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Critical Analysis of The Serf by Roy Campbell

            The title is of one who works close to the soil, someone who is often a suppressed person. The poem bears this suppression in mind - however, it is a feeling he has subdued. The fact that he is "naked" shows his standing in life - however, the dust of the land that is the source of his life clothes him. It is very hot ("torrid") which shows the state of the land and the air - but mist is cooling, and the dust and surrounding air is not. Even the horse has to be patient - this is his life, just as it is his master's. The ploughman might be a "somnambulist" as his job is tedious and he appears to be sleepwalking. The work does not take much effort or thought on his part and he has time to think and to plan. One also gets the sense of someone plodding along - here it applies to both the man and the horse. His plough cuts grooves into the ground and the way the red soil falls, it looks almost as if the blood of the land is spilling out. .
             Lines 5 - 9 compare the serf's heart and land he is working on. In his heart he has been deeply wounded and been insulted - this is exactly what he is doing to the land. In the past, the war cry was a need of his heart and was life-giving in that it brought him relief. The "red clods" are also crying out for the relief offered by the rain. The tribal spear was also a way of satisfying his emotions - and fell on the ground forming patterns, just as the sheaves of corn fall on the land. (Note how the poet uses images from the land that relate to a man of the land). However, both the land and the desires of his heart are now "fallow" - there is nothing growing there (the land is dry and in need of rain and he has suffered so much oppression that nothing good can grow in his heart). A word like "rasping" brings to mind the sound of the plough in the soil - and it shows effectively how he plough tears and cuts the soil (in the same way that the insults he has to bear tear his heart).

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