In this poem the poet reminds us of the many ways in which we are all the same — for we are all human.
No Men Are Foreign
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.
About the poet: – James Kirkup
James Harold Kirkup (1918 – 2009) was an English poet, translator, dramatist, auto-biographer and travel writer. He was the only son of a carpenter and studied in South Shields High School. Later he graduated from Durham University. He was a prolific writer and was skilled in writing ‘haiku’ and ‘tanka’. His epic ‘Pikadon’ deals with the bombings of ‘Hiroshima’ and ‘Nagasaki’. He wrote over 45 books and received the Atlantic- Rockefeller Award (1950). He became a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in 1962.
Summary of the poem –
The poem deals with the theme of human equality and universal brotherhood. It is a wake-up call for the readers to realise the destructive effects of war and discrimination.
The first stanza starts with ‘remember’ indicating that people must reflect and remind themselves that the boundaries and discrimination in the minds of people are not real but creations of man’s mind. He says that in spite of physical and cultural differences entire mankind is same and the divisions that make a country foreign are not made by nature hence unnatural . The entire earth is the home for mankind and therefore no country is foreign. Making reference to the Second World War, he says that soldiers who wear different uniforms are having the same humanity inside them. Despite the difference in their attires ‘a single body breathes’ in the sense that their emotions, needs and wants are the same. It is the same earth on which every human walks, thrives and will be buried after death. No matter what superficial differences we create; we shall lead the same type of life, and meet the same end.
In the second stanza the poet says that the basic needs of every human is the same. Everyone is bestowed with the ability to perceive and use the basic elements of nature like the sun, wind and water. People enjoy the bounties of nature during times of peace and face hunger during harsh winters and war. He means to convey the message that everyone has the same ups and downs in life during good and bad times and nature treats all living beings as equal. The hands of people in other parts of the world do the same type of work as we do and their thoughts and writings are similar to ours. Hence there is no difference among God’s creations.
The third stanza tells us that people in other countries see, sleep and wake up just like us. They have the same physical and mental abilities. They too have an inner strength which can be dominated by force but won over by love. Love is the universal language that is understood by all and can win over the greatest of strengths. The poet means to say that it is not through war but through empathy and love that people’s hearts can be won.
The poet warns the readers in the fourth stanza by saying that we should be vigilant of the negative forces who want to profit by spreading difference and hatred. Politicians, religious leaders and people with vested interests instigate the common people to take up arms and fight against each other. In harming each other due to the hatred spread by selfish leaders, it is we who suffer and face huge losses while the leaders who spread such hatred enjoy benefits and lead secure and comfortable lives.
The last stanza speaks of the negative outcomes of hatred and war. When people think of others as different and fight against each other, the world gets polluted with hatred and the blood of the dead. The world becomes a hell due to the anger, hatred and enmity among humans. Purity and innocence in the environment surrounding us is violated resulting in grief and loss. The poet ends the poem by reminding us that all men are the same and we must not think of people living in other counties as foreign and the other countries as strange. He wants everyone to change their mindset and be united, so that there is no excuse for war.
Glossary/ Word meanings
Stranger – an unknown person
Foreign – unfamiliar distant place
Harvest – crop
Labour – physical work
Dispossess: dislodge; deprive
Defile: make dirty; pollute
Outrage the innocence of: violate the purity of
Theme of ‘No Men are Foreign’
The theme of the poem is universal brotherhood and renunciation of war. The poet tells us that all humans are the same and are brothers. We all have similar bodies and needs in life. Our livelihoods are same and so are our ends. We all flourish in times of peace and suffer during winter. We all work and think in similar manner and live in the same earth; therefore, we must overcome superficial differences and live in a united manner.
Message of ‘No Men are Foreign’
The poet gives us the message that superficial differences are no excuse for war. Xenophobia or fear of foreigners is the basis of war, and common people must realise that war does not benefit them in any way so they must avoid war and live like brothers. Hatred, anger, differences yield negative results and therefore must be avoided at all costs.
Rhyme scheme – The poem is written in free verse and does not have a rhyme scheme.
Literary Devices in ‘No Men are Foreign’
Alliteration- (repetition of consonant sound)
‘body breathes’ ( ‘b’ sound is repeated)
‘Or sleep, and strength’ ( ‘s’ sound is repeated)
‘Land is common life’– ( ‘l’ sound is repeated)
Metaphor- (indirect comparison without using as or like)
‘Beneath all uniforms’ – uniforms have been metaphorically used to refer to the different kinds of military dresses in different countries. It is ironical as it creates differences instead of uniformity. Uniform can also be said to be ‘metonymy’ standing for the military.
‘war’s long winter starv’d’ – the starvation faced during war and winter. Here ‘winter’ stands for the times of adversity when people suffer.
Repetition- (repeating words for emphasis)
‘Remember’ – This word has been repeated five times in the poem to emphasise the importance of implementing universal brotherhood.
The words in the first line have been reversed in the last line to re-emphasise the importance of uniting mankind for global peace.
‘Remember, no men are strange, no countries foreign’ – first line
‘Remember, no men are foreign, and no countries strange’ – last line
Transferred epithet ( when an epithet or adjective actually describes a different noun)
‘peaceful harvests’ – here the harvests are not peaceful but the peasants cultivating them are in peaceful times.
Enjambment – (Continuous consecutive lines of poetry without period or full stop to indicate flow of thought)
Stanza 1 – lines 1, 2, 3 and 4
Stanza 2 – lines 3 and 4
Stanza 3 – lines 1, 2, and 3
Stanza 4 – lines 1 and 2
Stanza 5 – lines 2 and 3
Symbolism – (representing things or ideas through symbols)
Fire – symbol of anger, hatred, and enmity
Thinking about the Poem
Question / Answers of ‘ No men are Foreign’
1. (i) “Beneath all uniforms…” What uniforms do you think the poet is speaking about?
Ans. The poet is speaking of the various uniforms that soldiers of different countries wear or even the traditional dresses of people across which creates difference among people at the superficial level. He tells the readers that all men are similar beneath the uniforms.
(ii) How does the poet suggest that all people on earth are the same?
The poet tells us that beneath the superficial differences there is a sameness that unites all mankind. We walk on the same earth and on death are buried in the same earth. We enjoy the bounties of nature during the times of peace and face starvation during times of adversities. We work and think in similar pattern and our eyes and bodies function in the same manner.
2. In stanza 1, find five ways in which we all are alike. Pick out the words.
Ans. In stanza one the poet says that every individual and every place across the globe are similar. We have the same type of body though the superficial clothing is different. We breathe in the same manner, walk on the same earth and are buried in the same earth after death. So the lives of individuals are alike in life and death.
The words which tell us so are-
- ‘no men are strange’
- ‘no country foreign’
- ‘a single body breathes’
- ‘walk upon is earth like this’
- ‘in which we all shall lie’
3. How many common features can you find in stanza 2? Pick out the words.
Ans. The common features mentioned in stanza two which are shared by humans are-
the elements of nature ‘sun, air, water’
the bounties of nature ‘peaceful harvests’
the adversities in life ‘war’s long winter starved’
similar labour ‘their hands are ours
similar thought ‘in their lines we read’
The poet wants to emphasize that the basic needs and work of humans are the same.
4. “…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. Generally during war times selfish leaders instigate common people to fight and lay down their lives. Even during times of peace, narrow minded politicians and religious leaders instil differences and cause riots leading to loss of lives and property.
They instigate people to fulfil their own selfish benefits.
The cunning political leaders and religious heads tell us to hate those who are different from us.
No, we should not follow this type of orders or advice it will harm our brothers, pollute the social environment and cause destruction to humanity.
The poet repeatedly tells us that the entire world is the same and wants to spread universal brotherhood.
Extra questions: ‘No Men are Foreign’
Q1. Why does the poet think that no men are foreign?
Ans. The poet tells us that every individual has the same type of body, has similar needs, lead the same type of life in the same earth and go back to the same earth after death therefore all are alike.
Q2. What do you understand by ‘peaceful harvests’?
Ans. Peaceful harvests refer to the crops grown and harvested during times of peace. The poet means to say that people can enjoy the bounties of nature during peaceful times.
Q3. Elucidate- ‘War’s long winter starv’d’.
Ans. The phrase means that common agricultural activities cannot be carried on during war; hence people face deprivation and starvation during war. The times of war is compared with long winter when the land is covered by snow preventing people from enjoying bounties of nature.
Q4. Why does the poet say ‘their hands are ours’?
Ans. the poet means to say that the hands of people we consider as foreign do the same kind of work as we do.
Q5. Explain the extract – ‘and in their lines we read’.
Ans. Through their lines of writings and speech we can see that their thoughts are similar to ours. The lines in their faces also tell us that their labour that is the same as ours.