A witch doctor treated a man for trachoma with a caustic root, and the man went blind. Terrified and depressed, he sat in the doorway of his home for two years while "his wives ministered" to him. One night he went off on his own and "fell into a dry well and died upside down."


This short (18-line) poem is a sober, somewhat paradoxical, commentary on human nature and its limitations. While we sometimes romanticize traditional healing methods, in this case the treatment for trachoma was worse than the disease. (It is true, however, that trachoma itself can often result in blindness.)

The blind man was depressed; others in his family avoided interacting with him; and, in an ambiguous ending, he either died accidentally or by suicide. Is there a "visionary" in this poem? If so, who is he? The man who loses his sight? Or the witch doctor who destroys it?


First published: 1964

Primary Source

Sjambok and Other Poems from Africa


A. D. Donker

Place Published

Capetown, South Africa