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The Serf

The Serf is a picture of a Zulu labourer working the scarlet earth of

In Zulu society it is the women who till the soil, that a man should be
ploughing is an indication that he is a hired labourer, on the farm of a
white man.
Campbell vividly recalled the days of the Zulu rebellion when the threat of
large scale black violence was very real.
In his mind the peaceful ploughman is a momentarily subjugated warrior,
and the contrast gives the poem great dramatic tension.
The ploughmans heart may lie fallow now.
He has the same conviction that the ploughman, because of his closeness
to nature, will endure, while the very artificiality of the palaces and
thrones and tower, will bring them down.

The Serf

His naked skin clothed in torrid mist

That puffs in smoke around the patient


Type of poem: A Sonnet

Style: Irregular
A labourer or worker that is legally
owned by his employer.
In the poem the serf represents the
mass of oppressed people who were
forced to work in the service of their
Metaphor: It is so misty, early in the
morning,that it looks as if he is wearing
the mist like clothes.
Metaphor: torrid mist is a metaphor for
the dust created by the hooves of the
oxen and the plough.
The serf is not fully dressed. Zulu
warriors are not fully dressed,
ironically, he is not a warrior now, but a
ploughman, a servan.
Oxymoron: naked skin clothed
something that is naked is clothed.
Naked: vulnerable, defenceless
Personification: puffs and patient. The
mist puffs, a human puffs. Hooves can
not be patient.
The plough animal is used to this work
and it will not be hurried. It moves at a
slow and steady pace.
The cattle is walking patiently and
slowly in front of the plow.
The undertone of the image of slow

The ploughman drives, a slow


And through the green his crimson

furrow grooves

His heart, more deeply than he wounds

the plain,

Long by the rasping share of insult


Red clod, to which the war cry once

was rain

movement and mist is one of menace

and hidden passions.
Alliteration: s slow somnambulist
A somnambulist is someone who walks
in his sleep.
Metaphor: the ploughman is a
The serf is lethargic and listless. He is
only performing the task because he is
forced to do so.
Assonance: crimson furrow grooves.
Crimson: read
Furrow: narrow trench in soil made by
a plough
Green: the land is green and when the
plough turns the green land over it
turns red.
Grooves: is actually a noun but here it
is used as a verb to describe the action
of making a furrow. A deep groove is
being formed and that groove is like a
The plough makes a deeper scar on his
heart than in the soil.
Plain: soil
Metaphor/Image: the act of ploughing
is compared with inflicting a deep cut
in somebodys heart.
More deeply: comparitive degree of
Long: refers to the passing of time. For
very long
Metaphor: he has been insulted and
the insults were like that of a rasp or
saw cutting wood.
Rasping: using a tool like a file to
smoothen something
Insults have torn and rasped away at
his heart.
Inversion: Insults torn at him like
It could be to force the rhyme so that
torn can rhyme with corn.
Red clod: read earth
Metaphor: war cry once was rain Going
to war was as important as rain is to a
farmer. Like rain is part of farming so
was war part of the Zulus lifestyle.

And tribal spears the fatal sheaves of


They were warriors.

Like rain causes plants to stand up and
grow so did the war cry cause warriors
to stand up and fight
Tribal speares the fatal sheaves of
corn: the spear was like the corn the
farmer harvest. With the spear the Zulu
inflicted death
Fatal: deadly
You cut sheaves of corn and spears cut
down people.
Corn: wheat, barley or oats

Lies fallow now. But as the turf divides

Although his proud heart no longer

shows his warlike temperament it does
not mean that the characteristic is
gone. His emotions are sleeping
(dormant) because he has been made
subservient been oppressed for so
long. His heart has not received the
invigorating cry of revolt, rebellion or
Fallow: land lies unplanted, without
crops.The serf is not a warrior now but
a labourer. He is like a fallow: a warrior
without status and a war to fight. A
land without crops.
But: indicates a change in the poem.
As the worker ploughs the ground and
the soil turns over

I see in the slow progress of his strides

Alliteration of the s: the serf is now

striding and not just walking.
There is progress not regression
There is hopeThe poet realises that the
serf is displaying the eternal, sullen
patience of those who, throughout the
centuries, have had to endure their lot
and through history have proved that
suppressed anger can be very

Over the toppled clods and falling


Alliteration: falling flowers

Nothing remains standing in the path
of the plough.
The serf is able to stride over the
destruction of the plough, it does not

The timeless, surly patience of the serf

That moves the nearest to the naked


And ploughs down palaces, and

thrones and towers

bring him to a standstill

Surly: bad-tempered, unfriendly, rude
The serf is not happy with his status or
with what he has to do but he is patient
and will await his turn.
His patience is timeless: he can wait for
as long as he has to.
The people remaining the closest to
earth, the worker will change his
circumstances one day.
The hidden forces remain in the man
and the speaker realises that one day
this man will destroy all the wealth and
authority that stands in his way. The
repetition of the and means nobody
will escape. All those that are now
mighty and rich will be overthrown and
brought down.
This will be the harvest of the serf.

Roy Ignatius Dunnachie Campbell was born in Durban in Natal in 1902, he was
educated at the University of Durban He lived for most of his life in Portugal and
Spain, whilst in Spain he was known as a professional Bullfighter winning the
Cocade at the Grand Taurine Gala of Istress in 1931.
He died in Portugal in 1957
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:
1. Comment on the significance of the title, "The Serf". (5)
Serfs were labourers who were only slightly better off than slaves. They were
part of the European feudal system which permitted them to hold land in
exchange for work, service and allegiance to the land owner. They were not
allowed to leave the land on which they worked.
The word also has connotations of oppression and drudgery. By choosing this
title, Campbell emphasises the downtrodden, oppressed state of this Black
labourer. It prepares us for the resentment the labourer feels towards the White
people who have taken over his ancestral lands. The serf in the poem symbolises
all the suppressed people of the world, but especially in Africa, which was

colonised and exploited by the European powers. National pride eventually led to
the overthrow of the foreign powers.
The word is also reminiscent of the French Revolution when the people revolted
and overthrew the monarchy.
"His naked skin clothed in the torrid mist."
2. What is Campbell's intention when he describes the labourer as
"naked"? (3)
The labourer's upper torso is naked to emphasise that he is in his natural
state. It conveys the labourer's closeness to the earth. He is in touch with
The description is linked to line 13, where Campbell refers to the "naked
earth", thus establishing a connection between the labourer and the land
which has been taken away from his people.
"His naked skin clothed in the torrid mist
That puffs in smoke around the patient hooves."
3. Discuss the effectiveness of the metaphors in these two lines. (4)
There are two metaphors in these lines:
The dust which is raised by the plough oxen covers the serf's body like
The dust is also compared with mist and smoke.
Dust, smoke and mist are similar in that they are cloudlike, move gently in a
breeze and do not form a solid barrier. They resemble a fine, light sprinkling.
They obscure, but do not hide anything completely.
"The ploughman drives, a slow somnambulist."
4. Explain why the serf is described as a "somnambulist". (4)
A "somnambulist" is one who walks in his sleep.
This metaphor compares the serf with a sleepwalker since he is so used to doing
this dull, repetitive labour that he appears to be ploughing in his sleep. He is able
simply to go through the motions without concentrating.
There is also the implication that things can change when he comes out of this
sleep-like state: he will be focussed on destroying the White man, his symbols
and his power.
"more deeply than he wounds the plain."
5. Identify and comment on the use of the figure of speech in this
line. (4)

6. There is PERSONIFICATION in the use of the verb "wounds".

Campbell uses the word to convey the tearing and ripping of the soil and
grass as it is cut by the plough. The earth is "crimson", not only because of
the colour of the soil but also because it implies that the earth is bleeding
from its wound.
The word is linked to the hurt the serf has experienced. He has been
wounded emotionally by White people's insults.
"His heart, more deeply than he wounds the plain,
Long by the rasping share of insult torn,
Red clod, to which the war-cry once was rain
And tribal spears the fatal sheaves of corn,
Lies fallow now."
7. Paraphrase these lines (rewrite them in your own words). (5)
The lines need to be condensed to read: "His heart lies fallow now."
Campbell makes a comparison between the cutting into the soil of the plough
and the way in which the serf's heart has been wounded even more by the
insults of White people.
Just as the red clods of the field are left to rest, the serf is patiently waiting for
the right time. The "war cry" and the "tribal spears" symbolise the era when his
ancestors once ruled the land and fought tribal wars. These have now been
replaced by the sheaves of grain of the Whites.
8. Point out what "insult" the serf has had to endure. (2)
These insults are verbal attacks, involving discriminatory comments and
barbs about intelligence and social status.
The word also refers to the serf's pride which has been insulted by White
oppression and the systematic detribalisation and eradication of African culture.
9. Explain why the use of the words "rasping share" is so
appropriate. (3)
"Rasping" means scraping away roughly. A "share" is a plough.
By using these words, Campbell continues the metaphor of the plough tearing
through the grass and soil. These words, which echo the word "torn", further
emphasise the hurt the serf has experienced.
"And ploughs down palaces, and thrones, and towers."
Discuss Campbell's use of repetition in this line. (3)
The repetition of "and" suggests that the serf will be relentless. Once he
revolts against White rule, there will be no stopping him. He will persist
until he has eradicated every single scrap of evidence of White rule.
Why has Campbell specified the buildings to be destroyed as
being "palaces", "thrones" and "towers"? (2)

These are all symbols of White rule and oppression. They symbolise the old
order -- the European royal families and governments that colonised Africa,
subjecting the African's to foreign rule.
Campbell emphasises the serf's resentment towards White rule and
"His naked skin clothed in the torrid mist."
Comment on Campbell's use of the OXYMORON in "torrid
mist". (5)
The word "torrid" means extremely hot, parched by the sun. It also has
connotations of passion and intensity.
"Mist", on the other hand, is associated with water vapour and coolness.
Campbell has used this contrasting combination of words to describe the clouds
of dust kicked up by the plough oxen.
There is also the implication that all is not as it seems: the contrast between the
heat and the coolness is a prelude to the warning that the serf's apparent
patience will erupt in aggression and violence when White rule is overthrown.
"Red clod, to which the war-cry once was rain
And tribal spears the fatal sheaves of corn."
Discuss the EXTENDED METAPHOR in these two lines. (6)
The war-cry of the ploughman's ancestors is compared with rain. This implies
that tribal wars were a natural part of their existence. Just as the rain brought life
to the fields, so the war-cry filled them with energy and lifted their spirits: it
made them feel alive.
The tribal spears are compared with sheaves of corn, which are the harvested
bundles of grain. Both spears and grain are sharp and pointed. The sheaves
represent the White people who populated and farmed the area, causing the
detribalisation of the Africans.
The reference to the tribal spears extends the metaphor of the war-cry. The warcry and the spears represent those things that were once meaningful to the
Identify and explain the use of the TRANSFERRED EPITHET.
A TRANSFERRED EPITHET is when an adjective or adverb is transferred
from the word which it normally qualifies to another word. Example: He
drank a cheerful glass = The man is cheerful, not the glass.
The word "fatal" refers to the deadly spears used during the tribal wars,
not to the sheaves of corn.