C Craig Raine

A Martian Sends a Postcard Home by Craig Raine

‘A Martian Sends a Postcard Home’ by Craig Raine describes what Earth is like from the perspective of a Martian. It is a thoughtful and beautiful poem. 

A Martian Sends a Postcard Home by Craig Raine Visual Representation

This original piece of poetry is a great example of “Martian poetry.” That is a brief movement in British poetry that feature poems written from the perceptive of a Martian visiting earth. The speaker reports back what he sees there, making observations about things that are mundane to human beings but strange to the Martian. The poem was published in the collection of the same title in 1980. 

A Martian Sends a Postcard Home by Craig Raine


Summary 

A Martian Sends a Postcard Home’ by Craig Raine is a beautiful and strange poem written about humankind from the perspective of a Martian.

The poem opens with the Martian describing books, first printed by William Caxton. They are bird-like with treasured markings inside. The words sometimes make readers cry (eyes melt), and sometimes they make readers laugh (shriek). 

The Martina describes the mist outside and personifies it, describing it as tired in the way it wants to settle on the ground. It makes the world dim. The world, the Martian continues on to say, looks like the static on TV when it rains. That same rain makes everything dimmer. The Martian makes observations about watches, phones, children crying, and the bathroom. Humans, the Martian concludes, sleep in rooms together, two to a bed. They dream in color behind their eyelids, the poem concludes. 

You can read the full poem here.

Detailed Analysis 

Lines 1-6

Caxtons are mechanical birds with many wings
and some are treasured for their markings –

(…)

sometimes they perch on the hand.

In the first lines of the poem, the speaker, a Martian visiting Earth, begins by noting how human beings read books. These he describes as bird-like. They are “treasured for their markings,” or the words written on the pages. Sometimes, the markings make people cry (the eyes to melt), and sometimes, the human beings “shriek without pain,” an apparent reference to laughter. 

The Martian notes how these birds never fly away. Instead they remain perched “on the hand.” This is a beautiful extended metaphor that shows, from the start, how different Earth is to the world the Martian is used to. 

Lines 7-12 

Mist is when the sky is tired of flight

and rests its soft machine on ground:

(…)

Rain is when the earth is television.

It has the property of making colours darker.

In the next lines, the speaker turns to discuss the way that “Mist” settles over the world. It makes the world dimmer, acting as though tired of “flight,” resting on the ground. There is an excellent simile in these lines comparing the world to “engravings under tissue paper.” 

The Martian also discusses rain and how it obscures the world like static on a television. It makes “colours darker. “ 

Lines 13-18 

Model T is a room with the lock inside –

a key is turned to free the world

(…)

or kept in a box, ticking with impatience.

In the next section, the Martian discusses cars and watches. The latter is “tied to the wrist” or “kept in a box.” 

Lines 19-24 

In homes, a haunted apparatus sleeps,

that snores when you pick it up.

(…)

deliberately, by tickling with a finger.

The Martian notes that inside the homes, there are telephones that appear to be haunted by ghostly cries. The humans pick up the devices and “soothe them to sleep” with their voices. But, there are times when they “wake it up / deliberately, by tickling with a finger.” 

Lines 25-30 

Only the young are allowed to suffer

(…)

alone. No one is exempt

and everyone’s pain has a different smell.

The next section describes the young and the “punishment room” where the adults go when they want to cry. This speaks to the solitude of grief when one grows older and how it contrasts to the open expression of sorrow when one is young. 

In another interpretation, one can read these lines as a description of going to the bathroom. The adults do so in private, and “everyone’s pain has a different smell.” 

Lines 31-34 

At night, when all the colours die,

(…)

in colour, with their eyelids shut.

In the final two couplets, the speaker notes that the human beings retreat to rooms in pairs. There, they sleep together when the “colors die” and “read about themselves – / in colour, with their eyelids shut.” This is a beautiful concluding image, one that speaks to the nature of dreams and ends the poem on a positive note. Despite the absurdity of human life, from a Martian perspective, this last image is a good one. 

Structure and Form 

‘A Martian Sends a Postcard Home’ by Craig Raine is a thirty-four-line poem that is divided into sets of two lines, known as couplets. These lines are similar in length to one another but are written in free verse. This means that the poem does not make use of a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. There are a few examples of rhyme throughout the poem, though. This includes “wings” and “markings” in the first couplet. 

Literary Devices 

Throughout this piece, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to: 

  • Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “mechanical” and “markings” in the first couplet” and “sky” and “soft” in the fourth couplet. 
  • Imagery: the use of particularly interesting and evocative descriptions. For example, “the eyes to melt / or the body to shriek without pain.” 
  • Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines two and three. 
  • Caesura: a pause inserted into the middle of a line. This could be through the use of punctuation or a natural pause in the meter. For example, “or kept in a box, ticking with impatience.” 


FAQs 

What is the tone of ‘A Martian Sends a Postcard Home?’ 

The tone is analytical and at some points, confused. The Martian speaker asserts the nature of things but is clearly trying to make sense of something they really don’t understand. 

What is the purpose of ‘A Martian Sends a Postcard Home?’

The purpose is to illuminate the strange and beautiful things about human life. Some of the elements the Martian mentions are clearly strange, while others are far more thoughtful and beautiful, like reading and dreaming. 

Who is the speaker in ‘A Martian Sends a Postcard Home?’

The speaker is a fictional Martian visitor to Earth. It’s from this perspective that Raine decides to analyze human life. This piece is part of a movement in Britain during the 1970s and 1980s. 

What are the themes in ‘A Martian Sends a Postcard Home?’

The themes at work in this poem are the nature of human life. This includes emotions, life experiences, and companionship. The Martian sees the world through a different lens that allows the reader to reanalyze their life and habits. 


Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some related poems. For example: 

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A Martian Sends a Postcard Home by Craig Raine Visual Representation
About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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