Discussion Topic

Exploring Imagery and Meaning in Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali's "An Abandoned Bundle"


"An Abandoned Bundle" by Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali uses powerful imagery to depict the harsh realities of apartheid-era South Africa. The poem describes a newborn baby abandoned in a garbage heap, symbolizing the neglect and dehumanization faced by many in society. The vivid, disturbing images serve to highlight the brutality and inhumanity of the social and political environment of the time.

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What are some images present in Oswald Mbuyiseni Mtshali's poem "An Abandoned Bundle"?

Let's start with identifying what images are. Images are the result of a poetic device that uses sensory descriptors to project images on the mind's eye. Sensory descriptors are words that relate to what can be tasted, smelled, heard, touched, or seen. These sensory descriptors are called olfactory, anosmic, auditory, tactile, and visual, respectively.

A visual image might be: The curtains fluttered like falling leaves. You must see the curtains and the leaves. A tactile image might be: The kitten's fur slipped like silk through her fingers. You must touch and feel the fur and must have once felt silk. An auditory image might be: The mockingbird's song sounded like the songs of seven species ... and a kitten's mew! You have to hear the mockingbird and you have to have heard the other birds (and a kitten).

An anosmic image might be: The rain-soaked leaves brought back the smell of an afternoon storm in lush Johannesburg. You have to smell both the present leaves and the past lush foliage. An olfactory image might be: The pickled corn tasted like Rouqulette in the Alps. You have to taste the pickled corn and the Rouqulette cheese; plus perhaps feel the chill of the Alps. An image with mixed sensory descriptors might be: The chocolate mousse tasted like velvet heaven on a moonless night under stars like bells. You have to taste the chocolate mousse, feel the velvet, see the moonless night, and hear the bells!

"An Abandoned Bundle" is loaded with sensory images in virtually every line. You will be able to find as many as you need yourself now--look for descriptors that build mental images and rely on tastes, sounds, smells, touch, sights--but to get you started, we'll mention a few.

  • Mist must be felt in "morning mist." This is tactile and visual as morning is seen.
  • "Chimney smoke" is both seen and smelled.
  • "White City" builds a visual image of buildings all of white.
  • "[S]mothered our little houses" is both anosmic and tactile as "thick yellow" smoke can be smelled and being "smothered" can be felt.

The gentle images of the first three lines have quickly become oppressive images.

  • You must have seen fish caught in nets to visualize "like fish caught in a net."
  • "[F]licked velvet tongues of scarlet" combines visual ("flicked") with tactile ("velvet") and another visual ("scarlet").
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How does the poet convey meaning in "An Abandoned Bundle" by Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali?

In the poem "The Abandoned Bundle", Mtshali uses specific word choice to convey meaning to the reader. Imagery is used to paint a visual picture for the reader, the first-person narration allows for a reader to see a real story told by a real person, and the tone conveys emotions felt by the author.

The poem is filed with language meant to bring out feelings of compassion and disgust. While the disgust seems to overwhelm the majority of the poem, it ends on a much more compassionate note.

The descriptions of the choking smoke which blankets the homes, the bloodied and scavenging dogs, and the mutilated corpse bring about images of a forlorn and abandoned place. This imagery is both overwhelming and exacting in descriptive nature.

In the end, the poem changes dramatically. A mother, dead, is described as innocent and pure. While this seems unimportant, it allows a reader to see the truth behind the meaning: there is hope in even the darkest places and moments.

While some may disagree (given poetry is subjective and open to personal interpretation) the poem, even if filled with the morbid and disgusting, still holds the promise of purity being obtained- even after the lose of a child to packs of dogs.

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