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Stephen Gray

The herb garden

Some questions to challenge you!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 18 January 2014
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The poet's mother decided to create a herb garden for her son. She planted various herbs and tended them so carefully that it became a luscious garden of remembrance after she had died.


Stephen Gray was born in Cape Town in 1941. He schooled at St Andrew's College in Grahamstown before enrolling at the University of Cape Town for his initial degree. He then proceeded to Cambridge University for his Masters, followed by a Masters in Fine Arts at the University of Iowa.

He finally researched for a Doctorate in Literature and Philosophy at the Rand Afrikaans University - now the University of Johannesburg - where he had became a lecturer and eventually Professor of English.

Since 1991 Gray has devoted himself to full-time writing and has had a plethora of publications across the full literary spectrum, from poetry to novels to biographies to plays. He has also tried his hand at editing and directing.

His poetry has been described as "simple, warm and witty".

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

"My mother before she died insisted
I should have a herb garden
Something in her English soul
Amid rough South Africans."
  • Why would the poet's mother have insisted on his having a herb garden? (4)

[Need help?]

  • The poet lists some of the herbs she planted in this garden. What are they? (4)

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  • The poet mentions two specific assets of planting herbs. What are these? (4)

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"They arrived in soggy pages of The Star
With a spade taller than herself
She dug them into my backyard
Before I was ready for them
A cigarette tightly in her lips
Explaining chives made life worthwhile."
  • What is The Star? Why would it have made a good medium for transporting the herbs? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Would you like to describe the poet's mother? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What words tell us that the caring for the herb garden was therapeutic for his mother? (4)

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  • What words tells us that the planting of the herb garden was very much the mother's idea? (4)

[Need help?]

"That is how she died in her own
Garden of sweet remembrance."
  • Why does the poet refer to the herb garden as a "garden of sweet remembrance"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What words in the poem tells us that his mother was never satisfied with what she had done? (4)

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  • What words tell us that the poet has continued to maintain the garden long after her death? (4)

[Need help?]

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