Go to Knowledge4Africa.com

Chris Mann

Crossing over

Some questions to challenge you!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 27 November 2012
Contact the English4Africa Subject Coordinator

It is with great sadness that we have to announce that the creator of Knowledge4Africa, Dr T., has passed away. Helping people through his website gave him no end of pleasure. If you had contact with him and would like to leave a message, please send us an e-mail here.


The poet was walking back home on a cold and misty Sunday evening after evensong in the Grahamstown cathedral. He caught up with two young adults who had been speaking to the congregation during the service, telling them of their experiences with AIDS. He stops them to thank them and gives them each a hug, but the action is emotionally painful for him.


Chris Mann was born in Port Elizabeth in 1948. He spent many years in rural and semi-rural KwaZulu Natal engaged in development work, during which time he became imbued with the spirit of rural South Africa.

In the mid-1990s he moved to Grahamstown where he became associated with the Grahamstown Foundation and Rhodes University.

Mann is a multi-faceted poet whose major concern is the increasing exclusivity and inaccessibility of poetry. His work is therefore not only for the printed page but also for multimedia performances.

Much of his work is in association with Julia Skeen who produces graphic images for many of his poems. In this way he could perhaps be compared to William Blake whose poetry should also often be viewed in a wider graphic forum and not merely in the isolation of the printed page.

"Crossing over" explores the world of human emotion when confronting the enormity of a life-threatening social illness. AIDS sufferers are still not accepted within the greater tapestry of South African society.

As the poet himself has commented, "It's salutary to remember the tragic death of Gugu Dlamini in a township outside Durban, beaten to death by a mob the day after she declared on the radio that she had AIDS. The stigma has not disappeared and has mutated into different forms."

When these two young people testified to their experiences before the Grahamstown congregation, they were therefore being very brave.

When the poet later meets them in the gloom on the way home, it was therefore a very salutary experience and one which could only leave an indelible mark on him.

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

Comment on the STYLE adopted in this poem. (4)

[Need help?]

The poet himself has described the conditions on that particular evening as "eery". List the words which reinforce this perception. (10)

[Need help?]

The poet uses the word "street" on three occasions. Explain the meaning of the word in EACH of these occasions. (6)

[Need help?]

Comment on the beginning of the poem, where the two people have testified "in front of the altar" and "beside a priest". (4)

[Need help?]

"The streets they climbed, so slowly
that Sunday night had gone all quiet,
as if the fear of some terrible event
had emptied the whole small town."
  • What does the poet mean when he says that "the streets they climbed, so slowly that Sunday night had gone all quiet"? (4)

[Need help?]

"They paused, and turning their eyes,
their wan and haggard young faces

towards me in the misting gloom
greeted me with a cheery warmth
that made me want to curse aloud
and turn my face aside and weep."
  • Comment on the outward appearance of these two people in contrast with their outward disposition. How do you explain this difference? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Why did the poet want to curse aloud and turn his face aside and weep? (4)

[Need help?]

"I felt their presences hug me back."
  • Did the couple actually hug him back? (2)

[Need help?]

"I who lived this side of the tracks,
in the suburbs, the gardens of life,
and they who'd already crossed over,
into the hard streets of life-in-death."
  • What point is the poet making when he speaks of living "this side of the tracks"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What is meant by the statement that they had "already crossed over into the hard streets of life-in-death"? (4)

[Need help?]

Try another worksheet?

See also:
This document is copyrighted. No part of it may be reproduced in any form whatever without explicit permission in writing from the author. The sole exception is for educational institutions which may wish to reproduce it as a handout for their students.

Contact the English4Africa Subject Coordinator