South Poem by Kamau Brathwaite Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


The poem “South” is written by Kamau Brathwaite. In the poem, the poet’s persona reminded about his home. It is an island and even though the persona has visited numerous places, he is still homesick for his home on the island. The poet compares the “South”, the southern hemisphere where his home is and the northern places where the winter is harsh and the people are cold. He misses his home and the beautiful ocean and beaches, which he can not get in the north.

About the poet

Kamau Brathwaite was born in 1930 in Barbados. He was a poet and an academic. He won the Griffin Poetry Prize in 2006 for his poem “Born to Slow Horses”. He published many notable works including “Rights of Passage” and “Elegguas”


The poem is divided into six stanzas consisting of six lines each.

Stanza 1

But today I recapture the islands' 

bright beaches:  blue mist from the ocean 

rolling into the fishermen's houses. 

By these shores I was born:  sound of the sea 

came in at my window, life heaved and breathed in me then 

with the strength of that turbulent soil.


The speaker is thinking back about his past and childhood he spent on the islands. He talks about the beauty of the beaches and the mist sprayed by the ocean. The speaker talks about how he was born and then grew up listening to the sound of the sea, and compares it to the sound of life heaving and breathing.


The poet’s persona is nostalgic about his past and recounts the beauty of his islands back home. He talks about the vibrancy of the beaches and the “blue mist” that would hang in the air from the tides and waves in the ocean. The persona talks about how he was born on the island and because of it, he is inherently linked to the place. He mentions how growing up he could hear the sound of the sea from his windows. This tells the readers that the persona lived by the shore. He used to listen to the sound made by the crashing of the waves out in the ocean and compared it to life healing and breathing into him. This also allowed him to take strength from the beaches and the soil washed up by the ocean.

Stanza 2

Since then I have travelled:  moved far from the beaches: 

sojourned in stoniest cities, walking the lands of the north 

in sharp slanting sleet and the hail, 

crossed countless saltless savannas and come 

to this house in the forest where the shadows oppress me 

and the only water is rain and the tepid taste of the river.


Then the speaker talks about how he has left his home on the island and travelled around the world. He talks about how he has moved away from the beaches and has lived in cities made of stone, cold weather and desert. All of this led him to have a house in a forest where he is surrounded by the shadows of the trees. And the only source of water is rain and the river, which he does not like.


The persona talks about how he has moved away from the island since he grew up, and in turn moved away from the feeling of home itself. He has travelled to many places and tried to live in cities, which he calls “stoniest”. He has also lived in cold weather conditions where everything is covered in sheets of snow and ice. He has also lived in the desert and calls them “saltless Savannas”. But he could not feel like home in any of those places. So he decided to have a house in the forest, thinking that he could be close to nature. But he does not feel that way. Instead he feels trapped and suffocated because of the surrounding trees. He says that the “shadows of the trees” surround him. He also thought that being in the forest would bring him closer to water. But the water he longs for is the water of the ocean. In the forest he can only get rainwater and river water, which does not taste the same to him. 

Stanza 3

We who are born of the ocean can never seek solace 

in rivers:  their flowing runs on like our longing, 

reproves us our lack of endeavour and purpose, 

proves that our striving will founder on that. 

We resent them this wisdom, this freedom:  passing us 

toiling, waiting and watching their cunning declension down to the sea.


The persona calls out to others like him and talks about how he is born of the ocean and it is an inherent part of him. Because of this the rivers don’t feel like homes to him. He talks about how just like the river flows a set path, the speaker also feels like he is following the same faith. This makes him feel purposeless. He resents the river for its wisdom and freedom and talks about how it flows into the sea and merges with it.


The persona changes its pronouns from “I” to “We”. This shows a sense of solidarity among others like him. He talks about how they connect more to the sea than the rivers. The rivers remind them that they are without any ambition and purpose. They envy the river because of its freedom and wisdom. It is unbound of the dilemma they are going through. It merges in with the sea but they can not. In this stanza, the persona personifies the river and presents it like an entity of its own.

Stanza 4 

But today I would join you, travelling river, 

borne down the years of your patientest flowing, 

past pains that would wreck us, sorrows arrest us, 

hatred that washes us up on the flats; 

and moving on through the plains that receive us, 

processioned in tumult, come to the sea.


The persona now decides to be like the river and join it on its journey. Just like the river he wants to flow past pain, sorrows and hatred in life. He wants to move through life like a river moves through the plains and in the end merge with the sea.


The persona in this stanza makes an assertive statement and says that he wants to join the river. He wants to flow through life like the river. Just like a river flows through the land, the poet wants to flow past all his pains and sorrows. He wants to flow past all the hatred in life and in the end become one with the sea, just like the river.

Stanza 5

Bright waves splash up from the rocks to refresh us, 

blue sea-shells shift in their wake 

and there is the thatch of the fishermen's houses, the path 

made of pebbles, and look! 

Small urchins combing the beaches 

look up from their traps to salute us:  

they remember us just as we left them.


The speaker now describes how he imagines going back to the sea would be like. He talks about how vibrant the waves would be and the blue sea-shells on the shore. He imagines the fishermen’s houses and the way to his house. And on the way he would find the small sea urchins waving to him.


The speaker shifts from nostalgia to fantasizing about the future. He imagines going back to his home on the island and vividly thinks about the scenery. He hopes to see the bright blue waves crashing on shores and bringing up blue sea-shells. He also hopes to find the hut of the fishermen living by the beaches. He fantasizes about the sea-urchins saluting him and welcoming him back home. There is a massive change in the tone of the poem in this stanza.

Stanza 6

The fisherman, hawking the surf on this side 

of the reef, stands up in his boat 

and halloos us:  a starfish lies in its pool. 

And gulls, white sails slanted seaward, 

fly into the limitless morning before us.


The fisherman would stand up in his boat and welcome them back home, while the starfish lies in the water and the seagulls fly like white sails in the bright open sky.


The speaker talks about how he imagines his life back near the sea. The fisherman would greet him from his boat on the ocean. The star would live leisurely on the ocean floor and the sea gulls would fly freely into the open blue sky of the morning. Morning here symbolizes new beginnings.