Struggling to find his identity in the face of the South African apartheid history in which he grew up, Nortje chose to exile himself overseas. Although this was a self-imposed exile it extended beyond his geographical dislocation and he experiences a sense of loss and disconnection from his roots such that his identity is also in exile and he feels personally lost. The title is therefore appropriate on more than one level.
Having fled South Africa after getting a scholarship to study at Oxford University in England, Arthur Nortje wrote the poem ‘In Exile’ during the last years of his life; he was only 28 when he died. Writing was a way of communicating with his inner self and he used poetry to express how and what he was feeling and as a means of interpreting his own life. What he was experiencing in reality he wrote down in the form of poetry. Nortje uses his talent of writing poetry to express to others his feeling of alienation, sense of loss and discord.
It is Nortje’s memory that enables him to look back and reflect on what his life was before he went into exile. He mentions ‘open skies’ in line 1 and ‘the blue skies wind-beautiful day, creating paradise’ in line 14. However these positive memories are juxtaposed with his recalling of the negative memories where he says in line 16 ‘the soul decays in exile’. And he wants to blot out his memory ‘clot the blue channel of memory’ because he remembers that his alienation of the politics of South Africa because of the colour of his skin, by reminding himself that ‘wrong pigment has no scope’.