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Random Notes to my Son | Summary and Analysis

Analysis of Random Notes to my Son by Keorapetse William Kgositsile

Random Notes to my Son is a wise and complex poem, an imaginative exploration through which the speaker warns his son that words are powerful tools. However, if used carelessly, the words could very well hurt someone and could be interpreted as anything. The poem has a powerful message written in free verse with many metaphors throughout. The poem does seem “random” in its approach as it switches between themes and ideas quite frequently and erratically.

Random Notes to my Son | Summary and Analysis

Random Notes to my Son | Analysis, Line 1 – 9

Beware, my son, words

that carry the loudnesses

of blind desire also carry

the slime of illusion

dripping like pus from the slave’s battered back

e.g. they speak of black power whose eyes

will not threaten the quick whitening of their own intent

what days will you inherit?

what shadows inhabit your silences?

The poem starts with a father telling his son to be “Beware” which makes the reader feel both cautious and curious about what is to follow the lines. The father asks his son to use the words with caution because even the most silent and shortest of words carry so much sound in them. Words, he tells his son, can be interpreted in many a ways that people wish to. He says that the words carry blind desire also hold illusion in them. The author, here, makes the reader think about their everyday life and how they make sense of different words. Different people interpret certain words differently. What is offensive to one may be casual for someone else. Words can also be twisted in any way the reader wants them to be.

The author then presents a very graphic description of the wound on a soldier’s back. The reader imagines it to be a gory description when, in general, words are seen as something beautiful and metaphoric. The author counters the general idea of words that the reader has. The speaker who is the father, ends the paragraph asking a rhetorical question to his son about what kind of days will he have ahead of him. The father, himself, has had both good and bad days and he is curious about what kind of days will his son have. The speaker also asks him about his silence. He is curious about why his son is not using his words and instead choosing to remain silent. The son doesn’t answer these questions and the reader is left wondering about the same.

Random Notes to my Son | Analysis, Line 10 – 15

I have aspired to expression, all these years,

elegant past the most eloquent word. But here now

our tongue dries into maggots as we continue our slimy

death and grin. Except today it is fashionable to scream

of pride and beauty as though it were not known that

‘slaves and dead people have no beauty’

The author says that he has tried to understand words and has tried to express himself with eloquent words and phrases trying to seem like a knowledgeable person. But suddenly, he seems to have no words and his tongue has dried and his throat feels heavy with emotion though the words can’t seem to get out of him. The father says that in today’s time, people make things seem beautiful even when they are not. The glorification of death that is a common theme in today’s society is something that people do without knowing.

The author makes his unpleasantness towards the norms known in this stanza. The father is teaches his son how to make use of his words rightfully while simultaneously making his own thoughts known. Words are a powerful source and should be used with caution as one may have the power to make or break nations and individuals.

Random Notes to my Son | Analysis, Line 16 – 27


in me and around me

confusion. This pain was

not from the past. This pain was

not because we had failed

to understand:

this land is mine

confusion and borrowed fears

it was. We stood like shrubs

shrivelled on this piece of earth

the ground parched and cracked

through the cracks my cry:

The father is in a state of confusion because he seems in a dilemma as to what to do. He is in pain and he knows that this pain is not something which he has been carrying from a long time. Instead, the pain he is feeling is something he has acquired recently. He was not feeling the pain because he was ignorant, the land he has is his own and he knows how to take care of it. He says that just as the trees and plants are grown from the ground and return to it after their death, so do humans. The land cracked under the weight of the people it was holding and the author let out a cry.

This stanza is vastly different from the two before it where the father is explaining the correct use of words to his son. The father, here, starts explaining his own pain and anguish one feels as they grow older. The stanza ends on a rather abrupt note and doesn’t tell the reader much about the shift from the two previous stanzas.

Random Notes to my Son | Analysis, Lines 28 – 38

And what shapes

in assent and ascent

must people the eye of newborn

determined desire know

no frightened tear ever rolls on

to the elegance of fire. I have

fallen with all the names I am

but the newborn eye, old as

childbirth, must touch the day

that, speaking my language, will

say, today we move, we move ?

The father is teaching his son about what shapes the perspective of newborn children. He says that most of the things are not as beautiful as they seem to be or as people make them out to be. The tears that people cry are not elegant but they are, by definition, ugly. The father is guilty of doing the same stereotyping and he seems guilty of it but he has hopes for the new and upcoming generation that they will have a different approach to life and beauty. The father says that his language and a newborn’s language is vastly different and he is hopeful for them. To the newborn child, he may seem ages old but there will come a day where those people will also grow up and ask the same questions.

The father is explaining the notion of time to his son in this stanza and the generational gap which is prominent between his generation and the upcoming one. His tone is both skeptical and hopeful as he wants to see them grow up and is anticipating the moment they are his age. He also says that the concept of beauty that is present in the minds of the people of his time is not adequate and ought to be changed. He ends the stanza, and the poem, on the note that they are all moving towards a, hopefully, better future.



About the Author- Keorapetse Kgositsile

Keorapetse William Kgositsile OIS (19 September 1938 – 3 January 2018), also known by his pen name Bra Willie, was a South African Tswana poet, journalist and political activist. An influential member of the African National Congress in the 1960s and 1970s, he was inaugurated as South Africa’s National Poet Laureate in 2006. Kgositsile lived in exile in the United States from 1962 until 1975, the peak of his literary career. He made an extensive study of African-American literature and culture, becoming particularly interested in jazz. During the 1970s he was a central figure among African-American poets, encouraging interest in Africa as well as the practice of poetry as a performance art; he was well known for his readings in New York City jazz clubs. Kgositsile was one of the first to bridge the gap between African poetry and black poetry in the United States.







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