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Guy Butler

A prayer for all my countrymen

Easier questions to cut your teeth on!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 22 January 2014
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The poet surveys South Africa during the deepest, darkest days of apartheid and prays that God may intervene to bring about the salvation of its people.


Frederick Guy Butler was born in January 1918 of an 1820 Settler family. He was educated in Cradock in the Eastern Cape and thereupon attended Rhodes University where he received a Masters degree in English in 1938.

He married Jean Satchwell in 1940 -- with whom he would eventually have three sons and a daughter -- but soon after the wedding he left to fight in World War II.

Once the war was over, he sojourned for a time in England to attend Brasenose College of Oxford University where he read for a Doctorate in English Literature, graduating in 1947.

He returned immediately to South Africa to lecture at the University of the Witwatersrand, before returning to Rhodes University in 1952 as a Senior Lecturer in the Department of English.

Almost immediately he was promoted to the rank of Professor where he would remain until his retirement in 1987. As with most retiree professors at South African universities, he became an Emeritus Professor and an Honorary Research Fellow.

Butler wrote several autobiographies -- like Karoo Morning, Bursting World and Stranger to Europe -- as well numerous poetry and plays.

According to Rhodes University, nearly a third of his poems are about "death or loss", and many of the rest are about "parting failure or difficult self-denial". His poetry is said to be thoughtful and the result of a deep religious introspection.

Butler helped revive the National Arts Festival at the 1820 Settler Monument that looms over Grahamstown, and was a prime mover behind the National English Literary Museum (NELM) as well as the Institute for the Study of English in Africa (ISEA). He was the founder of the influential poetry publication, New Coin.

Indeed, his lifelong concern was to promote South African writers in the writing of English, an occupation which was to lead him to being attacked as a representative of the "Anglophone white cultural establishment".

His insistence upon what he called "standards" was seen as yet another, if more subtle, means of excluding black expression during the peak years of apartheid. This criticism pained him because that certainly was not his purpose.

Butler was recognised for his work in the English Language by receiving Honorary Doctorates from Natal University, the University of the Witwatersrand and from Rhodes itself.

He died in Grahamstown in April 2001. He was 83 years of age.

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

There are two stanzas to this poem. What is the theme of each? (4)

[Need help?]

"Though now few eyes
Can see beyond
Our tragic times
  • What is alliteration? Comment on the alliteration in the 3rd line. (4)

[Need help?]

  • How many syllables are there in each line of this poem? (2)

[Need help?]

  • Why would the word "complexities" be on a line by itself? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What then is the poet's point when he uses the word "complexities"? (4)

[Need help?]

"Dear God ordain
Such deeds be done
Such words be said
That men will praise
Your image yet."
  • Why does the poet say, "Dear God"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What is the meaning of the word "ordain"? Why do you think the poet has chosen this word? (4)

[Need help?]

  • To what "image" is the poet referring? (4)

[Need help?]

"Through rotting days
Beaten, broken,
Some stayed pure."
  • We have another example of alliteration here. What is it? Why has this alliteration been chosen? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What would be the meaning of "pure" in the context of this poem? (2)

[Need help?]

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