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William Plomer

Wild doves at
Louis Trichardt

More challenging questions!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 18 January 2014
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This is a deeply descriptive poem set in the heat of summer somewhere near Louis Trichardt. The poet dwells on the intense midday heat which causes all human activity to grind to a standstill.

Nearby, however, he hears the gentle cooing of a flock of wild doves, their sound bubbling forth as a cool cascade of pleasure to the ears.


William Charles Franklyn Plomer -- pronounced "Ploomer" -- was born in Pietersburg in the Northern Transvaal in December 1903. Today it is known as Polokwane in the Limpopo Province.

Because his father -- a magistrate -- wanted the best possible education for him, he was home-schooled at first and then sent to England at a very early age. Later he would return to South Africa, where he would graduate from St John's College in Johannesburg.

He turned down an offer for a degree at Oxford University but instead became a farmer in the Stormberg region of South Africa.

He later forces with poet Roy Campbell to edit an Afrikaans literary journal known as Voorslag but the magazine was not popular, and Campbell and Plomer had a falling-out over objectives.

Plomer became a loner, possibly because of the early separation from his family, but he also developed an overt homosexual tendency, something which he made no attempt to hide.

He won fame in South Africa for a novel based on an interracial relationship, a theme which was new at the time but which later became common.

He spent some years in Japan teaching at Tokyo School of Foreign Language and then at a private high school but in 1929 returned to England which he made his base, although frequently returning to South Africa.

He had diverse literary talents which included writing poetry, novels and even the librettos for several of Sir Benjamin Britten's musical compositions.

He was the recipient of several honours such as an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Durham as well as the Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry. In 1968 he was awarded the C.B.E.

Plomer died in England 1973 at the age of 70.

Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:

Morning is busy with long files
Of ants and men, all bearing loads.
The sun's gong beats, and sweat runs down.
A mason-hornet shapes his hanging house.
In a wide flood of flowers
Two crested cranes are bowing to their food.
From the north today there is ominous news.

Poets use imagery to paint a concise word-picture of a concept they have in their minds. Explain how the imagery below achieves the poet's purpose.
  • "Morning is busy with long files
    Of ants and men, all bearing loads."

[Need help?]

  • "The sun gong beats." (4)

[Need help?]

  • "A mason-hornet shapes his hanging house
    In a wide flood of flowers."

[Need help?]

Midday, the mad cicada-time.
Sizzling from every open valve
Of the overheated earth
The stridulators din it in
Intensive and continuing praise
Of the white-hot zenith, shrilling on
Toward a note too high to bear.
  • What point is the poet making when he says that the cicadas are "sizzling from every open valve of the overheated earth"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What image is the poet creating of the cicadas when he says, "The stridulators din it in intensive and continuing praise of the white-hot zenith"? (4)

[Need help?]

Oven of afternoon, silence of heat.
In shadow, or in shaded rooms,
This face is hidden in folded arms,
That face is now a sightless mask,
Tree-shadow just includes those legs.
The people have all lain down, and sleep
In attitudes of the sick, the shot, the dead.
  • What is the significance of the people sleeping "in attitudes of the sick, the shot, the dead"? (4)

[Need help?]

And now in the grove the wild doves begin,
Whose neat silk heads are never still,
Bubbling their coolest colloquies.
The formulae they liquidly pronounce
In secret tents of leaves imply
(Clearer than man-made music could)
Men being absent, Africa is good.
  • If the topic of this poem is the "wild doves of Louis Trichardt", why does the poet wait until the very last stanza before he introduces them? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Comment on the use of such words as "bubbling their coolest colloquies" and "the formulae they liquidly pronounce" in the context of the poem as a whole. (4)

[Need help?]

  • Why should the song of the wild doves imply that "Africa is good"? Comment on the significance of these words as a fitting conclusion to the poem. (4)

[Need help?]

  • What is the effect of the poet's using free verse rather than opting for a rhyming scheme? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Contrast the themes of the first three stanzas with that of the final stanza. (4)

[Need help?]

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