Distinctively Visual - The Drover's Wife & The African Beggar

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AFRICAN BEGGAR

Sprawled in the dust outside the Syrian store,
A target for small children, dogs, and flies,
A heap of verminous rags and matted hair,
He watched us with cunning, reptile eyes,
His nose less, smallpoxed face creased in a sneer

Sometimes he shows his yellow stumps of teeth
And whines for alms, perceiving we bear
The curse of pity; a grotesque mask of death,
With hands like claws about his begging bowl

But often he is lying all alone
Within the shadow of a crumbling wall,
Lost in the trackless jungle of his pain,
Clutching the pitiless red earth in vain
And whimpering like a stricken animal

Raymond Tong

TEXT ANALYSIS
‘The African Beggar’
Author: Raymond Tong

The poem ‘The African Beggar’ by Raymond Tong explores the despondency of humanity’s existence and our complete helplessness when faced with the adversity of ourselves and others through the distinctively visual description of an African beggar and his experience as an outcast to society. In the first stanza of the poem, the heterodiegetic narrator (considered to be Tong), introduces the beggar as a repulsive outcast. The description of the persona in the first line of the poem “sprawled in the dust…” immediately provokes an image of the beggar as something rather than someone, which has been alienated by society. This is further supported when the narrator describes the beggar as a “target for small children, flies, and dogs” as it says that the character is an object of attack, something that occupies an existence that is considered lower than that of humans and other creatures. The metaphoric language used, “a heap of verminous rags and matted hair”, persuades the audience to conjure an image of filth and poor physical hygiene, although this is followed by a juxtaposed metaphor, “he watches with cunning reptile eyes”, which challenges the previous image and suggests that the persona is subtle and scheming, like a snake. Both of these images are also contrasted by the use of pronoun, reminding the reader that this character is human despite his description suggesting otherwise. In the Second stanza of the poem, although the author’s image of the beggar as a filthy outcast is continued, the theme of humanity’s neglect and inadequacy is introduced to the audience. The metaphor use in the first line “he shows his yellow stumps of teeth” puts forward an image of physical ugliness and extreme lack of hygiene while the use of pronoun to refer to the beggar again reminds the audience that he is a human. The simile “With hands like claws about his begging bowl” compares the hands of humanity to that of a skeleton (death), clinging to his one source of survival, his begging bowl. The tone of the poem changes dramatically in the third stanza when contrasted with the first. The poet allows the reader to empathise with the beggar. This is done through different language techniques such as the tone used in the first line; “lying all alone” which proposes that the persona is not aware of others anymore as Tong recognises the beggar’s suffering. In the phrase “shadow of a crumbling wall”, the word “shadow” suggests that the persona is in darkness, suffering from loneliness, while “crumbling wall” represents the absence of a home for the man. The use of personification in the line “Clutching the pitiless red earth in vain” displays the character’s desperation. In the final line of the poem, the simile “whimpering like a stricken animal” exhibits the beggar’s total and complete defeat and creates an image of a defenceless man at the mercy of others. The poem ‘The African Beggar’ by Raymond Tong relates to the short story ‘The Drover’s Wife’, created by Henry Lawson, as both texts use distinctively visual language to surround the reader in a world of images that represent the story being told, and allow and encourage the audience to establish a relationship with the main persons of the text resulting in sympathising and...