Poetry Notes - Mrs-claassen.co.za


Poetry Notes - Mrs-claassen.co.za


By W.B. Yeats


I know that I shall meet my fate Meet my fate = to die. “I know that I’m going to die”

somewhere among the clouds above; This poem is about a fighter pilot in World War 2. He believes that he will

die whilst flying his plane

those that I fight I do not hate, Some people sign up to the armed forces because they hate the enemy.

They want to kill as many as they can. But not this Irish airman. He doesn’t

have any particular hatred for the nation he is fighting.

those that I guard I do not love; Neither does he have any overwhelming ‘love’ for his nation. That’s not

what inspires him to fight.

my country is Kiltartan Cross, In a war situation, you fight for your country. However, the Irish airman

points out that his world is limited to where he lives. He lives in Kiltartan

Cross. That’s what’s dear to him. That’s what he loves. That’s what he

feels protective towards. He doesn’t relate to places that are further away,

even if they’re in the same country.

my countrymen Kiltartan’s poor, Similarly, his ‘people’ are not the Irish or British people as a whole. He’s

very local and specific in his focus. His people are the people whom he

sees in Kiltartan; with whom he has personal relationships. Also, wars are

usually fought because of the ambitions of wealthy men. However, his

people are poor. They’re not the one’s dreaming of the glory or gains of


no likely end could bring them loss He points out that this war really doesn’t have much to do with his people in

or leave them happier than before.

Kiltartan. Whether Britain wins or loses the war, it probably wouldn’t have

too much of an impact on them. Life for them would go on as before.

Nor law, nor duty bade me fight, So now he gets to the reasons why he joined the armed forces. Firstly he

tells us that he didn’t join because the law said he had to (this is called

conscription). Neither did he join because he felt it was his duty to do so.

nor public men, nor cheering crowds, In times of war, politicians try to inspire people to sign up to fight. They

make stirring speeches and get everyone all revved up. This was NOT the

reason why the Irish airman joined though. Neither was he swayed by

cheering crowds. Everyone wants to be a hero and receive the adoration of

the crowds. (I’m sure lots of people were persuaded to join the armed

forces because of the hero-worshipping by the public.) But not our Irish


a lonely impulse of delight So why did he join? He just decided it would be a cool thing to do (impulse

of delight). Notice that he describes it as ‘lonely’. In other words, he made

the decision as an individual. He didn’t consider anyone else. It was all

about him.

drove to this tumult in the clouds; Drove = lead me to. Tumult = turmoil / uproar / craziness. “It was this crazy

idea that flying would be cool. That’s what led me to this battle in the sky.”

I balanced all, brought all to mind, I thought about everything, weighed up all the pro’s and con’s.

the years to come seemed waste of breath, As I was mulling everything over in my mind, I thought about my future. It

didn’t really seem like there was anything exciting to look forward to (waste

of breath).

a waste of breath the years behind I also looked at my past. Nothing really stood out to me. I didn’t really feel

like I had anything worth holding on to.

in balance with this life, this death. The pilot balanced the boredom of life (which is like a living death) with the

intensity of facing death (the most intense life experience) and flying, and

decided that it was worth it. It’s rather ironic.


By Zulfikar Ghose


I have a picture I took in Bombay Picture = photo. Bombay = a city in India. The whole poem is about the

photo that he took. It starts with him looking at it.

of a beggar asleep on the pavement; A beggar = a bergie, a poor person who lives on the street.

grey-haired, wearing shorts and a dirty shirt, Grey-haired suggests that the beggar is old. This is significant because,

despite the fact that he is a beggar, he is also a survivor. His clothing

(shorts and a dirty shirt) emphasizes his poverty.

his shadow thrown aside like a blanket. This is a simile. It’s comparing the way his shadow is cast to the way you

throw aside a blanket. Firstly, if you’re no longer in the same physical

condition as you used to be, we say that you’re a “shadow of your former

self”. That’s what this description reminds me of. His shadow is cast aside

as though it’s not really a part of him; as though it’s a shadow of his former

self. Secondly, if you throw your blanket aside it indicates that you don’t

care where it lands. It’s not important to you because you don’t throw

expensive / precious things on the floor. This suggests that the man is

unimportant and is discarded in a heap on the floor.

His arms and legs could be cracks in the


routes for the ants’ journeys, the flies’


By comparing his arms and legs to cracks, it implies that he is extremely

thin. A crack is also a negative space and this implies that he disappears

into the background. He’s more ‘not there’ than he is ‘there’.

He obviously doesn’t have the energy to move much. This explains why the

ants are happy to climb over him, and flies settle on him. It emphasizes how

little worth he has that even insects disregard him.

Brain-washed by the sun into exhaustion, ‘Brain-washed’ suggests that he’s in a stupor. It’s like he’s in a coma. This

is due to his exposure to the elements and his lack of nutrition which saps

him of his energy and will to live.

he lies veined into stone, a fossil man. The beggar is so stripped of his humanity and so covered with dust and dirt

that he looks like a lifeless rock embedded in the pavement. (Some rocks

contain ‘veins’ or strips of other rock-types embedded in it. It’s all rock, but it

has different textures and colours. This is the image the poet is using. All

lifeless, just composed of slightly different material.)

Behind him, there is a crowd passingly This man is not alone. He is surrounded by people, but these crowds are so

bemused by a pavement trickster and quite

indifferent to this very common sight

of an old man asleep on the pavement.

accustomed to seeing beggars in the streets – he’s just one of thousands –

that they don’t even notice him or feel compassion towards him. They’re

more interested in watching a street performer.

I thought it then a good composition He’s looking at the beggar and thinks it would make a good photo.

Composition = how something is made up. Decomposition = how

something is broken down / decaying.

And glibly called it The Man in the Street, Glibly = smoothly / convincingly. He was so confident that this scene would

make a great photo that he even had a snappy title ready for it: “The Man in

the Street”. There’s nothing wrong with taking a photo or giving it a suitable

title. The problem is that he failed to recognize that this was a living,

thinking, feeling human being, not a prop for a photo shoot.

remarking how typical it was of He too seems to have been sucked into the same mind-set as the crowds.

India that the man in the street lived there. To him, the beggar is just one of thousands (“how typical it was”).

His head in the posture of one weeping For the first time he really notices the human being in the picture, not just

into a pillow chides me now for my

presumption at attempting to compose

art out of his hunger and solitude.

the artsy composition. He notices that the man is bent over as though he

were weeping. He notices the reality of his life, and why it would cause him

to weep. It makes him feel ashamed. He realizes that his attitude has been

cold and heartless for exploiting (taking advantage of) the beggar by making

art out of his hunger and loneliness. Although the beggar can’t chide him in

person (chide = scold / shout at), the photo is a reminder to the poet of his

shameful attitude.


By Chinua Achebe


No Madonna and Child could touch In the 1500’s artists used to paint a lot of pictures of Mary (the Madonna)

that picture of a mother’s tenderness

and Jesus (the Child). They are priceless to collectors today. The poet is

for a son she soon would have to forget. saying that even the most beautiful of these Madonna and Child paintings

are not as beautiful as the sight of this mother and her child. What makes

this scene so beautiful is the tenderness (love, affection) that this particular

mother has for her child, who would soon die (“have to forget”).

The air was heavy with odours This poem is set in a refugee camp. When there is a war or natural

disaster, people who have lost their homes are forced to live in refugee

camps. These are set up (usually by the United Nations) in fields and

consist of thousands of tents. There is no running water or sanitation and

very little food. Odours = smells. “The air was smelly”.

of diarrhea of unwashed children These lines tell us of the squalor (nastiness / uncleanliness) that the

with washed-out ribs and dried-up

bottoms struggling in laboured

step behind blown empty bellies. Most

refugees are forced to live in. There is widespread diarrhea, hunger

(washed-out ribs, empty bellies) and malnutrition (usually indicated by

bloated stomachs), especially amongst the children. Laboured = with much


mothers there had long ceased Most mothers had accepted the fact that their children were going to die.

to care but not his one; she held

There was nothing that they could do so they ’booked out’ emotionally.

They were also in poor heath and they could no longer bring themselves to

care. However, there was one woman who was different. Despite the

hunger and disease, she refused to stop caring about her child.

a ghost smile between her teeth A ghost is the outline of a former human. It’s not the substance, it’s just a

shadow. To describe her smile as a ghost smile means that she’s not what

she used to be. She’s just a shadow of her former self.

and in her eyes the ghost of a mother’s Even though life has taken so much from her and her son, she stills clings to

pride as she combed the rust-coloured her role as mother as much as she can. Even though they’re living in filth,

she still hangs on to the pride she has in her son.

She performs such a small task – combing his hair – but it’s so significant.

When confronted with tragedy, people shut down and forget to do those little

things. She refuses to forget. (Note that his hair is rust-coloured. That’s

not normal and indicates his poor state of health.)

hair left on his skull and then - Note that it’s the hair that is left on his skull, which means that some has

fallen out. Again, this indicates his poor state of health.

singing in her eyes – began carefully She performs this task joyfully. Even though she may not have the energy

to express her joy, you can see it in her eyes. (“singing in her eyes”) Also,

she performs this task carefully. She’s not rough with her child. She is also


to part it … in another life this This is something she used to do when they lived a normal life (“before his

would have been a little daily

breakfast and school”). Although it may not have had huge significance

act of no consequence before his

then (“act of no consequence”), it has huge significance now. It shows us

breakfast and school; now she

that even though everything she had has been taken away from her, her

home, her means to provide for her family, etc, she refuses to allow her

circumstances to swamp her. She refuses to be defined by her refugee

status. She is a proud woman who cares for her son and nothing is going

to change that.

did it like putting flowers She knows that she is going to lose her son so she does the only things she

on a tiny grave.

can to bring comfort to him, to remind him of a life they once had. In doing

this, she honors his life and mourns all that they have lost (and will still



By William Shakespeare


To me, fair friend, you never can be old, The poet is writing a tribute to his friend. Fair = good / fine. Age is NOT a

good thing, so the poet is saying, don’t worry, I’ll never think of you as old.

For as you were when first your eye I eyed, To me you’re just the same as when I first met you. Shakespeare uses the

phrase “eye I eyed”. He uses this play on words to say ‘when I first saw

you’. The phrase creates rhythm.

Such seems your beauty still. Three winters As you were, so you remain.


Have from the forests shook three summers’


Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn


He uses a metaphor of the seasons to indicate the passing of time. When

the season changes from summer to winter, the leaves, fruit, flowers, etc

(i.e. the pride of summer) fall from the trees. So he’s saying that three years

have passed (summer to winter x 3).

He continues the metaphor by saying that three springs (beauteous =

beautiful, bountiful) have turned to autumn when all the leaves turn yellow

(spring to autumn x 3).

In process of the seasons have I seen, The metaphor continues. In spring, all the plants smell gorgeous. However,

Three April perfumes in three hot Junes as summer reaches its height, the heat becomes too much and flowers


begin to wilt (spring to summer x 3).

Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are All this passing of time (i.e. three years) has occurred since he first met his


friend. Shakespeare uses the words “fresh” and “green” to continue on the

whole nature metaphor. Green = new. The memory of his friend looking all

sparkly and wonderful is still fresh / green / new in his mind.

Ah yet doth beauty, like a dial hand, Now Shakespeare gets down to reality. He admits that time changes a

Steal from his figure, and no pace perceived, person (“steals from his figure”). He compares the aging process to the

hands of a clock (“dial hand”). You don’t really notice it move but yet it does

(“no pace perceived”).

So your sweet hue, which methinks still doth In the same way, Shakespeare’s friend is also aging (“your sweet hue …


hath motion”). However, Shakespeare chooses not to see this (“methinks

Hath motion, and mine eye may be deceived. still doth stand” / “my eye may be deceived”).

For fear of which, hear this, thou age unbred; And now comes the ‘punchline’ of the poem. Shakespeare speaks to the

“age unbred”, in other words, the generations of people who haven’t yet

been born.

Ere you were born was beauty’s summer He says: sorry for you! The ultimate in beauty (“beauty’s summer”) – i.e. his


friend – has already lived and died before you were ever born.


By Shabbir Banoonbhai


you cannot know the fears i have This poem is written by a parent about his child. It details his feelings

as i think about you

(hopes and fears) for his unborn child.

i fear that i shall live only at your laughter He wants so much for his child to be happy and full of laughter that he fears

he will not be able to cope when his child faces sadness.

lie awake long nights while you sleep This desire for his child to be happy will cause him to lie awake at night and

so loneliness does not trouble you

nor hunger, nor thirst

worry. He wants to be on hand just in case his child wakes up and needs

him. He also wants to make productive use of this time to write so that he

can provide an income for his child.

overwhelm your waking world with wonder If you want your child to be smart, you need to provide lots of mental

stimulation when the child is small. This is what the poet wants to do for his

child. Overwhelm = provide lots of. Waking world = when the child is

with the music of other worlds, your earlier


awake. Wonder = mental stimulation.

He will achieve this through music. This music should not be limited to

whatever is playing on the radio. It should reflect diverse cultures (“other


read to you poems written the night before He will also mentally stimulate his child by reading him / her poetry, even if

while you smile bewildered

the child doesn’t understand it. Bewildered = puzzled / uncertain.

or just when my very breathing begins to

depend on you

even as your tiny fingers close around mine

some insensitive thing

crushes your butterfly spirit

Remember the beginning of the poem. It’s talking about the fears that he

has for his child. This is one of his fears: He fears that some insensitive

person will hurt his child emotionally (“crushes your butterfly spirit”). This is

distressing to him because he has bonded with his child and become so

very close to him / her (“my very breathing begins to depend on you”), that

he feels his child’s pain. When his child hurts, so does he.

shadows of a sun-darkened land The “shadows” are sinister threats that come from a flawed / damaged

flow over you

and the eclipse

closes your eyes

i cannot live with the thought of having you,

loving you

any other way

A day without such care

has no meaning

system of government in the land (“sun-darkened land”). His child will not

escape these sinister threats (“flow over you”), and these forces may

deprive (“closes your eyes”) his child of certain opportunities (“eclipse”). An

eclipse is when the moon crosses in front of the sun, temporarily turning

light into darkness.

People who are afraid of getting hurt protect themselves by closing

themselves off to love. They become emotionally hard. Even though the

poet understands that loving his child in this intense way will cause him

pain, he is not prepared to protect himself by distancing himself from his

child, or loving him / her less. To him, that would be meaningless.

we shall find for you a name Your name is very significant because it represents you. The poet wants to

your name shall bring light

find the right name for his child. The meaning of this name should express

the positive attributes he hopes his child will possess.


By Mongane Wally Serote


This way I salute you: Throughout this poem, Serote personifies Johannesburg.

my hand pulses to my back trousers pocket Salute = gesture of respect / acknowledgement. Under apartheid, black

or into my inner jacket pocket

people were forced to carry a pass that recorded where and when they had

for my pass, my life,

been granted permission to enter ‘white areas’. If caught without your pass,

Jo’burg City.

you could be imprisoned. So … the poet acknowledges / respects

Johannesburg by presenting his pass.

My hand like a starved snake rears my This simile compares his hand to a hungry snake. A hungry snake searches


for food like his hand searches for his wallet, which doesn’t contain much

for my thin, ever lean wallet,

money. Lean = thin, containing little fat.

while my stomach groans a friendly smile to Friends are people you know well, so the fact that his stomach groans a


“friendly smile” means that he is well acquainted with hunger. His hunger is

Jo’burg City.

linked to Johannesburg – the city doesn’t provide for him well.

My stomach also devours coppers and papers Coppers = small change. Papers = notes. Johannesburg is all about

don’t you know?

industry. It’s where money is made. However, the function of business is

not just to make business owners rich. It’s also to provide a livelihood for

the people who work for them. Food costs money – don’t you know!!!

Jo’burg City, I salute you; Even though he respects the power that Johannesburg has over his life,

when I run out, or roar in a bus to you, Johannesburg is not his life. He has a place where he finds love and

I leave behind me, my love,


my comic houses and people, my dongas and This township is packed with odd looking make-shift houses and shacks

my ever whirling dust,

overlooking untarred streets filled with potholes (“dongas”). Even though his

my death

community is poverty stricken and filled with dangers and death, he still

that’s so related to me as a wink to the eye. accepts it as HIS place (“my”). “Death that’s so related to me as a wind to

the eye” = a simile.

Jo’burg City In these few lines we find out more about the poet’s relationship with

I travel on your black and white and roboted Johannesburg. He has a job in the city and travels in at six every morning,


and out at five every afternoon. The image he uses is that of a human

through your thick iron breath that you inhale breathing. With every breath, your lungs extract the oxygen from the air,

at six in the morning and exhale from five which travels around your body bringing you life. Once the oxygen has


been extracted from the air, you breathe out what’s left, i.e. carbon-dioxide.

This is the image he’s using. Johannesburg breathes in the workers to bring

it life. Once it has used up what is useful, i.e. their skills and labour, it

breathes them out again. This happens every day.

Jo’burg City Neon flowers = lights. Flaunt = to display boldly. Electrical wind = power

that is the time when I come to you,

when your neon flowers flaunt from your

electrical wind,

that is the time when I leave you,

when your neon flowers flaunt their way

through the falling darkness

on your cement trees.

And as I go back, to my love,

my dongas, my dust, my people, my death,

supply. Cement trees = lamp posts.

where death lurks in the dark like a blade in

the flesh,

“death lurks in the dark like a blade in the flesh” = a simile

I can feel your roots, anchoring your might, The roots of a tree have two functions. The first function is to anchor it

my feebleness

(secure it) in the ground. The root system spreads out, unseen, deep and

in my flesh, in my mind, in my blood,

wide to provide support for the tree. The second function of the roots is to

and everything about you says it, That, that is provide nourishment for the tree. The roots draw up water to feed the tree.

all you need of me.

So … what the poet is saying is that Johannesburg is supported / anchored

by the labour force which works behind the scenes. This labour force

provides the means for the tree to grow and flourish. The poet knows that

the might of Johannesburg is built on the weakness of the labour force. This

weakness comes from the government’s policy of oppressing the black

people physically (“in my flesh”), educationally (“in my mind”), and racially

(“in my blood”). He knows that the owners of the businesses don’t want to

share their wealth. They feel no sense of corporate responsibility. All they

want is cheap labour.

Jo’burg City, Johannesburg. For a child, a trip to the city is an adventure. Everything is so big and

Listen when I tell you,

impressive, and you see things you don’t ordinarily see. However, the poet

there is no fun, nothing, in it, says that this is not the case with Johannesburg. It’s not a fun outing.

when you leave the women and men with Soil gets eroded when water constantly runs down it. It washes away all the

such frozen expressions,

goodness from the soil and leaves great scars in the land. So … to describe

expressions that have tears like furrows of soil a facial expression as having “tears like furrows of soil erosion” means that


the people have great hardships that cause them to cry constantly. It has

stripped them of all joy. This great sadness is “frozen” on their faces, i.e. is

a permanent state for them.

Jo’burg City, you are dry like death, In the last two lines, the poet delivers his judgment on Johannesburg. He

Jo’burg City, Johannesburg, Jo’burg City.

uses the simile “you are dry like death”, i.e. there is no life in it. Everything

that was living, natural, beautiful has been stripped away. Johannesburg,

and the people who live in it, have become sterile and emotionless.


By Sylvia Plath

Mushrooms don’t make great subject matter for poems, so Sylvia Plath is obviously using it as a

metaphor to describe something else.

It’s hard to know exactly what she was on about, but these notes are based on one interpretation of

the poem …

As a feminist writer, she is taking about the oppression of women and how they will rise up and throw

it off. This revolution won’t involve public demonstrations or violent confrontations. Instead, it will

happen quietly in the hearts and minds of women.

Once women understand their worth and might, they will insist that society changes its attitude.

Because gender equality is guaranteed in our constitution, you may not be able to relate to this

struggle. However, up to the late 20 th century, gender discrimination was a real as racial



Mushrooms = women

Growing = rising up / ‘revolution’

Sound Devices:

The poet has used many instances of alliteration in this poem:

The repeating sounds emphasize the fact that the movement for gender equality has a uniform

message that is gaining momentum.

The subtlety of this effect emphasizes the fact that the power is not found in angry words and overt

rebellion, but in the quiet awakening in the hearts and minds of women.


Overnight, very Discreetly = without being noticed / sneakily. Mushrooms grow quickly.

whitely, discreetly,

They can shoot up overnight and no-one even notices them. What Plath is

very quietly

saying is that this struggle for equality will begin in the hearts and minds of

women (“discreetly”) rather than in loud demonstrations. It will also happen

quickly, without anyone expecting it (“overnight”).

our toes, our noses Loam = soil. Acquire = obtain / get. Once the mushroom begins to grow, it

take hold on the loam,

acquire the air.

anchors itself (“take hold”) in the soil and begins to thrive in the air. In the

same way, the idea of equality will also capture the imagination of women

and once they begin to embrace it, it will thrive.

Nobody sees us, Because the ‘revolution’ takes place in the heart and mind of each woman,

stops us, betrays us;

the small grains make room.

no-one can stop it. It’s an awakening within, so it can’t be controlled from

people or institutions. Also, once the idea of equality enters the collective

consciousness of a society, the different institutions, etc, that make up

society (“the small grains”) will begin to embrace it.

Soft fists insist on As the mushrooms grow, they need to push aside whatever is in their way

heaving the needles,

the leafy bedding,

(soil, pine needles, leaves, etc). This is done insistently (firmly,

unrelentingly) but with gentle strength, as opposed to brute force. In the

same way, women must insist on change in their own circumstances,

without betraying who they are or trying to adopt the approaches of others.

even the paving. Even when circumstances appear to be impossible, like a piece of concrete

Our hammers, our rams,

earless and eyeless,

in the way, the mushrooms still have the strength (“hammers … rams”) to

find a way through (“widen the crannies, shoulder through holes”). Crannies

Perfectly voiceless,

widen the crannies,

shoulder through holes. We

= small opening. In the same way, women must not be deterred by

obstacles, but must push through the barriers in a focused and determined

way, and not allow themselves to be distracted from the task by other stimuli

(“earless and eyeless, perfectly voiceless”).

diet on water, Mushrooms don’t require special soil types or organic feeds (“asking little or

on crumbs of shadow,

bland-mannered, asking

Little or nothing.

So many of us!

So many of us!

nothing”). They just grow in an un-fussy manner (“bland-mannered”). Bland

= mild / plain. This is in contrast to other plants that require specialized

care. So what is she saying? Generally, men have much bigger egos than

women, and these egos need to be stroked. This leads to all sorts of

nonsense. Women, generally speaking, don’t have the same ‘ego’ needs.

This is an advantage.

Repeating the line “so many of us!” is the perfect way to emphasize how

many “of us” there are.

We are shelves, we are This stanza speaks of practical uses for mushrooms because women are

tables, we are meek,

we are edible,

practical. They are homemakers, providers, nurturers.

nudgers and shovers The poet has been very complementary towards women so far. However,

in spite of ourselves.

she acknowledges that women can be quite competitive, especially with

each other (“nudgers and shovers”). Nudge = push aside. She says that

this is “in spite of ourselves”, in other words, women ought to know better

but they still try to outdo each other.

Our kind multiplies: It’s rare to see one mushroom growing. They usually grow in groups.

Likewise, the enlightenment of women is spreading (“our kind multiplies”).

we shall by morning

Night = a time of darkness. Morning = the coming of light; the dawn of an

inherit the earth.

new day. After centuries of oppression, gender equality will finally become

our foot’s in the door.

a reality (“inherit the earth”). It is happening already (“our foot’s in the



By Percy Bysshe Shelley


I met a traveler from an antique land Antique = ancient. The poet met a man from another land.

who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of The man told him about a statue. Only the legs are left. They are huge


(“vast”) and no longer support the rest of the body (trunk = the main part of

your body).

stand in the desert … near them, on the sand, This statue lies in the desert.

half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose The head of the statue (“visage” = a person’s face) is lying in pieces


(“shattered”), half buried in the sand (“half sunk”).

and wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command, This head shows a man with a frown and a wrinkled lip. He looks like he is

sneering (sneer = to show contempt / scorn / utter dislike). This sneering

attitude comes from the fact that he is the absolute ruler who believes

himself to be superior to everyone else (“cold command”).

tell that its sculptor well those passions read Obviously the sculptor was very perceptive (good at observing things)

because he captured the attitude / personality of the ruler well in the statue.

which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless It’s almost as though the personality of the long-dead ruler lives on in the


lifeless statue because the sculptor has captured his personality so well.

the hand that mocked them, and the heart Even though the ruler gave life and meaning to the nation (“the heart that

that fed:

fed”), he was arrogant towards his subjects (“the hand that mocked them).

and on the pedestal these words appear: Pedestal = a support for a statue.

‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings: The inscription on the pedestal tells us who the statue represents. His claim

Look on my words, ye Mighty, and despair!’ to be the “king of kings” shows that he was once an important ruler. His

kingdom must have been impressive for him to tell other mighty rulers to

“despair” (completely loose hope) when looking at his name.

Nothing besides remains. Round the decay His words are ironic because no matter how powerful he once was, nothing

of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare of his kingdom remains. Despite his grandiose claims of being the “king of

the lone and level sands stretch far away.

kings”, everything is now decayed (rotted / deteriorated). His huge

(“colossal”) statue is a broken “wreck”, and his kingdom has turned to sand

which stretch as far as they eye can see. Boundless = without end. Lone =



By Charles Mungoshi


If you don’t stay bitter Bitter = resentful / cynical

and angry for too long

you might finally salvage Salvage = save / recover

something useful Useful = constructive / helpful

from the old country The old country = Zimbabwe before the civil war (formerly Rhodesia).

A lazy half sleep summer afternoon The poet is saying that one of the things worth remembering from the old

for instance, with the whoof-whoof

of grazing cattle in your ears

tails swishing, flicking flies away

or the smell of newly turned soil

with birds hopping about

in the wake of the plough

in search of worms

country is the uncomplicated rural way of life. He talks of “lazy” days spent

in nature, and living off the land.

“Whoof-whoof” = onomatopoeia

or the pained look of your father He also believes that the values of the older generation are worth saving.

a look that took you all these years

and lots of places to understand

He didn’t understand or appreciate the views of his father at the time, but

now that he has matured and been exposed to the hardships of life, he

realizes his father’ was right about a lot of things.

The bantering tone you used with your Relationships with extended family members are also worth saving. There

grandmother and their old laugh

that said nothing matters but death

is much comfort and wisdom to be gained from their life experiences, like

not to take yourself too seriously (“nothing matters but death”).

If you don’t stay bitter The first lines of the poem are repeated here, except that the poet adds:

and angry for too long

and have the courage to go back

“and have the courage to go back”. It’s all very well to forgive and forget,

but the real value comes from working through the past, not turning your

back on it. It takes courage to confront your inner demons.

you will discover that the autumn smoke But … if you have that courage, you will discover that out of the destruction

writes different more helpful messages

in the high skies of the old country.

(“autumn smoke”), people have learned valuable lessons and healed.

Society has been reborn (“writes different more helpful messages”).


By Sandile Dikeni


My country is for love

so say its valleys

where ancient rivers flow Ancient = very old

the full circle of life Circle of life = the cycle from birth to life to death, and back to birth

under the proud eye of birds

adorning the sky Adorning = decorating

My country is for peace

so says the veld Veld = open fields

where reptiles caress Caress = touch / stroke

its surface

with elegant motions

glittering in their pride Glittering = sparkling / dazzling.

Their pride = their beautiful appearance

My country

is for joy

so talk the mountains

with baboons

hopping from boulder to boulder Boulder = rock

in the majestic delight Majestic = grand / imposing / magnificent

of cliffs and peaks

My country

is for health and wealth

see the blue of the sea

and beneath

the jewels of fish

deep under the bowels of soil Bowels = depths


the golden voice

of a miner’s praise

for my country

My country

is for unity

feel the millions

see their passion

their hands are joined together

there is hope in their eyes

We shall celebrate


By Douglas Livingstone


A solitary prospector Solitary = single. Prospector = a person who searches for valuable

minerals, e.g. gold or diamonds.

staggered, locked in a vision Staggered = walked unsteadily. Locked in vision = completely focused on

of slate hills that capered Slate = a hard, grey fine-grained rock. Capered = leaped or skipped


on the molten horizon. Molten = turned to liquid by heating.

Waterless, he came to where There was a drought, so the rivers have dried out.

a river had run, now a band Band = a line

flowing only in ripples

of white unquenchable sand. Unquenchable = a thirst that cannot be satisfied

Cursing, he dug sporadically Sporadically = not happening regularly; happening in different places

here, here, as deep as his arm,

and sat quite still, eyes thirstily He digs in the ground hoping to find water. As he pulls his hand out, he

incredulous on his palm

looks hopefully for any moisture on his hand (“thirstily”). He can hardly

believe what he sees. Incredulous = not able to believe something.

A handful of alluvial

diamonds leered back and more: mixed Leered = looking at someone in an unpleasant way

in the scar, glinted globules Scar = damaged earth. Glinted = when your eyes shine with happiness.

Globules = a small, round mass or lump

of rubies, emeralds, onyx.

And then he was swimming in fire This man is dying of thirst. It’s ironic that in his search for water, he finds

and drinking, splashing hot halos

of glittering drops at the choir

of assembled carrion crows

diamonds. This stanza describes his thirst and the effect it has on his body.

Halo = a glow of light usually around a person’s head. Assembled =

gathered together. Carrion crows = birds (vultures) associated with death


By Cecil Day Lewis

for Sean


It is eighteen years ago, almost to the day - He is remembering back to the day when his son played his first game of


a sunny day with the leaves just turning, It was at the end of summer, going into autumn.

the touch-lines new-ruled – since I watched Touch-lines = markings on the field. New-ruled = just been put there

you play

your first game of football, then, like a satellite Satellite = something that orbits the earth. Wrenched = torn away. Orbit =

wrenched from its orbit, go drifting away fixed path.

behind a scatter of boys. I can see After the game the narrator expected the boy to come to him, but the boy

you walking away from me towards the school

with the pathos of a half-fledged thing set free

into a wilderness, the gait of one

who finds no path where the path should be.

walked in the opposite direction with his friends. His father sees him and

feels heart-sore for this little boy who wants to be all grown-up and

independent, but isn’t quite ready to be.

Pathos = something that makes you feel sympathy / sadness

Half-fledged = not fully developed. Gait = particular way of walking

That hesitant figure, eddying away Hesitant = cautious. Eddying = swirling (like a whirlpool)

like a winged seed loosened from its parent


Some seeds are dispersed by the wind, i.e. they snap off the flower and ‘fly’

away. The image is of the boy (seed) gaining independence from his

parents (flower).

has something I never quite grasp to convey The narrator finds it hard to accept that love means letting go (“nature’s

about nature’s give-and-take – the small, the


ordeals which fire one’s irresolute clay.

give-and-take”), and that in order to be mature, one has to endure ordeals

(like clay must be baked in the fire).

I have had worse partings, but none that so During the course of his life, the narrator has endured worse rejection

gnaws at my mind still. Perhaps it is roughly (“partings”) than when his son walked away after the soccer game, but this

memory is still fresh in his mind. Gnaw = chew.

saying what God alone could perfectly show - Through this incident, he discovers that maturity (selfhood) can only come

how selfhood begins with a walking away, from finding your own path in life (“walking away”). It’s very hard for a

and love is proved in the letting go.

parent to allow a child his/her independence because it means that the child

doesn’t need his/her parents that much anymore. The proof of a parent’s

love is to allow the child begin to find independence, no matter how much it


More magazines by this user
Similar magazines