Totius and the imagery of doom and imperial destruction

S Sharland


The South African poet J D du Toit, popularly known as Totius (1877-1953), published collections of personal, religious and political  poetry, inspired by the struggles of the Afrikaner people after the South African War or Second Boer War (1899-1902).  Although the poet enjoyed a Classical education, firstly as a child at a German mission school, and subsequently in his Theological studies, Classical influence on Totius’ work has not been considered to date. This article investigates two poems for their possible Classical precedents. In the first, Totius considers but ultimately rejects the idea of the river Lethe as a way of forgetting his personal tragedies. In the second, he compares the disaster the Afrikaners experienced in the South African War to a roadside thorn-tree that is destroyed by a passing ox-wagon, here representing British
imperialism. This may have a precedent in the destruction of the flower cut down by a plough at the edge of the meadow (Catullus 11.21-24), the political dimensions of which coincide with Totius’ anti-imperialist sentiments. Although the Biblical, Christian paradigm is dominant in Totius’ writing, this article suggests that the Classical world was an alternative source of inspiration for this poet.

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ISSN 2079-2883 (online); ISSN 0303-1896 (print)

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