Poetic plot in Antjie Krog’s Lady Anne (1989)

Bernard Odendaal & H.P. van Coller

Affiliations for the original publication:   University of the Free State
Current affiliations:   North-West University


Antjie Krog’s Lady Anne – inter alia labelled as “a novelistic poetry volume” – bears the stamp of the postcolonial discourse, more specifically as it concerns apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa. Aspects of the life of the historical figure lady Anne Barnard are metaphorically employed and embedded in an intricate narrative about Krog’s growth towards realising the necessity of (personal and national) transformation concerning socio-political, gender, religious and poetical issues. In this way some of the most important contemporary public discourses in the South Africa of the late 1980s are further highlighted by means of various text citations surrounding the poems in the book. This article focuses specifically on the construction of the poetic plot in Lady Anne, namely on “the selection, connection, and correlation of meaningful sequences as well as the constellation and integration of schemata and equivalences” (Hühn, 2004:142), as well as on the discursive implications thereof. Observations are also made and conclusions drawn about the manipulation of aspects of the mediating dimension in the book (agents/actants, narrative levels and narrative structure, the meaningful way in which the process of writing poetry itself is emphasised).

Translation note: 

This article was originally published in Afrikaans in Stilet 22(2) of September 2010. For ease of reference – in the PDF version of this article, which also has the advantage of presenting the Afrikaans and English of Krog’s poetry as cited – the page numbers of the original are added in the centre of the page – that is, “63” would indicate where the original’s page 63 ends. The translation was done by Menitza Botha.


Antjie Krog’s Lady Anne, published in 1989, is situated at the heart of postcolonial discourse, specifi-
cally as it relates to apartheid and post-apartheid South Africa¹. The volume’s central theme is the question concerning what a South African (and African) identity entails – as is the case with Krog’s other volumes including Gedigte 1989-1995 (1995) and Kleur kom nooit alleen nie (2000). Volumes by other Afrikaans poets who were patently inspired by Lady Anne or in which the poets react to aspects of the volume also attest to this, especially Louis Esterhuizen’s Die onderwaterweg: ’n Versroman from 1996, and the respective volumes of Heilna du Plooy and Marius Crous, namely In die landskap ingelyf and Brief uit die kolonies, both from 2003.

Moreover, all the volumes mentioned employ, to a greater or lesser extent, a striking although segmented point of departure for their narratives, and they present real and/or fictional narrators/speakers. In fact, narrativity and the work of a poet are employed as a theme repeatedly.

For these reasons, among others, Lady Anne has been described as “ ’n roman van ’n bundel”  [a novelistic poetry volume] (Brink, 1989:13); Esterhuizen’s volume declares itself a “Versroman” [novel in verse] in its subtitle.

Hühn (2004) maintains that narratological concepts can contribute to describing the techniques employed in poetic texts in order to bind the elements into some or other “motivated” order. This article scrutinises Lady Anne’s poetic plot, or “the selection, connection, and correlation of meaningful sequences as well as the constellation and integration of schemata and equivalences” (Hühn, 2004:142) and the discursive implications of these elements on, for example, the level of the actant. This article will make observations and draw conclusions about the way the novel treats aspects of the mediation dimension, namely actants, narrative levels and the volume’s structure, how the poetic process is foregrounded, and the functions of the foregrounding.

Some remarks regarding narrative poetry

Narrative poetry does not only refer to epic poems (Odendaal, 2009:116) but also to what is known in the Anglo-American literary sphere as the long poem, as well as to serial poems, the modern poetic sequence, and single poems with anecdotal premises (Stolk, 2007:1122 & 1127).

Vaessens and Joosten (2003:86-87) draw a connection between the global resurgence of the epic style of poetry and the radical postmodern relativisation of the so-called “Grote Vertellingen”, or of Lyotard’s grand narratives, which project unambiguous and totalising truths. These grand narratives are replaced by a dependence on so-called little, often autobiographical narratives that at most offer preliminary and strictly individual justifications.

This article will indicate how the (auto)biographical “little narratives” of Lady Anne Barnard and the writing subject (Crous, 2003b:151)² are intertwined with overarching South African discourse.

A narrative essentially presupposes at least a story and a narrator to tell that story or chunks of the story. As Odendaal (2009:119) remarks (in line with Hühn, 2004:139), one may speak of a dimension of sequentiality or succession of details and events, as well as a dimension of mediacy of those details and events. The latter dimension is concerned with the presentation and interpretation of such a sequence from a particular perspective³.

The distinction between sequentiality and mediacy broadly corresponds to well-known narratological distinctions like histoire and récit, fabula and sjužet, as well as story and narrative/discourse/text/plot and so on⁴. Or as Brink (1987:38) prefers to formulate the distinction: story and narrative text.

According to Hühn (2004:139), a comprehensive modelling of narrative would also make provision for a dimension of the act of articulation or narration, that is, the dimension in which the mediated succession of details and events are realised. Traces of this are evident in the text style. Brink (1987:40) uses the term narrative process. Narrative dimensions like concrete or abstract and explicit and implicit narrator and author, as well as actants and deep structures related to actants⁵ as distinguished by Greimas (1971), are relevant in this regard.

Hühn (2004:151-153) makes some directive observations regarding specific forms of narrativity in lyrical poetry.

First, he maintains that the range of characteristics of plotting and narration in poetry differs significantly from those found in prose. According to Brink (1987:153), narration in poetry regularly occurs from a position within the ongoing story, or internal narration, instead of a position at the end, or retrospective narration (Brink, 1987:160-161). In other words, narration mostly occurs in a future-oriented manner called prospective narration (Brink, 1987:161) as well as simultaneously (concurrent narration – Brink, 1987:161-162) with the unfolding of the story or the formation of the event sequence by the narration of the story or narrative text.

Hühn (2004:151-152) points to a particularly complex manner of poetic plotting where the eventfulness exceeds the level of the story and becomes a discursive event. He gives Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 107” as an example,

where the frame of the sequence is abruptly redefined – from aiming at the friend’s praise for his continued friendship and patronage to the speaker’s insistence on his own superiority, on account of his immortalizing poetic gift, over his friend’s mortality.

As illustrated later in this article, something similar occurs when Lady Anne Barnard flees back to the Cape castle; a symbolic action of non-identification with the realities of South Africa.

Second, Hühn (2004:152) points out that characters in poetic texts, particularly the speakers, are not identified by names or descriptions as is often the case in prose but rather by their interiority and the personal nature of poetic narratives:

Indeed, one important function of narratives in poems is the constitution of the speaker’s or narrator’s subjectivity and individuality, the definition of his or her identity, by the self-attribution of a chain of events, of a “mental story” […] (Hühn, 2004:152).

In poetry, one can therefore discern a tendency toward the performative embodiment of a character by means of the attitudes, views and actions of the subject reflected in the (self-) uttered text.

A third characteristic of narration in poetry is the predilection for unusual narrative times and moods (Hühn, 2004:152), for example by using the second person perspective or the imperative mode, or by recounting counterfactual events (events that did not occur).

Fourth, Hühn (2004:152-153) states that narrative sequences in poetry display a lack of spatiotemporal placement (“[they] lack explicit circumstantial explanations and connections”) as opposed to what is conventionally required in novels (although it is acknowledged that a significant amount of avant-garde fiction does in fact have these characteristics, “arguably partly as an import from the genre of lyric poetry” – Hühn, 2004:153). This can establish more abstraction and thematic universality while facilitating temporal and thematic transitions.

Fifth, Hühn (2004:153) stresses that the narrative sequences in the lyric are influenced by the materiality and particular style of poetry, that is to say, the stylistic and structural aspects such as sound, rhythm, prosody, imagery, syntax, typography and so on, thereby “reinforcing, modifying, or counteracting the semantic plot-development”.

More specifically, he writes, the formal characteristics of poetry function as paradigmatic relations or equivalences alongside aspects of motif and theme. This touches on what Bronzwaer (1990:99) describes as a fervour for artificial (or literary) iconisation in poetry. This iconisation entails the demonstrative, and therefore plausibility enhancing way in which linguistic, stylistic, technical and formal means are used to display some or other equivalence with the semantic aspects of the poem in such a way that it co-constitutes and co-facilitates the poem’s message⁶.

A core element in narrative poetry is the poetic plot in accordance with Hühn’s description. It would seem that some remarks in this regard are necessary before the term’s adequacy for an analysis of Krog’s Lady Anne can be demonstrated.

The poetic plot

Du Plooy (1992a:384 & 386) emphasises just how controversial the term plot is, since

[daar] ’n hele groep begrippe [by] ingebed [is]: temporele aspekte soos volgorde en opeenvolging,
logika en kousaliteit, die intelligente vermoë nie net om te onthou en na temporele en logiese reekse te soek nie, maar veral om verhoudinge te kan raaksien en interpreteer. Die relevante verhoudinge sluit alle aspekte van verhalende tekste in sodat handeling, karakter, plek en tyd en al die maniere waarop hierdie elemente artistieke betekenis verkry, in ’n bespreking van die plot tuishoort.


[a whole group of terms are embedded within it: temporal aspects such as sequence and succession, logic and causality, the sentient ability not only to remember and to look for temporal and logical sequences, but especially the ability to notice and interpret relationships. The relevant relationships include all aspects of narrative texts, meaning that action, character, place and time and all the ways in which these elements gain an artistic meaning, all under the purview of a discussion of plot.]

As indicated in the introduction, this article makes use of Hühn’s (2004:142) definition of the poetic plot, namely the way in which the elements in poetic texts are linked into a causal, temporal, or otherwise motivated chain. Although Brink (1987:66 & 155) also uses the terms action structure and complication plan for plot, this article prefers to use the term poetic plot. By selecting this term, we attempt to exclude the equalising associations of plot with terms such as narrative, discourse, text and narrative text, while the term “poetic” emphasises the fact that this investigation concerns a text in which narrative elements are grafted onto the lyrical genre.

Hühn (2004:142-143) explains the poetic plot as follows: “Plots in poetry are typically constituted by mental or psychological incidents such as perceptions, imaginations, desires, anxieties, recollections, or emotions and their emergence, development, and decisive change.” In this way, according to Hühn, a syntagmatic coherence is established in lyrical texts. However, it is only through paradigmatic reference to extratextual contexts and to world knowledge, “i.e. to cognitive schemata already familiar and meaningful” (Hühn, 2004:143), that readers can make sense of these texts. World knowledge includes culture-specific patterns of general experience as well as intertextual references to literature and other art forms.

Paradigmatic relationships are established through these cognitive schemata, and individual incidents and details are selected, grouped, and systematically transformed into a coherent and meaningful narrative sequence or plot. In this regard, Brink (1987:54-57) speaks of the formation of event sequences that are then “jumbled together” to become the event cycles that eventually constitute a narrative.

An event sequence therefore entails the transformation of what has been described by for example Bal (1980:16) as the conversion of “geschiedenis” [history] to “verhaal” [narrative]. It occurs through operations on six levels, namely sequence, time, characterisation, setting, symbolisation or reference, and perspective.

Hühn distinguishes two main types of cognitive schemata, namely frames and scripts (reminiscent of the well-known category distinctions between abstract and narrative motifs⁷ made by W. Blok in 1960):

Frames designate the thematic or situational contexts or frames of reference within which poems are to be read, as for instance death, growing up, or sexual love; scripts denote sequence patterns, i.e. natural processes or developments, conventional series of actions, or stereotyped procedures, usually in close connection with the relevant frame, such as, to take up the examples given, dying as crossing the border between this world and another, unfamiliar one; personal growth as the development from childhood to adulthood seen in a positive or negative light (gaining more knowledge or losing spontaneous vitality, respectively); or the formalized ritual of courtly love barring the gratification of the lover’s desires (Hühn, 2004:143).

Where frames enable readers to interpret works of poetry in terms of their situational and thematic significance and coherence in a primarily static context, the script element constitutes the dynamic, narrative dimension of texts (Hühn, 2004:143-144). Usually a deciding turning point (event) occurs here (or a decisive event in Brink’s terminology, 1987:52-53) as a central characteristic of the narrative structure that makes it worth telling.

Equivalences between textual elements are furthermore established by isotopes, that is, the semantic or thematic characteristics (semes or combinations thereof) that appear in a variety of words and expressions in poems and poetry volumes through which new connections in the text can be made and further layers of meaning can be added⁸.

Literary texts are typical in their meaningful deviation from the frames and scripts that they activate. Moreover, because poems are conventionally brief, situationally abstract, and general, they are usually less explicit and situationally specific than works of prose in the way they present the textual signs that activate frames and scripts (Hühn, 2004:144).

The poetic plot of Lady Anne (1989) by Antjie Krog

Syntagmatic coherence in Lady Anne

The syntagmatic coherence in the volume is established with regard to the Africanisation or nativisation of white people in South Africa. This is a problem that remains relevant in South Africa at present, but it was a focal point at the time of the volume’s appearance during the period before the political transformation from 1990 onwards took its course.

Krog is an Afrikaans poet renowned for her ability to put what so many people experience into words, and expanding her own world as well as that of her followers / fellow citizens with each successive poetry volume – this is the argument of Tom Gouws (1989:43) in his discussion of Lady Anne; he concludes that Krog can be described as a contemporary national poet. In his review, Gouws rightly emphasises the efficacy of her poetry; its effect on the Afrikaans literary, cultural and socio-political spheres (as argued by Odendaal, 1994:86). She mostly writes poetry of an engaged nature – literature that demonstrably originates from, and is aimed at, a recognisable socio-political reality (Brink, 1985:79).

The historical figure Lady Anne Barnard (remaining at the Cape from 1797 until 1802 in her capacity as the wife of the secretary of the Cape colony, but acting resplendently in the stead of the wife of the governor as first lady of the Cape, making contact with the inhabitants and undertaking a few journeys inland) serves as a metaphor through which Antjie Krog explores, or rather wants to explore her personal and present South African actuality in order to position herself within it. Essentially, a unique form of multi-layered emplotting is used⁹ to promote the metaphorical possibilities.

However, the volume becomes more than an expressive text in which Krog divulges her emotions, opinions, and so on through the narration of the writing subject. She considers it part of her duty as a poet to account for the situation in which she finds herself. This is articulated as follows in the first “slot” [end] poem by means of a slightly modified citation from Lady Anne’s book Lives of the Lindsays:

Die leuse van my vader wil ek herhaal:

[I wish to repeat my father’s maxim:]

hy wat versuim om sy lewe

[he who fails]

en dié se plek noukeurig te ondersoek,

[to investigate his life and its place exactly,]

het die Skrywer van sy verhaal gefaal.

[has failed the Author of his tale.]

This calling to account occurs both in and through writing the volume. Facts from Lady Anne’s existence and from Antjie Krog’s current actuality become intertwined with poetic ‘fabrication’. After all (Viljoen, 1989:8), the poet states that she had to ‘lie and shorten considerably’ (“ek moes baie jok en verkort”). The poetic technique is therefore strongly reminiscent of New Journalism or ‘faction’, in which the gripping possibilities of the interplay between fact and fiction are exploited.

The volume foregrounds its own literariness, the fact that it represents what Hühn would call an action of articulation (or a narrative process according to Brink), in various ways. Odendaal (1994:87-88) has previously demonstrated this foregrounding in detail. A summary in order to illustrate the narratological aspects follows.


First, it is made clear that both the narrator (the writing subject) and the metaphorical main character are artists (Lady Anne Barnard was a painter and diarist) who grapple with their inability to pin Africa down in art and to absorb the continent into their deepest being. Second, the writing subject – by means of meta-narrative comments – does not hesitate to reveal the creative process that underpins the volume (“process made visible” – Hutcheon, 1980:6) in, for example, poems about the laborious attempts to begin writing, or poems that grapple with the tension between the elitist (Western) aesthetic tradition in which Lady Anne Barnard (also Krog) was educated to write, as well as the demands of the inescapable political situation in which she finds herself – poems in which the narrator’s text and the character’s text clearly coincide¹⁰. Further, letters, journal entries and diary entries by both Lady Anne Barnard and the writing subject, even sketches of a sole (fish) in the various stages of its evolution and copies of a menstruation calendar, a poster for a municipal election from 1988 and a newspaper clipping of a property advertisement from the same period are offered as ‘incomplete’ poems. Third, the volume is interspersed with citations that illustrate the (literary) aesthetic and socio-political context in which the volume came to be.

Put in terms of the distinctions that Brink (1987) makes in his introduction to reading narrative texts: the elements that belong to the different levels and contexts of the story or stories, the narrative text, and the narration are presented as interwoven in Lady Anne.

Consequently, the type of situational (for example, spatiotemporal) abstraction and generalisation so characteristic of the lyrical genre (as opposed to prose) is achieved in accordance with Hühn’s earlier mentioned notions in this regard.

The lyricality (the situational abstraction and generalisation) thus achieved, promotes the persuasive nature of Lady Anne, namely as a text that aims to influence the views, emotions, and even actions of a particular part of Krog’s probable audience. For example, Brink (1987:147), in line with theorists like Rimmon-Kenan (1983:86 and onwards), points out that every narrative function in the text is assigned a corresponding reading function (“[dat] vir elke vertelfunksie […] ’n ooreenstemmende leesfunksie in die teks beteken word”). In other words, for each speaker there exists an addressee¹¹. In light of Lady Anne’s particular thematic intention, which will be discussed shortly, it seems that especially the co-called ‘white’ South Africans, more specifically Afrikaners (Krog’s ‘fellow citizens’), are the implied ‘addressees’ of the volume. In the terminology of Speech Act Theory, Krog’s text aims at a specific perlocution (Austin, 1975:109 and 121).

The expressiveness of the volume or the authenticity of the lyrical confession (which is emphasised by autobiographic references such as dates and places), as well as its literariness as explained above, are indeed employed as persuasive means in exactly this regard. To wit, they are concerned with increasing the verisimilitude or veracity of the exemplary struggle that real artists like Lady Anne and Antjie Krog underwent (with diverging results); with what essentially amounts to that which Roland Barthes (according to Brink, 1987:131-132) would call the ‘vraisemblance’ or ‘l’effet du réel’ of mimetic specification.

In light of the above-mentioned argument it seems fitting to describe the theme (or main or concluding motif) that establishes syntagmatic coherence in Lady Anne as the necessity of postcolonial Africanisation in South Africa¹².

Transformation as paradigmatic frame in Lady Anne

The paradigmatic frame in which the above-mentioned theme of this volume is realised, is transformation, which is isotopically extended to include four intrinsically linked levels:

  • transformation as a white South African, which includes being an Afrikaner
  • transformation as a woman
  • transformation as a Christian 
  • transformation as an artist/poet.

This will be discussed in more detail later.

This (static) paradigmatic frame is expanded to a dynamic script by presenting the transformation as a withdrawal from privileged circumstances and the self. Since the writing subject employs Lady Anne Barnard’s adventures and actions as an initial metaphor for her own experiences, Lady Anne’s existential withdrawal is indicated by the image of the departure from the castle, a symbol of European-Western entrenchment. In the first instance, it is a departure from Europe to Africa that must be undertaken, then inland from the Cape castle into the interior of the continent (which Lady Anne Barnard attempted unsuccessfully).

The image of the departure from the castle then becomes applicable to isotopically equivalent changes in attitude such as the following (in each instance on one or more of the above-mentioned levels):

  • from self-centeredness to altruism
  • from inaction to fervour
  • from aesthetic preoccupation (beauty) to social impact (usefulness)
  • from dissociation to identification
  • from conservatism to revolutionary engagement.

The connections between the volume’s thematic intentions and the views espoused by postcolonial and feminist criticism (as illustrated by Van der Merwe and Viljoen, 1998, for example) are obvious.

However, to return to the paradigm levels of the frame of transformation in Lady Anne: In this regard too, Odendaal (1994:90-93) has provided more detail with illustrations from the volume. Only the gist is reproduced here.

‘White’ South Africans are depicted as avaricious overlords, as privileged and pretentious, and even as a sanctimonious proprietary class, especially in the poems of Deel II [Part II] of the volume. Parallels are drawn with the situation in South Africa in the 1980s, and the writing subject considers herself a part of this. For example, in the poem “parool” [parole] (page 37) she writes: “[E]k is gebore / aan ’n gilde / van hebsug en hoon” [I was born / to a guild / of greed and scorn]. It is further implied that these white overlords are a cruel, bloodthirsty generation, but it is also made clear that their world is an endangered one – in fact, they are living at the end of an era:

soos ons op sandersonlinne sit en aai en paai

[as we sit on sanderson linen flattering and placating]

en die mans by ingeboude kroeë druk drink en despe-

raat praat oor naai

[and the men drinking deeply at built-in bars desper-

ately talking of screwing]

weet ons ons is die laaste

[we know we are the last]

die laaste wat kinders teer laat verblond op melk en 


[the last to tenderly blanch children on milk and


ons is die laaste

[we are the last]

agter ons onder ons langs ons

[behind us beneath us beside us]

stort met die sagte geluid van as

[with the soft sound of ash]

strukture wat ons soort in stand hou

[structures that maintain our kind]

in hulle maai.

[collapse totally.]

 “Lady Anne by die mikrogolfoond” [Lady Anne at the microwave oven] (page 71)

By contrast, relatively little is said about the powerless, oppressed non-owners (the so-called non-whites or anderskleuriges [those of another colour]). To a large extent, the black man remains the unfamiliar ‘brother’ and the poet does not quite know how to reconcile herself with him (“nuwe alfabet” [new alphabet], page 91). Above all, the volume is concerned with the misery and violence that these people must face. The few times where something about them is actually said or suggested the depiction is favourable.

The preferences and aversions with regard to religious issues are also clear. The traditional Christian belief in the perfect forgiveness achieved through Christ’s suffering for humanity’s sins is considered inadequate and obsolete. It is for this reason that both Lady Anne and the writing subject feel out of place in ‘white churches’ [“blanke kerke” in original]. By contrast, they experience authenticity and the power of faith in the churches of people of ‘another colour’. Therefore, salvation is sought in a theology (the so-called liberation theology – compare Brink-de Wind, 1992) that preaches a mutual reconciliation among people, and liberation from earthly injustice by humiliating us as ‘others’ until death. According to liberation theology, God sides with the poor and oppressed. It advocates tangible interventions in social and political evils in order to create an earthly utopia. As the end of the poem “Op klipplate word seile oopgegooi” [Sails are cast on slabs of stone] (pages 47-48) reads: “[…] hoe meer / jy het hoe meer is jy verskuldig” [the more / you have the more you owe]. To rid herself of the taint of exclusivity, Lady Anne must undergo intense suffering, as she learns in the poem “Toe Dundas met sy dik aksent” [When Dundas with his thick accent] (pages 65-66). It is in this light that the words “die mens lewe van slagspreuke alleen” [man lives off slogans alone] in the final poem of the volume (page 108) should be understood. First, the connotations of violence and suffering around the word “slag” [siege, slaughter, blow] in the Afrikaans compound “slagspreuk” are activated. Second, the starving Christ’s famous answer to the devil’s tempting challenge to turn stones into bread (“Die mens kan van brood alleen nie lewe nie” [Man shall not live on bread alone] – Matthew 4:4) becomes ironically distorted to give prominence to the pressing need for religiously inspired political action.

The writing subject expresses herself with equal candour but less bias on the topic of the marginalised position of women in society. Through her relationships with different men (Dundas, Windham, Andrew Barnard) the metaphoric persona of Lady Anne is presented as a strong woman who is fully aware of the power-play between men and women. The erotic poem “dis middernag en piouter” [it’s midnight and pewter] (page 24) attests to this with its undertone of almost militant feminism.

The writing subject also has her say about the relationship between men and women with regard to this power-play. The erotic game between man and woman is viewed as battle tactics, and womanhood is in a certain sense experienced as a defeat (“Soos wat jy gisteraand ingestap het” [As you walked in last night], page 74). She cannot abide male chauvinism (“given line: macho-mans gee my die creeps” [given line: macho men give me the creeps], page 67). Yet she remains aware of the complexity of the situation and, for example, admits her dependence and her responsibilities as a mother. A man is not just the ruler but also the victim of his wife and family. A hint of this ambivalence can be found in the poems on pages 72 and 73 of the volume.

The fourth paradigmatic level has already been described in some depth in the discussion above about the way in which the volume’s literariness is foregrounded. It will suffice to point out that the tension between aesthetics and politics lies at the heart of this volume – a volume that is actually conceived as an account to fathom this black’ African continent and country and their actuality, as well as the role and responsibilities of a ‘white’ female poet within this context in order to reconcile herself with them¹³ by means of the act of writing. A core poem specifically concerned with this tension is “parool” [parole] (pages 35-38), a poem that has been described by Kannemeyer (1989:39) as the ars poetica of political verse. The crux of the matter is that the writing subject, like Lady Anne, experiences the elitist (Western) aesthetic tradition in which she was educated and from which she is struggling to free herself as inadequate and useless, and therefore objectionable in the former South African context of poverty, injustice and oppression. Here, revolutionary poetry is needed:

woorde as AK 47’s moet veg

[words as AK 47s must fight]

poësie moet nuttig wees, daad, belas

[poetry should be useful, act, tax]

met die uitering van die stryd altyd part

 [always with uttering of the struggle standing]

staan poësie kan rewolusie puur[.] 

part poetry can purify revolution]

(“parool”) [parole]

Thus, in order to reconcile herself with the black man of Africa, she has to learn a “nuwe alfabet” [new alphabet] (page 91): “A is altyd teen apartheid / B is blind vir kleur” [A is always against apartheid / B is blind to colour]. The use of texts that are not usually considered as poetic, such as numerous citations on socio-political issues or on poetics, the election poster, the menstruation calendar and so on are iconic of this particular aspiration – a conspicuous penetration of the familiar boundaries of poetry (Viljoen, 1991b:20). Lastly, the poet considers herself the “groot van-kant-maker” [the great reaper] of the useless European-Western aesthetic represented by lady Anne: “onder my duim lê die fyn sintaksis van jou strot” [under my thumb I hold the fine syntax of your throat]. Both quotes are from “slot” [end/finale] on page 108.

As indicated, Lady Anne’s symbolic flight back to the Cape castle can in fact be viewed as the event that, according to Hühn, typically causes the turning point in the poetic plot. It is also this flight that causes the writing subject to reject Lady Anne as metaphor and as a vehicle through which the former could explore and gauge her present situation and position.

Temporal and compositional structure in Lady Anne

The above-mentioned turning point is even more evident when one investigates the treatment of time in the volume as well as the volume’s structure.

The chronology of parts of Lady Anne Barnard’s life – the historical discourse in the volume (Crous, 2003b:151) – can to an extent be reconstructed from the volume. It is occasionally augmented with scenes from an earlier time, for example in “lied geskryf voor die geboorte van lady Anne Lindsay, 1750” [song written before the birth of lady Anne Lindsay, 1750] (page 12) or the anonymous letter from 1300 (page 11). The writing subject intervenes with the chronology in various ways. Lady Anne’s journeys are recounted non-chronologically; they are brought into focus, and relativised (Brink, 1989:13). In addition, the narrative text about Lady Anne is presented in segments that are interspersed with a second narrative text: the experiences and struggles of the writing subject during the late 1980s on the four paradigmatic levels mentioned in the previous section. Moreover, everything culminates in the numerically deviating section arrangement of the volume: I, II, V, IV, III.

In this way, an interwoven field of tensions develops between what one could, in line with Brink (1987:127), call continuity, which is borne out by the two stories, and interruption, which is characterised by the segmented presentation of the two stories or breaks in the narrative text. The generated tension activates a perception of boundaries being crossed, analogous to the appearance of lines and enjambment in a poem (Brink, 1987:127). In essence, it entails constituting meanings against the merely linear, chronological pattern.

In sum (and presented as a diagram in order to make it easily surveyable) the numerically deviating presentation of the volume, that is, the narrative text as the reader reads it from page 1 to 108, concerns the following event sequence or sjužet¹⁴:

Volume section Story 1: 

Lady Anne Barnard

Story 2: 

The writing subject

Part I Lady Anne’s heritage and her arrival at the Cape are depicted (although this ‘story 1’ appears later in this volume section than the ‘story 2’ part mentioned in the adjacent column).  The difficulty of beginning to write the volume Lady Anne, and the writing subject’s problems with finding the right metaphor to illustrate her struggles.
Part II Lady Anne Barnard at the Cape – her flamboyant, privileged life, but also her exceptional nature as a strong, enterprising woman, her love life, and her writing are described. By contrast entails the writing subject’s experience of and her struggle with the social ills, also the state of emergency in South Africa during the 80s, and the problems of being a poet in such circumstances.
Part V Lady Anne Barnard’s diary about her expeditions to the interior of the Cape, intertwined with the writing subject’s diary entries about her visit to Scotland to research Lady Anne’s privileged heritage. Lady Anne’s (attempt to) acquaint herself with the landscape and its people occupies a place at the centre of the narrative. 

Attention is repeatedly directed to female slaves – their indispensability and how they are exploited. Then, she experiences a crisis at Genadendal [Mercy Dale] (ironic!) – a moment of insight where she could have broken free spiritually from her conditioning as a white, noble stranger to take a form of action (Brink, 1989:13); however, she flees back to the castle.

This is immediately followed by a print of a racist poster for a municipal election of the erstwhile Konserwatiewe Party [conservative party] (page 59), with the implication that it concerns the same kind of choice as Lady Anne’s; thereafter follows a menstruation calendar with its stressing of the ‘bloody’ (= cruel), true-to-life reality/identity with which the writing subject is confronted.
Part IV Portrayals of violent experiences, resistance and bloodshedding by Lady Anne are foregrounded in this part. She experiences the fire in the store rooms. Her experiences during the French Revolution are recounted, as is her experience of the discriminatory privilege of men and her experiences about the hanging of rebels and about slavery, as well as her rebelliousness in this regard. Meanwhile, we also learn about the writing subject’s situation: her experience of the state of emergency and violence in her contemporary SA, the struggle between generations, the writing subject’s view that Afrikaans poetry is unable to contribute anything in these circumstances, her descriptions of the slaughtering of cattle, of ageing, motherhood and the transformations that she must undergo to become part of Africa. Now, she becomes a modern Lady Anne, a “Lady Anne by die mikrogolfoond” [Lady Anne by the microwave oven] (page 71).
Part III Lady Anne Barnard departs and returns to Europe, but she corresponds with Andrew Barnard at the Cape until his death. The writing subject feels the urgency of transformation strongly (compare “transparant van die tongvis” [transparency of the sole], page 92). She bids Lady Anne and her kind an unambiguous farewell, she learns a new alphabet and writes a poem about guilt – in other words, she heads into an African future.

Read in this light, the pivotal event of Lady Anne Barnard’s flight back to the castle (where the eventfulness transcends the level of the story and, according to Hühn, 2004:151-152, becomes a discourse event) occurs roughly in the middle of the volume (on page 58 of 108). Since Lady Anne cannot or will not turn insight into action she becomes increasingly irrelevant to the writing subject, which causes her departure as described at the end of the volume (part III) to become a final send-off to her as metaphor. Therefore, from the middle of the volume the writing subject’s exploration of her current actuality through the history of Lady Anne increasingly becomes an internal exploration, since her metaphor took a different course.

In view of this and the fact that the volume begins with Antjie Krog’s struggle to begin writing, it becomes clear that the story of Lady Anne is actually segmented and embedded in the story of the present writing subject, that is, it initially has an enlightening or clarifying function with regard to the writing subject’s struggles, but afterwards it takes on a motoric function as stimulus for the latter’s choice of the course of her own life¹⁵.

The perspective presented throughout is actually that of ‘today’s narrator’ (to use Brink’s description of the subject for a change), also where the depiction of Lady Anne’s life is concerned. ‘As writing subject, she controls the discourse by deciding which utterances are included, how they are organised, and which utterances should be excluded because they do not tie in with the modern discourse […] in South Africa’ (Crous, 2003b:155).

The non-sequential numbering of the volume’s sections is equally important for the reader as it is for the writing subject. It becomes an invitation to read the volume in this order (in numeric order from section I to V), at the end of which the reader/writing subject is finally confronted with the same choice/insight as Lady Anne, as implied by the placement of the election poster and the menstruation calendar in the privileged end-position of the volume. A socio-politically negative conclusion is suggested: white people fortifying themselves, and a bloody future.

It is the latter that enables Crous (2003b:157) to label Krog’s discourse as ideological in nature.

Lady Anne as a persuasive text

We have already illustrated that as an engaged poetry volume Lady Anne has a distinctly persuasive nature and its pragmatic communicative function¹⁶ is particularly important. The persuasive nature is reinforced by the non-sequential numbering of the sections and the invitation to read the volume accordingly.

In his aforementioned article, Odendaal (1994:93-98) provides more detail about the volume’s persuasive characteristics. He indicates that the rhetorical question (at various times used in conjunction with an inclusive “ons” [we] – for example “van watter breed is ons?” [What breed are we?]) is a stylistic device that is used fairly frequently in the volume to increase reader’s involvement with the argumentative process. Odendaal further argues that ‘empty spaces’ – logical lacunae and deviations – are introduced to the informational offering of the text, and that these lacunae force the reader to insert meanings into the text (Wierenga, 1978:161), by using the possible means of implicitisation through symbolism. To illustrate, the diagrams in the volume that show the various evolutionary stages of the sole, function as a symbol of the volume’s message: adaptation through transformation is needed. The reader’s knowledge is required to understand the implication of the symbolism, although a poem like “transparant van die tongvis” [transparency of the sole] (page 92-93) does disclose something of the sole’s symbolism.

Amplification, or the inductive perspectival expansion (or infinitisation) of a situation or case by generalising a personalised, localised and temporalised one (Wierenga, 1978:162), is another rhetorical technique that Krog uses to allow the receiver to concretise the text. In this way, the specific case of Lady Anne Barnard is chosen as a metaphor by and for the writing subject specifically because she considers Lady Anne’s experience as exemplary (or as enlightening or clarifying) of her own experience and that of those like her.

An investigation of the treatment of time in the volume according to Brink’s (1987:93-96) clarification of terms elucidates this process of infinitisation. The segmentary presentation of the two stories in the volume employs a combination of process time (the unfolding of the writing subject’s story, from struggling to begin writing to her eventual rejection of Lady Anne as a metaphor of transformation) and retrospective time (looking back on Lady Anne’s activities), which enables the reader to have a politemporal experience of time. This experience reinforces the notion that the events depicted and the volume’s thematic implication are universal.

As previously mentioned, the writing subject must reject Lady Anne as historical metaphor later in the volume17. Despite a critical disposition with regard to the social ills of her time, Lady Anne could not break free of the chains of her privileged situation, as expressed in the poem “ek wou ’n tweede lewe deur jou leef” [I wanted to live a second life through you] (page 40): “gearriveer met jou hele frivole lewe sit ek nou berserk / met jou op my lessenaar: as metafoor is jy fôkol werd” [arrived with your whole frivolous life I sit berserk / with you on my desk: your metaphor has fuck-all worth].

As a poet, the writing subject chooses to go the revolutionary way, the way of Africanisation. This choice is represented, in words reminiscent of those of Martin Luther centuries ago, as should it be inescapable, as should the verisimilitude of her insight and her calling be imposed on her: “hier leer ek skryf – ek kan nie anders nie” [this is where I learn to write – it can be no other way] (from the poem “nuwe alfabet” [new alphabet], page 91).

This insight, this change of heart of the writing subject is subsequently presented to ‘white’ South Africans as exemplary. This is implied by the rejection of the example of Lady Anne, but nowhere is it made explicit. On the contrary, we are in fact dealing with a kind of logical reduction. Aristotle has shown how the reduction of a tripartite syllogism through, for example, the omission of one of the premises of the conclusion in order to create a binary enthymeme, can be applied rhetorically (Wierenga, 1978:161-162; Hauser, 1986:75-76). One would be able to summarise the volume’s message using the following syllogistic structure:

1. In order to adapt to the (South) African context and to actually help to rectify existing injustices, white people must transform with regard to certain traditional (Christo-Western) views, values and ways of living.

2. Lady Anne Barnard could not or would not undergo such a transformation, and her life is a sign of “totale stralende nutteloosheid” [complete radiating uselessness] as it is expressed in the poem “jy word onthou vanweë jou partye” [you are remembered for your soirees] on page 9618.

3. Therefore, white South Africans should follow in the footsteps of the writing subject and choose in favour of transformation.

The conclusion of the syllogism remains unsaid and it is a lacuna that should be filled in by the reader. The placement of the poster for the local election at the end of the volume (if the sections are read in numerical order) emphasises that (white) South African readers from the late 1980s were confronted with such a choice. It is placed in a privileged text position that stresses its importance. In addition, it rests against the backdrop of the two preceding poems. In the first poem, “Drie Morawiese broeders huisves ons” [Three Moravian brothers provide us with shelter] (pages 55-57), Lady Anne must eventually despair for her art’s ability to get anything of this country “ingepas geskaal” [fitted to scale] after her acquaintance with the interior. The next poem, “Middagete op Blaauwbergpas …” [Lunch on Blaauwberg Pass …] (page 58), describes her flight from the country’s harsh realities to the safety of the secluded, ‘cultivated’ Cape castle, and from there back to Europe. On this basis, the placement of the print of the poster should be read as raising awareness of, and warning against, a modern ideological embarrassment equal to Lady Anne’s.

Additionally, filling in the lacuna is made imperative by the intertexts, namely the nature of most of the citations that are distributed throughout the volume. To quote a single example (page 8): ‘ “As ek my kinders nie kan leer om wit Afrikane te word nie, vernietig ek hul toekoms,’ sê dr Smith” [If I cannot teach my children to become white Africans, I destroy their future, says Dr Smith]. […] ‘ “Ek dink hierdie land het ’n rewolusie nodig om hom weer gesond te maak” ’ [I think this country needs a revolution to be healed]. Not only do these citations break the fictionality of the text by yanking the extratextual reality into the discourse, but by involving the insights and experiences of other people the verisimilitude and relevance of the volume’s message are amplified further.

The fact that letters, diary and journal entries and prints of the menstruation calendar and election poster are used, as well as the entire exposure of the volume’s creative process, should be evaluated in this light, as demonstrated earlier. The intertextuality stresses the authenticity of Lady Anne Barnard and Antjie Krog’s struggle with the issues in question, with the result that the changes of heart advocated by the poet remain credible.

The deep structure of the relations between actants in Lady Anne

Greimas’s (1971) actantial model is, as indicated by Du Plooy (1992e:5) among others, a very useful instrument for the analysis of narrative texts, and its application to Lady Anne allows the convenient summary of the narratological deep structure of the volume¹⁹.

In brief, this model (as a diagram) involves the following:

The subject in Lady Anne is the writing ‘I’ in the volume who can to a great extent be associated with the real author, Antjie Krog, as already indicated. As is evident, this poetry volume is concerned with four aspects or roles of the subject: the (Afrikaans) white person [‘blanke’ in original], the (white) woman, the poet, and the Christian.

As indicated, the desire or the perceived necessity is that of Africanisation, which comprises the actantial object of the deep structure of the narrative text (this role can also be a non-human goal or capacity – Du Plooy, 1992e:4). As mentioned above, this abstract object represents the following types of attitudes: altruism and reconciliation (the African ideal of Ubuntu), fervour, social impact and usefulness, and revolutionary engagement.

With regard to the four roles in which the subject figures, the negative sender(s) who oppose or impede the entire enterprise are European-Western, colonialist socio-political views (as manifested in the former apartheid South Africa); phallogocentric views (embodied by ‘macho men’ who give the writing subject ‘the creeps’ – page 67); the (European-Western) aesthetic in which her poetry developed; and the social disassociation of the mainstream Christian theology. As indicated, these negative senders represent attitudes or characteristics like self-centeredness, inaction, aesthetic preoccupation with the self, and disassociation and conservatism.

The liberal Lady Anne Barnard (‘liberal’ in the European-Western sense of the word) initially appears as the apparent helper of the writing subject, namely the metaphoric vehicle through which the latter can explore her own time and can possibly chart a course out of the ‘castle’ of limitations in which she finds herself. When Lady Anne’s worthlessness as metaphor is later unmasked and Lady Anne literally and figuratively flees back into the castle she, along with the supporters of the apartheid regime with its male chauvinist characteristics, becomes the objectionable opponent of the writing subject.

The latter is foregrounded by the twofold structure of the volume and the non-sequential numbering of the sections. In this way, both Lady Anne’s flight back to the castle and the racist poster for the municipal election during the late 1980s, both symbolic of the inability or unwillingness to choose in favour of Africanising transformation, as well as the menstruation calendar as symbolic of the stereotypically private, politically inactive role of women, constitute a ‘misplaced’ end to the volume in the middle of the book. The rejection is apparent from what follows these elements in the volume, for example, the fact that the writing subject effectively starts to learn a new alphabet.

In fact, one could consider the poetry (the ‘new alphabet’) and its transformative power as another actantial helper in the volume. Simply note the use of diagrams of the various evolutionary stages of the sole in the volume. As Odendaal (1994:94-95) points out, this fish (binomial name Hippoglossus hippoglossus, from the Greek words for ‘horse’ and ‘tongue’) is expanded as symbol of among other things ‘the poet’s indefatigable and inescapable concern with language, through which the (Africanising) transformation should be co-effected’.

In the ‘concluding’ poem on page 108, “die bard” [the bard] makes the following pronouncement:

ek is die groot van-kant-maker! van titel en tuig

sal ek ons bevry ons prysgee hart-

lik wring tot die lady viva tongvis juig[.]


[I am the great reaper! From yoke and title

I will free us relinquish us heart-

ily wringing until the lady cries long live the sole[.]]

With consideration to the indicated persuasive nature of the volume, one may maintain that the writing subject actually aimed to make helpers out of the white South African voters as well as Afrikaans writers and their readers in order to realise her desire.

The stated receiver in the volume (because the desire for Africanisation has not yet been realised in the volume and the apartheid regime had not yet come to an end in 1989) is in the first instance the writing subject, by implication Antjie Krog herself. As illustrated, amplifying techniques are employed in the volume to extend the experiences and dilemmas of the writing subject (Krog) and Lady Anne to the level of the exemplary for white South Africans in general. The idea is that white South Africans and perhaps Afrikaners in particular will benefit from an Africanising transformation.

Concluding remarks

From the discussion above, it is clear that Lady Anne is an effective illustration of Hühn’s (2004:146) summary of the poetic plot:

A plot is constituted by the selection, connection, and correlation of meaningful sequences as well as the constellation and integration of schemata and equivalences. Plots are normally attributed to an agent (e.g. the protagonist) and derive their particular function from this attribution. Events form the crucial turning points in the progression of the plot and are in turn defined by these turning points. In poetry a plot typically uses mental phenomena such as ideas, memories, desires, emotions, imaginings, and attitudes as its medium, which the agent ascribes to himself as his plot in a monological reflective and cognitive process through which he can then define or stabilise his self-concept or identity.

The use of the figure of Lady Anne as a metaphoric vehicle and the incorporation of all manner of texts not usually considered poetic appear at first glance to be irreconcilable with the characteristic of monological reflection. However, as we have demonstrated, all the various elements are embedded in and characterised by the discourse that Krog begins by means of the (writing subject in the) volume with regard to attitudinal transformation on multiple levels. In so doing, she aspires to establish an Africanised identity for herself and her ‘fellow citizens’ who by implication she hopes to convince to identify with her view.

‘Would it be outrageous to maintain that Lady Anne can be read as a novel in verse?’ is the question that Brink (1989:13) poses in his review of the volume. He proceeds to name specific characteristics that persuade him that it in fact could: ‘[It is a] narrative discourse in which strategies such as characterisation and events function within the dimensions of time and space, generated by a clear narrative situation.’ In this way, Krog wishes to establish accountable, socially engaged poetry²⁰, thereby positioning herself as “ ’n skrywer in die Derde Wêreld” [a writer in the Third World] (Krog, 1989b:44).

As shown, this would have caused a significant challenge to ‘traditional’ boundaries between the genres of poetry and prose, through which Lady Anne would have paved the way for a considerable number of Afrikaans ‘narrative poetry’ volumes, often in the style of spoken-word poetry, in the two decades since (Odendaal, 2009).



1. In this regard, Lady Anne was singled out by Brink (1991) among others in his adaptation of the postcolonial model to provide a view of the developments in and possibilities for Afrikaans literature. He (Brink, 1991:12) describes Krog’s volume as an example of ‘the remarkable developments’ that became apparent during the run-up to the turn of the millennium concerning ‘a revision – an expansion and complication – of the notion [of personal identity and] that could express a greater understanding of South-Africanness.’

2. This term will be used for the rest of this article to refer to an abstract author who has been made explicit but who can to a large extent be associated with the actual author, Antjie Krog, as a result of the clear autobiographical details in the volume. In this regard, Brink (1989:13) refers to ‘today’s narrator’.

3. The ‘point of view’ indicated by Lubbock in 1921 already is a central characteristic of narration – compare Du Plooy (1992a:385) and Brink (1987:14).

4. Compare Afrikaans sources such as Brink (1987:15, 17-18, 26-27), Du Plooy (1992a:384-387, 1992b:120-121 & 1992c:150-152) and Van Coller (1987:50).

5. Brink (1987:67 & 84) translates Greimas’s notion of actants with the term actors (“akteurs” in the original Afrikaans).

6. Compare Odendaal (1997:39-40, 61-67) for a more detailed discussion of the concept of iconicity.

7. Compare among others Du Plooy (1981:195) and Van Coller (1987:16).

8. Greimas (1971) borrowed these terms from the field of semantics for translation theory, as indicated by Brink (1987:22) among others.

9. Compare, for example, Brink (1987:154-158) on this narrative device and its functions.

10. See, among others, Bisschoff (1992:565-566) and Brink (1987:79-80) for definitions of these terms. The terms author’s text, narrator’s text and character’s text are from Schmid (1973:29) and are discussed in more detail by Van Coller (1980:17-21 & 1982:238-240) and Van Coller and Van Rensburg (1982:220-222).

11. Van Coller (1982) discusses the differences between fictional reader and abstract reader at length, as well as the important methodological and interpretational distinctions between the various levels of ‘speakers’ and ‘hearers’.

12. See, for example, Van Coller (1987:16) and Du Plooy (1992d:328) for the interchangeability of the terms theme, main motif and concluding motif.

13. Gouws (1989) and Brink-de Wind (1992) among others provide more information on this topic.

14. Compare Du Plooy’s (1986:139-142) analysis of Lotman’s view of the notion sjužet and Van Coller’s (1984:1-15; 1987:5-6, 13-15) discussion in this regard.

15. Italicised terms in this paragraph borrowed from Brink (1987:155).

16. For a discussion of a literary work as speech act with a distinct ‘persuasive’ or ‘perlocutionary’ aim, compare Van Coller (1992) and Van Coller and Van Rensburg (1984).

17. And yet she feels sympathy for her ‘radiating uselessness’ as expressed on page 96 of the volume, where ‘radiating’ evokes something of both beauty and a holy sphere (according to Viljoen, 1991a:26).

18. Only three stanzas earlier in the same poem the writing subject also confesses with regard to Lady Anne Barnard: “god ek is verknog aan jou” [god I am devoted to you]. It is thus subtly acknowledged that Western influences are not completely dispensable.

19. For further illustration of the actant structure compare Van Coller (1984:9 & 1987).

20. “[V]ir ’n nuwe tyd en ’n nuwe ruimte […] ’n nuwe poëtika” [A new poetic for a new time and space] (Brink, 1989:13).



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