How does the poem "It Is The Constant Image Of Your Face--" by Dennis Brutus compare with "South" by Edward Kamau Brathwaite?

Expert Answers
Tamara K. H. eNotes educator| Certified Educator

One similarity between the two poems is the speakers' love of country. It's very evident that both speakers dearly loved their countries despite turmoils, both political and personal. Poet Dennis Brutus dearly loved his country South Africa, despite the government's system of racial segregation called apartheid, and fought to put an end to apartheid--a fight that landed him in prison on Robben Island in a cell next to Nelson Mandela. Brutus's love for his country can be clearly seen in his poem's speaker. Likewise, Edward Kamau Brathwaite dearly loved his country Barbados, as is reflected in the speaker of his poem "South." Interestingly, at the time the poem was written in 1967, Barbados had just finished negotiating independence from England in 1966, with Queen Elizabeth II still reigning as monarch but with a separate prime minister. Hence, similarly to Brutus, Brathwaite wrote "South" at a time of political unrest and change.

Brutus's "It is The Constant Image Of Your Face--" is most definitely open to interpretation. This could be a love poem in which he is relating his love for a woman to his love for his country, saying that his love for his country surpasses all, or this could be a purely political poem disguised by the metaphor of a lover. Either way, it's very clear that a central theme is indeed his love for his country. It may be that the lover he speaks of is a hidden metaphor for his country burdened with apartheid, a country which he became "unfaithful" to through his continued devotion to his country before apartheid, seeing as how apartheid did not begin until 1948. Brutus certainly was, in a way, "guilty" of being "unfaithful" to his apartheid country in the way that he fought for the abolition of apartheid. He even "campaigned to have apartheid South Africa banned from the Olymbic Games" as a means of protesting against the inhumane injustice of apartheid laws ("Poet's Profile"). In this sense, one can consider the poet Brutus as being "unfaithful" to his country, but only to his country burdened with apartheid--an unfaithfulness that actually landed him in prison alongside Nelson Mandela. Hence, in the opening stanza, his metaphorical lover accuses and convicts him of "treachery," meaning "treason," or "unfaithfulness," as we see in the lines:

... the grave attention of your eyes
surveying me and my world of knives
that stays with me, perennially accuses
and convicts me of heart's-treachery.

In addition, in several places he says that he loves his land above all things and that his country is his dearest love. Hence, ultimately, it appears this poem is a political poem in which the poet is reflecting on his treasonous actions against apartheid in South Africa, the country he loves, in order to fight for the abolition of apartheid, freeing the South Africa he once knew and loves even more.

Similarly, Brathwaite also reflects on his love for Barbados, but for different reasons. Evidently, the speaker of the poem moved away from Barbados and is now missing his home country. The reasons for the speaker leaving his country are left unsaid--it could be for political unrest that was taking place around 1966/67, or it simply could be for the speaker's own personal reasons. We do know that the poet Brathwaite certainly did travel, even receiving part of his education in England, so it is perfectly possible that the poem is merely a reflection of the poet's own personal travels for education and so forth and a reflection of just how much he loves and misses Barbados. Hence, while Brutus's poem is a reflection of his love for his country during clear political turmoil, Brathwait's poem is also a clear reflection of his love for his own country, but under possibly different circumstances.

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question