The British (serves 60 Million) by Benjamin Zephaniah - Poem Analysis (2023)

‘The British (serves 60 Million)’ by Benjamin Zephaniah is a poem about the diverse culture of Britain. As the title of the poem says, it is about the “60 Million” people living in Britain at that time when Benjamin Zephaniah was writing this verse. The cultural diversity of Britain is not a new phenomenon. It existed at the times Picts, Celts, and Silures. The process of cultural assimilation continued thereafter. And the process exists till today. The poet throws light into the history of Britain and tries to spread the message of “unity, understanding, and respect” to the British people. He places “justice” as the foremost ingredient in his poem as it brings harmony to the nation.

The British (serves 60 Million) by Benjamin Zephaniah - Poem Analysis (1)

Explore The British (serves 60 Million)

  • 1 Summary
  • 2 Themes
  • 3 Form and Tone
  • 4 Analysis ofThe British (serves 60 Million)
  • 5 About Benjamin Zephaniah


‘The British (serves 60 Million)’ by Benjamin Zephaniah is a quirky and amusing poem celebrating the diverse cultural heritage of Great Britain.

(Video) BBC Poetry Season - Zephaniah and students perform The British

‘The British (serves 60 Million)’ by Benjamin Zephaniah presents the history of Britain in an innovative manner. The poet refers to the period when Romans conquered England and the cultural assimilation first started here. Thereafter the poet refers to the Norman Conquest and how the French culture spread into Anglo-Saxon England. In the second stanza, there is no such reference to any major historical events of the group of nations. The poet refers to the people living in different regions of the world and how they got mixed into the British culture. In the last few lines of the poem, the poet upholds the language issue and provides a solution. According to the poet, the nation should allow her people to practice their own culture and language. However, the English language should act as a binding factor, not as a mechanism that uproots oneself from her identity. The poet also emphasizes unity and justice at the end of his poem.

You can read the full poem The British (serves 60 Million) here.


‘The British (serves 60 Million) by Benjamin Zephaniah presents the themes of cultural diversity, unity, and justice in the poem. The major theme of the poem is the cultural diversity of Britain. The poet refers to historical events and highlights the continuing process of cultural assimilation in Britain. This feature is what differentiates the nation from other countries. The poet respects such a welcoming attitude of his nations as well as the Britishpeople. Zephaniah uses the metaphor of cooking ingredients while presenting his view on cultural unification. Another important theme of the poem is unity. According to the poet, language plays a significant role in this process of unification. It binds people and unifies them.

The concept of justice is not an insignificant part of the poem. In fact, Zephaniah places it in a higher position. The poet thinks without justice such a rich diversity of Britain will tremble down. For this reason the poet after emphasizing unity, understanding, and respect for each other, the poet highlights justice separately in his poem. It is the last but not the least in the poet’s list of ingredients.

Form and Tone

The British (serves 60 Million)’ could adequately be described as being quite playful in tone. It takes the idea of a recipe and uses that as a kind of allegory for society in Britain. The effect is highly amusing. The poem is separated into two sections and is written in free verse. The line lengths are uneven and there is no discernible rhythm. However, rhyme is used to great effect in the second stanza. I think that disjointed rhythm, combined with the rhyme is a reflection of the diversity in Britain, celebrating the differences, while the rhyme highlights that we all have much in common.

(Video) The British - BBC Poetry Season 2009

Analysis ofThe British (serves 60 Million)

First Stanza

In the first line of ‘The British (serves 60 Million)’ the narrator begins with the initial “ingredients”, these are three civilizations from early Britain. The celts, who are relatively famous, and the Picts and Silures who are perhaps less so. The narrative voice then suggests you let them settle. This has an obvious double meaning as it a phrase one might use when making a cake, but also denotes the passing of time. This clever use of figurative language is a fixture throughout the poem. The third line is interesting because while the tone is distinctly in keeping with the rest of the poem, the content is not really a double entendre but takes us forward in the history of the country introducing the “Roman element”. The poet then continues “adding” various civilizations to the “mix” before concluding the stanza with the phrase “then stir vigorously” this could well be suggesting that during this time period when the country was influenced by the likes of the Saxons and the Vikings that there was a great deal of upheaval, the shaking here then, while sounding like it is part of the “recipe” for Britain is also probably a metaphor for war.

Second Stanza

The first line of the second stanza of ‘The British (serves 60 Million)’ is quite clever as it says:

Mix some hot Chileans, cool Jamaicans, Dominicans

This is clever because Chileans sounds a lot like Chilli, which we know of course is hot and spicy, but this is also a fairly apt description of a stereotypical South American, with a fiery temperament. He then mentions cool Jamaicans, this mirrors the “ingredient” that proceeded it, with the hot being balanced by the cold, and don’t forget cool is also slang for being laid back, which is certainly a common Jamaican stereotype! Let us also not forget that Zephaniah himself is half Jamaican!

There are elements of sibilance in the opening section of the second stanza. There is the frequent repetition of the S sounds, which give the words a nice flow despite the disjointed rhythm. Rhyme is also used here and this accomplishes the same feeling. Also, note the use of the word blend here, this is very clever wordplay as it could work as either a noun or a verb depending on the context. Then in the seventh line, we see the narrator instructing us to turn up the heat. Once again this could well be an allusion to rising conflicts between the different races living in the country but it fits beautifully with the motif of making a meal. (albeit a meal that Hannibal Lector may well enjoy!

(Video) The British (serves 60 million) by Benjamin Zephaniah

The rhymes continue in the next section as once again we see the wealth of incoming nationalities. With Japanese rhyming with Guyanese, Chinese, and Sudanese could the suggestion from this “ease” sound that these people all get along without too much effort?

Midway through the second stanza, the recipe seems to have all of its ingredients have been added to the mixture and are then left to “simmer”. In this section, there are a lot of pleasant sound “l” sounds which give the impression of things coming together in a positive way. This is suggested by the language itself with the use of the term flourishing to describe the languages of the various residents of Britain.

In the 14th line we see the repetition of the word blend, perhaps this is to emphasize the point that all of these great people are coming together as one, what is interesting though is in the line that directly follows that he says:

Binding them together with English.

Binding is not quite such a positive word. Yes, like blend it describes a coming together, but binding suggests oppression. Could this be suggesting that Britain can be an oppressive place? At times it really does feel that in Britain people are not as tolerant of other cultures than they should be, so perhaps that is what the intonation here is. Another incident of repetition is used directly after with Zephaniah using the word “cool” once more. Perhaps if the use of bind is suggesting an oppression that this period of “cooling off” is what is needed to rid the country of that.

(Video) The British Poem by Benjamin Zephaniah | YOUMANITY

The final stanza comes to a close on a positive with Zephaniah suggesting that the “mixture” requires:

unity, understanding, and respect for the future

and finally, justice, although the word justice may well carry negative connotations as it pertains to authority and therefore might hint at what is perceived to be Britain’s slightly authoritarian nature.

There is, of course, two rather amusing additions after the final stanza, almost acting like disclaimers. The first is that all the ingredients are equally important. This gives us a message that equality between different cultures is vital. It then goes on to add that justice is important to be used with equality in mind too. Given Zephania’s heritage, his views here are not at all surprising.

About Benjamin Zephaniah

Born of parents hailing Jamaica, BenjaminZephaniah is a contemporary British poet that is well respected by critics. He was recently included in a list of the most influential writers since the Second World War which is a massive achievement but even more prominent considering that at the age of just 13 Zephaniah left school and struggled to read and write. Zephaniah often covers contemporary issues such as racial equality in his poetry.

(Video) The British - Benjamin Zephaniah


What is the message of the British serves 60 million? ›

'The British (serves 60 Million) by Benjamin Zephaniah presents the themes of cultural diversity, unity, and justice in the poem. The major theme of the poem is the cultural diversity of Britain. The poet refers to historical events and highlights the continuing process of cultural assimilation in Britain.

Which 3 ethnic groups does Zephaniah identify with? ›

Zephaniah was born and raised in the Handsworth district of Birmingham, England, which he has called the "Jamaican capital of Europe". He is the son of a Barbadian postman and a Jamaican nurse.

Why did the British want to rule America? ›

While the French moved into the north and the Spanish settled in the south and west, the British founded colonies on the east coast. The British settlers came to these new lands for many reasons. Some wanted to make money or set up trade with their home country while others wanted religious freedom.

Why did the British officials put everything in black and white? ›

Answer. Much easier to read than using white ink on white paper or black ink on black paper ...

What are the key themes in Zephaniah? ›

The central theme of the book of Zephaniah is the Day of the Lord. ' Zephaniah elucidates two major aspects of this central theme, judgment and restoration, and in both of these aspects Zephaniah evinces many parallels to the books of the eighth-century prophets.

What is Zephaniah symbolism? ›

Zephaniah is a masculine name of Hebrew origin that means "hidden by God." This is a biblical name shared with minor prophet in the Hebrew Bible and its meaning is symbolic of God's protection.

What is Zephaniah explained? ›

The book of Zephaniah contains some of the most intense images of God's justice and hope found in the prophetic books. Zephaniah warns Israel and the surrounding nations that the Day of the Lord is near. God will judge the nations with a burning fire as he purifies them from sin, evil, and violence.

Is the US still under British rule? ›

The first, short-lived British colony in Virginia was organized in 1584, and permanent English settlement began in 1607. The United States declared its independence from Great Britain in 1776. The American Revolutionary War ended in 1783, with Great Britain recognizing U.S. independence.

Why didn't the British take over America? ›

There was no hope of conquering America — the territory was too big and available resources too meager. At the outbreak of hostilities, the British Army numbered just 45,000 men, spread over a substantial global empire.

How did America become free from British rule? ›

By issuing the Declaration of Independence, adopted by the Continental Congress on July 4, 1776, the 13 American colonies severed their political connections to Great Britain.

What were the effects of British rule on Indian society? ›

Amid social issues like Sati, Child Marriages, Infanticides; ideas like Liberty, Equality, Freedom, and Human Rights were brought by the British. To improve the condition of women in society, various legal measures were introduced. British showed keenness in introducing the English language in Indian society.

What countries are under the British rule? ›

Nowadays, the British monarchy rules over 15 remaining realms, including the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Jamaica, Antigua and Barbuda, the Bahamas, Belize, Grenada, Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Tuvalu.

Who was the first black man in England? ›

The increase in trade between London and West Africa resulted in the growth in the population of Africans. The first recorded Black resident was in 1593, a man named Cornelius. Another influx of Africans occurred in the 17th century when people were freed from Spanish slave ships.

What is the moral lesson of Zephaniah? ›

By studying the book of Zephaniah, students can learn that they do not need to follow the sinful customs of the societies in which they live and that they can seek the Lord regardless of what others around them choose to do.

What is Zephaniah prophesying about? ›

The prophecies of Zephaniah seem to refer to the apostacies of Manasseh's reign ( 2 Kings 21). He predicts the down fall of the Assyrian empire but, unlike Isaiah, he does not anticipate the resurgence of peace and righteousness in Jerusalem.

What is interesting about Zephaniah? ›

Zephaniah, also spelled Sophonias, (flourished 7th century bc), Israelite prophet, said to be the author of one of the shorter Old Testament prophetical books, who proclaimed the approaching divine judgment. The first verse of the Book of Zephaniah makes him a contemporary of Josiah, king of Judah (reigned c.

Why did God call Zephaniah? ›

Zephaniah was commissioned by God to warn Judah and encourage her to repent. He was a contemporary of King Josiah, and his ministry probably played an important part in the reform movement of that time. Israel was at a pivotal point between peril and safety.

Who is Jesus in the book of Zephaniah? ›

His name means “The Lord Hides”, he's the great, great grandson of King Hezekiah, and a prophet during the reign of King Josiah… both written about and known as “good kings”.

Who is the audience of Zephaniah in the Bible? ›

The fact that Yahweh's word came to Zephaniah during Josiah's reign (640-609 B.C.) means that he could not have ministered to the Northern Kingdom because it fell in 722 B.C. Thus Zephaniah's audience consisted of the people of Judah, the surviving southern kingdom.

What is the key verse of Zephaniah? ›

The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing."

What was the word of the Lord to Zephaniah? ›

[1] The word of the LORD which came unto Zephaniah the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hizkiah, in the days of Josiah the son of Amon, king of Judah. [2] I will utterly consume all things from off the land, saith the LORD.

What is the meaning of Zephaniah 3 17? ›

Zephaniah 3:17 reminds us that the Lord rejoices over His people with gladness and joy. The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save. He will rejoice over you with gladness. This is how God speaks to his people. He says, “I will rejoice over you with gladness.

What did people say about the British Empire at its peak? ›

At the peak of its power, it was described as "the empire on which the sun never sets", as the Sun was always shining on at least one of its territories.

What was the famous saying about the British Empire during the 19th century? ›

During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Britain had dominion over so many portions of the Earth it was said, famously, that “the sun never set on the British Empire.” Since the end of World War II, however, that sun has been steadily dipping toward the horizon.

What was the British Invasion of the Sixties? ›

The British Invasion was a cultural phenomenon of the mid-1960s, when rock and pop music acts from the United Kingdom and other aspects of British culture became popular in the United States and significant to the rising "counterculture" on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Why was the British Empire so rich? ›

British gained dominance in the trade with India, and largely dominated the highly lucrative slave, sugar, and commercial trades originating in West Africa and the West Indies. Exports soared from £6.5 million in 1700, to £14.7 million in 1760 and £43.2 million in 1800.

What was the British Empire explanation? ›

The British Empire is a term used to describe all the places around the world that were once ruled by Britain. Built over many years, it grew to include large areas of North America, Australia, New Zealand, Asia and Africa, as well as small parts of Central and South America, too.

How did Britain justify colonialism? ›

Colonial rationale and resistance

Colonial powers justified their conquests by asserting that they had a legal and religious obligation to take over the land and culture of indigenous peoples.

What were the negatives of the British Empire? ›

On the downside, people living in countries taken into the Empire often lost lands and suffered discrimination and prejudice. Countries in the Empire were also exploited for their raw materials. Slavery was another negative because despite the enormous profits made, the suffering of the slaves was terrible.

When did Britain stop colonizing? ›

In 1997 Hong Kong returned to Chinese administration. Though Britain still maintains overseas territories, the handover marked the final end of Britain's empire.

When did Britain stop referring to itself as an empire? ›

By 1979, the British empire was reduced to a few pockets around the world. The shrinking didn't stop, however. When Hong Kong was transferred to China in 1997, Queen Elizabeth's son Prince Charles himself dubbed it the "end of the Empire." In 2015, Britain has 14 overseas territories left.

Why was Britain so powerful in the 19th century? ›

Overseas trade and an extensive commercial infrastructure made Britain in the 19th century the most powerful trading nation in the world.

How did the British Invasion changed American culture? ›

The British Invasion unleashed a creative music explosion in America in the mid-'60s. Guitar sales soared. Longer hair for young men became instantly popular. The British flag became a fashion statement.

What ended the British Invasion? ›

The British Invasion ended when the Americans who were influenced by the Beatles—Dylan, the Byrds, and the Beach Boys—began to exert an influence on the Beatles, around late 1965 when the Beatles released Rubber Soul.

Why was the British Invasion important? ›

British Invasion, musical movement of the mid-1960s composed of British rock-and-roll (“beat”) groups whose popularity spread rapidly to the United States. The Beatles' triumphant arrival in New York City on February 7, 1964, opened America's doors to a wealth of British musical talent.

When did America become richer than Britain? ›

By 1900, America had surpassed England in total economic output, forming a key component of the world system.

What were the 3 main reasons Britain wanted an empire? ›

1 To get valuable raw materials and riches 2 So Britain could sell goods to the colonies and make money 3 To become a more powerful country 4 Because Britain thought it was the right thing to do. 'The people of the colonies had to buy goods from Britain. So Britain sold more goods."

When was Britain the richest country in the world? ›

And here is the thing: the US was the world's richest country in 1900 and Britain was the world's wealthiest country in 1800. While there is still a long way to go, the fact that most countries are wealthier than the world's wealthiest country was just a century or two ago is a remarkable achievement.


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