The Poet

Dennis Vincent Brutus (1924 - 2009) was a South African poet and journalist and one among his popular poem is Letter To Martha 17 which shares the inner thoaghts of a prisoner. In this article, discussion will revolve around the use symbolism, style and setting by the poet.

The Style

In terms of style, Letter To Martha 17 by Dennis Brutus is a 6 stanza poem totaling 29 lines. Brutus structured this poem in free verse with the use of run-on-lines maybe to please the urgency for freedom as felt by the poem speaker. Besides the line arrangement, soberness and simplicity in diction are things of note because it doesn’t require much literary expertise for anyone to comprehend the message of the poem.

The Symbolism

Lets look at the use of symbolism amongst other poetic devices embodied in the poem. The “mind” in the poem symbolized the prisoner and his thoughts as seen in line 8 of the poem “the mind turns upwards/ when it can”; it represented the man unhappy state of confinement. In line 12, “the arc and fluorescent” were also symbols of
limitation (the barricade of the prisoner) because they made the prisoner so oblivious of all the happenings behind the prison walls; leaving the victim with imaginations and rhetorical questions.

The Setting

The setting of the poem “Letter To Martha 17” is clearly prison; as a reason or another, a man landed in prison without access to the freedom he had once taken for granted while at hand. In the prison, the prisoner in question, had no other means of expanding his visibility than to embrace the use of his mind’s eyes imaging the freedom enjoyed by sky, cloud, birds, etc.
It must be noted that Brutus accepted that the best freedom for human is in nature. He indirectly claimed this via the prisoner’s predicament as he revealed the sweetness in the freedom enjoyed by the birds, the sky, the clouds, etc.
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Samuel C. Enunwa aka samueldpoetry
(the Leo with wings flying)


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