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Roy Campbell

The Zebras

More challenging questions!

Keith Tankard
Updated: 4 March 2014
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The poet describes a herd of zebra which he sees on the grasslands at dawn. He is enraptured by their stark beauty as they roam the land freely, and then as a stallion romps with a filly.


Roy Campbell was born in Durban in 1901 and was at one stage considered to be one of South Africa's best poets. His popularity, however, has waned in recent years so that today his poetry is hardly ever read.

Educated at Durban High School, he spent much of his youth in the great outdoors -- something that is reflected in many of his poems like "The Zebras". As soon as the Great War was over, however, he moved to England where he attended Oxford University.

He married Mary Garman, a marriage which did not carry his parents' consent and therefore meant that, for a time at least, Campbell was struck off from his inheritance. He had two daughters by this marriage.

In 1925, he returned to South Africa and founded a literary magazine called Voorslag which was meant to promote cultural development amongst the Afrikaners whom the poet regarded as backward and uncouth.

Very soon disillusionment set in, however, and he returned to England. His disillusionment continued even there as he fell foul of his own fellow poets -- and even of his wife whom he found was not averse to lesbian affairs.

During the early 1930s he settled in the Provence region of France -- the scene for one of his greatest poems, "Horses on the Camargue". During this time he was slowly drawn to Catholicism and drunkenness.

In the mid-1930s, due to a loss in a civil lawsuit, the Campbell family fled to Spain where the poet became an avid supporter of the fascist dictator, General Franco. It was this support which saw the poet's reputation slump amongst his literary colleagues.

When World War II broke out, the poet moved back to England and enlisted for military duty. It was during those years that he became close friends with the Welsh poet and fellow drunkard, Dylan Thomas.

After the war, the poet returned to the Iberian Peninsula but this time settled in Portugal. He died in a car accident over the Easter weekend of 1957.

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

From the dark woods that breathe of fallen showers,
Harnessed with level rays in golden reins,
The zebras draw the dawn across the plains.
  • Comment on the sustained metaphor of the zebras being harnessed. (4)

[Need help?]

  • What figure of speech or language device is found in the words, "draw the dawn"? What is the purpose of using this figure of speech? (4)

[Need help?]

The sunlight, zithering their flanks with fire,
Flashes between the shadows as they pass
Barred with electric tremors through the grass
Like wind along the gold strings of a lyre.
  • Explain the sustained image of the musical instruments as used in these lines. (4)

[Need help?]

The poet speaks of the "electric tremors" being "like wind along the gold strings of a lyre".
  • Comment on the suitability of the words "electric tremors" as a description of the movement the poet is portraying. (4)

[Need help?]

  • Why would the poet used the word "wind" to describe this movement? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What does the poet mean when he speaks of "the gold strings of a lyre"? (4)

[Need help?]

Into the flushed air snorting rosy plumes
That smoulder round their feet in drifting fumes.
  • In what way could the "flushed air" be "snorting rosy plumes"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Explain the value of the image "snorting rosy plumes". (6)

[Need help?]

  • What are the "drifting fumes"? (4)

[Need help?]

  • Comment on the irony of the "Engine of beauty volted with delight" but with the "dove-like voices". (4)

[Need help?]

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