How do I analyze the poem "In the Shadow of Signal Hill" by Essop Patel?
"In the Shadow of Signal Hill" consists of two eight-line stanzas in which the first three lines are repeated. In each stanza, the speaker observes a group of young people gathered in the shadow of Signal Hill in Cape Town, South Africa.
In the first stanza, it is children who hear the voices of slaves when they hold seashells to their ears; in the second stanza, it is young men of Langa, a township set aside for black Africans before and during the apartheid era, who gather. The sons of Langa are men who follow the folk hero Langalibalele, a nineteenth-century prisoner at Robben Island. The island that is referenced is likely Robben Island, the place where Langalibalele, Nelson Mandela, and other political prisoners were held. District six, where the men gather, was a neighborhood in Cape Town with a majority black population that was removed by force in the 1970s. The men are inspired by historical events and activists to prepare for armed resistance.
The poet, Essop Patel, was a human rights attorney who fought for people threatened with removal from their homes for reasons associated with race and poverty. Using the above contextual information, one can see that the poem expresses the history and contemporary situation in this part of South Africa.
Tone and imagery are elements that can be analyzed in this poem.
Signal Hill overlooks Cape Town and the Atlantic coast of South Africa. It is popular with tourists and campers now, but this poem discusses its darker days. The poem discusses “the ruins of district six.” When it was destroyed, all of the residents were evicted and had nowhere to go. This additional hardship and abuse explains why the poem rings with anger in every line.
The “howling wind” and “murky waters” are repeated images. These are gloomy and speak of destruction.
The poem’s tone is something that you can describe in an analysis. The tone of this poem is melancholy and irate. The poem describes the effects of apartheid.
children of colour
and hold them to their ears
and listen to the lamentations of slaves
The word “lamentations” is strong and speaks of a deep-seated grief and injustice. All of this contributes to the overall mood of the poem, which is dejected and irritated at the past.
One part of poetic analysis is determining the theme of the poem. This poem thematically represents a call to non-white south Africans to listen to the voices of the "heroes from the island," from Robben Island, which is seen in the shadow of Signal Hill, as they cry out for redress of wrongs done by apartheid rule. Signal Hill is close-by Langa township where displaced blacks would have gone after the destruction of their former homes in District 6.