Poetry Notes - Mrs-claassen.co.za


Poetry Notes - Mrs-claassen.co.za


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


More magazines by this user
Similar magazines