There are different views to understanding poetry. You can look at that which you find facing you directly – look at what is written on the surface and leave what is beneath. Some other times you have to look at what lies beneath. Think, why did such a writer write such lines? In what time was such a piece written? What was the condition of the writer? It helps to also read the poetry of contemporaries of such a writer in the person’s place. The contemporaries (poets) of Mandlenkosi Langa are the likes of Dennis Brutus, Oswald Mtshali, Stanley Mogoba, and Sydney Sepamla. Let’s look at the poem in full so that we will go along together in understanding this:

You languished patiently
for months on end
in dungeon darkness

From Viral Nova... To watch an incredible video on a man who turned a still born loss to joy, please click here: Su'eddie
From Viral Nova… To watch an incredible video on a man who turned a still born loss to joy, please click here: Su’eddie

in intestinal convolutions
and indefinable chaos

You had neither shadow
nor silhouette
You had every right
to riot and complain
or raise your voice
in protest or defiance

I could feel your lust
to join the dead
living world
Your muted attempts
to burst like Christmas chicken
into life

It is not my fault
that you did not live
to be a brother or sister
or lover of some black child
that you did not experience pain
pleasure voluptuousness and salt
in the wound
that your head did not stop
a police truncheon
that you are not a permanent resident
of a prison island.

(‘Mother’s Ode to a Stillborn Child’ by Mandlenkosi Langa; in Black Poets in South Africa Edited by Robert Royston. London: Heinemann Educational Books,1974)

Tough love, wouldn’t you say? It makes one to think deep again beyond the analysis of whatever might have come down. Let’s look at this from the surface first. We find a mother [yes, let’s give the woman this accord] here who is addressing her stillborn. A lot of mothers will be happy to have a child and when something happens wrong to the child, they are saddened. In this poem though, you find a near nonchalant mother talking to her baby and saying: ‘Oh well, you are better dead’. This is a deep poem on whatever level you decide to look at it. Poetry, like art, is an expression of one’s innermost feeling. It leaves you thinking of what might have gone through the mind of the poet. Like experiences, and other forms of art too, poetry is subject to many interpretations even as it speaks to each reader differently.

To have an idea of a poet’s mind though, sometimes you have to ‘visit’ the person, by understanding the circumstances and situation of the timing and writing of such a poem. This is understanding the poet’s reason for writing as opposed to however you might later understand the poem…for yes, each poem and work of art speaks to us and affects us differently, sometimes in ways that the poet might never have imagined.

The above poem, was written by Mandlenkosi Langa during the South African Apartheid period. The persona [we should always remember that the poet is not always the person in the poem; the person in the poem is called the poetic persona, much like the narrator in fiction etc] addresses her stillborn child. To understand this poem, you need to understand that the Apartheid period was one where blacks [the poet and the persona are black] were maltreated and subjected to a life of living on the run. It was evil to be black and one could be killed, beaten, maltreated for simply being a person of colour. It is more like the highest form of ‘racism’ and it was worse because 1) this land was originally the land of the blacks 2) They had the number in terms of population. 3) They had no access to jobs, proper schooling and a lot that the whites had… among others….

Things got so bad that some women rather than cry at a stillborn would shrug and say ‘Well, you are saved. Rest well’. That’s the spirit of the poem above.

The poem starts with the persona addressing how the baby within started off. Note the careful use of words that are not bright or cheerful: ‘languish…in dungeon darkness…in indefinable chaos’… From the outset, the persona knows that the baby had a difficult time within the walls of her body. [ASK: Could the body of the persona be a metaphor for South Africa and the troubles of the land?] The next stanza questions the essence of the humanity of the baby. The persona states that the baby had no form; no shadow, no silhouette. The baby had every right to protest… [ASK: Could the baby, from this stanza, be a personification of the suffering blacks in South Africa? Remember they had no dignity and are below humanity; therefore without shadow or silhouette… In that case, they had ‘every right/to riot and complain/or raise … voice/in protest or defiance].

The third stanza addresses the lust of the addressed to join the dead. Well, with all the troubles, it will seem that is what anyone will desire… So, in the end, at the last stanza: we find this mother without remorse at the death of the stillborn. She even thinks the stillborn is better dead! After all, ‘you are not a permanent resident of a prison island.’

So, there you go… There’s always more than meets the eye, not so? Let’s have your thoughts on this too and if you can, let’s have you put your heart to paper and scribble the spirit of your soul to show its very depths.



Some all-rounded writer with the wits to turn anything and everything to words with inspiration... cheering to glory and on...


    1. Quite true… Which is why sometimes we have to be careful to not let all what we think on a poem come out lest we restrict the thoughts of some on the poem… We make them look in one direction alone…

      Oh well. Still, the analysts must give their thoughts, no?

      I love the poem on its strength as against whatever reason the poet might have written it, as explained above. It makes so much sense.


  1. I love your analysis Su’eddie and the truth’s that NO mother really rejoices at the loss of a child, especially after having carried such a child for nine whole gestational period, gone through the arduous task of Labour and Delivery, and what ought to be her ‘prize’, and offer her some kinda comfort; the delightful bundle; is snatched away by the cold hands of death, before she even gets the chance to rock such a child, or be congratulated on the mean feat of having travailed and survived, and thereafter on the blessing and gift; that’s the baby! No matter her circumstances and those surrounding her, the helplessness and hopelessness notwithstanding; every female who travails and pulls through the delivery process; looks forward to claiming their prizes: their babies! Cause its only then; that the whole process becomes worthwhile, so much less of a bitter experience, you know; a ‘necessary evil’, with its own perks and gain! A gain viewed as more gratifying and less burdening than the ‘work’ that had gone forth into achieving it! That’s like saying the end justifies the mean! No pain, no gain and then, no glory! The gain and glory being the baby of course!

    The Narrator in this piece am guessing, is just really playing hard at being nonchalant and uncaring ’bout what’s just gone down! Although, no mother wants to bring her baby into the world to suffer, but, none also gets past the trauma of having experienced a loss! Beneath all of the ‘its just as well’, which I view as a facade; and a perfect coping mechanism; she really is deeply hurt and scarred, by her loss and also, by the disconcerting, disheartening circumstances around her, plaguing her people! Had that child survived, she wouldn’t have put a knife to his/her neck, she’d have been absolutely delighted, and counted herself blessed to have been counted worthy of such a divine gift, given by God; as a reward to mere mortals!

    A beautiful piece this is Su’eddie, dark but even that does not remove from the sheer beaut I see! Especially of the imageries, enriching and pretty fascinating! Likening her loss to the situation around her I find quite ingenious and very creative! I’m totally held spellbound and I feel her pain too, deeply!

    Thanks for this! Let’s have us some more analysis Prof, will ya?! *rme* LOL

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hmmm, are you sure you will be able to catch up with this our plenty tok? Hmmm… Any ways, thanks for the big-ups… Means much.
      I do think that there are mothers who can be mean and some who will be able to let their babies go like that… Haven’t you heard of babies who were thrown away by their mothers? Have you not heard of mothers who threw their babies in soakaways? There are countless stories to leave you marveling… Tales that will make you ask: ah! True? But yes, quite true.

      So, yes again, such a mother might have put a knife to the child of her womb… The world is not as pretty as it ought to be o… But diaris God, not so? 🙂 The beauty of it is that for every mother that is unkind or uncaring, there are a hundred that care. So, in His way, the almighty, Aondo, creates a balance to leave the world smiling.

      I have a few things to analyse… Maybe I will analyse you soon!


      1. Hehehe! So am up next for your analytical experiments I see! Bring it on, my Good Analytical Sir, I don’t scare easy! Let’s have it already cause I aint getting any younger! Can you tell?! Hmph! Should be real interesting too! Are you for real though Su’eddie, are you?! *smh* ROTFLMAO!

        Don’t you worry, I’ll try to catch up on those convos hanging in the balance! Piece of cake! *laughing*

        Plus, I’m pretty sure if we were to do an extensive research of who really a mother is, we’d find that she isn’t amongst the ranks of those cold, calculating folks who discard their babies in soak-aways like a piece of rubbish! Those aren’t mothers, ‘birth canals’ more like! There’s a huge difference between those and mothers! They’re simply worlds apart! Moreover, I wanna believe that the Narrator’s a mother in the real sense of the word, who in her bid to cope and deal with her loss, decides to pull the ‘Sly Fox Trick or Card’ on her audience! You do know the story of the proverbial Fox, who upon happening on a tree in the woods, with this ripened; very juicy, pretty alluring looking fruit, tries ALL in its bid to pluck it! After a lotta failed attempts, it consoles itself that its sure the fruit’s sour anyways! So what the hay?! LMAO!

        Am just guessing that’s her way of dealing with her loss, that the child woulda suffered anyway and I still submit and maintain that had that child lived, she’d have loved and nurtured him/her! Mothers are nurturers, they’re the loving hands that rock the cradles and then go on to ruling the world! Birth canals?! Who needs those?! Heartless lots! LOL


        1. yes, on the normal front, mothers are nurturers… but some can be murderers… Call them birth canals if you will but truth is they are mothers… Sadly.

          I like the way you have handled your own impression of this poem. I also admire the consistency that tilts towards the beauty of motherhood in its purest form. Don’t forget though that we live in dark times and that only God’s grace can save us…

          On your analysis… cool down… everything in its due time. I’m not sure I will want to work to your smiles. We will leave everything … and then get you at a nice time when your eyes aint up…

          WATCH! 😉


        2. And on that analysis bit, again; I say, bring it! You don’t scare me, hmph! LMAO!

          Plus, I love the some mothers are ‘murderers’ analogy! That’s a real clever pun, truly fascinating! Moreso, that I have a womb, and can concieve and bring forth a child doesn’t make me a mother, it only means am female! Its the tender, loving care I dole out to my baby, after birthing him/her, and the prices am willing to pay, just so he/she has the very best, and that’s the ultimate sacrifice; that qualifies me to be a mother! A man’s NOT defined by his manhood! That only makes him male! He’s defined by the responsibilities he’s more than willing to take up, in catering for the needs of his household! And these Su’eddie, are hard facts! The absolute truth! My word! LOL


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