What is an in-depth analysis of "The Zebras" by Roy Campbell?  

An in-depth analysis of Roy Campbell’s poem “The Zebras” could look at how Campbell links the zebras to technology or objects with engines. You could also analyze the sounds of the poem and the appearance of peculiar words like “zithering.” More so, you could analyze your favorite lines or images. I like the line where the zebras are “snorting rosy plumes.” It’s rather ironic.

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An in-depth analysis of Roy Campbell’s poem “The Zebras” could encompass a number of things. As long as you’re thinking about the poem in a thoughtful, nuanced way, you should be fine.

One way to start your analysis might be to focus on how the poem sounds. You could...

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An in-depth analysis of Roy Campbell’s poem “The Zebras” could encompass a number of things. As long as you’re thinking about the poem in a thoughtful, nuanced way, you should be fine.

One way to start your analysis might be to focus on how the poem sounds. You could focus on the different rhyme patterns. You could also spotlight words that the average person might not hear or read everyday—words like “zithering,” “fillies,” or “volted.” You could analyze how the unique word choices connect to the distinctive beauty of the zebras.

Perhaps sound doesn’t interest you. Another way to analyze the poem is by digging into its themes. This might seem redundant. Obviously, the theme is zebras. Yet within that theme, there’s probably other themes.

One theme I picked up on was that of technology. Throughout the poem, Campbell seems to hint at a link between zebras and other object that move about. He refers to the zebras’ “electric tremors” in the middle of the poem. Near the end of the poem, he calls the zebras an “engine of beauty.” You might want to analyze the connection between animals and electricity or industrialization. You might elaborate how both the sight of the zebras and the sight of, say, a car, a train, or something with an engine, can inspire a kind of awe.

You could also spotlight some of your favorite images or lines and analyze why you like them. One of mine is when the zebras are “snorting rosy plumes.” I like how the pig-like action of snorting contrasts with the beautiful rose-like nature of the plumes. It’s rather ironic.

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In this poem, the speaker describes the zebras as being "Harnessed" with the suns rays, by "golden reins," as they "draw the dawn across the plains." Helios, the Greek god of the sun, was said to drive a chariot drawn by special horses which were trained to pull the sun across the sky. Here, however, zebras seem to be awarded this special honor rather than horses. They are described as having flanks which are "zither[ed] [. . .] with fire," and they are "Barred with electric tremors."

Over and over again, the zebras are associated with the light and power of the sun. Even the dirt they stomp is said to "smoulder," and they are compared to birds via their "dove-like voices." The stallions are described as taking "flight," described again and again in the language of electricity and fire. The poem ascribes to the zebras immense power, like the power of the sun.

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The imagery in the poem "The Zebras" is very vivid and detailed, exploring the group of zebras that the poet observes in the wild. Campbell details the group of zebras in extreme detail, talking about them using light imagery to glorify the beauty of unspoiled nature. What is interesting is that Campbell chooses zebras, which is very representative of the entire theme of the poem.

Zebras obviously are very similar to horses, but they are wild and untamable. This is Campbell's idea in the poem—that nature is far more beautiful if left unspoiled. He explores the beauty of wild nature that has not been tainted by human hands. In the poem, he uses imagery relating their cries to other wild animals and beatifies the amber golden sun falling on the animals. The entire purpose of this poem is to praise the inherent beauty in nature.

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In this poem, Roy Campbell celebrates the natural world through a vivid portrayal of a group of zebras. Looking first at imagery, Campbell uses a combination of sensory images to bring the zebras to life. There is an auditory image in the first line, for example, with the phrase "fallen showers" and, later, through "dove-like voices." Visual images are also abundant in this poem: the zebras wade in "scarlet flowers," for instance, and the light "flashes" between their bodies as they move.

To really bring this scene to life, Campbell also uses personification. In the first line, for example, he imagines the woods as a living and breathing entity. In the third line, the rays of sunlight are described as being in "ranks," which suggests that they are like soldiers.

Notice how Campbell uses an extended metaphor to compare the zebras to an electrical current. This metaphor is created through descriptive words and phrases like "harnessed," "electric tremors," and "volted." In doing this, Campbell emphasizes the energy of nature and encourages the reader to appreciate the power and strength of the natural world.

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I just reread the poem in order to be able to give you a more solid answer, and in this rereading what struck me most were two things:

1. The form of the poem: It's a sonnet, obviously, and it's clearly more an Italian sonnet than it is an English sonnet. In teaching the poem, you could show students how to scan lines and how to label the end rhyme in order to fully appreciate the poem's structure. Simply talking about form, though, can be dull, so I'd suggest maybe explaining that sonnets tend to be love poems and then asking if this poem isn't also a sort of love poem (or a sex poem, perhaps more accurately).

2. The imagery of the poem: The images in "The Zebras" are beautiful. Depending on your group of students, you could ask them to identify specfic types of images (e.g. the constant play in the on light versus darkness, which echoes the very patterns on the zebras).

I hope that these suggestions are helpful. Send me a message if you want to talk more.

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