"The Emigrée" was written by the British poet Carol Rumens. A first-person speaker describes how as a child she was forced to flee her homeland and emigrate to another country because of war and tyranny. Though the speaker can never return to her home, it still occupies an important place in her heart. She keeps it alive through memory, which is compared to sunlight throughout the poem—suggesting warmth and vitality. The poem deliberately avoids tying itself to a particular context, instead looking more generally at the emigrant experience—with all its trauma and nostalgic longing for home.
There once was ...
... the mildest city.
The worst news ...
... impression of sunlight.
The white streets ...
... close like waves.
That child’s vocabulary ...
... tastes of sunlight.
I have no ...
... its shining eyes.
My city takes ...
... evidence of sunlight.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
Rumens In Her Own Words — An insightful interview with the poet.
Rumens's Picks — Carol Rumens selects her favorite poetry of 2017.
Poems about Emigration and Exile — A great selection of poems on similar subjects from the Poetry Foundation.
Poems by Anna Akhmatova — Works by the Russian Poet Akhmatova, cited by Rumens as an influence on "The Emigrée."
1There once was a country… I left it as a child
2but my memory of it is sunlight-clear
3for it seems I never saw it in that November
4which, I am told, comes to the mildest city.
5The worst news I receive of it cannot break
6my original view, the bright, filled paperweight.
7It may be at war, it may be sick with tyrants,
8but I am branded by an impression of sunlight.
9The white streets of that city, the graceful slopes
10glow even clearer as time rolls its tanks
11and the frontiers rise between us, close like waves.
12That child’s vocabulary I carried here
13like a hollow doll, opens and spills a grammar.
14Soon I shall have every coloured molecule of it.
15It may by now be a lie, banned by the state
16but I can’t get it off my tongue. It tastes of sunlight.
17I have no passport, there’s no way back at all
18but my city comes to me in its own white plane.
19It lies down in front of me, docile as paper;
20I comb its hair and love its shining eyes.
21My city takes me dancing through the city
22of walls. They accuse me of absence, they circle me.
23They accuse me of being dark in their free city.
24My city hides behind me. They mutter death,
25and my shadow falls as evidence of sunlight.