I have had a request for assistance with 'Alexandra' by Wally Serote which I have now added (see below).

  • "In my Craft or Sullen Art" - Dylan Thomas (pg. 231) ADDED
  • "Let me not to the marriage of true minds" - Shakespeare (pg. 23) ADDED
  • "Coal" - Audre Lorde (pg. 187) ADDED
  • "A Letter to a Son" - Charles Mungoshi (pg. 213) ADDED
  • "In Exile" - Arthur Nortjie (pg. 200) ADDED

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Men in Chains (pg.198)

Mbuyeni Oswald Mtshali

In ‘Men in Chains’ Mbuyiseni Mtshali captures a fleeting glimpse of six chained and handcuffed prisoners being herded like animals onto a train at a country station. He does not suggest why they are there, instead he notices how they have been "shorn of all human honour like sheep after shearing". The imagery he uses captures a powerful sense of utter hopelessness as the men hobble onto the train as it leaves "on its way to nowhere".

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The Loneliness Beyond (pg.183)

Sipho Sepamla

This poem is a personal account of the speaker who finds himself on the platform of a railway station at the end of a working day. He observes the commuters arriving; slowly at first but then, much like raindrops that begin to intensify before a heavy downpour, "as a torrent". He observes how each of them seem "tired from the hurrying of the city" to the point where they seem to all become part of "a single maskless face". He hears them speaking and recognises the "clicks of tongues" and the laughter. When the train arrives and they start climbing into the coaches, he is reminded of "sheep herded into a kraal". He stands there observing this moment and wonders at the lives these people live beyond this train station when they "disappear into little holes of resting". He wonders at "the loneliness beyond". Note: the imagery and the dehumanisation of these people, their lack of individuality (think of Mtshali's Men in Chains). The constant use of the word "I've" serves to separate the speaker from the crowd he is observing - think about the possible significance of the fact that while thinking about "the loneliness beyond", he too stands alone.

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In the Shadow of Signal Hill (pg.178)

Essop Patel

This is a short yet powerful poem that calls upon the people of this country to "go towards the fiery dawn.." Note the dark imagery; the 'howling winds", "murky waters" and "dungeons of death" - what is purpose of these images? Why is there no punctuation? District 6 was demolished by the apartheid régime after all occupants were evicted. Langa is a township where many of these non-white evicted residents would have gone to. Robben Island is easily visible from Signal Hill and it is from here that he hears the "heroes from the island" call out for something to be done to right the wrongs of apartheid rule.

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The Child Who Was Shot Dead by Soldiers at Nyanga (pg. 186)

Ingrid Jonker

This poem was originally written in Afrikaans, in response to the notorious killings at Sharpeville in 1960. In his inaugural address to Parliament, President Nelson Mandela read "The child who was shot dead by soldiers at Nyanga" in full and remarked of Jonker’s poem: "… in this glorious vision she instructs that our endeavours must be about the liberation of the woman, the emancipation of the man and the liberty of the child"

See the YouTube clip of Nelson Mandela reading this poem: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9zMwdBX1V_8

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When the first slave was brought to the Cape (pg. 215)

Shabbir Banoobhai

When the Dutch first occupied the Cape in the 17th Century, they brought Muslim slaves from Indonesia. In this poem the topic of slavery is dealt with in an unusual manner; the speaker is moved by the natural beauty of the Cape and sees himself as being "as free and as tall as (the) mountain" despite the fact that he is a slave in this foreign land. He is strengthened by the power of his faith and although he has the status of 'slave', he believes he carries treasures within him that are safe "for as long as beauty and (the) mountain survive". Although far away from his land and his family he remains connected to both. The 'adhaan' is the Muslim call to prayer (line 8) and suggests the resilience of the human spirit in even the most alien and inhumane circumstances.

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Alexandra (pg. 207/8)

Wally Mongane Serote

In the poem Alexandra, the speaker's inner-child addresses his 'mother'; "Alexandra, my beginning was knotted to you, just like you knot my destiny". Alexandra (the place) will be forever connected to the speaker; it has shaped who he is and regardless of where he goes, he will carry the indelible impression of Alexandra with him. The personification of Alexandra as a mother-figure allows the speaker to emphasise the bond he has with this place; wherever he goes he carries the 'throb' of Alexandra deep within him, the throb that he says “is silent in (his) heartbeat”, because it is his heartbeat. He was raised and nourished on the "dirty waters of (her) dongas" and because of this, Alexandra will forever live within him. Even as an adult he yearns for Alexandra; when he is thirsty he cries out for Alexandra, although he knows that what should be the nurturing breast of his mother will only leave the taste of dust in his mouth.

The speaker’s relationship with Alexandra is a potent mix of love and fear; despite the cruelty that lurks only just beneath the surface, he cannot help but return to her time and again. Line 17 perfectly captures the speaker’s inner turmoil where the name of this ‘mother’ he loves and fears in equal measure sits alongside a place synonymous with damnation: his ‘Alexandra’, his ‘hell’. He struggles with the notion that this relationship has somehow stripped him of his humanity because, although he has “seen people”, he feels that he is not one himself. He repeatedly pleads for answers from his 'mother'; "Do you love me Alexandra?" and "What have you done to me?" Despite not receiving any answers he simply cannot sever ties; he feels that he has “sunk(en) to such meekness” because he has allowed people moving on to "far places" to walk over him. He has not stopped them from leaving and he has not left with them either.

In line 25 he seems to resign himself to the simple truth when he says “Alexandra, I love you”. It is a love that is not forged from logic or intellect; it is a love that scares him and can break him down, but it is also a love that has shaped him and that continues to be his heartbeat – the very thing that keeps him alive! In the final stanza he appears to have reached a sense of acceptance that no matter where he goes there will come a time when “all these worlds become funny” to him and he will return to willingly lie amid the rubble, back to the beginning, "simple and black".

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My Grandmother's Love Letters (pg.130)

Hart Crane

For the speaker his Grandmother was always Grandmother, but after her death he finds some of her letters in the attic and she becomes 'Elizabeth', a woman of flesh and bone. A woman who has had a past, a life that existed outside of her role as Grandmother. That Grandmother Elizabeth existed passionately in her past, a past that may have been as painful as the speaker's own present, comes as a shock to the speaker.

In families, where we feel we ought to know each other so well, we can sometimes be surprised to find that our fathers can cry or that our mothers have experienced love before. All it takes is finding something: an old diary, love letter or a photo of an unknown gentleman with Granny at the fair and suddenly we see that Grandmother wasn't always Grandmother. Grandmother was Elizabeth.

"There are no stars tonight," Crane begins, "But those of memory." The thing about the past is that once you start thinking about it, you have to come face to face with the great distance that you have put behind you and certain memories. Those spaces can be vast. The letters that the speaker finds are 'liable to melt as snow' and, like memory, seem incredibly fragile. If he tries to hold onto the memories there is a danger they will disintegrate and so, if he is to retrace these memories his "steps must be gentle". You could read this poem as Crane striving to find a connection between himself and his grandmother – a connection perhaps as thin as an "invisible white hair." Crane's personal life was complicated and he experienced much heartache with both men and women. The lines near the end of the poem could be the speaker saying how difficult it would be to explain his interpretation of love to his Grandmother because he will always be her Grandson; would she be able to read his love letters with the same compassion and nostalgia as he had done with hers? More than this, however, the poet is talking about how we a lack a true connection to our memories, and is suggesting that you can never fully understand the weight of another person's private life. This inability works both ways – for Grandmother and Grandson.

In its longing, this poem seems to be itself a love letter of sorts; a way to connect with the nostalgia of his memory of his Grandmother. In the penultimate stanza the speaker asks himself: 'Are your fingers long enough to play / Old keys that are but echoes / Is the silence strong enough / To carry back the music to its source'? The answer, to me at least, regrettably seems to be ‘no’.

You can listen to a reading of this poem on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HF7kFDlwIoQ

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On His Blindness (pg. 37)

John Milton

John Milton's eyesight began to fail in 1644. By 1652, he was totally blind. Oddly, he wrote his greatest works, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained, after he became blind. Many scholars rank Milton as second only to Shakespeare in poetic ability.

Here is a link to a slide show compiled about this poem (you will need to create an account to view the slide show, but it is simple and FREE!)


"On His Blindness" is a Petrarchan sonnet, a lyric poem with fourteen lines. This type of sonnet, popularized by the Italian priest Petrarch (1304-1374), has a rhyme scheme of ABBA, ABBA, CDE, and CDE. John Milton wrote the poem in 1655.

God judges humans on whether they labor for Him to the best of their ability. For example, if one carpenter can make only two chairs a day and another carpenter can make five, they both serve God equally well if the first carpenter makes his two chairs and the second makes his five. If one carpenter becomes severely disabled and cannot make even a single chair, he remains worthy in the sight of God. For, as Milton says in the last line of the poem, "they also serve who only stand and wait."

Lines 3 to 6 of the poem allude to the "Parable of the Talents" in Chapter 25 of the Gospel of Matthew, verses 14 to 30. In this famous arable, an employer who is going away for a time gives his three servants money in proportion to their ability to increase its value. He distributes the money in talents, a unit of weight used in ancient times to establish the value of gold, silver, or any other medium used as money. Thus, a Roman might pay ten talents of gold for military supplies or seven talents of silver for a quantity of food. In the "Parable of the Talents," the employer gives the first servant five talents of silver, the second servant two talents, and the third servant one talent. After the employer returns from the trip and asks for an accounting, the first servant reports that he doubled his talents to ten and the second that he doubled his to four. Both men receive promotions. The third servant then reports that he still has only one talent, for he did nothing to increase its value. Instead, he buried it. The employer denounces him for his laziness, gives his talent to the man with ten, and casts him outside into the darkness.


All the lines in the poem are in iambic pentameter. In this metric pattern, a line has five pairs of unstressed and stressed syllables, for a total of ten syllables. The first two lines of the poem illustrate this pattern:

1...........2........... 3............4............5

When I | con SID | er HOW.| my LIFE | is SPENT

1................2............ 3...............4....................4

Ere HALF | my DAYS | in THIS | dark WORLD.| and WIDE

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Dover Beach (pg.83-4)

Matthew Arnold

Matthew Arnold (1822-1888) wrote "Dover Beach" during or shortly after a visit he and his wife made to the Dover region of southeastern England, the setting of the poem, in 1851. They had married in June of that year.

The poet/persona uses first-, second-, and third-person point of view in the poem. Generally, the poem presents the observations of the author/persona in third-person point of view but shifts to second person when he addresses his beloved, as in Line 6 (Come), Line 9 (Listen! you), and Line 29 (let). Then he shifts to first-person point of view when he includes his beloved and the reader as co-observers, as in Line 18 (we), Line 29 (us), Line 31 (us), and Line 35 (we). He also uses first-person point of view to declare that at least one observation is his alone, and not necessarily that of his co-observers. This instance occurs in Line 24: But now I only hear. This line means But now I alone hear.

The person addressed in the poem—Lines 6, 9, and 29is Matthew Arnold's wife, Frances Lucy Wightman. However, since the poem expresses a universal message, one may say that she can be any woman listening to the observations of any man.

Arnold’s central message is this: Challenges to the validity of long-standing theological and moral precepts have shaken the faith of people in God and religion. In Arnold’s world of the mid-1800's, the pillar of faith supporting society was perceived as crumbling under the weight of scientific postulates, such as the evolutionary theory of English physician Erasmus Darwin and French naturalist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. Consequently, the existence of God and the whole Christian scheme of things was cast in doubt. Arnold, who was deeply religious, lamented the dying of the light of faith, as symbolized by the light he sees in “Dover Beach” on the coast of France, which gleams one moment and is gone the next.

“Dover Beach” is a poem with the mournful tone of an elegy and the personal intensity of a dramatic monologue. Because the meter and rhyme vary from line to line, the poem is said to be in free verse--that is, it is unencumbered by the strictures of traditional versification. However, there is cadence in the poem, achieved through the following:

Alliteration Examples: to-night, tide; full, fair; gleams, gone; coast, cliff (Stanza 1)

Parallel Structure Example: The tide is full, the moon lies fair (Stanza 1); So various, so beautiful, so new (Stanza 4); Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light / Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain (Stanza 4)

Rhyming Words Examples: to-night, light; fair, night-air; stand, land; bay, spray; fling, bring; begin, in (Stanza 1)

Words Suggesting Rhythm Examples: draw back, return; Begin, and cease, then begin again (Stanza 1); turbid ebb and flow (Stanza 2)

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Ozimandias (pg. 62)

Percy-Bysshe Shelley

"Ozymandias" is a sonnet, a poem with fourteen lines.

"Ozymandias" has two settings. The first is the place where the narrator meets the traveler (line 1); the second is the setting in the traveler's tale about a crumbling statue of an Egyptian king (pharaoh). The statue is at the site of the ancient Egyptian capital, Thebes (about 420 miles south of Cairo). On the eastern side of the river was the city proper. On the western side was a vast cemetery, or city of the dead, where statues, temples, and tombs memorialized the pharaohs. Living at the site were priests who conducted religious services and artisans and laborers who designed, built, and maintained the monuments.

Narrator: The poet, Shelley. He assumes the role of auditor to the tale of the traveler (line 1) and tells the reader what the traveler said.

Traveler: A person from an ancient land who tells his tale to the narrator.

Ozymandias: Egyptian Pharaoh who is the subject of the traveler's tale. Ozymandias (also spelled Osymandias) is another name for one of Egypt's most famous rulers, Ramses II (or Ramses the Great). He was born in 1314 BC and ruled Egypt for 66 years as the third king of the Nineteenth Dynasty. His exact age at death is uncertain, but it was between 90 and 99. Ramses was a warrior king and a builder of temples, statues and other monuments. He was pharaoh at the time Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt, as recounted in the second book of the Bible, Exodus.

The might and majesty of a king does not last; only great art endures. The statue, symbolizing the power and glory of the pharaoh, is crumbling. Yet the arrogant sneer on the "shattered visage" remains intact as a testament to the ability of the sculptor to read and capture the passions of his ruler. Thus, it is the pharaoh's lowly servant, the sculptor, who delivers the more powerful message here. The king's message "look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair" is an ironic indictment of his pride.

Oddly, Shelley's themevalid as a general statementdoes not ultimately apply to Ozymandias, or Ramses II. For Ramses remains today perhaps the most famous of Egyptian pharaohs. After thousands of years, he continues to intrigue historians, archeologists, and other scholars. n addition, many of the monuments erected during his rule still stand.

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The Zulu Girl (pg. 132)

Roy Campbell

Roy Campbell (2 October 1901 – 22 April 1957) was a South African poet and satirist. He was considered by T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas and Edith Sitwell to have been one of the best poets of the period between the two World Wars.

The narrator in Roy Campbell's poem, "The Zulu Girl" seems to have feelings of sympathy for the girl, working out in the hot field with a baby on her back. He may be sad at the suffering she has to endure. But he also seems to be in awe of her, and hold the attitude that she is all-important. This can be seen when he takes the point of view of the infant, and sees her as a hill large enough to throw shade over an entire village, or as a large cloud, ready to drop life-giving rain on the crops to be harvested.

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London (pg. 50)

William Blake ADDITIONAL INFO to be added soon!

The poem is organised into four quatrains, each with the unfaltering rhyming scheme of ABAB. This structural repetition is mirrored in the language, a dominant feature that creates a sense of urgency. In the first stanza, both the streets and the Thames are described as "charter'd", implying that they are controlled by the state. The fact that the river, which is of course flee-flowing, is described as thus is a hyperbolic technique that reflects the poet's strong disdain for institutional dominance. The word "mark" is then used as both a verb and a noun, carrying a sense of permanence that alternatives such as 'speck' do not. Furthermore, an alliterative 'w' is used twice in "weakness" and "woe", creating a sound that deflates the sentence and mixes pathos into the poetic rage...
To read more of this analysis, click on the link below...

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Mending Wall (pg. 103-4)

Robert Frost

“Something there is that doesn't love a wall”

The speaker of Robert Frost's Mending Wall begins by claiming that there is something out there in nature that doesn’t seem to agree that a wall should remain in tact. It might be the earth itself: that “something” “That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, / And spills the upper boulders in the sun; / And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.” The frozen earth bolts upward and then shrinks in the warmth of the sun and the rocks that form the wall go toppling down, leaving big “gaps” in the wall.

“Hunters” are another problem; they go about knocking down every rock in some places as they follow their dogs trying to sniff out rabbits. The speaker is so concerned with mending of his wall that he has followed after those hunters repairing it as they destroy it.

But the opening line does not refer to the natural ground-swell or the hunters; it refers to other causes that the speaker cannot name, but about which he is curious. They are always there, these places where the rocks have fallen off for no apparent reason, and they must be mended...

To read more of this analysis, click on the link below...


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Composed upon Westminster Bridge... (pg.57)

William Wordsworth

In lines 1 through 8, which together compose a single sentence, the speaker describes what he sees as he stands on Westminster Bridge looking out at the city. He begins by saying that there is nothing "more fair" on Earth than the sight he sees, and that anyone who could pass the spot without stopping to look has a "dull" soul. The poem takes place in the "beauty of the morning," which lies like a blanket over the silent city. He then lists what he sees in the city and mentions that the city seems to have no pollution and lies "Open unto the fields, and to the sky."

Earth has not anything to show more fair:

Dull would he be of soul who could pass by

A sight so touching in its majesty:

This City now doth, like a garment, wear

The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,

Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie

Open unto the fields, and to the sky;

All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.

In lines 9 through 14, the speaker tells the reader that the sun has never shone more beautifully, even on nature ("valley , rock, or hill"), and that he has never seen or felt such deep calm. He goes on to describe the way that the river (which he personifies) glides along at the slow pace it chooses. The poem ends with an exclamation, saying that "the houses seem asleep" and the heart of the city is still.

  • Never did sun more beautifully steep

  • In his first splendour, valley, rock, or hill;

  • Ne'er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!

  • The river glideth at his own sweet will:

  • Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;

  • And all that mighty heart is lying still!


"Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802" is an Italian sonnet, written in iambic pentameter with ten syllables per line. The rhyme scheme of the poem is abbaabbacdcdcd. The poem was actually written about an experience that took place on July 31, 1802 during a trip to France with Wordsworth's sister, Dorothy.

The poem begins with a rather shocking statement, especially for a Romantic poet: "Earth has not anything to show more fair." This statement is surprising because Wordsworth is not speaking of nature, but of the city. He goes on to list the beautiful man-made entities therein, such as "Ships, towers, domes, theatres and temples." In fact, nature's influence isn't described until the 7th line, when the speaker relates that the city is "open to the fields, and to the sky." While the city itself may not be a part of nature, it is certainly not in conflict with nature. This becomes even more clear in the next line, when the reader learns that the air is "smokeless" (free from pollution).

Wordsworth continues to surprise his reader by saying that the sun has never shone more beautifully, even on natural things. He then personifies the scene, giving life to the sun, the river, the houses, and finally to the whole city, which has a symbolic heart. The reader imagines that the city's heart beats rapidly during the day, while everything and everyone in it is bustling about, but now, in the early morning hours, the city's heart is "lying still." By using personification in his poem, Wordsworth brings a kind of spirit to the city, which is usually seen as a simple construction of rock and metal.

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Dulce et Decorum Est (pg. 123)

Wilfred Owen

The title is inspired by a well-known quote from one of the 'Odes' of Horace, the ancient Roman poet. In full, the Latin motto reads: 'Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori', meaning 'it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country'. Horace's slogan of the glories of dying for the fatherland echoed down the ages.
"My subject is War, and the pity of War", Owen wrote in a draft of the preface to his intended volume of poems. The collection was intended to convey the disgusting horror of war to an ill-informed and largely complacent audience in England.
'Dulce et Decorum Est' describes a mustard gas attack on a group of war-weary soldiers. Owen's painfully direct language combines gritty realism with an aching sense of compassion. His despair at the crumbling of the moral order - the world's and perhaps his own - are expressed in phrases such as "froth-corrupted lungs', "sores on innocent tongues" and his description of the dying man's face "like a devil's sick of sin".

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The Second Coming (pg. 98)

William Butler Yeats

Yeats starts out with the image of a falcon wheeling about in the sky, far away from the falconer who released it. The bird continues to wheel and gyre further and further away from the falconer. This metaphor stands for the young people who have given up the standards of their parents and grandparents for the new art, the new literature, the new music, and the other novelties of Yeats' time. The poem was composed in 1920.

There is another interpretation of the falcon-falconer image, and that is the image of the head or intellect as the falcon and the rest of the body and the body sensations and feelings (heart) as the falconer. This idea is reinforced and repeated later in the poem when Yeats brings in the image of the Sphinx, which is a re-connection of these two components. In the image of the Sphinx, the head-intellect is connected to the body. That is the Sphinx isn't broken apart. The giant sculpture is still intact.

The last two lines of the first stanza are simply a commentary on the times. Yeats says "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity." This also suggests a dissociation between the best, which Yeats identifies as head people, the intellectuals, and the worst, whom Yeats associates with the mob who are those who react with passionate intensity not with careful intellectual study and expression.

In the first stanza of the poem Yeats gives us the first bird metaphor. In the second part of the poem Yeats gives us the second bird metaphor in the form of "indignant desert birds." These creatures appear to have been roosting on the Sphinx, but when the massive beast began to move its "slow thighs" the birds became agitated and took off. The poet shows us the image a little later. The birds are flying around above the slowly moving Sphinx.

At the start of the second stanza Yeats calls for a revelation, saying "Surely a revelation is at hand." And Yeats himself becomes the revelator. Yeats is a revelator because he gives us a powerful image for The Second Coming. This is the image of a "rough beast" which has the head-intellect of a man and the fierce emotions and body intelligence of a beast. Furthermore, Yeats suggests that the body movement of the beast, the "slouching" movement is what is moving the Christ closer and closer to its Bethlehem" or birthplace. Yeats adds the image of the head-intellect connected to the body-mind of a beast to the image Isaiah gave as a little child for The Messiah. This makes Yeats a modern revelator or prophet.

It's significant that Yeats describes the Sphinx as "A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun," because spiritual masters are known to gaze blankly as they transmit "the message" to their disciples. Yeats equates this
gaze and this transmission with the Sphinx, which he also uses to denote the Second Coming of Christ.

After Yeats presents this brilliant visionary image, he says "The darkness drops again." His vision ends and he starts thinking again. He concludes that "twenty centuries of stony sleep Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle." This is a puzzling line, because the rocking cradle suggests the manger where Jesus was laid. But a manger doesn't rock unless some animals are jostling it about in their movements. And this again suggests that animal body movement figures strongly into this idea of Christ which Yeats presents in this poem.

This poem is a riddle. Yeats ends by asking a question. Throughout the poem there are hints as to what the answer to the riddle is. But Yeats doesn't come right out and give the answer to the riddle.

Yeats uses the image of a cat, i.e., the Sphinx in juxtaposition with the two images of birds. First Yeats presents the broken image of the falcon
dissociating from its trainer and master the falconer. Then Yeats presents the broken image of many birds flying around the Sphinx. But the cat itself is a single whole image. Furthermore, the cat eats birds. The cat is mightier than the birds. The idea of being mighty is amplified by the very size of the Sphinx. This suggests the power of the process which integrates the human intellect with the animal power of the bodily intelligence of the animal beast.

Also by Yeats…

An Irish Airman Foresees his Death (pg. 99)


The speaker, an Irish airman fighting in World War I, declares that he knows he will die fighting among the clouds. He says that he does not hate those he fights, nor love those he guards. His country is “Kiltartan’s Cross,” his countrymen “Kiltartan’s poor.” He says that no outcome in the war will make their lives worse or better than before the war began. He says that he did not decide to fight because of a law or a sense of duty, nor because of “public men” or “cheering crowds.” Rather, “a lonely impulse of delight” drove him to “this tumult in the clouds.” He says that he weighed his life in his mind, and found that “The years to come seemed waste of breath, / A waste of breath the years behind.”
This short sixteen-line poem has a very simple structure: lines metered in iambic tetrameter, and four grouped “quatrains” of alternating rhymes: ABABCDCDEFEFGHGH, or four repetitions of the basic ABAB scheme utilizing different rhymes.

This simple poem is one of Yeats’s most explicit statements about the First World War, and illustrates both his active political consciousness (“Those I fight I do not hate, / Those I guard I do not love”) and his increasing propensity for a kind of hard-edged mystical rapture (the airman was driven to the clouds by “A lonely impulse of delight”). The poem, which, like flying, emphasizes balance, essentially enacts a kind of accounting, whereby the airman lists every factor weighing upon his situation and his vision of death, and rejects every possible factor he believes to be false: he does not hate or love his enemies or his allies, his country will neither be benefited nor hurt by any outcome of the war, he does not fight for political or moral motives but because of his “impulse of delight”; his past life seems a waste, his future life seems that it would be a waste, and his death will balance his life. Complementing this kind of tragic arithmetic is the neatly balanced structure of the poem, with its cycles of alternating rhymes and its clipped, stoical meter.
Listen to the poem read in the following YouTube clip: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7eDnIy4Um28

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I, being born a woman and distressed (pg. 118)

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Context: The poem, "I, being born a woman and distressed" was written in 1923 by Edna St. Vincent Millay. This was only three years after the Nineteenth Amendment, granting women's voting rights, was adopted. Millay was best known for her lyrical poetry. In this poem she speaks of her feelings toward her lover and how they make her feel. She characterises herself for her audience as ". . .being born a woman and distressed By all the needs and notions of my kind. . ." By using the words "woman" and "my kind" there is a feeling that she needed to clearly express her gender. This time in history may have influenced Millay to explain this. Today men and women are more equal, whereas in the 1920s they were discriminated against.
A Petrarchan sonnet, generally addressed to the ideal woman – a goddess, almost – and written by a love-besotted man, is used in a very different manner by the poet in this case. Millay’s sonnet, though it follows the Italian rhyme scheme fairly closely, is making a mockery of the Petrarchan ideal. Hers is addressed to an unidentified lover, from the perspective of a jaded woman, and speaks more of rejection than of love. By framing it as a Petrarchan sonnet, Millay is rejecting not only her lover, but also the traditional roles of a woman, by which she feels trapped. (She is “distressed/By all the needs and notions of my kind” – that is, trapped by femininity.) She asserts her independence from the ‘damsel in distress’ ideal by equating herself to the male writer of the Petrarchan sonnet and simultaneously proving her prowess as a poet. She does not portray herself as some goddess on Earth, but rather speaks as a rational human, which lies in stark contrast with her choice of the Petrarchan form. In the octet, the speaker explains how, because of the “notions of [her] kind,” she is physically attracted to her lover, to the point that it “cloud[s] the mind.” After the turn, however, she presents her refusal to continue their affair – in this, the turn becomes almost literal as the speaker turns a cold shoulder to her lover. The fact that both the octet and the sestet are strongly end-stopped lends an air of finality to her turning away, as does the use of rhyme.

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Talking in Bed (pg. 160)

Philip Larkin

Philip Larkin's poems are full of resentment and anger for youth, innocence, and naivety. Larkin, through his poems, sets out to destroy each of these ideals one by one. Using imagery and carefully planned structure, Larkin is able to create an atmosphere in which he can effectively criticize and deconstruct the subject of innocence in relation to his current life experiences. While he was considered one of the finest poets in English history, he was also revered as a recluse who was set to live a life of isolation and misery. The Philip Larkin discovered after his death in 1985 was one of misogyny and racism, tainting many people's views of his work.

In the poem "Talking in Bed" Larkin speaks about darkness that creeps up, which I interpret to mean that the darkness, USA and other
prominent world forces, are beginning to creep up on England because it is becoming a less dominant and more isolated place. The Poem ends with "It becomes still more difficult to find Words at once true and kind, Or not untrue and not unkind." (Larkin Lines 10-12).

This quote displays how Larkin views relationships as well as how he views intimacy. Larkin is saying here that at this point in the relationship things have become mundane, making things that were once said out of emotion and truth become things that are now said out of necessity to lie in order to please the other in the relationship. It appears as if this critique could be leading towards the idea of
needing to grow in intimacy, which it should not stop but continue to be alive and growing within a relationship. Once this intimacy stops, the relationship dies.

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In my Craft or Sullen Art (pg.142)

Dylan Thomas

Why do poets write? Is it for themselves? Their readers? Posterity?
Dylan Thomas offers a rather non-traditional answer to this question, but one which (on reflection) seems much truer than the usual ones. As he himself said , "My poems are written for the love of Man and in praise of God". This poem puts those words into practice.
Notice the very interesting rhyme scheme - 'abcde bd ecca abcde ecca' - not quite regular, but strong enough to lend a degree of structure to the poem. Indeed, Dylan Thomas' verse is almost always meticulously structured, each word chosen with painstaking care and attention to detail. It's not by accident that he refers to the practice of poetry as a 'craft'...
The wonderful thing is that despite this degree of construction, his poetry remains natural and spontaneous. This in itself is the highest possible testimony to his mastery of the language; perhaps no other poet since Yeats could craft words with such consummate ease while retaining such depth and power of meaning.
In this poem the speaker seem to be expressing a measure of frustration about the fact that the very people he wishes to reach through his poetry, the lovers who lie in bed 'with all their griefs in their arms', are sadly the ones who are the least aware of his existence and who 'pay no praise or wages' for the poetry he writes. Instead, the people for whom he has the most contempt - the socialites and the celebrities who 'strut and trade' their charms - these are the folk who pay him attention.
Dylan was a favourite at dinner parties and poetry readings; he rubbed shoulders with many of the socialites of the day and was himself considered a celebrity. He was well known for his drunken outbursts at such occasions and it was almost as if he was invited to these functions to see what he would get up to next. He found these people very superficial, these people who had no real understanding of what it was to bare 'the griefs of ages' or to earn 'common wages'. Ironically, this rich and famous sector of society, the people he had no interest in writing for, were the only ones who paid him any notice and even embraced him as one of their own - turning him into a celebrity of his time (no wonder he drank so heavily!). There seems to be real sadness in the last two lines of this poem as he admits that although his greatest desire is to write for the 'most secret heart' of the common people, they are the ones who in all likelihood will never know or appreciate his work.
(Notice the typical Thomas compounds - 'raging moon', 'spindrift pages', 'towering dead', and, 'singing light'. They each contain more meaning than whole stanzas of a less concentrated poet's output; yet they tend to go unnoticed on a first reading. Perhaps spend some time thinking about the significance of the images created by these compounds). It is said that Dylan would often spend days pondering single words and turns of phrase. His work is perhaps best summarised by the word 'balance' - his poetry is highly orchestrated, yet remains graceful and natural.
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Let me not to the marriage of true minds... (pg. 23)

William Shakespeare

Sonnet 116 is about love in its most ideal form. It is praising the glories of lovers who have come to each other freely, and enter into a relationship based on trust and understanding. The first four lines reveal the poet's pleasure in love that is constant and strong, and will not "alter when it alteration finds." The following lines proclaim that true love is indeed an "ever-fix'd mark" which will survive any crisis. In lines 7-8, the poet claims that we may be able to measure love to some degree, but this does not mean we fully understand it. Love's actual worth cannot be known – it remains a mystery. The remaining lines of the third quatrain (9-12), reaffirm the perfect nature of love that is unshakeable throughout time and remains so "ev'n to the edge of doom", or death.

In the final couplet, the poet declares that, if he is mistaken about the constant, unmovable nature of perfect love, then he must take back all his writings on love, truth, and faith. Moreover, he adds that, if he has in fact judged love inappropriately, no man has ever really loved, in the ideal sense that the poet professes.

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Coal (pg. 187)

Audre Lorde

Lorde has written that “the woman's place of power within each of us is neither white nor surface; it is dark, it is ancient, and it is deep.” It is not surprising, then, that one of Lorde's most well known poems is “Coal,” with its final two lines independently declaring “I am Black because I come from the earth's inside/ now take my word for jewel in the open light.” This self-assertion and her awareness of the power of words are not merely themes but are a necessity and a way of life for Lorde.
Coal begins with the words:
is the total black, being spoken
from the earth's inside…
It then continues with the metaphor of coal as a representation of blackness. It is the symbol of a person's blackness, which comes from within the nurturing earth, and it is an essence that provides fuel and a substance that becomes a diamond.
The poem, “Coal” appears as a discussion of the many different forms that Lorde's words can take, “colored/ by who pays what for speaking.” Lorde's imagery is highly skillful, as in such phrases as “singing out within the passing crash of sun,” an “ill-pulled tooth with a ragged edge,” or “seeking like gypsies over my tongue/ to explode through my lips/ like young sparrows bursting from shell.” The words that she analyses, however, are both servant and served. The phrasing she employs seems to imply that Lorde herself is trapped by her words: “Some words live in my throat/ breeding like adders . . ./ Some words/ bedevil me.”
One of Lorde's principal themes concerns her reaction to racist attitudes and acts; her response to racism is, in a word, anger. Lorde lived with that anger for her entire life; and she once remarked that it “has eaten clefts into my living only when it remained unspoken, useless to anyone.” For Lorde, the expression and use of anger was not destructive. Rather, as one critic has explained “the poem ’Coal’ suggests the strength through which she can transform rage at racism into triumphant self-assertion.”
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In Exile (pg. 200) This poem was the focus of assignment 01 in Sept.2012 (see below)

Arthur Nortje

Arthur Nortje was a coloured man alienated by the politics of South Africa. He left for England and later spent time in Canada - all the while experiencing an extreme sense of dislocation and alienation from his country and his people - he lived in exile, albeit self-imposed. This 'exile' extended beyond a mere geographical dislocation; his poetry seems to explore an emotional disconnect - one of temperament and an inability to forge personal relationships that were lasting or meaningful.

In the poem 'In Exile', the speaker seems to motivated by an intense sense of loss - the mood is predominantly one of defeat and sadness - not even the "blue sky and wind-beautiful day" can lift his spirits. He speaks of his heart which is 'hollowed with the boots passing through' and a soul which is "decay(ing) in exile". The clouds remind him of the past and this sense of nostalgia is felt throughout the poem as he contemplates the emptiness of the "open skies" above him, the 'wind (that) sweeps between the towers" and "through tunnels" and the streetscapes that are transient, meaning that they have no sense of being fixed or permanent. There is no reference to another human being in this landscape he describing, again reinforcing his sense of being utterly alone in the world.

He juxtaposes the "blue sky and wind-beautiful day" with a dejected reference to his decaying soul. He seems to reprimand himself for being seduced by his memories of home by reminding himself that "wrong pigment has no scope" or choices and that he should block these memories. The final image of the grains of sand that "slide away" seem to be like the last vestige of hope or happiness slipping through his fingers; no more solid or substantial than the picture of the sea he conjures up on a sandy slope. To finally silence his reminiscence of home, and his attempts to see the beauty of this foreign land, a cloud "obscures" what little sun he may have felt and he is left as a dark (coloured) man, on a dark (emotionally) day with only an intense and constant sense of "hunger" to remind him of what he no longer has...

The following is a GUIDELINE to answering the questions for Assignment 01 (Sept.2012)


Assignment 01

In Exile (Arthur Nortje)

Question 1

As a coloured man growing up in apartheid South Africa, Nortje felt an increasing sense of isolation and alienation. While the politics of this country made no allowance for a racially mixed and culturally hybrid young man, his father’s rejection of him was an added source of depression.

In 1967, he left South Africa; first traveling to England and then on to Canada. He soon realised, however, that sense of isolation that he felt was as much about geography as it was about temperament (Berthoud, 1984). Nortje’s poems deal extensively this sense of personal alienation, and the dislocation he felt from his country; speaking of South Africa as if of an “estranged lover” (Dameron (1976) cited in MJF Chapman (1979. p.1).

The title of this poem, “In Exile” speaks literally to the fact that he is in a strange land, but also to his state of mind and personal sense of exile: disconnected and dislocated emotionally.

Question 2

In this poem Nortje is grappling with his state of exile, both literally and emotionally. I feel that he is trying to find ways to communicate his sense of alienation by forging a link between the intangibility of his emotional state and the images of the South African landscape that he conjures from memory. The ‘open skies’, the ‘wind’, ‘leaves’, ‘sea’ and ‘clouds’ – each image as he describes it is coupled to an emotion: anxiety, a hollowed heart, a decaying soul and a hunger that cannot be sated. I think he wrote this poem as a means of recording on paper the turmoil of emotions that he was desperate to articulate in a tangible form.

Question 3

The power of memory is potent; we have the ability to close our eyes and recall places, smells, sensations and experiences – some of which we treasure and some of which are painful to remember. In this poem, Nortje’s memories of his country are still vividly clear; he recalls the vast open skies, the streetscapes and the sea, right down to the grains of sand between his fingers. By understanding the clarity with which he recalls these images of his place of birth, we are able to connect far more to the intensity of emotion that the poet is expressing through his recollections of a country he so desperately misses and the sadness that comes with knowing that he will never return.

Question 4

The apartheid politics of South Africa resulted in a country that quite literally seemed to be ‘holding its breath waiting for the storm to happen’. The tension must have seemed almost tangible to those living under such conditions – much like the sense one gets as a storm begins to brew; an undercurrent of electricity in the atmosphere, a stirring in the air and a shift in the quality of the light. You know it is about to happen, all the signs are there, you just don’t know exactly when that first crack of lightning is going to strike. The nimbus clouds that the poet refers to in the first stanza are reminiscent of the telltale patterns that signaled the political storm that was gathering in South Africa under apartheid – in this poem the poet is recalling those times and how they possibly acted as a catalyst for the state of exile he found himself in.

Question 5

The political situation in South Africa under apartheid led to a number of clashes between those who stood in defiance of the rule of law and those who were deployed to suppress any resistance. The armed forces and the police were militant in their handling of any suspected uprising and the recollection of ‘the boots’ clearly refer to the boots worn by the army and other special forces who were active at the time. Referring to the boots in the plural (although even one pair would be plural) creates a sense that there were many boots that ‘hollowed’ out his heart; an incessant march of stomping boots that flattened everything in their path.

Question 6

This ‘paradise’ that the poet is able to conjure from memory is sadly a paradise forever lost to him. While he can clearly recall the sights, sounds and sensations of this paradise, the image is a poignant one because it can only exist in his memories. The poem speaks of overwhelming isolation and a hunger that cannot be sated; by referring to the existence of a ‘paradise’ amidst the overall sense of alienation in the poem, the enormous divide between the poet’s memories of home and the dark emotional state he currently finds himself in, is highlighted.

Question 7

‘Benign’ means ‘friendly’ or ‘not harmful’; the cloud that obscures the sun in the final line of the poem is very different to the threatening storm clouds of the first stanza. Although he is a far distance, both literally and figuratively, from the brewing ‘storm’ clouds he recalls from home there is still a cloud, however harmless, that blocks the sun and casts him in shadow. He is unable to feel the warmth normally associated with the sun; instead all he is able to experience is an ever present ‘hunger’.

Question 8

Nortje's grew up a coloured man in apartheid South Africa; alienated by both the politics of the country and as a result of being rejected by his father. In the poem, “My Vacant Self”, written just six months before he left South Africa, Nortje explores his growing sense of isolation; being divided and displaced and not being fully present to himself (Klopper 1998: 167-170).

“My vacant self confronts the window.

Day's rain slants its wires

of sad pathetic silence.

For dusk has intervened: I draw the curtain

and shift my numb lumped loins across the parquet.”

The poem “In Exile” moves between the memories he has of the country he left behind and his present; the ‘paradise’ he has lost and the ever-present sense of estrangement and exile he feels.

In the first stanza he notes the “open skies”; skies so vast that they stir in him a vague sense of anxiety. This feeling of anxiety takes him back to a time when “Nimbus wisps” of another kind were gathering; a time of political instability that was brewing in South Africa in the early 1960’s. The poet is transported back to a time when the winds were gathering and “sweeping between the towers” and the incessant march of boots, and the oppression they symbolised, was crushing enough to leave his heart “hollowed”.

He is brought back to the present as the wind makes his clothing “gather and play” around his limbs. The lightheartedness of the moment is lost as his thoughts return to “transient streetscapes” and the blue sky of a “wind-beautiful day”. He keeps returning to these images of home, gradually “creating (a) paradise” in his mind. There is a sense that he yearns for this paradise; as for an “estranged lover” (Dameron (1976) cited in MJF Chapman (1979. p.1). It seems that without these memories he may become untethered; unless he is able to return to this ‘lover’, albeit through memory only, he will not survive the exile he finds himself in. Although he believes that “the soul decays in exile” he is still acutely aware that he never truly belonged in this ‘paradise’ he recalls with longing; as a coloured man he was the “wrong pigment” and for that reason would always have to deal with limitations based on racial and political ideologies. Not wanting to venture into these darker recesses of his past he opts to block this particular “channel of memory” and instead “build (himself) a picture of the sea”. In that moment he is once again transported to the place where he was born and the feeling of the grains of sand, “stirred by finger”, and softly blown away by the breeze in much the same way that the images he recalls are more spindrift than they are real.

In the final stanza a far less threatening cloud, than the ones that initiated this ‘encounter’ with home, passes overhead and “obscures the sun”. He can no longer feel the warmth of his memories and is, instead, left with an emptiness; a gnawing “hunger” that cannot be stilled.


Arthur, D. 1973. Arthur Kenneth Nortje, Poet and Teacher. Cited in: New Coin Poetry: Lonely Against the Light 9(3&4): 8-18.

Berthoud, J.1984. Poetry and Exile: The Case of Arthur Nortje. English in Africa. Grahamstown. Rhodes University.

Dameron, C. (1976). Cited in: Chapman, MJF (1979) Arthur Nortje: Poet of Exile. Grahamstown. Rhodes University.

Klopper, D. Ed (2000). Anatomy of Dark: Collected Poems. Pretoria. UNISA Press.

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A Letter to a son (pg.213)

Charles Mungoshi

Born in Zimbabwe, Mungoshi predominantly writes novels and short stories, but has also produced a collection of poetry.

In an interview, Mungoshi spoke of his childhood saying “most of my life was really lived in my head and talking to trees and birds and animals. So I want to think the loneliness, being on my own, turned me sort of inside and the reading helped along. It wasn't long before I thought, "Well, I think I can also write a story".

Mangoshi's work reveals a fascination with time and its passing; in the poem A Letter to a Son, this preoccupation with time is explored through a letter written by a mother to her son who has left their rural home and moved away to the city. The poem explores the different attitudes of the youth and adults with regards to the passing of time and how it is measured. The mother tracks the time her son has been away by referring to the seasons, the farm animals and the crops - in other words the natural cycle of nature. We are left to assume that the son, since leaving home, now tracks time by very differnt means.

Throughout the letter the mother makes reference to the father's back problems that regularly make him unable to take care of the work usually done by the man of the house. The line "Your father's back is back again" is both humerous and poignant; the work has fallen to the mother to take care of and she feels her sons absence even more accutely. Without directly appealing to her son to come home and take care of the family, every line of the letter exposes her sadness a little more and yet she refuses to give in to the possibility, that must certainly be growing, that her son may in fact never return.

Deaf-and-Dumb School (Anthony Deluis: 1916 – 1989)

Things to note:

  • 7 short stanzas that are linked by either a run on line or a continuation of a thought or image – perhaps a written representation of the speed of the signing being used by the children the writer is observing. He refers to this signing as ‘thoughts that dance on (other) finger-tips’ (line12) and ‘fire-flies of gesture’ (line 22)
  • The writer stands apart from the children – observing them rather than being amoung them. His separateness is both literal and figurative as he has no means of understanding the way in which they communicate with each other and the nuns who watch over them as they play. He remarks on some of the sounds they make and the way they use sign language, but says that he finds these sounds “sad, irrelevant, absurd” (line 7). Silence “is their element” and yet, when observing them, he is totally out of his
  • The image of the black tarmac is strongly contrasted with the whiteness of the statue of the Virgin watching over these children at play – this contrast is repeated in the last line of the poem creating a tableau reminiscent of the old silent black and white movies where, although there was plenty of interaction amoung the actors (laughing, running and animated dialogue), there were no actual words for the audience to follow. He also describes the “muted children” as jerking and scuffling across the scene of the playground – perhaps another reference to the interrupted gestures so typical of the characters in the black and white movies from the early days of cinema?
  • He looks upon a small boy who is leaning from a bench, clearly fascinated by something another child is signing to him – he describes the scene as having a “soundless quality of (a) painting” (line 10) and this image is reinforced by his referring to the world these children live in as being framed by glass – just as an image in a painting might be. The reference to glass may also imply a fragility to these children; somehow ‘weakened’, or more vulnerable because of their inability to speak or hear
  • The writer seems intrigued by this scene taking place on the playground; he is captivated by the “communication (that) glimmers” between these children; rapid signing, cries; the ‘mimicry and mummers’ he refers to in line 19 – although it is very clear to the writer that these children are ‘talking’ and enjoying their play time as much as hearing and speaking children would be, he is also aware that the best he can hope for is a glimpse through this ‘window’ into their world. The “minds that make their signs and mouth their cries” are only of meaning to those that belong in this silent world he is observing – to an outsider, like himself, this dream-like play he is witnessing makes very little sense
  • There is a sensitivity to the way in which the writer has recorded his observations of these children; although some of the terminology used in the poem may seem politically incorrect or insensitive in 2012, there is no sense that he is mocking or ridiculing these children – instead he seems intrigued, fascinated and a little sad that he is unable to interpret the ‘muffled out-cries’ he can hear. By referring to the children as “songless planets signalling through space” he imbues them with a certain majestic quality – as beings not of this earth