No Men Are Foreign
By James Kirkup
About the Poet
James Harold Kirkup was an English poet, translator and travel writer. He was born on 23 April, 1918 in South Shields, England. He was the only son of a carpenter. He was educated at South Shields high school. He later took a degree in modern languages at Durham University. During the Second World War, he was a conscientious objector and worked as an agricultural labourer. After the war he worked unsuccessfully as a schoolteacher.
He wrote over 30 books, including autobiographies, novels and plays. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1962. Kirkup died on 10 May, 2009 in Andorra.
Text & Image reference: goodreads.com, theguardian.com
Poem: No Men Are Foreign
In this poem, the poet reminds us of the many ways in which we are all the same — for we are all human.
Remember, no men are strange, no countries foreign
Beneath all uniforms, a single body breathes
Like ours: the land our brothers walk upon
Is earth like this, in which we all shall lie.
They, too, aware of sun and air and water,
Are fed by peaceful harvests, by war’s long winter starv’d.
Their hands are ours, and in their lines we read
A labour not different from our own.
Remember they have eyes like ours that wake
Or sleep, and strength that can be won
By love. In every land is common life
That all can recognise and understand.
Let us remember, whenever we are told
To hate our brothers, it is ourselves
That we shall dispossess, betray, condemn.
Remember, we who take arms against each other
It is the human earth that we defile.
Our hells of fire and dust outrage the innocence
Of air that is everywhere our own,
Remember, no men are foreign, and no countries strange.
“I am a citizen, not of Athens or Greece, but of the world.” – Socrates
This poem deals with the theme of universal brotherhood and gives a strong message to stop all wars and look upon humanity as a unified entity. Human beings all over the world have identical behaviour and the differences based on caste, colour, creed, barriers etc. are unnatural. We are all human beings. Hence, those who spread hatred and cause wars against their brothers and sisters in different parts of the world, actually harm the cause of peaceful mutual co-existence.
The poet tells us that there is no difference between different people and the countries they live in. Therefore wars and the bloodshed that takes place in the name of caste, class, colour, creed and country are futile and must be condemned. The uniforms worn by people in different parts of the world may be different, but the bodies beneath them are the same. The earth that one walks upon is the same. All will one day or the other die and return to earth only. People in every part of the world get the sunshine, air and water in equal measures. They too prosper during peace but have to suffer poverty and hunger during the war like us. They do the same jobs to earn their livelihood as we do. They are built just like us and sleep or wake up in a manner similar to ours. They too can be won over by love- Thus, human life is the same in every part of the world. We must remember that when we hate, betray and condemn others or forcibly take away land and property from them, we actually harm ourselves. They should know that peace brings prosperity and wars bring destruction. They make the earth dirty and spoil its atmosphere. They cause misery, hunger and starvation. In this way, the poem gives us the message of mutual and peaceful co-existence and warns us not to fight or hate others.
Q. “Beneath all uniforms…” What uniforms do you think the poet is speaking about?
Ans. The poet is speaking about the dresses or uniforms that armies of different countries wear. Though these ‘uniforms’ are absolutely different in appearance the bodies under them are the same. The poet tries to convey that the differences among the people of different countries are superficial. Essentially, all human beings are the same.
Q. How does the poet suggest that all people on earth are the same?
Ans. The poet suggests that no human being is strange or different. Beneath the superficial surface of our bodies, we all have similar hearts, minds and souls. We all breathe and live in a similar manner. The earth is our common asset and one day we all shall die and be buried in the same way.
Q. In stanza 1, find five ways in which we all are alike. Pick out the words.
Ans. Words which suggest the five ways in which we all are like are:
Each of us has a similar body.
All of us breathe.
All of us walk.
All of us lie.
We live and die on the same earth.
Q. How many common features can you find in stanza 2? Pick out the words.
Ans. There are five common features in stanza 2. These features are the sun, the air, the water, peaceful harvest, hands and the labour.
Q. “…whenever we are told to hate our brothers…” When do you think this happens? Why? Who ‘tells’ us? Should we do as we are told at such times? What does the poet say?
Ans. Whenever there is war, leaders tell people to hate the other country. They tell us to do so because of their personal gains. But we should not act as a puppet in their hands and do as they say. We should understand that war is futile and analyse the situation before jumping to conclusions. The poet says that if we fight against them, we kill and condemn ourselves.
Short Answer Type Questions
Q. Whom does the poet refer to as ‘our brothers’ and why?
Ans. The poet refers to the people living in other countries as ‘our brothers’. He says so because the superficial dissimilarities of complexion, language, dress, culture and nationality do not, and must not, segregate us as human beings. Human wants, human needs, human hopes, human emotions are the same anywhere in the world.
Q. How does man pollute this earth by going to war?
Ans. Man pollutes the earth by causing death and destruction and by spreading hatred and enmity through wars. The war also causes an irreparable damage to the earth’s environment by polluting it with dust, debris and smoke caused by war weapons.
Q. Why does the poet say that people of the world should live in peace and not go to war?
Ans. The poet advocates living in peace because peace brings progress, prosperity and cheer in this world. He advises mankind to shun wars because wars bring death, exploitation, want, poverty and starvation. They also defile the earth and pollute the very air we all breathe.
Q. How does the poet propose to win over other countries?
Ans. The poet proposes to win over other countries through the divine force of love. It is a universal fact that this world responds positively to love and kindness. So the poet plans to use it to end all hatred and war and create a peaceful heaven on earth.
Q. In four stanzas out of five, the poet uses the word “Remember”. Why do you think he has repeated this word so many times?
Ans. By repeating the word ‘remember’, the poet wishes us never to forget that our ideas, emotions and experiences are similar to that of the people we conventionally think of as ‘strange’ or ‘foreign’. He wants to emphasise that all human beings are identical in nature and phases of human life are the same anywhere in the world.
Q. What is the central idea of the poem?
Ans. The central idea of the poem is that all human beings are similar and equal. Hence, we should love one another and live in peace and harmony. Universal brotherhood and harmonious co-existence will not only unite us but will also save our mother earth from getting polluted and damaged.
Q. “No Men are Foreign” is an anti-war poem. Comment.
Ans. This poem propagates the idea of human brotherhood and peaceful co-existence by annihilating all war and hatred. War harms both the suppressed and the suppressor. It brings about death, destruction, deprivation’ starvation and pollution. Hence, wars should be shunned forever.