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Bodily disintegration and successful ageing in Body Bereft by Antjie Krog

A Pretorius


Antjie Krog’s Body Bereft (2006) details both the bodily changes brought about by older age and the ways in which these changes fracture a person’s previously-stable sense of self. This article reads Krog’s depiction of the ageing body in a small selection of poems from this collection in relation to the unavoidable reality of bodily decay and what is referred to in gerontological theory as ‘successful ageing’. This tension dominates large parts of the gerontological field, and can be seen in Krog’s ambivalent representation of older age in Body Bereft. Through close readings of a number of poems, I will investigate the ways in which Krog problematises the relationship between the lived experience of older age with its concomitant sense of deterioration, and the societal impetus to age well and accept ageing with magnanimity. I will demonstrate that this collection  foregrounds the poet’s refusal to accept pre-existing discourses that delimit ageing as something either to bemoan or celebrate. I will conclude that this refusal finds particular expression in her poems “dommelfei / crone in the woods” and “how do you say this”.

Keywords: Antjie Krog; Body Bereft, gerontology; successful ageing, bodily deterioration