005

Halfe–Caste by John Agard

Excuse me
standing on one leg
I'm half-caste

Explain yuself
wha yu mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean when picasso
mix red an green
is a half-caste canvas/
explain yuself
wha u mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean when light an shadow
mix in de sky
is a half-caste weather/
well in dat case
england weather
nearly always half-caste
in fact some o dem cloud
half-caste till dem overcast
so spiteful dem dont want de sun pass
ah rass/
explain yuself
wha yu mean
when yu say half-caste
yu mean tchaikovsky
sit down at dah piano
an mix a black key
wid a white key
is a half-caste symphony/

Explain yuself
wha yu mean
Ah listening to yu wid de keen
half of mih ear
Ah looking at u wid de keen
half of mih eye
and when I'm introduced to yu
I'm sure you'll understand
why I offer yu half-a-hand
an when I sleep at night
I close half-a-eye
consequently when I dream
I dream half-a-dream
an when moon begin to glow
I half-caste human being
cast half-a-shadow
but yu come back tomorrow
wid de whole of yu eye
an de whole of yu ear
and de whole of yu mind

an I will tell yu
de other half
of my story

John Agard

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  1. Ah, good old John Agard. I remember writing about this poem in my GCSE English exam many moons ago, before I forgot how to read…

    11 Jun 2005, 16:25

  2. James McLachlan

    Me too (though I can still read, just barely).

    11 Jun 2005, 17:11

  3. Aha! I had the same experience at GCSE. Anyone remember Simon Armitage? I am very bothered…

    11 Jun 2005, 18:45

  4. Yep, Simon Armitage, although I wasn't as impressed with his stuff. The only reason I passed that exam was because I wrote out pretty much model solutions to the paper around the outside of the poems in the Anthology. How did my teachers get away with encouraging us to do that? It's blatant cheating.

    11 Jun 2005, 19:10

  5. Hey,

    Totally with you on this. Remember the good old GCSE anthology and the 'notes' written around the edges of the poems. We had some comical reads of this and, to this day, the first line is still a standing joke (no pun intended) with us lot.

    Pair this with a mention of studying 'The Crucible' and GCSE English is complete.



    11 Jun 2005, 19:43

  6. The Crucible. A crafty bloke, Arthur Miller. Don't forget the whole Shakespeare experience with Macbeth.

    11 Jun 2005, 22:55

  7. "Macbeth", "Lord of the Flies" (EVIL), and Carol Ann Duffy, and you have one hell of a GCSE English experience!

    12 Jun 2005, 01:51

  8. Godfrey

    I think that the gentleman writing this poem (in a rather strange vernacular I own) is somwhat confused.

    To my mind 'halfcaste' refers to one born of two parents, one of a race (usually negroid) where the predominant skin colour is black (or more accurately mid-dark brown) and the other typically white european, or white european origin.

    The author seems to have ascribed the suggestion that 'halfcaste' also implies a series of negative value judgements about character, expectations, lifestyle and intelligence on to the term, when in fact there is no such allocation.

    As a piece expressing the mind of an individual verging on the paranoid, it is a useful exploration – to see it as a representation of fact, or of any actual discriminatory ascribances to the term 'halfcaste' is to misread and to misinderstand the poem.

    13 Jun 2005, 10:19

  9. The poem is not giving a 'dictionary definition' of the word 'halfcaste', but questioning the stigma associated with 'halfcaste' used in a derogatory manner, suggesting how someone of mixed race might actually have a more colourful life and culture than another person of 'single race'.

    "an mix a black key
    wid a white key
    is a half-caste symphony"

    Why do poems have to be a statement of facts anyway?

    13 Jun 2005, 16:56

  10. dymond raymond

    i love half caste. it really shows how he hates people calling him the name.
    i just done ma GCSE on it and i think i done pretty well.
    it's a really nice poem

    26 Jun 2005, 21:44

  11. Laura

    'Godfrey' you obviously dont know what it is like to actually be "half-caste" as you don't understand what Agard's getting at. Although the word 'half-caste' does in fact refer to people of a mixed race, the word 'half-caste' does in fact sound pretty offensive, as if a 'half-caste' person is not whole. I actually preferred the poems from other cultures a lot more then the literature poems, Seamus Heaney must write THE most boring poems i've ever read, well at least they're boring to school kids, We went to see John Agard, Benjamin Zephaniah, Simon Armatige and all those people at a poetry live. And Agard was an amazing preformer.

    04 Jul 2005, 15:40

  12. Yes I too have a fond memoy of this poem from GCSE. Lucas I didn't know you had it in you!

    05 Jul 2005, 20:29

  13. Kellie

    Thankyou! Someone else who found Seamus Heaney the most boring poet on Earth! Did any of you have to study Gilian Clarke? She's a wonderful poet. I really enjoyed learning about her in GCSE English Literature. Understanding John Agards poem got me an A in my mock,... he truly obtains the humourous side of the conflict that "half-castes" meet in reality. Performance wise, i dont think anyone else should be allowed to perform this poem.. it just comes alive when the words are spoken by him. This poem has a level that i think any raced human being can understand.

    06 Jul 2005, 22:25

  14. Alvin Fishman

    I think that this is a beautiful poem. It's the best peice of literature I have ever read. Me and my life partner Derek read it whenever we want to get iint the mood, if you know what I mean. We both have a fettish for poety and this always arouses us. If John Agard were ever to read this post it would make us so happy. I just want him to know that he has rekindled our love for one another.

    19 Jul 2005, 13:58

  15. Grace Smith

    I think this is an amazing peom full of feeling and inspiration. I think it is important to understand that being racist is as rediculous as playing the piano and painting just as he says, and that everyone should be treated with equal status and not be judged prior to meeting.

    31 Jul 2005, 10:47

  16. Kezi

    I think this is an excellent peom iam of a mixed race so i understand the peom.just done it for my GCSEs i think john agards peoms are absoulutly fabolous

    10 Aug 2005, 13:41

  17. james firth

    yo yo ma nigger man. my nigger john agard rip up dat poem. i agree wiv his views me 2 is half-caste but if u aint no nigger u dont ave right 2 say it. it lot like i cll u all honkey or paki is it now. ez now bluud im out

    03 Sep 2005, 15:03

  18. andrew oneil

    ezzz now bludzz. power 2 d ppl.
    yo i agree wiv ma nigger james. john agard smash dis poem. e rippin sounds. ne ways hu up 2 goin space. ezzzz bluddzzz im cuttin

    03 Sep 2005, 15:05

  19. snoop_dicky_nigger

    EZZZ homies. u chekin dis site, getz me. we nigger rule we smash all u paki's n whites u dun no where we from down under ghetto of london. we mte not b educated but we got brehz hu will kills u for ur jacket. hu wit me? straight from da ghettos . hu chekin?? whooo
    rap- u dunt no me, i spark u 1 if u clone me, should u eva cum across me i'll ave u eatin beef. BLUP BLUP BLUP

    03 Sep 2005, 15:09

  20. Hey "snoop dicky nigger", on comment 20, you wrote: "we nigger rule we smash all u paki's n whites u dun no where we from down under ghetto of london." and further "we mte not b educated but we got brehz hu will kills u for ur jacket."

    I personally don't think that's an appropriate thing to say. It is this sort of violence and racism towards people from other ethnicity backgrounds that will hold you back in life. One thing is to express your views, another is to be a complete ignorant.

    On another note, I do agree, as you do, with John Agard's poem. It's absolutely fantastic.

    Keep your comments moderate.

    Thank's and big it up for th rap!

    03 Sep 2005, 18:09

  21. Dan

    I am Doing my GCSEs this year, and i searched for this poem(halfe-caste) and got this site, what I have to do is give a individual speech on the poem, i chose it out of halfe-caste, Presents from my Aunts in Pakistan(Moniza Alvi), Search For My Tongue(Sujata Bhatt) and Unrelated Incidents(Tom Leonard).

    26 Sep 2005, 16:20

  22. Jodie W :)

    i found a mistake mwah hja ha ha its 'ah rass' not 'as rass' ha ha ha i am sooo cleva!!!

    27 Sep 2005, 14:25

  23. Jodie,

    Thank's for spotting the typo.



    27 Sep 2005, 14:39

  24. maha


    27 Sep 2005, 16:36

  25. lauren

    hey dan am duin the same essay 4 my gcse's erm wot u rote about the similarity of half-caste n search for my tongue? am stuck! xXx lauren

    28 Sep 2005, 17:24

  26. Kelly

    This poem is very meaningful, with a lot of descriptions and self feelings. Doing it for GCSE's. Its a great poem! All u people hu have put NEGATIVE COMMENTS ABOUT OTHER RACES NEED TO CHECK YOURSELVES

    29 Sep 2005, 11:53

  27. Paul

    good poem but does anyone konw when he wrote it?

    12 Oct 2005, 14:27

  28. Mr.Cool

    I do indeed like cheese…mmmmm…cheese…

    16 Oct 2005, 20:25

  29. sukhdiv

    i h8 cheese

    18 Oct 2005, 18:58

  30. Jenni

    Oh I'm writing my GCSE on it now – literally (i'm doing it for homework) and I'm really stuck comparing it to 'Unrelated Incidents' by Tom Leonard. I love Half-Caste though tis a great poem

    20 Oct 2005, 18:24

  31. S.B

    Why does he say picasso is half caste?

    25 Oct 2005, 12:14

  32. alister

    I've been studying this poem along with 'In-a Brixton Markit' and have today finished an essay on them for GCSE. The essay at first seemed to be a hard one but reading and understanding the poems really opened my eyes to the issues in the present world. Half caste is an amazing poem and John Agard, the poet, did a brilliant job in geting his point across to the pathetic and ironic number of people who show nothing but disrespect. I particularly like the part 'but yu must come back tomorow wid de whole of yu eye an de whole of yu ear an de whole of yu mind an i will tell yu de other half of my story.' The poem is overflowing with poetic devices used with perfection and must be one of the best poems!

    15 Nov 2005, 19:04

  33. alister

    and by the way he does not say Picasso is half-caste. He is using humor to say why isnt a canvas with mixed colours on it called half-caste and he is useing Picasso as a artinst to refer to if you read the poem properly!

    15 Nov 2005, 19:07

  34. alister

    its but yu must come back tomorow not but yu come back tomorrow

    15 Nov 2005, 19:13

  35. matt

    Lol im in the middle of my GCSE's and it is a great poem, and it is very easy to annotate. One question i know "rass" is an insulting comment but what does it mean?

    20 Nov 2005, 11:51

  36. keal

    hi, i'm in year 10 and i'm writing an essay comparing the two poems "half-caste" by John Agard and "Unrelated Incidents" by Tom Leonard. I'M TOTALY STUCK!!!!!!!!! I H8 ENGLISH!!!!! (FRENCH IS EASIER)

    oh and by the way jenny (post 33) r u in mrs flowitts class???

    bye every1 (u geeks)

    20 Nov 2005, 13:40

  37. megan

    hiya'z!!! i live in northern ireland an in year11, at the min im writin corsework comparing 'half-caste' and 'nothing's changed' their very confusing, lol! but are intreastin although not ma type of poem! lol
    lvya'z all!!!.......megan xoxoxo

    01 Dec 2005, 20:56

  38. megan

    tiz me again!! this is so rubbish 1000 words on these 2 poems?? yeah right!!! k dis is da biggest pile a s*t!! lol. im so stuck 2!!!! lol!! hehe,f*k sakes y have 2 do english + english lit?? and yeah i do french and spanish and their soooooo much easier than this!! lol! haha!
    bye!!! (ur da geek) lol xxxxxx

    01 Dec 2005, 21:01

  39. Mike

    This is a great poem, Im doing the anthology for my GCSEs at the minute and I like this poem the best. It was great to see john agard live when lots of people went to the poetry live thing. Gillian Clark was boring, Carol ann duffy was boring and so were all the other female poets. When Simon Armitage came on the atmosphere brightened, he was great and hilarious but Agard was seriously amazing! Although I'm not am assive fan of poetry, his stuff is class.

    10 Dec 2005, 01:04

  40. Michelle

    I went to the City Hall in Newcastle yesterday to see poetry live it was unbelievable the respetion John Agard got as he came on to the stage it was amazon and that was before he started to read his poems. Agard is a brilliant and entertaining poet who has the audience interested and engaged in his work. Hearing him in person has helped me to understand the poem Half cast more and to hear the emphasis in he voice as he reads it showed me the true meaning of what it is about.
    Hearing John Agard and a few of the other poets there yesterday has helped me on my understanding of poetry and has made me more interest in learning about it. I have always thought about at the back of my mind taking English to a higher level and hearing him reading his poems yesterday has helped me to make my mind up take to study it in collage. I would like to thank him for opening up my mind to the true meaning of poetry.

    10 Jan 2006, 17:06

  41. Lina

    i watched John agard perform this an many others poems from his poetry book "half-caste" now that his poems are more recognised when he first started performing them he made them more funny, now he is more well known he is able to to concentrate on showing the true meaning of his poems.

    17 Jan 2006, 12:00

  42. chloe

    john agard that poem was great at the moment at skool in english we are studying u and mr oxford don i think is ur best poem

    20 Jan 2006, 12:54

  43. Tasha and Becca


    We listened to your poems you read when you came to Norwich!

    We especially liked the 'cry baby primeminister' one

    Can you possibly tell us the words for that poem


    26 Jan 2006, 14:22

  44. Magda Taylor

    i am actually of mixed heritage origin. i am very proud of both my roots, i am a little older than most of the guys doing gcse's and i am a mental health nurse in an area where there is a lot of culture. the meaning of race is very vague, although there is meaning to ethnicity and culture in sociological terms.

    that is why today in transcultural analysis we do not say the word race as it does unfortunatly imply racism, which is a killer in any day and age.

    Godfrey, i do not believe that Agard was confused or paranoid, he was reflecting upon racist attitudes my friend. it has taken me years to realise that i am not of mixed race origin but of mixed heritage origin. so half caste is very offensive to me …neither my mom nor my dad are of any inferior origin that i should not be proud of the history of their heirtage whether they were black, white, purple or pink…...selah….

    28 Jan 2006, 12:31

  45. Cat *meow*

    Hi all,

    This is pretty good site – i've read all the comments, it interesting to see all the different opinions. I will be sitting my GCSE this June, and am nervous of corse. Prom too – All big things. Halfe-Caste is the only poem i take interest in, in English class. I'm more creative.

    Cat x

    31 Jan 2006, 19:03

  46. 2tone

    john agard is a quality poet, novelist etc my favorite poem is half caste it a great way to change peoples thoughts on racism also if you havent already read niyi osundares not my business that also shows the harsh reality of racism that still happens today.

    01 Feb 2006, 09:55

  47. Cat *meow*

    i think rasism is a big issue too, and 'not my business' also does show the amount of rasism that is braught up in todays socity.

    04 Feb 2006, 13:26

  48. Pip & Cat *meow*


    shoes upon on the table and the spiders been killed. la la la

    every one – go to phoenix theatre in london and watch blood brothers. you'll be mind blown! (says pip and cat)

    04 Feb 2006, 17:43

  49. raz0011

    i love john, he's the best poet ive ever heard of. I love the 'half-caste' it's a great poem and tells you wat not to say to a carrabien person.

    09 Feb 2006, 17:52

  50. Lottie

    in relation to post #3 Godfrey

    Its not so much of a confusing poem to follow, he is trying to prove the point that people do not under stand the meaning of half caste….

    people commly mistaken half caste as being half white/half black from their parents, however the true meaning of half caste is HALF PURE. This is why he hates and most 'half caste' people hate being called it, as you can understand yourself maybe?

    And as to the immature kids coming on here and saying 'Yo Nigger, please get an education and actually understand the words you are saying….
    Nigger is commonly known as a black individual in the modern day world.

    But may i correct you on this….Nigger actually means some on who is lazy, idol, non productive basically a lazy individual.

    more back on to the topic…..I LOVE JOHN AGARDS 'HALF CASTE' its one of the best poems i have ever read!

    Lottie x

    10 Feb 2006, 23:15

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