Posts Tagged ‘Nigeria’

Poet’s Profile

jp clark J.P. Clark has been one of those principal Nigerian poets whose works have been studied far and worldwide. He was born in Kiagbodo to Ijaw parents in 1935. He schooled in Nigeria till his first degree in English from the University of Ibadan and then went on to work both at UI and then later at the University of Lagos. While in these two places, he was actively engaged in literary activity, being founder of the student poetry magazine The Horn at University of Ibadan, and also coeditor of the literary journal Black Orpheus when he was lecturer at the University of Lagos.

Clark studied a year at Princeton, after which he published America, Their America (1964), which was a criticism of middle-class American values and black-American lifestyles. His works also included Poems (1962) and A Reed in the Tide (1965), His Casualties: Poems 1966–68 (1970) which talks about the Nigerian civil war, Decade of Tongues (1981), State of the Union (1985, as J.P. Clark Bekederemo), and Mandela and Other Poems (1988). He wrote and published plays as well.

As one of Africa’s leading authors, he has continued to play active roles on literary affairs even after retirement, resulting in his receipt of the Nigerian National Merit Award for literary excellence in 1991. Howard University published his two definitive volumes, The Ozidi Saga and Collected Plays and Poems 1958-1988. He held visiting professorial appointments at several institutions of higher learning, including Yale and Wesleyan University in the United States. The poem reviewed here below is one of his most studied. This poem should not be confused with another of the same title by Wole Soyinka, the other Nigerian great.


Coming and going these several seasons,
Do stay out on the baobab tree,
Follow where you please your kindred spirits
If indoors is not enough for you.
True, it leaks through the thatch
When floods brim the banks,
And the bats and the owls
Often tear in at night through the eaves,
And at harmattan, the bamboo walls
Are ready tinder for the fire
That dries the fresh fish up on the rack.
Still, it’s been the healthy stock
To several fingers, to many more will be
Who reach to the sun.
No longer then bestride the threshold
But step in and stay
For good. We know the knife scars
Serrating down your back and front
Like beak of the sword-fish,
And both your ears, notched
As a bondsman to this house,
Are all relics of your first comings.
Then step in, step in and stay
For her body is tired,
Tired, her milk going sour
Where many more mouths gladden the heart.


The title of J.P. Clark’s poem is a store of meaning for the poem itself since it gives us understanding of many of the sentences we will encounter in the poem. The word Abiku is Yoruba for ‘spirit child. It refers to a child who must die and repeatedly be reborn again and again. So, Clark is talking to one of these Abiku.

The poem opens by Clark sounding a denouncement to this Abiku who probably has just been reborn, for ‘coming and going these several seasons’ (line 1) to mean that he gets born, and when the family thinks that he is here to stay, he dies. And he does it several times so that Clark seems so fed up as to tell him to ‘stay out on the baobab tree’ (line 2). In Ghanaian cultural tradition and I should suppose same for Nigerian too, the baobab tree is suspected to be the meeting place of all manner of spirits, witches and wizards who work at night. This is because the tree is usually huge, grows tall and has thick shrubbery that gives it a mystical look especially at night. By asking Abiku to stay out on the baobab tree, Clark is asking him to stay in the spirit world and not be reborn. In the third line, Clark emphasises this by asking Abiku to ‘follow’ where he pleases his ‘kindred spirits’, which gives a sense that Abiku keeps coming and going from a community of like-minded spirits. This should be so, as Clark says, if ‘indoors is not enough’ for Abiku (line 4). Indoors refers to normal life among men when Abiku brings joy at birth, only to bring sorrow at death soon after.

Clark goes on to explain the modest conditions in which they live, if perhaps that is what keeps Abiku going away. He confesses that it ‘leaks through the thatch’ (line 5), a roof of grass and straw used as matting for a poor home built usually of clay, when it rains till ‘floods brim the banks’ (line 6). At night also, bats and owls tear through the eaves (lines 7-8), making sleep difficult. Then when the dry harmattan of the West African dry season comes, the bamboo support of the house is torn down to make fires on which the poor fish caught for the household is dried up on the rack (line 9-11). Maybe Abiku keeps going because he is born into a poor home. Clark makes this excuse and still insists that Abiku should stay out nevertheless because regardless of how poor they are, the house is the ‘healthy stock’ (line 12) to many more people who are born and stay, and others more who ‘reach to the sun’ (line 13). I will translate this reaching to the sun to mean that they grow up, each growing taller bringing them vertically closer to the sun. Abiku never stays long enough to grow up.

Clark continues that Abiku should make up his mind, no longer should he ‘bestride the threshold’ (line 14), meaning he should no longer stay with one foot indoors and the other out on the baobab tree; an indecision between life and death, this world and the other, ‘but step in and stay. For good’ (line 15-16). Henceforth, Clark mentions a few things we will need to understand by understanding the culture of Yoruba.

When an Abiku comes and goes a couple of times, a frustrated family gives the Abiku scars at birth so that being now made ugly, it will displease the gods and spirits to have him return to the spirit world. This makes the child stay alive and end the sorrow of the family that is burdened to bear that child over and over. Clark says that they can see and ‘know the knife scars’ (line 16) running ‘down [his] back and front’ (line 17), ‘like beak of the sword-fish’ (line 18). They have made their mark on him so that when he has now been reincarnated with those scars, they recognize him ‘as a bondsman to [their] house’ (line 20), having also ‘both [his] ears, notched’ (line 19). In pastoral communities, cattle owners use ear brands and notches to indicate which cattle belong to them. These notches look like huge, coloured earrings on which specific alphabets or even the colour, serve to identify one man’s cattle from his neighbour’s. Clark says that these very evident marks are ‘relics of [Abiku’s] first comings’ (line 21). They are not mistaken; they know him as the one.

Finally, Clark tries to convince Abiku to ‘step in, step in and stay’ (line 22), for the woman who bears him is now ‘tired’ (line 22) of his many reincarnations and so tired that her milk now is ‘going sour’ (line 23). This souring only happens to milk that has grown old and we will assume this to mean that the woman is now growing too old to keep up with Abiku’s treachery and may no longer have a strong body to bear him. Clark tries to make it not sound so bad, by saying that it is with this same milk that ‘many more mouths’ (line 23), presumably of those other people who stay and ‘reach to the sun’, have ‘gladden[ed] the heart (line 23). Which heart? The hearts of the family which have not hurt because these other people lived on and also the hearts of these ones who lived on to gladden themselves with the milk of this woman’s breast!

This is a great poem by all standards and there is no doubt why it is one of Clark’s most studied.

Achebe44Three days ago was World Poetry Day. Two days ago, Chinua Achebe passed away. Today, I weep.

The only novel of his I have read is the world-acclaimed ‘Things Fall Apart’ but it was so impressive, I read it twice.  I also have read reviews of his last publication, ‘There was a Country’, which comes across as probably his most criticised work.

Achebe is popular as the Father of African literature in English language. When his death was announced, so many lovers of literature spent the day quoting witty and proverbial texts from any of his books that they had read. I simply tweeted ‘Chinua Achebe’.

On Wikipedia, you find this text that says: “Things Fall Apart went on to become one of the most important books in African literature. Selling over 8 million copies around the world, it was translated into 50 languages, making Achebe the most translated African writer of all time.”

‘There was a Country’ seems to be a book that defends Biafra’s role in the 1960s Biafran war which the region fought against the rest of Nigeria, in search of secession.  The cruelty with which the war was won, where the nation starved the Biafra region of food and supplies, causing the death of about a million people, makes the war one to forget. Achebe was a Biafran and after that war, he withdrew from public service, constantly criticising successive Nigerian governments till his death. He turned down state awards in both 2005 and 2011, in a statement of defiance of governments that did little to care for the people. His whole life was a protest and it showed remarkably in his work, Things Fall Apart. Reviews of his other works suggest that in all of them, he was staunch in his protest, earlier of colonialism and later of corruption and graft in his native Nigeria. During the Biafran war, he wrote more poetry because that was more convenient and that was what he could squeeze his emotion and life into at the time.

Chinua is gone. Did we not know he would? We did. Because that is the end destined for us all. And even as we mourn his passing, we reflect on the life he lived among us and the contribution he made to African literature in English.  There is no voice louder than his on the work he chose for his life to do.  At 82, he had played his part.

Achebe was close to Nigerian poet Christopher Okigbo (very good friends with Achebe’s son) with whom he stood in the Biafran war. You can read this reviewed poem of Okigbo’s here on this blog. Okigbo died as an early casualty of the Biafran war himself in 1967. Chinua wrote for Okigbo this poem I will like to leave us all with. Let Paradise keep you, Chinua.


For whom are we searching?
For whom are we searching?
For Okigbo we are searching!

Has he gone for firewood, let him return.
Has he gone to fetch water, let him return.
Has he gone to the marketplace, let him return.
For Okigbo we are searching!
For whom are we searching?
For whom are we searching?
For Okigbo we are searching!

Has he gone for firewood, may Ugboko not take him.
Has he gone to the stream, may Iyi not swallow him!
Has he gone to the market, then keep from him you
Tumult of the marketplace!
Has he gone to battle,
Please Ogbonuke step aside for him!
For Okigbo we are searching!

They bring home a dance, who is to dance it for us?
They bring home a war, who will fight it for us?
The one we call repeatedly,
there’s something he alone can do
It is Okigbo we are calling!
Witness the dance, how it arrives
The war, how it has broken out
But the caller of the dance is nowhere to be found
The brave one in battle is nowhere in sight!
Do you not see now that whom we call again
And again, there is something he alone can do?
It is Okigbo we are calling!

The dance ends abruptly
The spirit dancers fold their dance and depart in midday
Rain soaks the stalwart, soaks the two-sided drum!
The flute is broken that elevates the spirit
The music pot shattered that accompanies the leg in
its measure
Brave one of my blood!
Brave one of Igbo land!
Brave one in the middle of so much blood!
Owner of riches in the dwelling place of spirit
Okigbo is the one I am calling!

In memory of the poet Christopher Okigbo (1932-1967)
Translated from the Igbo by Ifeanyi Menkit. Ref: Poetry Foundation Ghana.




Abioseh Nicol (1924–1994) was born as Davidson Sylvester Hector Willoughby Nicol in Freetown, the capital city of Sierra Leone. His descended from a Creole family; an educated and elite ex-slave community. He attended primary school in Nigeria and, in 1946, graduated from Christ’s College and then later from Cambridge University in the United Kingdom where he did research in biochemistry. He earned his Ph.D. in 1958 and lectured at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria.

Nicol has written poetry, articles and short stories that have appeared in a number of publications. He won the Margaret Wrong Prize and Medal for Literature in Africa in 1952. Many reviewers have acclaimed his work to be dramatic and representative of rural, idyllic Africa. This poem, THE MEANING OF AFRICA, is one of his more notable pieces and speaks volumes about his love for the continent.

The Meaning of Africa

Africa, you were once just a name to me
But now you lie before me with sombre green challenge
To that loud faith for freedom (life more abundant)
Which we once professed shouting
Into the silent listening microphone
Or on an alien platform to a sea
Of white perplexed faces troubled
With secret Imperial guilt; shouting
Of you with a vision euphemistic
As you always appear
To your lonely sons on distant shores.

Then the cold sky and continent would disappear
In a grey mental mist.
And in its stead the hibiscus blooms in shameless scarlet
and the bougainvillea in mauve passion
entwines itself around strong branches
the palm trees stand like tall proud moral women
shaking their plaited locks against the
cool suggestive evening breeze;
the short twilight passes;
the white full moon turns its round gladness
towards the swept open space
between the trees; there will be
dancing tonight; and in my brimming heart
plenty of love and laughter.
Oh, I got tired of the cold northern sun
Of white anxious ghost-like faces
Of crouching over heatless fires
In my lonely bedroom.
The only thing I never tired of
was the persistent kindness
Of you too few unafraid
Of my grave dusky strangeness.

So I came back
Sailing down the Guinea Coast.
Loving the sophistication
Of your brave new cities:
Dakar, Accra, Cotonou,
Lagos, Bathurst and Bissau;
Liberia, Freetown, Libreville,
Freedom is really in the mind.

Go up-country, so they said,
To see the real Africa.
For whomsoever you may be,
That is where you come from.
Go for bush, inside the bush,
You will find your hidden heart,
Your mute ancestral spirit.
So I went, dancing on my way.

Now you lie before me passive
With your unanswering green challenge.
Is this all you are?
This long uneven red road, this occasional succession
Of huddled heaps of four mud walls
And thatched, falling grass roofs
Sometimes ennobled by a thin layer
Of white plaster, and covered with thin
Slanting corrugated zinc.
These patient faces on weather-beaten bodies
Bowing under heavy market loads.
The pedalling cyclist wavers by
On the wrong side of the road,
As if uncertain of his new emancipation.
The squawking chickens, the pregnant she-goats
Lumber awkwardly with fear across the road,
Across the windscreen view of my four-cylinder kit car.
An overloaded lorry speeds madly towards me
Full of produce, passengers, with driver leaning
Out into the swirling dust to pilot his
Swinging obsessed vehicle along,
Beside him on the raised seat his first-class
Passenger, clutching and timid; but he drives on
At so, so many miles per hour, peering out with
Bloodshot eyes, unshaved face and dedicated look;
His motto painted on each side: Sunshine Transport,
We get you there quick, quick. The Lord is my Shepherd.

The red dust settles down on the green leaves.

I know you will not make me want, Lord,
Though I have reddened your green pastures
It is only because I have wanted so much
That I have always been found wanting.
From South and East, and from my West
(The sandy desert holds the North)
We look across a vast continent
And blindly call it ours.

You are not a country, Africa,
You are a concept,
Fashioned in our minds, each to each,
To hide our separate fears,
To dream our separate dreams.
Only those within you who know
Their circumscribed plot,
And till it well with steady plough
Can from that harvest then look up
To the vast blue inside
Of the enamelled bowl of sky
Which covers you and say
‘This is my Africa’ meaning
‘I am content and happy.
I am fulfilled, within,
Without and roundabout
I have gained the little longings
Of my hands, my loins, my heart
And the soul that follows in my shadow.’
I know now that is what you are, Africa:
Happiness, contentment, and fulfilment,
And a small bird singing on a mango tree.

This poem, albeit long, is a testament to Nicol’s understanding of Africa. And when he explains it, he speaks for all his brothers, Africa’s ‘lonely sons on distant shores.’

In the first stanza, he mentions how from afar on distant shores, from other continents, Africa was just to him a name for which they had screamed freedom. Born in 1924, he was in England in the days when most of the continent was still under colonial rule and he makes us understand that he was part of them that shouted freedom into ‘the silent listening microphone’ while ‘white perplexed faces’ looked on with ‘Imperialist guilt’. While he vehemently defended and decreed the freedom of Africa, the continent appeared in his mind and those of all the other Africans in the diaspora, with all glorious appeal, euphemistic.

In the second stanza, he mentions how ‘the cold sky and continent’ of Europe will disappear from his mind and he’ll get on to dreaming about hibiscus blooms, bougainvillea, palm trees, and many African markers that brim his heart with ‘plenty of love and laughter’. These things make him weary of ‘the cold northern sun’ and the faces of white people he calls ‘anxious, ghost-like’ and how he bends over heatless fires in a lonely bedroom. He will only stay alight by the kindness of the few who were not afraid of his blackness. This is miserable.

So in his own words, he comes back down to Africa in stanza three, fascinated by the braveness of its new cities. He mentions in one breath Liberia, Freetown and Libreville. The first embodies Freedom, as it comes from the two words “Liberty Area”, the Land of the Free. Freetown is the English translation of the French Libreville, one in Sierra Leone, the other in Gabon. All these evoke passions of liberation and Nicol is immediately engrossed. He is asked to explore the hinterlands, ‘For whomsoever you may be/That is where you come from” in the fourth stanza and he goes away dancing.

But in five, he is disappointed almost. The Africa he finds in the hinterlands is undeveloped, showing red road, thatch roofing falling off mud walls, if they be complicated, then the houses will have thin, white plastering and be covered with corrugated zinc roofs. He sees weary-looking people with patience written on their faces. He sees simple lives led by simple men, not worried by their seeming poverty and almost unmoved, uncaring and unaffected by all the emancipation noise that he and his brothers have been making on their behalf.

That line that sits hanging alone in the middle “The red dust settles down on the green leaves” is a dampened hope. The green is fertility, vibrancy and newness. The red coats it and covers it. The red dirties it and makes it worth nothing. For Nicol, his positive acclaim for an energetic Africa is met by apathetic-looking listlessness. He meets an anti-climax and he moans in the ensuing verse, asking God for forgiveness. He says that it is because “I have wanted so much” that he may have been disappointed that he didn’t see the glamour he thought Africa had. In fact, what he sees humbles him that poor people take pride in their lowliness and call the Lord their ‘Shepherd’.

Nicol ends philosophically, calling Africa a concept that dwells only in the mind and is better understood by the people who dwell in her. ‘We look across a vast continent/And blindly call it ours.’ It is not ours. It is a dream. It is a notion, a theory, a perception, an impression, a belief. And for what it means to us all separately, it makes us ‘dream our separate dreams’. He concludes that Africa belongs more to those dwelling in her than those outside because her in-dwellers can look down at God’s providence ‘inside/Of the enamelled bowl of sky’ and say ‘This is my Africa’. And in their eyes, Nicol has found a new meaning to Africa he never knew before. That Africa means:

‘I am content and happy.
I am fulfilled, within,
Without and roundabout
I have gained the little longings
Of my hands, my loins, my heart
And the soul that follows in my shadow.’

He knows the full extent of Africa’s meaning now:

Happiness, contentment, and fulfilment,
And a small bird singing on a mango tree.

This poem is a brilliant statement of the affection of Africans for the continent. It goes beyond all saying that Africa is the only continent that was made to be loved and felt a part of. I have said in a place that America is to be honoured and defended, Europe is to be romanticised, Asia is to be spoken of with mystique but Africa is to be loved. This is where Nicol enforces the concept. Beautiful poem by all standards and if you have been able to stay on the page till this line, bless your soul for it.




I discovered this poem when I was surfing other sites dedicated to African poetry. As I have already indicated here on this blog, Osundare is one poet whose works I hold in great admiration.

Osundare was born in 1947 in Ikere-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Nigeria. He is a prolific poet, dramatist and literary critic with degrees from the University of Ibadan (BA), the University of Leeds (MA) and York University, Canada (PhD, 1979). Previously professor (from 1989) and Head of English (1993–1997) at the University of Ibadan, he became professor of English at the University of New Orleans in 1997. He has a lovely wife Kimi and 3 children, two girls, one deaf, and a son who still lives in Nigeria. His deaf daughter is the real reason Osundare is settled in the United States. She could not go to school in Nigeria so they found a school in the U.S. for her and so Osundare could be closer to her they moved with her.

This poem is a wakening tribute to a concept which might pass overlooked by many an observer. But as is the duty of the bard, Osundare dotes upon the unsung and brings its music to the ear of the listener. Here is his tribute.



This poem by Osundare is marvellous more for its structure than for its content. The entire poem is one long run-on; a single sentence that blabs on till the end, leaving the reader both amused and asking for more.

But the poem’s title contrasts with its structure. A poem titled as WAITING should have been a tedious read, with lines closing after a long winding, and holding brief for a tiresome, monotonous culture. It doesn’t! Instead, the lines come to a quick close after a few alphabets – just one in some instances – which makes you jump as fast from one line to the next in a sense of hurry rather than of wait. The most striking of such use is where “yawn” is split to make an alphabet per line, giving you a sense of yawn, even inducing a yawn in you if you should read the poem a few times over. That is the quality of the word itself and as Osundare spreads it over the page, the mind of the reader is effectively lulled alongside.

So what is the poem saying? Take it in here: it only tells of rain-drop! A Rain-drop so glorified and extolled in lines as sacred as those above. Immortalised!

To add to the mystery of the poem, Osundare begins it as though he has been saying something all along that we know nothing about, or have not been listening to. He says that something is waiting longer than the moon yawns in a brown sky. A brown sky then should be a boring sky, holding not very much excitement. And when he adds “with heels of fleeting fancies”, we understand the boredom much more. Fleeting fancies are preferences that change with every next moment. One minute you want to do this, the next minute your mind is changed! A true epitome of boredom!

He now tells us that what he talks about is “a diamond tear”. But from whose eyes? We have no idea. The tear is waiting, as though holding on for an increased pity for the one who bears it. Truth be told, unshed tears increase sorrow as much as they invoke greater pity.

We only become aware that he talks about a rain-drop, shaped in a diamond configuration, when he concludes that it is “in the eye of the cloud” and as it is, it’s getting ready to drop. Then we understand the bigger picture that Osundare is trying to paint. He has successfully brought us to compassion with the period before everyday rainfall, likening it to the burden of sorrow which he has caused us to bear in the somehow sad and melancholic lines of this poem. Another great piece from my favourite poet coming out of Nigeria!




Today, I review my favourite Nigerian poet, Niyi Osundare, whose works strike the same cords with me as Kwesi Brew of Ghana.

He was born in 1947 in Ikere-Ekiti, Ekiti State, Nigeria. He is a prolific poet, dramatist and literary critic with degrees from the University of Ibadan (BA), the University of Leeds (MA) and York University, Canada (PhD, 1979). Previously professor (from 1989) and Head of English (1993–1997) at the University of Ibadan, he became professor of English at the University of New Orleans in 1997. He has a lovely wife Kimi and 3 children, two girls, one deaf, and a son who still lives in Nigeria. His deaf daughter is the real reason Osundare is settled in the United States. She could not go to school in Nigeria so they found a school in the U.S. for her and so Osundare could be closer to her they moved with her.

Osundare believes that there is no choice for the African poet but to be political. He has accused and protested against generations of corrupt Nigerian leaders and this poem following is a testament to his bluntness. He doesn’t hide his statement behind humour or wit. He conjures the intended feeling with the straightest words. Not My Business was written in accusation of the murderous dictatorship of Gen. Sanni Abacha from 1993 to 1998.


They picked Akanni up one morning
Beat him soft like clay
And stuffed him down the belly
Of a waiting jeep.

What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

They came one night
Booted the whole house awake
And dragged Danladi out,
Then off to a lengthy absence.

What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

Chinwe went to work one day
Only to find her job was gone:
No query, no warning, no probe –
Just one neat sack for a stainless record.

What business of mine is it
So long they don’t take the yam
From my savouring mouth?

And then one evening
As I sat down to eat my yam
A knock on the door froze my hungry hand.

The jeep was waiting on my bewildered lawn
Waiting, waiting in its usual silence.

This poem ends poignantly. From the beginning, Osundare is a commentator. A passive viewer who cares little or in fact, has little power to change what he sees. And what he sees is not pleasant.
A man is taken early morning, beaten and then driven away in a jeep.

Osundare is not bothered, supposedly. Once his yam still reaches his mouth, there is no need.

The next time, it happens at night! A man’s house is terrorised awake and he is dragged away, not to be heard from anymore for a long time. Osundare sings his chorus once again: what business of his is it if nobody has asked him.

Slowly, line by line, we see the decadence that characterised the brutal Abacha regime. Rather than tell us global and general stories of how people suffered during the period, Osundare marches with his pen into homes and draws out stories of individuals he names as Akanni and Danladi. By this deed, he puts a human, everyday face on the people so that we can identify with the terrors of people who bear our names and do our everyday tasks. Every time it happens around him and he reports it, Osundare is telling us that it is marching towards him and it won’t be long before we don’t hear from him again; not long before his poem will cease!

So imagine that Chinwe has also lost her job with no explanation. This is representative enough and tells of what could have been happening all across God’s own Nigeria! It is so common and widespread that it happens to your neighbours. Some serious mischief was afoot in Nigeria and in a time that writing poetry was censored, it was guts that made Osundare an icon. He said later that no dictator could be his friend!

In the last two stanzas, see someone come knocking on his door as he sits to eat his yam! His time has come and the jeep waits for him on “my bewildered lawn”, to a future uncertain. Why is the lawn bewildered though? Osundare should have expected this long ago. Maybe, that’s why he wrote us this piece. Beautiful poem by all standards.




Christopher Okigbo is a Nigerian poet who was born in Ojoto, in the east, in 1932. He read classics at the University of Ibadan and rose through many education-related professions to become the West African Representative of Cambridge University Press. He was a lively conversationalist and had a creative disposition, borne out of his large appetite for reading.

But civil strife in Nigeria took his life quickly. When the Biafra war started, he stood for the secession-seeking Biafra region and was one of the early casualties of the war, in 1967.

But before he passed away, Okigbo published the volumes Heavensgate, The Limits and Other Poems, as well as long sequences in journals.

Here is a true pillar in the development of Nigerian literature.

The moon has ascended between us,
Between two pines
That bow to each other;

Love with the moon has ascended
5 Has fed on our solitary stems;

And we are now shadows
That cling to each other,
But kiss the air only


This is a poem of heartbreak. Christopher Okigbo conveys this feeling through the particular reference to nature, where all artists seek inspiration. He uses the air, the moon and two pines.

In many parts of Africa, such as Ghana and Nigeria particularly, the passage of time is measured by the moon. “Three moons” is “three months” for the Ewe people of Ghana, Togo and Benin.

Okigbo says the moon has descended between two pines, he and another. The pine is an evergreen tree, symbolising longevity. This means that the two people still live on. But times have changed for them.

And with its ascent, it took love with it in line 4. So the two of them have lost the love they shared. And it’s left them solitary; Left them as “shadows!” (line 6)

So, two “pines” which loved, now only “cling” to each other in line 7 and kiss only the air. This cling is not the meaning that explains “holding tight.” The word cling also means to have emotional need of somebody. A need that is not met. That is hard or impossible to satisfy.

So, Okigbo tells us that the parting was done, just like the rise of the moon, maybe just fleetingly. But it leaves an ache, a pain, a longing, a craving that is hard to meet. And that is the power of the poem.
I dedicate this to anyone who will ever read this and may be hurting while reading. The pines are evergreen; that is the ray of hope. Life goes on.




Dennis Osadebe was born in Asaba, Delta State, Nigeria in 1911 to parents of mixed cultural backgrounds. For a long time, his education and work were in Nigeria before he left to study law in England in the 1940s. He has been in politics, journalism and practiced as a jurist. For a time, he was Premier of the Mid-West Region of the Federation of Nigeria upon its creation. He was also one of the founders of the National Council of Nigeria and the Cameroons in 1944.
Like many poets, Osadebe wrote first for journals and newspapers such as the West African Pilot. His first anthology, Africa Sings was published while he was studying in England. As an African born in the colonial era, his poetry resonates with others rising across the continent at that time, talking about Africanness and the desire to carve an identity for a continent fighting to put herself on a more-deserved pedestal.

Who buys my thoughts
Buys not a cup of honey
That sweetens every taste;
He buys the throb,
5 Of Young Africa’s soul,
The soul of teeming millions,
Hungry, naked, sick,
Yearning, pleading, waiting.

Who buys my thoughts
10 Buys not false pretence
Of oracles and tin gods;
He buys the thoughts
Projected by the mass
Of restless youths who are born
15 Into deep and clashing cultures,
Sorting, questioning, watching.

Who buys my thoughts
Buys the spirit of the age,
The unquenching fire that smoulders
20 And smoulders
In every living heart
That’s true and noble or suffering;
It burns all o’er the earth,
Destroying, chastening, cleansing.

This poem is Osadebe’s statement of Africa’s soul at a time that he can confidently call Africa young: a continent waking to the realities of her need for independence. He compares his thoughts to the throb/ Of Young Africa’s soul (lines 4-5) and in his opening lines, he tells us that they are not a cup of honey/That sweetens every taste (lines 2-3). Osadebe feels the revolutionary wind that is blowing across the continent and which he embodies in the soul of this poem, representing The soul of teeming millions (line 6) with his thoughts. He writes on despair but looks to hope in the contrast of the lines that end the first stanza: Hungry, naked, sick (line 7) are desperate but in the next line, Yearning, pleading, waiting are more hopeful.
Osadebe says that his thoughts are not the thoughts of any one man who bestrides Africa, the country, like a Colossus, a tin god to be worshipped. But he breathes the fire of restless youths who, are tired of their present and are sorting, questioning, watching (line 16). In pre-colonial times, this was a common theme that helped to shape the thinking of a continent on the brink of revolution. What Osadebe does best is to use a prophetic, rhythmic repetition to show the desperation of Africa for change. His continued repetition of the line, Who buys my thoughts, is more of a warning than a statement of harmony.

The final stanza ignites the volcano that is hid in his heart and is now brewing inside the African revolutionary heart. He claims his thoughts as unquenching fire that burns in every heart that is alive. Every heart that is suffering and is honest! Osadebe now calls his thoughts a fire that burns all over the earth. Here reflects the mission of his life which was lived on two continents and goes beyond the call for freedom in his country Africa. Here sounds a call for freedom for people suffering everywhere. A call that Osadebe, and of course Africa, is not ready to beg for, but to claim in an inferno.

The beauty of every last line of the stanzas is the fact that it ends with a word that evokes a brighter future for which Africa is waiting (line 8), watching (line 16) and with her fire, is cleansing, (line 24).