AN IRISH AIRMAN FORSEES HIS DEATH
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
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
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
REFUGEE MOTHER AND CHILD
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
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.
YOU CANNOT KNOW THE FEARS I HAVE
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,
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,
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
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
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
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
“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
(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’
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.
They can shoot up overnight and no-one even notices them. What Plath is
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
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,
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
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
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 =
IF YOU DON’T STAY BITTER FOR TOO LONG
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”).
LOVE POEM FOR MY COUNTRY
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
with elegant motions
glittering in their pride Glittering = sparkling / dazzling.
Their pride = their beautiful appearance
is for joy
so talk the mountains
hopping from boulder to boulder Boulder = rock
in the majestic delight Majestic = grand / imposing / magnificent
of cliffs and peaks
is for health and wealth
see the blue of the sea
the jewels of fish
deep under the bowels of soil Bowels = depths
the golden voice
of a miner’s praise
for 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
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
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
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