Masizi Kunene remains one of South Africa's great writers and poets. He was born in Durban in 1930, and from an early age began writing. His early works were published at the tender age of eleven.
He was vehemently opposed to apartheid. More than a writer and academic, he was deeply involved in anti- apartheid politics. This led to his exile in 1968. He remained in Britain from 1968 to 1978, during which he spoke for the ANC and the anti- apartheid movement in both Europe and the United States.
In 1972, he was appointed the director of finance for the ANC, after which he took a position as Professor of African Literature at the University of California and Los Angeles. He returned to South Africa in 1992, where he lectured at the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal until his retirement.
He was awarded the honour of Africa's poet Laureate in 1993, later becoming South Africa's Poet Laureate in 2005.
Mazisi Kunene passed away in 2006 in Durban after losing a bravely fought battle against cancer.
The Kunene foundation was established in his honour. Click on the link below to find out more.
What is this stunning poem about?
Simply put, it is an expression of joy. Kunene uses simple yet beautiful imagery to convey the feelings of relief, celebration and freedom felt by South Africans at the fall of apartheid.
First Day After the War
We heard the songs of a wedding party.
We saw a soft light
Coiling round the young blades of grass
At first we hesitated, then we saw her footprints,
Her face emerged, then her eyes of freedom!
She woke us up with a smile saying,
'What day is this that comes so suddenly?'
We said, 'It is the first day after the war.'
Then without waiting we ran to the open space
Ululating to the mountains and the pathways
Calling people from all the circles of the earth.
We shook up the old man demanding a festival.
We asked for all the first fruits of the season
We held hands with a stranger
We shouted across the waterfalls
People came from all lands
It was the first day of peace.
We saw our Ancestors traveling tall on the horizon.
Imagery & tone
The poem is packed to the brim with powerful imagery.
What is imagery?
Imagery is the name given to the elements in a poem that spark off the senses. Despite "image" being a synonym for "picture", images need not be only visual; any of the five senses (sight, hearing, touch, taste, smell) can respond to what a poet writes. Examples of non-visual imagery can be found in Ken Smith's 'In Praise of Vodka', where he describes the drink as having "the taste of air, of wind on fields, / the wind through the long wet forest", and James Berry's 'Seashell', which puts the "ocean sighs" right in a listener's ear.
A poet could simply state, say, "I see a tree", but it is possible to conjure up much more specific images using techniques such as simile ("a tree like a spiky rocket"), metaphor ("a green cloud riding a pole") or synechdoche ("bare, black branches") - each of these suggests a different kind of tree. Techniques, such as these, that can be used to create powerful images are called figurative language, and can also include onomatopoeia, metonymy and personification.
What is tone?
A poem's tone is the attitude that its style implies. Brian Patten's 'A Blade of Grass' has a tone of sad acceptance toward the loss of childlike wonder that could have accepted the blade of grass, for example; 'The Happy Grass', by Brendan Kennelly, has instead a hopeful tone toward the prospect of peace that the grass represents, tempered by an awareness that there will be graves on which the grass will grow.
Tone can shift through a poem: 'A Barred Owl', by Richard Wilbur, has a first stanza with a comforting, domestic tone, and a second that insists this kind of comfort plays a vicious world false. The shift in tone is part of what is enjoyable about the poem.
U. A. Fanthorpe's 'The Master of the Cast Shadow' begins in a tone of admiration for the painter's skill, but moves into a tone of unease toward the way that skill hides the history behind the images.
More at poetry archive .org
Click on the link below.
LINE BY LINE
1.We heard the songs of a wedding party.
- Emerged: Not completely clear, becoming clearer. A face gives the enigma human form.
- FREEDOM! The exclamation mark suggests that 'she' has revealed suddenly herself. Freedom from oppression, freedom from apartheid! The speaker can look into her eyes and trust that freedom is here.
6.She woke us up with a smile saying,
- Spread the message, joy, love, freedom across what were previously barriers.
- Tears of Joy?