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Roy Campbell

The Zebras

Wrap your mind round these ones!

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:


Comment on the poet's musical imagery within this poem. (10)

[Need help?]

How many words can you find that are related to breathing? Is there any significance in the poet's use of these words? (6)

[Need help?]

The poet uses the image of freedom but also of captivity to depict the zebras.
  • What words does he use to indicate this? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What is the poet's purpose in doing this? (4)

[Need help?]

The poet refers continually to colour throughout this sonnet.
  • Identify the words which refer to colour. (6)

[Need help?]

  • What is the poet's purpose in doing so? (6)

[Need help?]

There are several references in this sonnet to latent power or submerged energy which is just waiting to be released.
  • What words refer to this latent power or submerged energy? (4)

[Need help?]

  • What is this latent power or energy? Does it actually become released within the context of this poem? (6)

[Need help?]

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