It Is The Constant Image Of Your Face – Dennis Brutus

Posted: October 31, 2011 in SOUTH AFRICAN POETRY
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POET’S PROFILE

Dennis-Brutus-001Dennis Brutus campaigned for freedom in apartheid South Africa and as was normal, he was persecuted by the apartheid government. He tried to flee from detention after being handed to the South African authorities by the Mozambiquan authorities and was shot in the back at close range. On partial healing, he was sent to the notorious Robben Island where he was kept in the cell next to Nelson Mandela’s. According to the apartheid code, he was considered a coloured person.

Dennis Vincent Brutus was a South African activist, educator, journalist and poet best known for his campaign to have apartheid South Africa banned from the Olympic Games. He lived between 28th November 1924 and 26th December 2009. He was born in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and had ancestry of mixed French, Italian and South African.

His activist life likens him to a crusader for his country. A knight on duty for a mistress; and this has so often appeared in his poetry. He loved South Africa deeply and did everything to win its freedom. In this poem, “It Is the Constant Image of Your Face”, he closes the first stanza by saying “my land takes precedence of all my loves”. This was his passion. While he was in prison, news broke that South Africa had been banned from the 1964 Tokyo Olympics as he had campaigned for.

IT IS THE CONSTANT IMAGE OF YOUR FACE
It is the constant image of your face
framed in my hands as you knelt before my chair
the grave attention of your eyes
surveying me amid my world of knives
that stays with me, perennially accuses
and convicts me of heart’s-treachery;
and neither you nor I can plead excuses
for you , you know, can claim no loyalty –
my land takes precedence of all my loves.

Yet I beg mitigation, pleading guilty
for you, my dear, accomplice of my heart
made, without words, such blackmail with your beauty
and proffered me such dear protectiveness
that I confess without remorse or shame,
my still-fresh treason to my country
and I hope that she, my other, dearest love
will pardon freely, not attaching blame
being your mistress (or your match) in tenderness

REVIEW

This poem is a typical Dennis Brutus poem. As is characteristic, he compares his love for South Africa, to the love he has for some other person. Maybe, a woman!

He opens the poem by saying ‘the constant image’ (line 1) of his woman’s face and the ‘grave attention’ (line 3) of her eyes which survey him amid his ‘world of knives’ (line 4), accuse him perennially. This is all coming to him as a memory because in line 2, he makes the allusion to a period gone when his love was knelt before him with the frame of her face in his hands. His ‘world of knives’ can mean so many things at once. It could mean that Brutus was surrounded by apartheid South Africa with its numerous brutalities. It could also mean that he was conflicted inside him, in a way that struck him like many knives piercing at once. Again, he could be talking about the conflict between his two loves as the poem tells us as we read on. And we are yet to know what she accuses him for, but Brutus doesn’t make us wonder long. She accuses him of heart’s-treachery (line 6). No, not even accuses but convicts! He has accepted that he has been treacherous to his woman, going on to probably share his love with another. But he does not apologise for it. He tells her that none of the two of them can ‘plead excuses’ (line 7) for his seeming infidelity because apparently, he cannot stop his love for his land and she can also ‘claim no loyalty’ (line 8). I want to risk saying that he is saying that he’s not bound to be loyal to her because ‘my land takes precedence of all my loves’ (line 9). He loves his land more than all his other loves. His land is his woman’s rival.

The second stanza is an attempt to pacify the heart of his woman who has been brought to the saddening realisation that she cannot have her lover all to herself. He begs mitigation (line 10), meaning that he admits that he has done wrong but is ready to give reasons for it. He calls her lover an ‘accomplice of my heart’ (line 11). That is like saying that she is equally guilty of his betrayal of his greater love. The woman is so beautiful that she has blackmailed him with her beauty (line 12) and made him a backslidden lover when it comes to his land. He has given his heart to another one outside his precedent love. In fact, her love for him has been so sweet and protective that he finds no shame in confessing his denial of his country. He calls it a ‘still-fresh treason’ (line 15). But in this confused place, a world of knives, he pleads, hopes (line 16) that his dearest love (line 16), South Africa, will pardon him freely (line 17) and not blame his woman. He ends by revealing more of his confusion, saying that South Africa, his first love, is his woman’s ‘mistress (or your match)’ (line 18), not knowing which to say is more tender. He loves one, he loves the other. One was able to conspire with his heart and steal his affection from the other, and now he does not even know whether the two are matched or one is dearer to his heart.

The greater emotion here is Brutus’ guilt of diluting the apartheid struggle with other cares. His love of his land is shown here overwhelmingly. This poem is another beauty that has added a little more tonnage to my love for this most romantic of poets coming from Africa.

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Comments
  1. Poetry Ghana says:

    Great Job on poetry of Africa. We appreciate your works and more so your in-depth analysis is well defined

    Like

  2. amerado says:

    interesting review.

    Like

  3. Kinna says:

    Dennis Brutus’ poetry is so moving and I appreciate your analysis. Thank you!

    Like

  4. Sheba says:

    I love the theme of your topic. Obviously you have a very valid point, however I can’t get over how great the site design is.
    +1

    Like

  5. Leeming says:

    Always remember “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” – Albert Einstein

    Like

  6. Flo Reyolds says:

    Did you design the topic this well with the default blog tools? Your design is incredible.

    Like

  7. remont starteri says:

    Thanks for revealing your ideas.

    Like

  8. Mandi says:

    First off I would like to say terrific blog! This post is absorbing. Brutus is a master. I had a quick question in which I’d like to ask if you do not mind. I was curious to know how you center yourself and clear your head prior to writing. I’ve had a tough time clearing my mind in getting my ideas out. I truly do enjoy writing however it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually lost just trying to figure out how to begin. Any suggestions or tips? Kudos!

    Like

  9. Bernard says:

    Awesome blog! Do you have any helpful hints for aspiring writers? I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you advise starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many choices out there that I’m completely confused .. Any ideas? Cheers!

    Like

    • Dela says:

      Thanks for engaging. The best I can tell aspiring writers is that they keep writing and reading different styles. Reading from different cultures usually exposes you to different styles. That is how to perfect the art. And please go ahead and start with a free blog at wordpress as I’m using. Their engineers are always helpful and always innovating on themes and blog appearance. Cheers.

      Like

  10. Scanna says:

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    Like

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  12. barbadian teacher says:

    Hello Dela,
    A lovely, useful review; Thank you. Do you think that there is a concern for the safety of the human love, and in the same way as you suggest that the speaker tries to mitigate his treachery to her, he attempts to mitigate any ‘spiteful’ or ‘jealous’ reaction from his country towards the woman who distracted him from his overarching concern/duty?

    Barbados

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    • Dela says:

      Hi! I think that in Brutus’ case, yes, there was a concern for the human love but also, he tried to show that his love for his country superceded that for his woman, being the reason why he says that he could not promise this woman his undying love! (He is not ashamed to confesses his treason of his country, knowing very well that he has done so: cue, last stanza).

      Like

  13. Rai says:

    This was amazing, never have I thought of how much emotion goes into a poem.

    Like

  14. In this world nothing can probably be said to be sure, except death and taxes.

    Like

  15. SilentNights says:

    I’m sorry but your take on Dennis Brutus’ poem is wrong!! Well made attempt,however, the “woman” who is his “mistress” is figurative. There is no woman,but there is a true love and an outside love; his true love would have to be South Africa; his outside love is the U.S.A. He refers to the U.S as a mistress because he has made a treason with his love(S.A) by leaving the country even though he says he’s patriotic etc. This is just a concise version but if anyone alse wants a more in depth version please feel free to email me your questions.

    Like

    • Dela says:

      Thanks for your opinions too. I guess you did not acknowledge that the beauty of poetry is its ability to remain subjective. It can be interpreted in many different ways and still remain true. These reviews here are how I relate to the poetry I read and can therefore never ever be wrong unless I talk about something different altogether. And if you had paid attention to the very first paragraph of the review, it ended as “Maybe a woman!” Do come by always.

      Like

  16. cookie says:

    i assume ur poem was very good:) alothough i didnt read it but i sre read the comments

    Like

  17. karlie6 says:

    HOW IS IT POSSIBLE FOR A MAN TO LOVE HIS COUNTRY THE SAME AS HE LOVES HIS WOMAN!!!??

    Like

    • Dela says:

      It just could happen, Karlie6! But as SilentNights pointed out, the ‘woman’ could just as well have been another country, though it is not explicitly stated in the poem. My review also just speculated that it was ‘maybe a woman’!

      Like

  18. Dela says:

    I’m inclined to agree with you, seeing as he says that this other figure, ‘knelt before my chair’ in line 2.

    Like

  19. Suni says:

    Lovely analysis of the poem. The conflict between personal obligations and commitment to national or even global struggle is one that many revolutionaries face.

    Like

  20. Simran Latchhman says:

    Thank you for your Help on It is the constant image of your Face :) Thanks Alot!!!!

    Like

  21. shanelle says:

    what is the messages and themes in the poem?

    Like

  22. KissMyShorts says:

    I am glad I came across this page..it really help me to understand the poem.

    Like

  23. Ahblack says:

    Brilliant

    Like

  24. Ahblack says:

    Roight!! !

    Like

  25. […] It Is The Constant Image Of Your Face – Dennis Brutus […]

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  26. […] The poem by the South African activist, Dennis Brutus, addresses the conflict between love for one’s country and love for a woman. In it, I see also the conflict between heroism and self-preservation.  African Soulja reviewed the poem here […]

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  27. lola cruz says:

    Nice!!!! the poem by Dennis Brutus, It is a constant image of your face, is a really great poem that shows the struggles of him having to face two love and choosing one.

    Like

  28. Johne655 says:

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  29. Marcel says:

    Thanks
    Could you please analyse also for me his poem: dear god

    Like

  30. this helped me alot

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  31. I believe that Brutus ironically, shows the great love he has for his woman although he is patriotic, it is his woman’s face that is indelibly etched in his mind; follows him everywhere, her eyes that are so serious and focused…he is yet to say exactly what it is about South Africa that captivates him…s. Miller-McPherson

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  32. […] the Olymbic Games” as a means of protesting against the inhumane injustice of apartheid laws (“Poet’s Profile”). In this sense, one can consider the poet Brutus as being “unfaithful” to his country, […]

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