The Shepherd and His Flock

The Shepherd and His Flock

By Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali

The rays of the sun
are like a pair of scissors
cutting the blanket
of the dawn from the sky.

The young shepherd
drives the master’s sheep
from the paddock
into the veld.

His bare feet
kick the grass
and spill the dew
like diamonds
on a cutter’s table
A lamb strays away
enchanted by the marvels
of summer morning
The ram
rebukes the ewe
“Woman! Woman!
Watch over the child!”

The sun wings up
on flaming petal
of a sunflower.

He perches on an ant heap
to play the reed flute
and to salute
the farmer’s children
going to school
and dreamily asks,
“O! Wise Sun above,
Will you ever guide
me into school?”

Summary of The Shepherd and His Flock

  • Popularity of “The Shepherd and His Flock”: The poem ‘The Shepherd and His Flock’ was written by Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali, a South African poet and writer. The descriptive poem was first published in his collection Sounds of a Cowhide Drum in 1917. The poem serves as a reminder of the unparalleled beauty found in nature and how effortlessly it brings us tranquility. The poem beautifully captures the struggling life of a shepherd as well as his unfulfilled desires. While the poem has gained immense popularity due to its subject matter, its true beauty lies in the vivid imagery it portrays rather than the thematic strand it explores.
  • “The Shepherd and His Flock” As a Representative of Wonder: The poem is written from the perspective of a young child. The passage sets the stage by portraying a mesmerizing image of a resplendent sun rising, its warm and radiant glow enveloping everything in its path, instilling pure happiness. When the sun comes out, the young shepherd starts tending his flock of sheep in a meadow. Barefooted, the young boy kicks the grass while keeping an eye on his flock. Meanwhile, enchanted by the marvels of the summer morning, one of his animals strays away, providing him a chance to have a look at the school-going children. He gets excited to see them and to express his gratitude, he salutes them, too. Although he seems content with his life, when he sees farmer’s children going to school, he wishes to join the school.
  • Major Themes in “The Shepherd and His Flock”: Exciting natural beauty, sense of duty, and desires are the major themes of the poem. The poem provides insights into the playful yet miserable life of a shepherd. In this poem, the boy is portrayed as barefooted and his primary responsibility is to care for his flock. His duty provides soothing comfort to the onlookers. There is a general consensus that he possesses a multitude of things in life. Unlike other children, he desires to enjoy the bliss of life. Through this simple poem, the speaker draws our attention to the children who lack even the basic facilities of life.

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in The Shepherd and His Flock

literary devices serve as powerful tools for writers to create enchanting poetic pieces. The analysis of these devices used in the poem is as follows.

  1. Apostrophe: An apostrophe is a device used to call somebody or something from afar. Here, the poet used apostrophe to call the sun a wise fellow “O! Wise Sun above”, expressing wonder by calling the star directly.
  2. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /o/ in “from the paddock” and the sound of /ai/ in “like diamonds”.
  3. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /w/ in “Woman! Woman”.
  4. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /n/ in “He perches on an ant heap” and the sound of /r/ in “are like a pair of scissors”.
  5. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example,

“The rays of the sun
are like a pair of scissors
cutting the blanket
of the dawn from the sky.”

  1. Hyperbole: Hyperbole is a device used to exaggerate a statement for the sake of emphasis. Mbuyiseni exaggerates the natural beauty in the poem such as, “The sun wings up/on flaming petal/of a sunflower”.
  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali used imagery in this poem such as “cutting the blanket/of the dawn from the sky”, “He perches on an ant heap” and “Woman! Woman! / Watch over the child”.
  2. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects that are different. The poem shows the use of the metaphor in the first line where the speaker compares the sun with scissors.
  3. Personification: Personification is to give human qualities to inanimate objects. The poet has personified sun in the poem such as “The sun wings up/on flaming petal”.
  4. Rhetorical Question: Rhetorical question is a question that is not asked in order to receive an answer; it is just posed to make the point clear. Mbuyiseni Oswald Mtshali asked the rhetorical question in the ending line of the poem to put emphasis on his point such as, “Will you ever guide/me into school??”
  5. Simile: It is a device used to compare something with something else to make the meanings clear to the readers. The writer used this device in the opening lines of the poem such as “The rays of the sun/are like a pair of scissors”.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in The Shepherd and His Flock

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction: The poem shows descriptive diction having metaphors, similes, and impressive images.
  2. Free Verse: Free verse is a type of poetry that does not contain patterns of rhyme or meter. This is a free-verse poem with no strict rhyme or meter.
  3. Quatrain: A quatrain is a four-lined stanza borrowed from Persian poetry. Here, first, two stanzas are quatrains.
  1. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. This poem has five stanzas with each comprising a different number of verses.

Quotes to be Used

The lines stated below are useful while talking about the mastery of God one witnesses in the form of natural beauty.

“The rays of the sun
are like a pair of scissors
cutting the blanket
of the dawn from the sky.”