Poem by Barolong Seboni is a short but impactful piece about the weight of words. It comprises 27 lines split into 5 uneven stanzas. It is written in the first person and in free-verse, which makes it feel like a very personal account from the poet. Interestingly, punctuation is only used in three areas. Seboni employs enjambment, which creates a structured yet continuous flow, delivering his message solidly. Poem contains metaphors, personification, imagery and symbolism. We may say that Seboni cleverly uses descriptive and metaphorical language to paint a vivid visual representation of his delivery- this, in turn, highlights how important words are. With the choice of certain vocabulary, structure and phrasing, he was able to make readers feel the depth of his words. Similarly, all humans speak in certain tones or use certain words- and that has an impact on others. This is why it’s important to speak kindly, which is his message. Throughout Poem, Seboni uses the literal ‘word-’ as a noun- to symbolize interpersonal dynamics and feelings.
Poem by Barolong Seboni | Summary
The poet begins by saying that crude words need not be used. It is better not to utter harmful, cutting remarks that thin the bond between two people every time they are spoken. Those abusive comments are as “sharp as spokes”- sharp enough to pierce someone’s heart and hurt their feelings.
The poet then says that he will not tolerate such words. He has no time for sarcastic comments which trigger him, the icy and cold utterances which freeze his pierced heart. He compares the poisonous words to the venom of a snake, and the mouth which utters them to the serpent’s tongue.
He then addresses a second person with the term “love”, humbly suggesting that they speak more gently. He hopes they can converse with the same timidity of the lamb. Lambs are woolly, but they are worn enough to withstand the bitter cold. Despite their softness, they are strong against the difficulties of the world.
He concludes by saying there is an even better solution- rather than speaking just softly, they can use deep words- words that hold meaning as deep as the soul. They can search themselves for simple words which can convey all their thoughts- and in that silence of the search, they can remain gentle with their smiles and appreciate the quiet.
Poem by Barolong Seboni | Analysis
Seboni splits Poem into two parts in terms of the message- in the first three stanzas, he explains why harsh remarks are hurtful, and adds strong imagery to convey the pain felt. He also mentions that he will not tolerate such words anymore, which acts as a link to the second part of his message. There, he suggests different methods of communication, which he hopes can be a solution to reduce the negative feelings which crude words can bring. Seboni personifies ‘words’ to create the vision of a human causing physical harm- this is what emphasizes his thoughts the most. By converting an abstract noun to a humanistic expression, the readers are able to understand and relate to this piece far better.
Poem by Barolong Seboni | Analysis, Lines 1 to 4
“We do not need
these jagged words
that dig a trench between us
each time they are uttered”
Seboni begins by establishing his stance- he believes that harsh words are not needed. He explains his reasoning as well, which is that it furthers the distance between two people and weakens their relationship. He uses imagery with “these jagged words”, creating a picture of something sharp and uneven which could easily inflict physical pain. Through this comparison, we can understand that crude words cause the same amount of emotional pain as sharp objects do physically. The use of enjambment creates a sense of anticipation in the reader, as they remain waiting for what comes next. The word ‘trench’ may also refer to trench warfare, hence linking a rocky relationship to war.
Poem | Analysis, Lines 5 to 7
sharp like spokes
that pierce the heart when spoken”
“Epithets” means “words of abuse.” Seboni previously used figurative speech to explain what kind of language he was talking about. Here, however, he directly refers to the remarks as abusive and harmful. He once again uses imagery– “sharp like spokes”– to describe the sharpness of the words. He uses “pierce the heart when spoken” both literally and metaphorically. The literal meaning highlights the physical harm caused by the personified sharp words, while the metaphorical meaning alludes to the pain and hurt felt in the heart by the utterance of such words.
Poem by Barolong Seboni | Analysis, Lines 8 to 10
“there is no room in my cup
for these acidic words of sarcasm
that corrode my sensitivity”
The poet now focuses on himself and the impact rude words have had on him personally. When he says “cup,” he refers to himself and his life– whether it is his mind, heart or soul, he does not want to be in the presence of such negativity any longer. He uses the word “acidic” due to its burning and corrosive element. Just like how acid corrodes metal or burns the skin, hateful speech can burn the bridges of a relationship. This corrosive element of acid is further explored in the next line when the poet says the words have “corroded my sensitivity.” Sensitivity signifies one’s empathy and emotional response. Hence the poet says that rude words have reduced his ability to be sympathetic and sensitive towards others- instead, he feels the need to shield and protect himself from further harm.
Poem by Barolong Seboni | Analysis, Lines 11 to 15
“these cold and icy terms tossed
to deaden the heart
from your serpentine tongue
that infect the feeling….”
Now, Seboni uses temperature to describe the personified word, rather than shape or appearance. This adds on to the reader’s perspective of the word- first, with adjectives such as “jagged” or “sharp”, we immediately thought of the type of word that was uttered. Now, with “icy” and “cold”, our thoughts shift to the tone of the speech as well. We understand that the poet is talking about harsh words that have been uttered in a rude and unforgiving manner, leaving no room for doubt about the speaker’s intent.
We also see a peak in the gradual progression of the poet’s pain. The heart, which was pierced in the second stanza, is now dead. Seboni compares the speaker of harsh words to snakes- their mouth is like that of a serpents’ because of the poison it spews. He likens the abusive remarks to venom because of its injurious quality, and also because of how quickly venom can spread through the body and to the heart. Similarly, cruel words can spread through one’s system and take over the mind immediately. This is why, in the next line, he uses the word “infect,”
For the first time since the beginning of Poem, we see punctuation in the form of an ellipsis. This provides the impression of a story being told that is yet to finish and builds further curiosity and anticipation in the readers. It is also a fitting placement within the poem, as it is a grammatical link between Seboni’s establishment of the issue and his explanation of the solution.
Poem by Barolong Seboni | Analysis, Lines 16 to 22
“Let us speak, love
in gentler tones
timid as the lamb
worn to stand strong against the
cold-bitterness of the world.”
The tone of the poem shifts in this stanza. Earlier, it was painful and cold due to the nature of the message and the hurt the poet conveyed. Now, he uses a term of endearment- “Love”- which creates a gentler tone. It is possible that he is addressing the readers, using the word to form a closer bond with them. It is also possible that he has someone in mind while writing this poem- possibly someone close to him who has hurt him with their words. As he is willing to offer a solution to the problem, it is clear that he would like to mend a relationship.
He suggests speaking in gentler tones– he previously compared words to venom and weaponry, and he wants to shift the tone from that to the softness of a sheep. Now, the personified word comes to life in the form of an animal- the lamb. Seboni uses a simile- “timid as the lamb”- to make this connection. The lamb’s warm and soft wool is an imagery to describe how the poet wants to speak. It also implies the feeling he would like to get from hearing such words- rather than pain in the heart, he would like to feel “soft and woolly”.
For the first time, Seboni also makes it clear that gentle language and kindness do not equal weakness. Speaking in a soft manner does not mean one cannot withstand difficulty. Once again, he uses the sheep as an example- despite their tender nature, they are able to withstand even the harsh winter. The word “worn” suggests that they became accustomed to it, much like how the poet has become accustomed to rude speech. The poet uses the cold winter season to symbolize the harshness and suffering of the world. Like the sheep staying strong through the winter, the poet wants to have the strength to face the bitterness and reality of the unforgiving world, even when he speaks politely.
Poem by Barolong Seboni | Analysis, Lines 23 to 27
let us search in our speech
for words deep as the soul is still
that will spell our thoughts
in the silence of our smiles.”
He offers a final conclusion, which he believes is even better than speaking gently. He wants to speak words that have depth and true meaning. Rather than saying anything in a calm manner, he wants to speak only when there is a real reason and importance in his words. “For words deep as the soul is still” is a metaphor to convey the depth of the words he would like to utter. The poets suggest speaking only when one finds the choicest words to express their exact thoughts and says on other occasions, it is better to remain silent. With the last line, “in the silence of our smiles.” he is firm in his belief that silence is not a bad thing. Rather, it is respectable. With the use of the word “smiles”, he signifies the happiness one will receive when they speak with depth and necessity, and revel in the beauty of silence.
Barolong Seboni | About the Poet
Barolong Seboni is an academic and poet from Botswana, who translates Botswana proverbs to English. Poem is written in first person, and focuses on the impact one’s words and tone can have on others, and offers a solution to mend relationships which were ruptured by crude remarks.