Poetry: Ingrid Jonker

Screen shot 2013-10-02 at 9.30.47 PMI’ve been writing poems since I was ten and poetry has been my primary expression of depression. Over the years, I’ve gotten more into reading different styles and about the lives of poets. Currently, my favorite poet is Ingrid Jonker, a South African poet who wrote during apartheid and whose tragic life has been compared to Sylvia Plath’s. I first discovered her work during research for a paper on the poetry of South African women.

Ingrid was a prolific and highly-recognized poet, but her personal life was always on the brink of collapse. She was rejected by her father for her political beliefs (he was on the board responsible for the censorship of art and literature) and had a series of intense and painful romantic relationships, one of which led to the birth of a daughter. In 1965, Ingrid walked into the ocean and drowned herself. Her most famous poem, known in English as “The Child,” was read by Nelson Mandela during the first meeting of the democratic parliament of South Africa in 1994.

The child is not dead
The child lifts his fists against his mother
Who shouts Afrika ! shouts the breath
Of freedom and the veld
In the locations of the cordoned heart

The child lifts his fists against his father
in the march of the generations
who shouts Afrika ! shout the breath
of righteousness and blood
in the streets of his embattled pride

The child is not dead not at Langa nor at Nyanga
not at Orlando nor at Sharpeville
nor at the police station at Philippi
where he lies with a bullet through his brain

The child is the dark shadow of the soldiers
on guard with rifles Saracens and batons
the child is present at all assemblies and law-givings
the child peers through the windows of houses and into the hearts of mothers
this child who just wanted to play in the sun at Nyanga is everywhere
the child grown to a man treks through all Africa

the child grown into a giant journeys through the whole world
Without a pass

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