First Day After The War Poem: Line by line Analysis, Questions and Answers

First Day After The War Poem: Line by line Analysis, Questions and Answers

On this page, we have covered the comprehensive analysis of Mazisi Kunene’s poem “First Day After The War.” We explored its contextual background, detailed its imagery and metaphors, delved into its tone and mood, and unpacked its diction and structure. Each element contributes to the rich tapestry of emotions and themes that Kunene masterfully weaves together to celebrate the end of apartheid and the dawn of a new era in South Africa.

Have you ever realized how difficult it can be to fully grasp the depth of a poem, especially one rooted in a specific historical and cultural context? Imagine trying to understand the layers of meaning in a poem that speaks to the collective joy and relief of an entire nation. Students might say that English literature can be challenging because it often requires delving into the nuances of language, symbolism, and historical context. However, as we’ve seen with “First Day After The War,” these challenges can also reveal profound insights and evoke powerful emotions.

Mazisi Kunene was born in South Africa in 1938. He studied both in South Africa and the United Kingdom and worked as an academic in the United States before returning to South Africa. His best-known work is the poem ‘Emperor Shaka the Great’, originally written in isiZulu and translated into English. Kunene passed away in 2006.

Mazisi Kunene wrote much of his poetry during apartheid, a time when black people were discriminated against and oppressed. “First Day After The War” describes the joy felt at the end of this oppressive system. This is a celebratory poem that focuses on the freedom that comes to people after oppression. The war symbolizes the struggle for freedom by the oppressed.

The poem centers on the celebrations that occur among the victorious immediately after apartheid. The wedding symbolizes a new beginning, representing the formation of a new unit in society through the union of two individuals. This metaphorical wedding signifies the creation of a new society brought about by the struggle.

Poem First Day After The War” by Mazisi Kunene

We heard the songs of a wedding party.
We saw a soft light
Coiling round the young blades of grass
At first we hesitated, then we saw her footprints,
Her face emerged, then her eyes of freedom!
She woke us up with a smile saying,
‘What day is this that comes suddenly?’
We said, ‘It is the first day after the war’.
Then without waiting we ran to the open space
Ululating to the mountains and the pathways
Calling people from all the circles of the earth.
We shook up the old man demanding a festival
We asked for all the first fruits of the season.
We held hands with a stranger
We shouted across the waterfalls
People came from all lands
It was the first day of peace.
We saw our Ancestors travelling tall on the horizon.

Line-by-Line Analysis of “First Day After The War” by Mazisi Kunene

We heard the songs of a wedding party.

  • The poem begins with the sound of a wedding party, which immediately sets a celebratory tone. The wedding symbolizes the union and the beginning of a new, unified society.

We saw a soft light

  • The soft light symbolizes hope, expectation, and optimism. It represents the dawn of a new era filled with promise and positivity.

Coiling round the young blades of grass

  • The young blades of grass symbolize the born-free generation – those who will grow up in a unified South Africa. The light coiling around them suggests nurturing and the potential for growth.

At first we hesitated, then we saw her footprints,

  • The initial hesitation reflects the disbelief and cautious optimism at the end of oppression. Her footprints personify freedom, making it tangible and real.

Her face emerged, then her eyes of freedom!

  • Freedom is personified as a woman whose face and eyes emerge gradually, symbolizing the gradual realization and achievement of freedom.

She woke us up with a smile saying,

  • The personified freedom wakes the people up with a smile, indicating a gentle and joyous awakening to a new reality.

‘What day is this that comes suddenly?’

  • This line reflects the surprise and sudden realization that freedom has arrived. It emphasizes the abrupt transition from oppression to freedom.

We said, ‘It is the first day after the war’.

  • The response acknowledges the end of the struggle and the beginning of a new era. The first day after the war symbolizes the start of peace and freedom.

Then without waiting we ran to the open space

  • The people run to the open space without hesitation, symbolizing their eagerness to embrace their new freedom and the wide possibilities it offers.

Ululating to the mountains and the pathways

  • Ululating is a traditional African expression of joy, representing unrestrained celebration. The sound reaches the mountains and pathways, symbolizing the vast reach of their joy.

Calling people from all the circles of the earth.

  • This line emphasizes the universal nature of the celebration, inviting people from all around the world to join in the jubilation.

We shook up the old man demanding a festival

  • The old man represents the cynics or those who had accepted oppression. Shaking him up signifies waking up or disturbing the old, complacent attitudes, demanding a celebration instead.

We asked for all the first fruits of the season.

  • The first fruits symbolize the best and freshest offerings, representing a demand for the full enjoyment of freedom and its benefits.

We held hands with a stranger

  • Holding hands with a stranger symbolizes unity and solidarity among people who were once divided.

We shouted across the waterfalls

  • Shouting across the waterfalls symbolizes the spread of joy and the far-reaching impact of their celebration.

People came from all lands

  • This line emphasizes the inclusivity of the celebration, with people from various places joining in the festivities.

It was the first day of peace.

  • This succinct line underscores the historical significance of the moment, marking it as the beginning of peace.

We saw our Ancestors travelling tall on the horizon.

  • The ancestors travelling tall symbolize pride and approval from those who have passed on. Their presence indicates a connection to the past and their continued influence on the present and future.

Each line of Kunene’s poem paints a vivid picture of celebration, unity, and hope at the end of apartheid, capturing the collective joy and optimism of a nation stepping into a new era of freedom and peace.

Imagery and Metaphors

Metaphor:

  • The metaphor of a wedding represents the union of many racial groups in South Africa post-1992. This metaphor highlights the creation of a new society, enhanced by the image of a “wedding”.
  • Other metaphorical examples include:
    • “soft light” – symbolizes hope, expectation, and optimism.
    • “young blades of grass” – represents the born-free generation who can grow up in a unified South Africa.
    • “mountains” and “pathways” – signify the limitations and obstacles of apartheid that can now be overcome.
    • “Ancestors travelling tall” – indicates the pride of ancestors in their sacrifices and the achievement of freedom.

Personification:

  • “we saw her footprints” – portrays freedom as a woman, making it more relatable and tangible.

Alliteration:

  • The alliteration in “first fruits” (line 13) highlights the significance of the moment. The use of this device in “travelling tall” (line 18) creates rhythm and liveliness, reminding the reader of the importance of the ancestors.

Onomatopoeia:

  • “ululating” conveys the sound of spontaneity and ecstasy. It is associated with traditional African celebrations, emphasizing the cultural context.

Structure

  • Free Verse: The poem is written in free verse, reflecting the theme of freedom of expression in the new South Africa.
  • Enjambment: The use of enjambment creates a sense of a narrative being told. The natural flow between lines represents the unity in the country.
  • Dialogue: Reflects the African tradition of storytelling.
  • Story Structure: The poem mirrors a story with a slow beginning, building to a climax, and ending with a concluding message.

Tone and Mood

The tone of “First Day After The War” is upbeat, and the mood is one of excitement and jubilation. Initially, there is a sense of disbelief that oppression has ended, which transitions into restrained joy, and finally into ecstatic jubilance and pride. The tone can be described as celebratory, enthusiastic, and excited.

Diction

While “Remember” might reflect another context, in this poem, the word that could encapsulate the major theme is more about celebration and freedom. The diction in the poem reflects the joy and hope of the newly freed society. Words like “soft light”, “eyes of freedom”, and “ululating” convey the profound sense of relief and celebration.

Analysis

We heard the songs of a wedding party. We saw a soft light Coiling round the young blades of grass. At first we hesitated, then we saw her footprints,

  • The use of “we” ensures the inclusion of the reader in the action and ideals expressed in the poem.
  • A celebration taking place and the sound of jubilation heard reflects the poem’s celebratory tone.

Her face emerged, then her eyes of freedom! She woke up with a smile saying, “What day is this that comes suddenly?” We said, “It is the first day after the war.”

  • Gradual unveiling of “the bride” symbolizes the slow emergence of freedom.
  • The poet identifies the “we” as those who have been involved in the struggle.
  • Archaic syntax highlights the formality associated with traditional literature and African storytelling techniques.

Then without waiting we ran to the open space Ululating to the mountains and the pathways Calling people from all the circles of the earth. We shook up the old man demanding a festival We asked for all the first fruits of the season.

  • The response to the news that the war is over and peace and freedom have been obtained.
  • Onomatopoeia: “Ululating” represents an unrestrained celebration.
  • Synecdoche: “the old man” symbolizes the cynics and those who had accepted oppression.
  • “Shook up” means waking up or disturbing the old ways.

We held hands with a stranger We shouted across the waterfalls People came from all lands It was the first day of peace. We saw our Ancestors travelling tall on the horizon.

  • Unity is symbolized by holding hands with a stranger and people coming from all lands.
  • New beginnings bring feelings of expectation and excitement.
  • The ancestors’ presence shows their acceptance and support of the new era. In African culture, ancestors are always consulted on major issues, and their presence signifies their continued influence and guidance even after their passing.

The poem, through its vivid imagery, celebratory tone, and rich diction, captures the collective joy and optimism at the dawn of a new era, emphasizing themes of unity, freedom, and respect for the past.



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