It's July -- and therefore mid-winter in South Africa.
A small boy is getting very bored because he is cooped up in the tiny township house, not being
allowed outside because of the cold.
He watches his mother as she boils water on the stove to make coffee. He day-dreams of
being a soldier, then his attention is brought back to reality by his father dropping the
Finally he drinks his coffee while wishing it was summer and he could go outside to play.
SOME NOTES ON THE POEM
This is a very simple but graphic poem -- yet it shouldn't tax one in any way. There are no
hidden meanings, and certainly no great nuances.
Mother is busily occupied at the coal stove in a very small kitchen. Indeed, it is so small that
she has room only to slide around. Conditions are most cramped for the boy, causing him to
jab his elbow accidentally into his younger brother's leg. The kitchen is also not big enough to
allow them to sit far from the stove so that the heat pierces his body right through -- "into
The kettle boils. It's a singing kettle and its noise reminds the boy of a song -- or perhaps the
kettle is shaped not unlike a bomb? As a result, the boy's imagination is set in motion. He
remembers a picture he has seen of war and he thinks of being a soldier.
His father then joins them in the kitchen, dropping the newspaper on the table. The noise
draws the boy's attention back to reality.
His father looks stern -- "staring coldly round". Although he seems to be grinding his
teeth, the boy decides that it's because his father has backed the wrong horse in the July
Handicap and has therefore possibly lost money.
The steam from the boiling kettle rises to the ceiling, touching it softly -- "kisses the
ceiling" -- before disappearing. The mother pours the water while it is still boiling rapidly
-- "the violent waters".
Notice how the mother is said to be very tender in her actions -- and there are indications that
she is very concerned for the boys' welfare. How does one know this?
The boy expresses his sense of boredom, wishing that he could go outside to play, wishing that
winter would end. He also wishes he could have fun in the house but he fears that even just
a little thing as laughter would disturb his father in such a small house. He decides, however,
that even biting the walls would be better than doing nothing.
The poet never says that the house is tiny but there are many indications of this. Can you point
He also makes much use of ONOMATOPAIEA: the kettle "hisses", "sings" and
"purrs". Are there other examples?
The poet is expressing TOTAL BOREDOM and FRUSTRATION. The domestic scene he
describes is completely trivial -- boiling water to make coffee -- but it's the sum total of the
boy's world in winter.
Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?