The legendary English Romantic poet, William Wordsworth defined poetry as “an outburst of powerful emotions recollected in tranquillity”. I wish to accept Wordsworth’s definition in this case.
In an interview conducted by Obu Udeozo, a Jos-based poet and architect, Maik Nwosu says that “poetry lends itself to a kind of immediate and passionate resonance; it lends the kind of vibration you would require if you are trying to make an immediate statement.” The poetic genre is known to be the purest and freest form of literature.
A moralist is a person who must undergo the difficult task of sanitising his society. He is meant to call his people to order if they go astray and re-direct them towards the right path of life. If that moralist is a poet, he has to use that pure and free form of expression to save his society from economic, social and religious collapse by sending out shouts and cries of warning in his exquisite verses. A glance at a few reviews of poetry published in some Nigerian dailies points to this fact.
When reviewing David Odinaka Nwamadi’s collection of poems titled “The Age of Maggots”, Mcphillips Nwachukwu says that the “poet Nwamadi belongs to the school of Nigerian nay world poets who believe in the indispensable power of poetry as an instrument of agenda articulation and projection.” Furthermore, he says that “the art of poetry becomes for the poet an instrument of social commentary: a vantage standpoint and observatory from which he critiques his environment.” Nwachukwu even quoted the poet Nwamadi who says that
The poet is the ripest person
To tongue the dreadful
Questions of a dying century…
In a similar vein, Uduma Kalu reviews Tony E. Afejuku’s collection of poems titled “An Orchard of Wishes”, saying that it “is written as a post-Warri crisis, which symbolises a place of military/colonial carnage, and in another sense, a post military Nigeria.” Kalu says that “An Orchard of Wishes is a return to the past, a rejection of time and history as dominated by those who think they are the strong breed. Ironically, some of these people are ‘maggotmen’, ‘rejects’, ‘guilty’, ‘Godless tyrants’ and ‘destroyers’. Real strong men, like Mandela, fight for the people.” Furthermore, Kalu says that “violence has incidentally mapped the history of Nigeria as evident in the poet’s domain, Warri. There is death, hatred and danger, exploitation, pillage and pollution.” The reviewer detects the love the poet has for his land, and that is why “the land is variously referred to as a woman, an easy trap to make one think that An Orchard of Wishes is just a collection of love poems.”
In Anson Ekechi Chukwu’s review of Hope Eghagha’s “The Governor’s Lodge and other poems”, he says that the multi-dimensional collection of poetry “is woven around the themes of opulence, graft and greed, corruption and unbridled aggrandisement, oppression, injustice on one side, and the gross inequality, poverty, penury, the attendant criminal neglect of the underprivileged and downtrodden in the society, on the other side.” Chukwu goes on further to say that “the poet’s lucid craft of ideas in the collection seems to show his sentimental attachment to such poets as Uganda’s Richard Ntiru and English Romanticist, William Blake, how they paint pathetic pictures of their people. This suggests why Ntiru’s ‘The Pauper’ and Blake’s ‘Tyger, Tyger’ have the same theme as Eghagha’s ‘Governor’s Lodge’.”
A poet lends to satire in order to sanitise his nation. Ezenwa Ohaeto’s collection of pidgin poems titled “If to say I be Soja” was also reviewed in the dailies. The reviewer goes on to say that the “collection of pidgin poems is divided into five sections with each trying to bring out the vices in the Nigerian society.” If to say I be Soja imbibes the spoken Pidgin English in order to bring music to his poetry.
In Uche Anyamele’s review of Maria Ajima’s “Poems of Sanity”, she says that the poet “presents in this well-designed collection of poems, a romanticised picture of her ideal world. Almost becoming Utopian in her postulations, she wants her society to be in tune with others even those outside her ken.” A gentler poet-moralist is hereby presented. Anyamele says that the poet Ajima “is of the opinion that we should establish our own Utopia.” She goes on further to say that the poet “begins on the note of re-ordering her own society where we should abandon loneliness, selflessness and individuality to now weave our hands together in partnership.” The reviewer also mentions the poet’s “turbulent feminist impulse” as she celebrates the girl-child and the woman in her poems. Anyamele also talks about Ajima’s exultation of “God’s invincibility” in her poems.
Donatus Nwoga, in his review, says that “the African intellectual elite – particularly the sensitive among them – are a rather serious group of people. The many problems that beset African political and social development explain why.” In his tribute to Mabel Segun on her 70th birthday anniversary, Uduma Kalu quotes her saying: “Soyinka said we are a wasted generation. I think he is right. But the spirit with which we live is never to give up. That is the reason most of us are successful in our different pursuits.” She expresses a deep-rooted wish for a better and prosperous society in her poem “Corruption”.
A GLIMPSE INTO THE POEM:-
The first two verses of the poem paint a picture of paradise and I believe the poet wants her audience to have that picture in mind.
The land was flowing with milk and honey
And bathed in the light of God’s good Grace;
The remaining verses present a picture of total, irreversible desolation. Being in the midst of this utter wasteland, it is natural for the poet to ask unanswerable questions:
And who shall bury the stricken dead?
Can the little child use the spade yet?
Are there not five good men in Sodom,
Are there not five in Gomorrah
To bury the swollen dead? (Verses 20 – 24)
The poet brings the image of a child into being. A child is known to be a perfect gift from God and a future leader of his people. But here, the poet says:
A little child sits by the door, lone and forlorn
Weeping at a desolation he cannot understand,
Faced with a situation he cannot resolve. (Verses 17 – 19)
The poet makes her audience see death, the finality of life:
I see a household stricken by sin –
Five men are dead another dying. (Verses 15 – 16)
The verses above are a clear illustration of the biblical quotation: The wages of sin is death. In bible history, God cursed the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah with a rain of fire due to the evil the inhabitants of the towns harboured in their hearts. This explains why the poet used the image of Sodom and Gomorrah in the poem. In a way, the poet finds an exasperated answer to the question:
Where could he bury the stricken dead?
Under the dead leaves, under the dead leaves! (Verses 29 – 30)
Here, the poet employs the element of repetition to further solidify her anger. The element of mild satire is also used in the poem:
Come join our merry dancing throng
It is the feast of maggots;
There’s plenty to eat and plenty to drink
Out of the filth of greed. (Verses 11 – 14)
The poet provides the reason for this total death on the land:
The itching palm, the greedy heart,
The meaning look that demands in secret,
Have curdled the milk and saddened the honey
And turned the land to desolation. (Verses 3 – 6)
The poet, in three stanzas and thirty-three free verses, has successfully presented a picture of total destruction of a nation to her audience, and the reason for this destruction, inwardly urging her audience that once that reason is removed, there will be no need for that destruction.
Since poetry is known to be the most powerful genre of literature, the poet has the moral duty of bringing sanctity and sanity to his society. Donatus I. Nwoga says that “…the poets should speak to us about matters of common concern. The failure to communicate would amount to a lack of commitment whatever the themes the poets chose.” I conclude this essay by further quoting him, saying:
Time spent by the poet in self-exploration, in the many minor emotions and perceptions that make up a man’s outlook and basis of knowledge and life, must be considered a valid exercise in growth. Proper poetic expressions of these concerns cannot fail to have the effect of changing men’s consciousness and making them aware of what previously they had not even guessed. The concept of commitment must therefore be released from its enchainment to public themes and expanded to be conterminous with the concept of significance, with the search for, and expression of, human values in public and private consciousness and life. Commitment then becomes a factor of sensitivity of the poetic consciousness to the environment and life at all levels within the society of the poet.
Udeozo, Obu (2002). “Behind the Eloquence of The Suns of Kush.” THISDAY Newspaper. Tuesday, August 27, Vol. 8, No. 2690, pg. 50
Nwachukwu, Mcphillips (2001). “Images and symbols from the creative fountain.” VANGUARD Newspaper. Thursday, July 12, pg. 31
Kalu, Uduma (1999). “Discordant beats from the mangrove.” THE (NIGERIAN) GUARDIAN Newspaper. Monday, December 13, pg. 65
Chukwu, Anson Ekechi (2005). “Metaphor for ills in the society.” THE (NIGERIAN) GUARDIAN Newspaper. Monday, February 14, pg. 68
Ohaeto, Ezenwa (1999). “If to say I be Soja.” THE (NIGERIAN) GUARDIAN Newspaper. Monday, May 31, pg. 81
Anyamele, Uche (2002). “Can There Be Another Utopia?” THE POST EXPRESS Newspaper. Sunday, February 10, pg. 15
Kalu, Uduma (2000). “Celebrating Mabel, mother of children literature.” THE (NIGERIAN) GUARDIAN Newspaper. Monday, February 7, pg. 56
Segun, Mabel. “Corruption.” In Taiwo, Oladele (1970). Collected Poems for Secondary Schools: Book 2. (ed.) London: Macmillan Education Limited, pg. 44
Nwoga, Donatus I. “Obscurity and Commitment in Modern African Poetry.” In Jones, Eldred Durosimi (1973). African Literature Today No. 6: Poetry in Africa. (ed.) London: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd, pp. 26 – 44.