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Fhazel Johennesse

The Night Train

Easier questions to cut your teeth on!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 20 January 2014
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The poet describes his feelings as he travels on a "night train" -- presumably a late-night suburban train which is taking him to his home in segregated Johannesburg.

He is almost alone on the train and this is something to be feared, for the lone passenger is always open to be mugged or murdered.


Fhazel Johannesse is one of those poets who appears to have fallen through the cracks. Very little is known of him except that he was born in Johannesburg in 1956 and seems to have lived there his whole life.

He also appears to have lived through religious rifts as a child, with his father being Moslem but his mother reconverting to Christianity after her husband's sudden death in an accident.

This would have put serious religious stress on the teenage boy who would now have had a foot in both camps -- and also faced opposition from both.

His poetry appears to have been of fairly short duration, written during the mid-1970s and the early 1980s.

In 1980, Johannesse and Christopher van Wyk started a very short-lived magazine called Wietie which was a literary platform for Black Consciousness.

This was a political philosophy which took root after Steve Biko's death from police brutality in 1975. The movement not only promoted active resistance to Apartheid but also fostered a local cultural milieu in opposition to western thought.

The magazine gave voice to a new generation of writers who were critical of the oppressive apartheid regime and provided them with cultural weapons for transformation.

The publication was both literary and defiant. It printed fiction, poetry and prose which challenged the political, cultural and racial milieu.

It did not survive long. The very first issue was banned by the Censorship Board on the grounds of obscenity because it used a certain word which is now in everyday teenage vocabulary.

The Board also accused the magazine of sedition.

Nevertheless, Johannesse is remembered as a Black Consciousness poet. He published The Rainmaker in 1979.

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

"there is no comfort here
in this third class coach
on this green resisting seat"
  • What does the fact that the poet is in a "third class coach" tell you about the poet himself? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Is the poet complaining about the seats in this coach being uncomfortable? How do you know? (4)

[Need help?]

"i twitch and glance around --
there are few too few travellers
on the night train"
  • Why does the narrator "twitch and glance around"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What do you know about the "night train" from this poem? (6)

[Need help?]

"i turn to stare
through the window
into the darkness outside
(or is it my reflection i stare at)"
  • What does the poet's staring through the window "into the darkness outside" tell you about his emotional state? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Why should the poet ask the question "or is it my reflection"? (4)

[Need help?]

"and glance impatiently at the wrong
stations we stop at"
  • What do these lines tell you about the night train? (2)

[Need help?]

i must get out of here soon
for in this coach there is a smell
which haunts me
not the smell of stale man but
the whispering nagging smell of fear"
  • Why is the word "out" written in italics and placed in a line by itself? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What is the "smell" which haunts the poet? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What is the meaning of the word "haunts"? Why is this word a useful one to explain the poet's emotion? (4)

[Need help?]

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See also:
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