‘Look We Have Coming to Dover!’ by Daljit Nagra is a five stanza poem that is divided into sets of five lines. There is no consistent rhyme or rhythm scheme in the text but the patterning of the lines is similar and a reader can find structure through the images used by Nagra.
In regards to the length of the lines, from stanza to stanza they are very similar. When viewing the text of the poem on the page the first line of every stanza is the shortest and the last is the longest, with the middle three making up the distance between.
This is accomplished though a similar number of words and syllables in the corresponding lines. For example, the first line of every stanza has eight, six or seven syllables and the fifth somewhere between fourteen and sixteen. The shape of the stanzas make what could be interpreted as the waves of the sea, crashing into Dover Beach.
There are a few important themes in ‘Look We Have Coming to Dover!,’ but the most prominent are identity and society. They can be seen from the start with the contrast between the arrival of the immigrant and the presence of the tourists. The immigrants maintain their culture throughout the poem, even in the dream future they still keep their language in the safety of their middle class homes.
The draw of English society is also present throughout. They are seeking out lives that aren’t marked by fear and would love to be accepted into the normal culture of the everyday in which they didn’t have to hide. They could be barefaced.
Before beginning this piece it is important to take note of the epigraph that begins the piece. It is a short quote from Matthew Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach.’ It reads, “So various, so beautiful, so new…” There is nothing “beautiful” about the speaker’s description of the Dover shore in the first stanzas of the text.
You can read the full poem here.
Summary of Look We Have Coming to Dover!
‘Look We Have Coming to Dover!’ by Daljit Nagra tells of the arrival of immigrants to England and of their lives filled with hard work, fears, and dreams.
The poem begins with the speaker describing the terrifying arrival into Dover There is nothing beautiful about this scene. The water is dirty, the tourists lord over them and they fear being spotted. When they finally make it to shore they drive off in an inconspicuous van and try to make lives for themselves.
These are hard lives, filled with endless work and the ever-present fear that they’re going to be caught and returned to their home country. At the same time, they are able to hope for a better future, as described in the final stanza.
Analysis of Look We Have Coming to Dover!
In the first stanza of this piece the speaker begins by presenting the English shore from the perspective of an immigrant. The violent language in these lines implies that they are illegal immigrants searching for a new life in England. They have traveled in the most basic way possible, perhaps “Stowed” aboard a small ship. This word also speak to the secrecy and illegality of the operation, as does the word “invade.” It is a scary, employed by the speaker to show how those in England would view the immigrants coming to their country. As if they are there to do personal harm or take something from the residents.
When the immigrants arrive at the shore, it is not a pleasant experience. They are not greeted with beautiful scenery such as that present within Arnold’s ‘Dover Beach.’ Instead, the first thing the speaker notices is the “diesel” smelling breeze. It isn’t clean, even though they are “alfresco” or out in the open air. It comes to them like a “lash,” as if trying to punish them. The speaker also describes the tide as part of the scene, it is moving in with the terrible breeze. At the same time there is the water itself, which is fill with,
gobfuls of surf phlegmed by cushy come-and-go
tourists prow’d on the cruisers, lording the ministered waves.
The contrast and comparison between the dirty water and the tourists is interesting here. They power through the water like “lord[s]” in their cruise ship. The waves are “ministered,” meaning they obey the needs of the tourists while the immigrants have to fight against them to make any progress.
The second stanza of ‘Look We Have Coming to Dover!’ begins with a good example of alliteration, the simple connection of the words “Seagull” and “shoal.” These lines are just as complicated and as filled with adjectives and verbs as the first. The immigrants are doing their best to stay hidden from anyone looking their way, but are not helped by the seagulls and other animals which,
Vexin their blarnies upon our huddled
camouflage past the vast crumble of scummed
The immigrants are camouflaged while the animals are out in the open, making noise and going where they please. The speaker also described the “scummed / cliffs” of the shoreline. This is in contrast to the white cliffs normally associated with Dover. One can’t help but wonder how this initial impression of England contrasted with that the immigrants might’ve expected.
The speaker and his traveling companions make it to land and it begins to storm. The thunder is said to “unbaldder” on the newcomers and the speaker describes the rain as “yobbish.” It is important to take note of the words used in ‘Look We Have Coming to Dover!’ which are characteristically English in nature. These people make their escape from the shore in a Bedford van. It is white, indistinguishable from other similar vehicles and likely the perfect on land camouflage.
The third stanza of ‘Look We Have Coming to Dover!’ jumps ahead in time and speaks on the seasons and “years” that the immigrants “reap / inland.” The work hard and no one figures out who they are. They are “unclocked by the national eye.” At anytime they know that they might be stabbed in the back or hurt by something simple, like asthma contracted in parks. The place they’ve come to for safety and prosperity is still a dangerous one.
The list of words and phrases in this stanza goes on for a few lines as the speaker elaborates on their way of being in England. They work hard, are “burdened,” and sometimes even “ennobled.”
In the fifth stanza the speaker describes the immigrants as “Swarms” of people. With this word he presents them as more animal or insect-like than human. It is a hard life they are living as they are stuck between the dark spotlight of night and the hope of the sun. At the same time they are able to fear discovery and hope desperately that the sun will,
span its rainbow, passport us to life. Only then
can it be human to hoick ourselves, bare-faced for the clear.
The possibility of becoming legal in the country is ever present. They dream of this infinitely positive change and the ability to feel and be treated like humans. They would then be “bare-faced” about who they are for the rest of time. It’s just going to take a lot more hard work the speaker says.
For the first time in the fifth stanza the speaker makes use of a first person pronoun. He addresses the listener, asking them to imagine the life hat he and his love could have. They want to be good British citizens along with the “sundry others.” They could one day have “beeswax’d cars” and clothes, symbols of their freedom from the oppressive eye of the law.
In the future the speaker would like to see himself and his companions as part of British culture and “babbling [their] lingoes.” The final image is a mostly optimistic one. The tone and scene have changed simnifically since the first stanza. Rather than a rain storm and dirty water, they are “unparasol’d tables.” This means that they don’t even need the smallest of umbrellas while they drink from their glasses.