“Yet the poor Indian wand’rer found,
E’en where Religion smil’d around,
That tears had little pow’r to speak
When trembling on a sable cheek!”
(Page 618, lines 153-156)
In “The Lascar” the speaker describes an East Indian sailor searching to find a place that welcomes him. He is alone in Britain, desperately looking for help. Through Robinson’s descriptive language, a clear image of a foreign man trying to find shelter is able to be seen. Robinson’s word choice in these lines showcase the racism in this time period.
Robinson uses the preceding stanzas to set up the feeling of fear and solitude that the sailor portrays. Lines 153 through 156 are the semi-climax of the first part of the poem. The sailor believes they should have found solace in the worshippers of God that were all around him. However, “e’en where Religion smil’d around,” it was not smiling on him. The solace of the church was not welcomed to him. The capitalization of “Religion” emphasizes how important and welcoming the churches were supposed to be. “Religion”, churches, and Christianity’s followers are supposed to be perpetuators of help, comfort, and support. At the sight of the man’s helpfulness, a true Christian would do whatever they could to be of assistance. The sailor is surrounded by people of faith, by the concept of Religion, yet none will help him.
The word choice is most important in line 153 and in line 156. Robinson chooses to reinforce the man’s differences from those around him by pointing out that he is a “poor Indian wand’rer.” The man is then described as having “a sable cheek.” A sable is a type of brown, furry animal that is only in Asian countries. A sable is a foreigner, just like this man. Because the sailor is not a native of any European country, people refuse to help him. If the sailor had been a native of Britain, or any other European country, the people may have helped. Regardless, it is evident, and emphasized through other passages of the poem, that many did not help him because of the color of his skin. Robinson’s choice of the word “trembling” adds to the sense of despair the sailor is experiencing. He is so famished that even his tears are weak and afraid. Although the man is famished and in need of shelter, his “tears had little pow’r to speak.” None would look past the color of his skin.
Robinson’s descriptive word choice demonstrates the systematic racism that was ingrained in Britain during this time period. “The Lascar” showcases how no one wanted to help someone who was not like them.