Thursday, June 18, 2009

poetry criticism

The scholarly definition of poetry is, patterned language that dramatizes life’s experiences in an emotional, economic and sublime language. The above definition can go for any form of creative writing. This means that one should look at it more closely. A close look, directs you to six key words (Phrases), namely patterned language, dramatizes, life experiences, emotional, economic and sublime language.

Poetry as patterned language simply means that it is ordinary language structured, organised, and skilfully designed by a sense of beauty to give pleasure by the way words are put together to form a line and how lines are arranged to get to a stanza and stanza to create a whole poem. This arrangement is known as verse. The line is not a grammatical unit but simply a unit of attention.

The design referred to above is specifically to dramatise life experiences. Life experiences are roughly subdivided into two, the restricted and the universal. The restricted are those experiences that a particular individual goes through alone though others can comprehend and relate to them. For example not everyone in his life time undergoes the sensation caused by the pain of a toothache, so such pain and the way it is manifested is restricted in nature. On the other hand, experience like death, love, revenge are experienced almost by everyone albeit in different forms. What poetry does is to voice or put in action these sensations. Since poetry is made to be heard, the poet uses pleasant sound patterns to attract and retain attention of his audience.

The economy of language means that the poet does not waste words. In the words of a great literacy scholar he uses, “ the best words in the best order”, the use of the best words means that the poem is short and easy to memorise irrespectively of the subject under discussion. For example if the poem is discussing the confusion that has come up due to the conflict between two cultures like Okara’s Piano and Drums,, he will use 29 lines compared to Achebe, who writes in over 200 pages both in Arrow of God and Things Fall Apart. The poet is able to do this because his language is figurative and not literal. Images and indirect expressions are used and not straight forward expressions. For example a line like. “ You are the cattle-bird’s-egg” where the apostrophe in I love you my gentle one is described is brief but very concise in the description of the loved one’s rarity of beauty.

Poetry is essentially feelings. These are initially the poet’s that he intends to transfer to the reader. In order for the reader to respond to these feelings, the poet has to use imagination that will, make the reader visualise the experience being communicated.

At all levels of literary study, there is a belief, a negative one at that, that poetry is difficult. The consequence therefore is that one would rather get hold of Leo Tolstoy’s, War and Peace without any apprehension other than a simple poem like Building the nation.

This has created obstinacy among the readers based on irrational assumptions. Many people assume that poetry is hard without reading even a poem. They forget that poetry is not what Soyinka and the likes write. Actually poetry is life and life’s experience. Therefore to say it is hard to say you are not living.

Poetry is like meeting/making acquaintances. How do you feel about your acquaintances? The answers to that question are many and what we feel about others are determined by many factors. One’s encounter with poetry is like meeting new people. Some are liked immediately! Others never and some later after knowing them better. It would be misleading to say all people you meet are disgusting or good. The same applies to poetry. It is wrong to assume all poems are difficult. What has to be done is to calculate a relationship with each individual poem as you do with people.

In order to do this easily and without apprehension is to identify what makes a poem different from other forms of creative writing. One of the things that identify poem is it’s beat which is an aspect of poetry. Sometimes, it is strong and obvious like in oral poetry that a beat can be established as one reads along. Sometimes it is not strong; nevertheless it is always there.

In some special cases there is rhyme in a poem. Rhyme is satisfying to the ear and thus makes the poem musical and easy to remember But in most blank verses, the rhyme is absent; language as stated in the definition is economic. Language is used in a unique way. This is basically to draw and retain attention. The unique use of language may be to create rhythm, rhyme and other sound effects that are particular to poetry or to startle the reader by expressing what is ordinary in an extra-ordinary way. In poetry images and figurative language are very abundant.

Lastly poetry unlike other genres is never a passive activity. The reader must always get involved. This is because the more times you read the poem the better the chance you stand to understand it. The poet does not simply state facts. He rather, takes you on a journey to think, share and explore in his experiences.

Some scholars refer to a poem as a complete entity that stands on its own. What this means is that like a person or a house, it is a complete whole. Being a complete whole means that it has constituent parts for example a human being is a human being because of the parts and characteristics that make him appear different from other species. The human being is described in terms of hands, trunk, legs, face and so on. Like wise a meaningful analysis of a poem presupposes that these features are identified and studied in relationship to the general purpose and meaning of a poem. In the analysis of poetry, the candidate is expected to comment on those features in terms of how they relate and inter-relate to create a complete unit of sense. These include the following;

Sweet states that to name is the first step in not only classifying knowledge but a process of understanding it. It may look nonsensical, in trying to critically analyse the title, because it is simply a title. However, the title by naming a piece of art gives insight about what is it. For example a name like David Beckham identifies a particular individual. It suggests that he is a Christian, an Englishman and a footballer. In other words the name enables someone to know who the person is in a similar way a title in a poem gives someone knowledge and insight into the subject matter of that poem. For example Okara’s poem Piano and drums. Undoubtedly, this poem is rich in many aspects of poetry and shall be referred to later on in the course of this discussion. But at the moment, close attention must be paid to the key words in the title. “Piano” a “drum” are two musical instruments. The simple conjunction ‘and” joins the two. On the surface the poem could be about the persona, a represented by “I” in poem encounter with these musical instruments. A close and critical look at piano and drum reveals that these are cultural embedded instruments, with piano representing European and drum African culture. Therefore, the title in conjunction with other aspects of the poem reveals that the persona is discussing the confusion that has set in as a result of the conflicting cultures. A study of Ntiru’s Introduction suggests that the subject matter of the poems is in the titles.

In the novel we talk of a narrating voice and in poetry it is the speaking voice. This voice can be silent and unidentifiable, like God’s voice in the Bible. When he tells Moses in exodus to go and tell Pharaoh to let his people go, you the reader and Moses know without asking for proof that it is God’s command.

Likewise in poetry there is the voice that communicates the experiences of the poet. The technical term is persona, which in Greek means a mask. The poet hides behind this voice to address the audience.
From the presupposition that that the poet is an observe of life’s experiences that he dramatise, then it is wrong to assume that he is the one who speaks in the poem. He chooses the persona to do the speaking ob his/her behalf. For example in the poem I love you my gentle one. The persona is identified by the first person pronoun I. It is the persona’s feelings and experience that are being communicated and not the poet’s. It is quite logical to argue that Bitamazire may not even know how to love least loved the way that the persona feels in the poem.

A closely related concept to persona is that of apostrophe. It is logical that when one talks, s/he must be talking to someone. In fact without some to address the whole process of communication is null and void. There is no doubt that the poet talks to the reader in a poem. This addressee, however, is not straightforward. Since the whole process is based on dramatisation, the persona always has a person she is addressing. This person is referred to as the apostrophe. In the poem I Love You My Gentle One, the persona addresses the reader by first addressing the beloved –that is his/her lover and the poem once upon a time, the persona seem to be addressing the young son and not the readers.

More often than not, it not what is said but how it said that determines what it means. In this light tone comes in handy in the analysis of poetry. The dictionary defines tone as the inflection or quality behind the speaking voice. The speaking voice in poetry is the persona’s. Therefore it is very important to gauge the attitude and feelings of the speaker. Tone in poetry is the voice with which the poet says what he says. It reveals how he feels about and his attitude to the subject.

From abroad perspective tone in poetry can be described as positive and negative. However, these general terms are not sufficient to describe tone. Depending on the poem, the following adjectives are often used. These are sad, melancholy, bitter, angry, soothing romantic meditative, ironical, sarcastic, and indifferent and so many other adjectives.

It is clear that the above adjectives describe feelings and emotions in addition the poets (persona’s) feeling could be characterised by contempt, mockery, praise and gratitude.

Knowing to define tone is one thing, but what is important is to infer and determine it. Tone is inferred by the context in which the words are used. The choice of words, imagery and sound effect always determine tone. A simple example will suffice before we look at a poem. Supposing students A scores 70% in a test and B scores 18%, and to both, the teacher says good work. The good work comment does not obviously have the same meaning in both cases. In candidate A’s cases good work has a tone of genuine gratitude, happy and grateful. In the case of students B the teacher is angry and bitter and disappointment for performing poorly. Therefore the words are used in opposition of what they truly mean apart from the adjectives listed, ironical can be added to describe the teacher tone. For further illustration the poem below should be considered.

The woman I married.
The woman I married.
Is an out-right bore-shaker
For a full decade
She had banged a typewriter
And now in substitution
Bangs the crockery
Until my house sounds like a factory.

The noise keeps her sane
They say.
(Edwin Waiyaki)
The tone can be inferred from the way the persona describes his wife. Note that he refers to her as a woman I married the words’ bone-shaker, banged the typewriter- crockery and house sounds like a factory”. Reflect the tone of anger at the annoying behaviour of the wife. They at the same time reflect the tone is incomprehensibly and puzzlement that again turns to disgusted humour and the last two lines indicate a tone of resignation. The above comment proves that a poem can have varying tones. What one should endeavour to do is to unravel the tone and show how it is developed and how it advances the meaning of the poem.

In day to day interactions, people often wonder in what mood the people they want to talk to are in. If they are in the good mood, then the interaction is likely to be productive and if it is not, then the meeting can even be deferred. Like tone, mood is an important aspect in the analysis of poetry. It is an aspect of the speaking voice that is defined as the state of mind of the speaker (persona) in the poem. This is the emotion(s) or feeling(s) that the persona expresses in the poem which in turn affect how the reader feels about the poem. Generally we refer to mood as good or bad. This is not sufficient. Adjectives like; happy, angry, bitter, violent, nostalgic, melancholy resigned, ironical, satirical and sarcastic, are more expressive. Like in tone, mood can be revealed in the poem. But always, there is the dominant mood. The poem below can be used for illustration.
Love Apart.
The moon has ascended between us
Between two pines
That bow to each other,

Love with the moon has ascended,
Now fed on our solitary stems;

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

Love Apart has the mood that is relaxed and wistful as well a nostalgic. The persona is separated from person he loves or rather the love has ended as revealed in the image of the moon’s ascending, however, he has accepted the fact of thus end and is not regretting.

Attitude has a double meaning when it used in the analysis of poetry. At one level, it refers to the persona’s way of feeling about the subject he is discussing. At the other level it is the feelings of another person or a characters to another in the poem. The dictionary define attitude as the mood, feeling, or frame of mind of a person. In poetry this means the feeling of the persona or the other characters in the poem.

In the general terms, the attitude could be simply positive or negative. Specifically though, adjectives like the following are used to describe attitude. These are amusing, patronising, gentle, contemptuous, critical, uncritical, wonder, sympathy, understanding and so on.

In assessing the attitude of the poem, one has to look at the point of view of the persona. Never at anytime consider the attitude from your own thoughts and feelings towards the subject matter. Whether you like it or not, your feelings are of no consequence as far as the attitude of the poem is concerned. Always refer to the tone and the diction of the poem. This essentially means that tone and attitude are closely linked. The following poems can be used for illustration.
Death, Be Not Proud.
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou thinks thou dost overthrow
Dies, not poor death, nor yet can’st thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure-then from thee much more must flow
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones and soul’s delivery
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings and desperate men,
And doth with poison, war, and sickness dwell.
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stoke. Why swells thou then?
One short-sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more, death, thou shall die.
(John Donne)

Song of Lawino
Ocol is no longer in love with the old type;
He is in love with the modern girl.
The name of the beautiful one
Is Clementine.

Brother, when you see Clementine!
The beautiful one aspires
To look like a white woman;

Her lips are red-hot.
Like glowing charcoal,
She resembles the wild cat.
That has dipped its mouth in blood,
Her mouth is like raw yaws.
It looks like an open ulcer,
Like a mouth of a fiend.
Tina dusts powder on her face
And it looks so pale,
She resembles the wizard
Getting ready for the midnight dance.

She dusts the ash-shit all over her face
And, when little sweat
Begins to appear on her body
She looks like the guinea fowls!
(Okot P’Bitek)

The subject matter of Death Be Not Proud is death. The persona looks at death not with the usual fear and awe. To him death is not as fearful and scaring as normally is made out to be. Therefore, when the phrases like ‘ be not proud; thou art not, slave of fate, chance, kings; doth with poison, war” suggests that the persona’s attitudes is indifferent. But underneath this indifference there is contempt after realising that death is not great and dangerous as thought to be. Having discovered the weakness of death, the persona is also patronising to death, after all it is mysterious as he had first thought it to be.

The extract from Song of Lawino is about the influence of European culture on the Africans. Lawino, the persona uses Clementine to show how ridiculous it is to abandon the African ways life for the European ways of living. This is reflected in the disgusting images used to describe the modern woman. Lips are red-hot, a cat that has dipped its mouth in blood,”. The persona’s attitude is definitely negative to the subject in general and modern girl in particular. She is disgusted with the childishness of wanting to be beautiful in a ridiculous way. She also reflects an attitude of contempt and pity to Clementine because she has, in a bid to appear beautiful has become scary.

There are two levels of meaning in poetry. One level is referred to as the surface meaning and the other as the deeper meaning. Let us pay close attention to meaning and how it is to be analysed. This is because poetry is communication and until the poet’s message is accessible to the reader, the communication process is not complete. The two levels of meaning /message are referred to as subject matter and theme.
Subject matter in poetry refers to the experiences or feelings that the poem or poet describes. It is looking at what the piece is literary saying and disregarding any associations and possible interpretations. In other words, subject matter is answering the basic question. What is the poem about? What normally happens in explicating subject matter is doing a paraphrase of the poem. What should be done is to look at the title of the poem, the various key words and explain what they refer to and mean. The following poems are to be used to illustrate the concept of subject matter.

Piano keys
Your white body
And my black body
March hand in hand
In harmony
As your white body
And my black body
Produce the notes that fill the air
As people listen
Yes people listen
As your snow-white key
And my lump-black key
Strike the notes of harmony

Your white body
And my black body
Fuse into one
Shadow on the wall
Stand as one to the test of time
To joys and fears
As people watch us
As your white image
And my black image
Fuse a form of harmony.

An African Thunderstorm
From the West
Cloud comes hurrying with the wind
Here and there
Like a plague of locusts
Tossing up things on its tail
Like a madman chasing nothing

Pregnant clouds
Ride stately on it’s back
Gathering to perch on hills
Like dark sinister wings
The wind whistles by
And trees bend to let it pass.

In the village
Screams of delighted children
Toss and turn
In the din of the whirling wind,
Babies clinging on the backs-
Dart about
In and out
The wind whistles by
Whilst tree bend to let it pass.

Clothes wave like tattered flags
Flying off
To expose dangling breasts
As jagged blinding flashes
Rumble, Tremble, and Crack
Amidst the smell of fired smoke
And the pelting match of the storm.
(David Rubadiri)
The subject matter of Piano Keys is clear and straightforward. The persona sets out to describe the piano as reflected in the title. In the first stanza he calls upon the white apostrophe to unite with him like the black and white keys of the piano and create music to which the people will listen to because it will be harmonious. He continues with the image of fusion in the second stanza arguing that if they come together as the keys of the piano, their unity will compete for like their shadows they will become one. This definitely will stand the test of time as it brings about communal fears and joys and together they will form a lasting harmony or co-existence.

In the poem An African Thunderstorm, the persona describes the approach of the storm. This storm is however, characterised with anarchy, chaos, and disorder. The image of locusts, madman pregnant, sinister wings suggests the pandemonium that comes with the rain. In stanza two, he goes to the reaction of the people notably the children and women. The former are happy and the latter are apprehensive to the approaching storm. The last stanza deals with the storm and the anticipated chaos comes to be true as reflected in the choice of words like “Rumble”, tremble and crack” like the title suggests the poem is about an African thunderstorm.

Theme means the main subjects or the underlying emotion that is got from the poem. It is the totality of the human experience the poem or the poet intends to pass over to the readers. In other words it is the deeper meaning. The critical implication of this is that theme is related to subject matter and there is no way you can arrive at the theme without considering the subject matter first.

Themes normally appear in two forms, the universal, aspects of human life that are experienced by everyone like death, pity, love, religion, death and so forth. For example poems like “Death Be Not Proud and I Love You My Gentle one” deal with universal themes of death and love respectively.

Restricted themes are those that appeal and are responded to by particular group of people. These are always about contents that are experienced by a few people. For example poems about colonialism or racism tend to be restricted to certain people who have suffered such experiences.

In analysing a theme of a poem, it is important to determine the audience addressed, its setting i.e. present, past or future, the tone, mood, attitude and how all aspects blend together to make the experience complete. Never try to hunt for the theme. This will result in an imposition of meaning to the poem.

To illustrate the poems an African Thunderstorm and Piano Keys can be used. From the symbol of West and the chaotic imagery, it can be concluded that the poem is about the coming of the disruptive forces notably the chaos associated with colonialism. The colonialists are like rain that found Africa peaceful and disrupted it by cunning and force. The Piano Keys is a criticism of racism. The poet’s visions is that the black race and the white should unity and cooperate like the keys of the piano. Where this to be done, life would likely be good.

Language in poetry is used in a distinct manner quite different from other forms of creative writing. This is essentially due to the economy and of size. The poet must choose his words diligently and arrange them skilfully to express himself as effectively and beautifully as possible. The selection and choice of words to be used in a poem is knows as diction. In the writing and criticism of poetry diction is very fundamental. This means that one ought to take account of the concepts and aspects that lead to the choice of words

In poetry, like in all uses of language words are used at two levels. These levels are the literal sense of the word. This is when words are used to carry their dictionary meanings. In poetry such language use is rare and if it is used, language use is rare and if it is used, normally it is in form of functional words like tense, pronouns, preposition and so on.

The likely use of words in poetry is connotative. Here words are deliberately used to mean quite differently from what they usually mean. The word is given additional meaning depending on the context in which it is used.

For reference and illustration purposes refer to the poems. An African Thunderstorm and Piano and Drums. When a few lines are taken and analysed in their context, one finds that words mean more than what they often mean.

‘I hear jungle drums telegraphing’ telegraphing is not used as often it is used i.e. sending a telegraph which is a kind of short letter. It is used with the underlying associative meaning of a message. The poet (persona) implies that the drums send a message to him calling upon him to continue with his old culture. ‘And new horizon’ with horizon in this line does not mean where apparently the eyes stop to see. It rather infers the unknown new reality to be ushered in with the new values. “And lost at the morning mist” morning mist does not literal mean mist but rather the start of the confusion that precedes the choice of either values.

In the poem An African Thunderstorm the line “from the West” does not imply a mere direction, but rather European or foreign influence. “Amidst the smell of fired smoke’ the fired smoke refers to gun shots and not smoke from the fire. It is the gunshots, associated with the whites that created havoc on the continent of Africa.

To be able to analyse language use in poetry the following should be done. One should read and if possible understand each word the poet uses. These words should be grouped either according to similarly in meaning or opposition. The poem below can be used to illustrate.

The analogy
In the beggar
I saw the whole
Of my country.

Tied were his hand
Ashamed of use
For leprosy.

Sunk was his body
Eaten with corruption
Of the worm.

Like the
Shattered snake
Once liquid
Now pounded
By innumerable feet
He dragged
Moisturising the pavement
In the process

What may I give?
A bullet in the brain
To end throes
Infinitely greater
Than death?

Or pity?
Is he cheating?
(Bahadur Tegani)
The subject matter of this poem is that the persona observes a beggar who he says resembles his country. He goes ahead to describe the beggar in terms of his appearance, his movements and wonders how he is expected to react to such miserly. He ends with the questions of what he should do for the beggar and wonders if that suffering is being faked.

To arrive at the above subject matter certain words should be grouped and close attention paid to then. Words like the following should be highlighted analogy, leprosy corruption, shattered pounded, innumerable, moisturising, throes” one should look and find what these words mean then compare that meaning to the meaning they carry in the poem. The word order should also be looked at. For example ‘sunk was his body, is not the normal word order the question to be asked is would the same effect have been achieved it was ‘his body was sunk?’ The inversion does not only startle but intensifies the description. Attention should also be paid to the shifting in meaning. This can be determined if the setting and context is assessed. For example words like ‘detoothing’ and away match have shifted in meaning to refer to getting material things from a man without returning the favour and cheating / infidelity, respectively and not removing a tooth at dentist nor playing away from home in a league.

Specialised or technical words commonly know as registered should be paid attention to. The candidate should be able to distinguish between the language commonly used by the lawyer and the doctor as well as other professional language. For example in the poems Piano Keys and Piano and Drums the poet uses musical language. Words like keys, harmony in the later and crescendo and I concerto and diminuendo in the former are some of the examples

Lastly in discussing diction cultural inferences should be taken into consideration. Words may be chosen from the poet’s culture and tradition. For example an extract from song of Lawino referred to early the words like ‘wizard, wild cat, guinea fowl ,blood have meaning in the cultural context of the Acholi. So this knowledge is valuable

Imagery is derived (comes) from the Latin word, imitari, which means creating a likeness of. In poetry it is defined to mean the use of language to create mental pictures. The mental picture connotation is arbitrary since imagery has more to do with all the five sense than with only the sense of sight. Therefore suffice to conclude that it is language that awakens these senses of the reader.

Corresponding with the five human sense, there exits in the criticism of poetry six categories of images. These include the following. The visual images, those that stimulate the sense of sight, the auditory-the sense of hearing; tactile the sense of touch; olfactory- the sense of smell,; gustatory-the sense of taste; and motile – the sense of movement. To illustrate, the poem An African Thunderstorm will be used. The following lines uses images to carry out their meaning.

“Clouds come with the wind” within two lines the poet appeals to your sense of sight to visualise the clouds moving hence the use of the visual image. But imbedded in hurrying, is a sense of movement. Rather the poet makes you not only see the clouds but feel them moving, hence the use of a motile image. Turning, sharply whirling and tossing are words that build the motile and visual images in the first stanza. “Screams of delighted children’ continues to build the picture of the approaching rain. But here the poet has used the auditory image to appeal to your sense of hearing. For concretising the effect he uses ‘din, whistle sand-wiched between the motile and visual images of ‘ whirling wind, dart about in and out, trees bend ‘ to give a clear picture of a storm. In the last stanza ‘clothes wave, to expose dangling breast, as jagged images. The smell of fired smoke, introduces the olfactory image. “And the pelting march of the storm is a motile image. In conclusion the poet stimulates four of the readers senses i.e. visual, motile, olfactory and audit to draw the picture of a storm.

One stanza of the poem Piano and Drums will suffice for further illustration.

I hear jungle drums telegraphing
I see the panther ready to pronounce
The leopard snarling about to leap
and the hunters crouch
Warmth of hurrying feet groping hears
In green leaves and wild flower

As stated earlier the poem is about the dilemma of the new generation in terms of choosing either European or African values. The persona describes vividly the attractiveness, vitality and beauty of the African values by use of images. He use motile, visual and auditory images to achieve this. He can see, hear and move in consonance with African values, hence creating in the readers that sense of understanding with his persona.

It is important to establish the fact that figures of speech are an extended form of imagery. This is because they work by comparing a subject and an analogy. This enables the expression to be clear and more vivid. Normal usage of language is abandoned with the use of figurative language. The abnormality in language creates not only clearness, but force and beauty as well. For example when someone says” he is a lion”. It is abnormal because a person cannot be an animal. However it is clear, forceful and beautiful as it transfers the qualities of the lion i.e. strength, valour and fierceness to the individual hence vividly describing him.

This is a comparison between two objects that is expressed by use of words such as ‘like or as… as”. In day to day usage of language, people use images without knowing, that they are using them. For example ‘her smile is like morning sunshine, vast as an ocean, quick as a leopard’ are similes

It is a figure of speech whereby there is complete transfer of qualities of one object to another, thereby equating the thing to something as if they are the same. When one says; he is a lion, a monster of a man, an Ofwono, he is not simply comparing but rather has attributed the qualities of the object to the person or the thing he is describing.

To unearth and interpret metaphors in poetry two terms should be clearly understood. These are tenor and vehicle. Tenor refers to the object that need to be described and vehicle to the means used to describe it. For example if one said, “You are the cow-birds eggs” like in the poem I Love You My Gentle one. “You” is the tenor and “Cow-birds” egg” the vehicle. When one is clear about what is being compared and to what, then the metaphor, does the role it has to do. Take the example above, the persona is describing his love and gives her/him the rareness, beauty and grace of the cowbird eggs.

It is a figure of speech whereby one characteristic of an object is substituted for the things itself. For example a person has eyes, legs and so on. If you call that person legs or eyes then that is uses of metonymy. Commonly in Buganda the royal clan is referred to as ‘those of the drum.’ The drum is but one of the articles of the kingdom and naming them from this is metonymy. Kings are the crowns. Cows become heads and workers are hands. The reasoning is kings have crowns that identify them as cows have heads and workers hands.

When an important part of an object is used to stand for it then in that case synecdoche is used. If the traffic policeman weaves you down you are likely to say the white hands stopped me, and military police are the red tops while prostitutes are the night workers.

The traffic policeman has other things apart of the while arm so is the soldier and the red top, but these are the significant and most visible aspects about them and when used to refer to them, the description is clear and complete.

This is a figure of speech whereby a non-living object is given human qualities. In English, a country is referred to as the motherland and the sea and nature are prefixed with the feminine pronouns “her and she” when nature is personified to be a woman, then what the writer is doing is to transfer the qualities of a woman i.e. motherly, caring ‘ to the object

The meaning of a poem can never be absolutely clear unless the symbols are clearly explained. The meaning is always hidden in the symbols symbolisms is the use of images to represent a thing with which it does not have any similarities. For example a dove is used to show peace and an owl doom but there is no meaningful relationship between doom and an owl on one hand and peace and the dove on the other hand. In this case the dove and an owl are symbols of peace and doom respectively. That is they are used to represent those concepts.

When an image recurs through history or in a poet’s work with a particular meaning for along time, then it becomes a symbol. There are two types of symbols. These are public symbols usual with permanent meanings and interpreted uniformly by many peoples for example a rose, a cross, a crescent, which stand for love, Christianity, Islam respectively. Private symbols are personal and these are more likely to be encountered in the works of an individual writer. For example the weaverbird in Kofi Awoona poem The Weaverbird, which is the symbol of busy bodies, the preacher.

Lastly though, symbols are used in the context and so should they be interpreted. This warning should be adhered to, because the symbolism can sometimes shift ‘in meaning’. Take the colour red. In the Ugandan flag it stands for blood hence brotherhood. On an electricity pylon (pole) it stands for danger. At this stage, a few poems are to be chosen to illustrate the figures of speech discussed above. The following poems will suffice.

My heart is like a singing bird
Whose nest is in a watered short.
My heart is like an apple tree
Whose bough are bent with thickest fruit
My heart is like a rainbow shell
My heart is gladder than all these
Because my love is come to me.
(Christian Rossetti)
In the poem above, the persona is describing her happiness s a result of the company of her lover. The tone and the mood are happy and ecstatic. These are brought out by the smiles she uses the singing bird whose nest is secure must be singing out of happiness, so is an apple-tree with abundant fruit and a rainbow as smile and a symbol is reflective of happiness.

The second poem is Lucy by Wordsworth.
She dwelt among untrodden ways
Beside the strives of dove,
A maid whom there were non to praise
And very few to love:

A violet by a mossy stone
Half hidden from thy eye!
Fair as a star, when only one
Is shinning in the sky,

She liked unknown, and few could know
When Lucy ceased to be;
But she is in her grave, and oh,
The difference to me!

In the poem, the persona’s mood and tone are sad, melancholy and nostalgic because he describing Lucy the beautiful, innocent and unsophisticated woman whom he discovered in the idyllic countryside but who is now gone. To bring out the beauty and majesty he uses the metaphor of a violent, a flower that has qualities of beauty and being rare as well. He adds to this the smile of a lonely star. A star is beautiful but more so if it is alone in the sky. To illustrate personification let just two stanza of the Sunne Rising by John Donne.

old foole, unruly sunne,
Why dost thou thus
Through windows and through curtains call on us?
Must –to thy motions lover’s seasons run?
Suacy, pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school boys and sour prentices,
Go tell court huntsmen that the king will ride, call country ants to harvest offices.
Love, all a like, non season knows no cling
Nor, hours, days, month ,which are rags of time.

In the two stanzas above, the persona, personifies sun as an old busy fool who has awaken him and his lover from loving. He sends him to arouse other people and leave him alone as lovers do not pay attention to time.

An African thunderstorm is another poem, rich in figures of speech. The following similes; metaphors and personification are used to create a clear and forceful picture of a storm. These include like a plague of locust like a madman like dark sinister wings. Which are examples of similes and pregnant crow and the wind whistles by and trees bend to let it pass use of personification and the storm marching in the last line is a vivid metaphor.

The poems Piano and Drums, Piano Keys and The Weaverbird, are poems in which symbols are used. The piano and drums in Okara’s poem stand for European and African cultures. The black and white keys in Piano Keys stand for the races i.e. white and black whom the person calls upon to unite and look together. The weaver bird is used to humorously refer to the preacher and agents of colonialism.

This is distinct form of language, which aims to appeal to the emotion of the readers by persuading them. They are normally borrowed from speech and are used to appeal to the intellect and emotions of the readers to agree with the poets point of view.

This term in literature refers to exaggeration. It is basically used to emphasise the idea however, it does not suggest a lie only that the issue is blown out of proportion for example in the play hamlet Hamlet says; forty thousand brothers could not with all they quantity of love, make up my own’ which is an exaggeration of his love. True he loves Ophelia very much but the comparison to forty thousand brotherly love is simply to emphasis this love. The opposite of hyperbole is understatement. For example if some one goes to tell someone his father is dead, he will likely say your father has passed away.” This is far from the truth of the matter as far as death is concerned.

This is the use of polite language with the purpose of not offending or appearing unpleasant to the listeners. For example if some one goes to the toilet we normally he has gone to ease himself or gone for a short/long call and not actually what he is doing in there.

This is a wise saying that on the surface appears contradictory, but on close scrutiny, reveals a fundamental truth. For example we say ‘the son is the father of the man’ on the surface it is quite nonsensical but when analysed further it is true. As son today is a father tomorrow or if the man names his son after his father then this boy is his father.

This is a situation where two opposed ideas are reconciled in a statement. Though not much logical sense is made, they usually reflect a mixed attitude. For example friendly fire by their own trips and not the enemy.
This is when irony and sarcasm are employed purposely to ridicule human or societal weakness in a humorous way. Consider the poems Building the Nation and Psalm 23.

Building the Nation
Today I did my share
In building the nation.
I drove a permanent secretary
To an important urgent function
In fact to a luncheon at the Vic

The menu reflected its importance
Cold bell beer with small talk,
The fried chicken with niceties
Wine to fill the hollowness of the laughs
Ice cream to cover the stereotype jokes
Coffee to keep the Ps awake on the return journey

I drove the permanent secretary back.
He yawned many times in the back of the car
Then to keep awake, he suddenly asked
Did you have any lunch friend?
I replied looking straight ahead
And secretly smiling at his belated concern
That I had not, but was slimming

Upon which he said with a seriousness that amused more than annoyed me,
Mwananchi, I too had none!
I attended to matter of state.
Highly delicate diplomatic duties you know
And friend, it goes against my grain,
Causes me stomach ulcers and wind.
Ah, he continued, yawing again,
The pains we suffer in building the nation!
So the Ps had ulcers too!
My ulcers I think are equally painful
Only they are caused by hunger’
Not sumptuous lunches!
So two nation builders
Arrived home this evening
With terrible stomach pains
The result of building the nation
Different ways
(Henry Barlow)

On the surface, the poem is about The conversation between the Ps and the driver as he is taken home after A function. But the irony is apparent in the title, what the Ps does is not what we expect of building the nation. Lunches and drinks hardly qualify as nation building. Through satire the poem criticises the wastage, incompetence and indifference of the ruling class.

Wangusa in Psalm 23 Part II attributes to the state such good things like providing for its population in an ironical way. Irony is a term or away of speaking in which words are used to mean the opposite of what they normally mean. There are three types of irony: Verbal (words are used to mean the opposite) for example, “Your are smart’ when the person is outrageously shabby. Situation a irony is when what we expect –does not happen and a character irony is when a person behaves contrary to expectation. For example a priest commenting adultery is quite ironical


Form refers to construction and arrangement of words, lines, stanzas and rhythms patterns to give shape and meaning to a poem. As a complete whole a poem needs s a shape to give it a distinct nature. In old usage it is important to note that form referred to type like sonnet, ode and so on. It becomes unfashionable to use the convention forms or to adhere to them, the meaning of form has shifted. Nevertheless, the first stop in criticism of poetry is to state what poem you are dealing with, as we shall mention a little later on.

Structure is the organisation of parts of a poem into an order that can convey the poet’s meaning. These parts are the words, lines, images, stanzas and other sound patterns. Most often these terms are used interchangeably in that form is structure and structure form. What should be noted is that form and meaning are dependant. This is because without shape, ideas cannot be expressed in a meaningful way.

External structure refers to those aspects of the poem that are physical-that can be seen by the eye. It includes the pattern of lines, and stanzas, which make up the visual expression of the poem.

A stanza is defined as a group of lines that have a regular pattern into which the poem is divided. In discussing a stanza one ought to establish the number of lines in the stanza as well as its metre and rhyme scheme if any.

Stanzas are described in term of the lines that constitute them. For example a two-lined stanza is couplet, Three- tercet, four –quatrain, five- quantrain, six-sestet eight-octave and a special nine lined stanza used by Spencer known as a Spenserian.

Lineation is the arrangement of lines in a poem. A line is a unit of attention unlike a sentence in prose, which is unit of complete sense. The minimum of a line is two metrical feet. There are three types of lines which include ceasura, which has unnatural break. Or the line whose break does not correspond with the natural break of the line i.e. at the end. The end-stopped lines are the ones where the pause corresponds with the end of the line. Enjambment are lines which do not end where they are supposed to but carry over (run on) to the next for example the last stanza of Building the Nation demonstrates this concept.

Internal structure refers to the internal development of the poets ideas in correspondence with the physical division for example in the poem Building the Nation stanza one reports what and where the driver took the PS. Stanza two what he did; having lunch in the guise of building the nation, stanza three on their interactions on the way home and stanza four concludes with the driver’s sarcastic thoughts about nation building. The satire of the PS is rendered in the way the thoughts of the driver are developed. From the title we are expectant and stanza by stanza the irony dawns on us. Luncheon at the VIC hardly qualifies as nation building but the sumptuous meal and the indifference on the drive home give away any doubts about the P.S’s credentials of nation building.

Likewise in Piano and Drums, stanza one gives a picture of the calling drums and two analyses the qualities of traditional life. Three introduces the calling of the piano and four the complexities of the new values. Five focus as on the dilemma of the persona. The division helps to enlarge the dilemma he understands tradition which is beautiful simple, innocent and virile and with vitality. On the other side are the challenging and intriguing complexities of the new way of life: thus the choice of whatever way of life is very difficult.

Regularity and irregularity of poetry is another important aspect of form. A regular poem (convention) must have the following. It must obey convention i.e. it has to be a sonnet or an ode, regular lines, stanza, rhyme, rhythm and it aims at beauty and craftsmanship. The irregular poem (free verse) instead of stanzas it has verse paragraphs and the emphasis is on the message. The lines, rhythm, rhyme, stanzas are irregular.

There are three types of regular poetry. These are lyric, dramatic and narrative poetry. Lyrical poetry is the poem that is closely linked to song and is characterised with, regular rhythm, rhyme, and expression of personal emotions and is normally short.

Lyrical poetry is also divided into four types. These are sonnets ode, elegy and ballads. A sonnet is a fourteen-lined poem either in two or four stanzas, with a regular rhyme scheme and expressing a strong personal emotion. There are two types of sonnets-Shakespearean (English) and Petrachan (Italian). The difference between the two is in the arrangement, if it is divided into two parts of eight and six lines, with the eight introducing the subject and has the ab ab ab ab rhyme scheme and the concluding with the rhyme scheme of cdecdef then it is Italian. That one divided into four parts where the first three are four lined with the rhyme scheme of abba abba abba, and with a couplet at the end is an English sonnet. For reference and illustration look at the poems below: Upon Westminster Bridge, and IF We Must Die as well as Sonnet 2 in the list of poems at the end of this document.

An Elegy is a song of mourning that commemorates by expressing the grief lamentation and nostalgia of the poet. Odes are written in dignified style on some sacred occasions.

Narrative poems are poems that tell a story. For example Building the Nation narrates what happened on that particular day between the driver and the PS. The Freedom song (in the list at the end) narrates the story of Ateino.

Dramatic poetry is the poems that employ drama to express its message. The examples include Telephone Conversation by Soyinka and Rubadiri’s Stanley Meets Mutesa.

Sound patterns are the arrangements or the rules of arrangements of sound and beats in a poem. Since the meaning of a poem is arrived at only when it is read aloud. It doesn’t matter whether it is silently or loudly read, sounds are very important. There are several aspects of sounds, which include the following.


It is defined in poetry as the recurring pattern of the stressed and unstressed syllables in a poem. This repeated pattern may be regular or irregular. Meter determines rhythm. Meter is the measure of the repeated stressed and unstressed syllable that constitutes a line. The following marks are useful in determining rhythm. The mark _ is used to indicate a stress and ~ to indicate an unstressed syllable. To illustrate four lines of Sonnet I will be used (check the sonnet in the list at the end)

When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone be weep my out cast state
And trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries
And look upon my self and curse my fate.

Assuming that was the poem, each line should be read aloud and the stressed and unstressed syllables marked. For example the following line When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes. Will give a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables (__~__~) which is description of the poem’s rhythm. The question that follows is whether it is fast or slow and how it contributes to the meaning of the poem.

If the above method is not giving the desired result, then the line should be divided into feet and rhythm determined with the alternating of strong and weak beats.


Rhyme is the repetition of identical sounds from either word to word or line to lien. It should be noted that a similar sound and not spelling constitutes rhyme. End rhyme is when the rhyming sound comes at the end of the line for example the four lines of If we must die.
If We Must Die
If we must die let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot
While a round us bark the mad hungry dogs
Making their mock at our accused lot.

The four lines have a rhyme scheme of abab and it is an end rhyme because it appears at the end of the lines. Half rhyme is when sounds are similar by not identical like in steel and hill or seen and own. Silent rhyme is when the spelling is similar but the sounds are different like in love and more. When the sounds are exactly identical then it is called exact rhyme like in cover and lover.

This is the repetition of an identical consonant sounds either at the beginning of a line or within alien. A line extracted form Ntiru’s poem the rhythm of the pestle.

Plunging in proud perfection, the repeated P’ sound creates the alliteration.

The repetition of the consonant sound in the middle or end of the word is referred to as consonance. The reoccurrence of vowel (similar) sound is known as assonance. The repletion of a line, word, phrase or stanza at regular intervals is called refrain/ repetition. All the above are important in poetry because they create the rhythm thus making the poem pleasant.

The purpose of studying poetry is to be able to make an exhaustive comment on the poem. This is when a candidate discusses and assesses in detail all the aspects of the poem. This is to determine the meaning and impact of a poem.

Out of laziness and fear, one is likely to encounter comments like this exercise is time consuming, mechanical and kills the poem. These should be disregarded so as to arrive at a satisfactory understanding of a poem. This is because it helps to break down the poem, deal competently with any particular aspect of the poem and creates with the person the habit of looking at each poem he comes across in a detailed and exhaustive way.

A lot of care and patience is required in order to do a detailed critical appreciation. Below are some tentative stages that out to be followed when an explication of the poem is to be undertaken.

The first step is to read and understand the poem. Usually three-four readings will be sufficient. However if at the end of the forth reading the poem is not clear to you, if you have time, even if you don’t have time, make the time to read it as many times as possible until it is clear to you. Of course its clarity is a personal issue. If it is clear; you and you alone will know it is clear.

To avoid getting mixed up and to become confident, state the title and author. This means you and the person reading and about whom you want to make a commentary will be clear.

Endeavour to state the type of the poem. Is it a sonnet, dramatic or narrative poem. Is it a free verse or not. This indicates that you are familiar with the poem and what you are doing is professional and not simple guesswork.

Outline and explain the subject matter as brief as possible. Remember to identify the persona and if there are other characters identify and explain their roles.

From the subject matter infer the theme or the themes of the poem. In other words identify what ideas, feelings an emotion is the poet passing over to you.

This step is when you trace the internal structure of the poem. Divide the poem in manageable units and ideas while relating them to each other. Ask yourself how the idea is introduced, broadened and concluded. Always try to paraphrase as accurately and concisely as possible. This will ensure your understanding of the poem’s external structure.

Discuss the external structure. Look at how the poem is arranged. How many lines? How are they grouped? Consider the length of the lines, the sound patterns like rhythm, rhyme, alliteration, refrain and so on. Then give your opinion as to why the poem has a particular shape and the effect if creates.

Language and style should also be analysed. Ask and consider the words and expressions used. Are they ordinary, simple, technical, archaic or slang? Consider too, the phrase and constructions. Find out whether they are inverted or complex. Consider imagery and figures of speech as well. Identify them and state how they enhance the understanding of the poem. Look only for those outstanding features. From this you will be able to establish the tone, mood and attitude.

Give your own personal assessment of the poem. Here you are considering whether the process of communication has been successful or not. If not state where the poem fails. Always refer as briefly as possible to the points you have raised in II to VII above.

It should be noted that these steps apply when you have been asked to make a critical appreciation of the poem. Currently the questions are specific to aspects like subject matter, theme, form, language, imagery, tone mood and so on. If this is the case, follow the process in your note taking / making but restricted yourself and discuss exhaustively the specified aspects.

Let two poems be used to illustrate how the steps are used.

If we must die
If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs
Making their mock at our accursed lot
If we must die, let us nobly die
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain, then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honour us though dead
Oh kinsmen!. We must met the common foe
Though far out numbered, let us show us brave
And for their thousand blows deal on death blow
What though before us lies the open graves
Like men we will face the murder one cowardly pack.
Pressed to the fall, dying, but fighting back.
(Claude Mckey)

This explication will try to show the steps and what is to be done. It will highlight the main ideas. It should not be taken as final. Out of the sketch that follows, a seven page analysis can be written.

Read the poem as many times as possible with the aim of understanding it.

State the title and the poet. Do not forget the type. E.g. The poem is :If We Must Die by Claude Mackay and it is a sonnet. State what a sonnet is and does.

State the subject matter and why it uses a collective persona, we who calls upon his fellow fighters, suffers to fight with the knowledge that their fight is lost but must show bravery to inspire those to come after them.

The theme from the subject matter is sacrifice-asks them to fight even what they are out numbered. Cowardly pack indicate oppression and the need to fight whatever the consequences is the cost, is the desire for freedom and independence

First two lines acknowledge death but ask them not to die in vain like hogs and without glory. Since they are to die in vain like hogs and without glory. Since they are to die, then their death should be meaningful.
• Describes their oppressors –dogs and then selves as doomed.
• Repeats the call of drying for emphasis –their death should be noble-their blood (precious) be shed for a purpose.
• Lines 7 & 8 says that if they are courageous even their enemies will be forced to honour them.
• 9-10 states the fact that they are out number but should be brave never the less.
• 10-12 repeats the certainty of death
• 13-14 asks them to fight as men-to die fighting even if it is hopeless. What is the rhythm- stressed pattern. Is it slow, what is the effect.

• Language is simple
• Uses the conditional if why and with what effect.
• Diction simple words while –may addressed large audience
• Metaphors-mad hungry dogs, monsters (enemies)
• Hyperbole-thousand blows
• Similes like hogs, like man why and what effect.

What is your reaction to the poem referring to points raised above.

Yet Another Song
Yet a another song
I have to sing.
In the early wake
Of a colonial dusk
I sang a song of fire

The church doors opened
To the clang
Of new anthems
And colourful banners

Like the breathes
The evangelical hymns
Of conversion
Rocked the world and me

I knelt before the new totems
I had helped to raise
Watered them
With tears of ecstasy
They grew
Taller than life,
Grimacing and breathing fire
I sing yet another song
A song of exile
(David Rubadiri)

Read the poem as many times as possible to understand it.

Name the poem, poet and type.
It is a free verse entitled Yet Another
Song by David Rubadiri

Subject matter
The persona after participating in the independence struggle, the tables has changed and is now in exile.

Disillusionment i.e. having fought for independence, he is disappointed by the turn of events and has escaped.
Political betrayed.
Political mismanagement.

Internal structure
Stanza 1
Talks about what he is doing having done sometime back, participating in the freedom struggle
stanza 2
Notes the ecstasy of the success of freedom

Stanza 3
Continues with freedom when it was achieved.

Stanza 4:
Observes the betrayal of the new leaders he had helped to create.

Stanza 5:
Describes their change into monsters

Stanza 6:
Resigned to his fate as an exilee.

External structure
• Size stanzas to introduce and developed his messages
• Short lines
• Slow rhythm –reflecting the sad mood.
• Repetition yet another song
• Alliteration /s/ in line 5 and /h/ in line 15

Language and style
• Diction- simple
• Punctuation full stops colour, comma-heavy = slow rhythm.
• Symbolism- song for the struggle and exile
• Similes like the Beatles-widespread and popularity of the struggle
• Allusion Beatles, totems

• Auditory –sing , clang, hymns
• Visual colonial dusk, colourful
• Banner, grimacing, breathing fire
• Motile, rocked, knelt
• Metaphors colonial dusk, fire watered, taller than life9moster)

• Using the points raised above makes your one comment about the time .is it successful or not.

Selected poems

Stanley meets Mutesa
Such a time of it they had;
The heat of the day
The chill of the night
And the mosquitoes that followed.
Such was the time and
They bound for a kingdom.

The thin weary line of carriers
With tattered dirty rags to cover their backs;
The Battered bulky chests
That kept on falling off their shaven heads.
Their temper high and hot
The sun fierce and scorching
With it rose their spirits
With its fall their hopes
As each day sweated their bodies dry and
Flies clung in clumps on their sweat-scented backs
Such was the march
And the hot season just breaking.

Each day a weary pony dropped.,
Left for the vultures on the plains;
Each afternoon a human skeleton collapsed,
Left for the Masai on the plains;
But the march trudged on
Its Khaki leader in front
He the spirit that inspired.
He the light of hope.

Then came the afternoon of a hungry march,
A hot and hungry march it was;
The Nile and the Nyanza
Lay like two twins
Azure across the green countryside
The march leaped on chaunting
Like young gazelles to a water hole.
Hearts beat faster
Loads felt lighter
As the cool water leapt their sore soft feet.
No more the dread of hungry hyenas
But only tales of valour when
At Mutesa’s court fires are lit.
No more the burning heat of the day
But song, laughter and dance.

The village looks on behind banana groves,
Children peer behind reed fences.
Such was the welcome
No singing women to chaunt a welcome
Or drums to greet the white ambassador;
Only a few silent nods from aged faces
And one rumbling drum roll
To summon Mutesa’s court to parley
For the country was not sure.

The gate of reeds is flung open,
There is silence
But only a moment’s silence-
A silence of assessment.
The tall black king steps forward,
He tower over the thin bearded white man
Then grabbing his lean white hand
Manages to whisper
‘Mtu mweupe karibu’
White man you are welcome.
The gate of polished reeds closes behind them
And the west is let in.
David Rubadiri

Pedestrian to passing Benz-man
You man, lifted gently
out of the poverty and suffering
We so recently shared; I say –
why splash the muddy puddle on to
my bare legs, as if, still unsatisfied
with your seated opulence
you must sully the unwashed
with your diesel-smoke and mud-water
and force him buy, beyond his means
a bar of soap from your shop?
a few years back we shared a master
today you have none, while I have
exchanged a parasite for something worse.
But maybe a few years is too long a time.
Albert Ojuka

Building the nation
Today I did my share
In building the nation.
I drove a Permanent Secretary
To an important urgent function
In fact to a luncheon at the Vic.

The menu reflected its importance
Cold Bell beer with small talk,
Then fried chicken with niceties
Wine to fill the hollowness of the laughs
Ice-cream to cover the stereotype jokes
Coffee to keep the PS awake on return journey.

I drove the Permanent Secretary back.
He yawned many times in back of the car
Then to keep awake, he suddenly asked,
Did you have any lunch friend?
I replied looking straight ahead
And secretary smiling at his belated concern
That I had not, but was slimming!

Upon which he said with a seriousness
That amused more than annoyed me,
Mwananchi, I too had none!
I attended to matters of state.
Highly dedicated diplomatic duties you know,
And friend, it goes against my grain,
Causes me stomach ulcers and wind.
Ah, he continued, yawning again,
The pains we suffer in building the nation!
So the PS had ulcers too!
My ulcers I think are equally painful
Only they are caused by hunger,
Not sumptuous lunches!

So two nation builders
Arrived home this evening
With terrible stomach pains
The result of building the nation –
- Different ways.
Henry Barlow

Psalm 23, Part II
The state is my shepherd, I shall not want; it makes me to
lie down in a subsidized house.
It leads me into political tranquillity; it restores my
faith in a lucrative future.
It leads me into paths of loans and pensions, for its
International reputation’s sake.
Yea, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow
of Kivvulu I will fear no Kondos;
For the State is with me, its tanks and guns comfort me.
It preserves for me a bank account, in the presence of
It fills my pocket with allowances, my salary overflows.
Surely increments and promotion shall follow me all the
days of my life;
And I shall dwell in senior staff quarters forever.
Timothy Wangusa

Perhaps it was his Ugil shirt –
The missing button
The unassertive collar:
Perhaps it was his knotty hair
That boasted little acquaintance with the comb:
Or maybe it was his usualness
- One more impersonal handshake
Along the constant street –
That induced the functional smile
And operated the mechanical handshake.

His name didn’t help either:
Mugabo Mugenge – You’d heard the name
In the Out-patients’ attendance queue:
Not in the current Telephone directory!

You certainly needed prompting.
I said he was an old time friend
But you continued to wave to passing cars;
I added that he was a high placed man
And you promptly took your cue
– ‘A University teacher, author of several works’ –
‘Re-e-e-ally? Er – Um – oh! . . .’
And you became word and emotion perfect.
Like a dog that mistakes thief for visitor
And remembers to bark at his master’s coughing,
You renewed and pumped the handshake
– Reshaped your mouth to a proper smile
– Recalled his famous public talk
That you had regretfully missed . . .
And observed, thoughtfully,
How unlike his photographs he looked.

You were tuned –
Delved deep into his latest novel
And wondered why his main characters
Do not walk on the solid earth
And fail to effect living communication.
You’d have rambled on, no longer looking at him,
But he quipped.
‘They are in good company.’
And was about to add, when you knowledgeably interrupted,
‘Society is a market stall
And men goods on display
Where the label is more important than the labelled
And the price more fascinating than the value.’

We parted, hoping to meet again.
You went away rehearsing his name
But probably unremembering his face.
Richard Ntiru

The Charcoal seller
An old charcoal seller
Cutting wood and burning charcoal in the forests of the Southern Mountain.
His face, stained with dust and ashes, has turned to the colour of smoke.
The hair on his temples is streaked with grey; his ten fingers are black.
The money he gets by selling charcoal, how far does it go?
It is just enough to clothe his limbs and put food in his mouth.
Although, alas, the coat on his back is a coat without lining,
He hopes for the coming of cold weather, to send up the price of coal!

Last night, outside the city - a whole foot of snow;
At dawn he drives the charcoal wagon along the frozen ruts.
Oxen - weary; man - hungry; the sun, already high;
Outside the Gate, to the mouth of the Market, at last they stop in the mud.
Suddenly, a pair of prancing horsemen. Who can it be coming?
A public official in a yellow coat and a boy in a white shirt.
In their hands they hold a written warrant: on their tongues – the words of an order;
They turn back the wagon and curse the oxen, leading them off to the north.
A whole wagon of charcoal,
More than a thousand catties! *
If officials choose to take it away, the woodman may not complain.
Half a piece of red silk and a single yard of damask,
The Courtiers have tied to the oxen’s collar, as the price of a wagon of coal
Po Chu-i
* a catty is just over half a kilo.

The Weaver Bird

The weaverbird built in our house
And laid its eggs on our only tree
We did not want to send it away
We watched the building of the nest
And supervised the egg-laying.
And the weaver returned in the guise of the owner
Preaching salvation to us that owned the house
They say it came from the west
Where the storms at sea had felled the gulls
And the fisher dried their nets by lantern light
Its sermon is the divination of ourselves
And our new horizons limit at its nest
But we cannot join the prayers and answers of the communication.
We look for new homes every day,
For new altars we strive to re-build
The old shrines defiled from the weaver’s excrement.
Kofi Awoonor

Once upon a time
Once upon a time, son,
they used to laugh with their hearts
and laugh with their eyes;
but now they only laugh with their teeth,
while their ice-block-cold eyes
search behind my shadow.

There was a time indeed
they used to shake hands with their hearts;
but that’s gone, son,
Now they shake hands without hearts
while their left hands search
my empty pockets.

‘Feel at home,’ ‘Come again,’
they say, and when I come
again and feel
at home, once, twice,
there will be no thrice –
for then I find doors shut on me.

So I have learned many things, son.
I have learned to wear many faces
Like dresses – homeface,
office face, streetface, hostface, cocktailface,
with all their comforting smiles
like a fixed portrait smile

And I have learned too
to laugh with only my teeth
and shake hands without my heart.
I have also learned to say ‘Goodbye’
when I mean ‘Goodriddance’;
to say ‘Glad to meet you’;
without being glad; and to say ‘it’s been
nice talking to you’ after being bored.

But believe me, son
I want to be what I used to be
when I was like you. I want
to unlearn all these muting things.
Most of all, I want to relearn
How to laugh, for my laugh in the mirror
Shows only my teeth like a snake’s bare fangs!

So show me, son
how to laugh; show me how
I used to laugh and smile
once upon a tie when I was like you
Gabriel Okara

Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802
Earth has not anything to show more fair;
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty”.
This city now doth like a garment, wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare.
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open into fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his splendour, valley; rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep.
The river glideth at his own sweet will;
Dear God! The very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still.
William Wordsworth

Sonnet I
When in disgrace with fortune and men’s eyes,
I all alone beweep my out cast state,
And trouble, deaf heaven with my bootless cries,
And look upon myself, and curse my fate.
Wishing me like to one more rich in hope,
Featured like him, like him with friends possess’d
Desiring this man’s art and that man’s scope,
With what I most enjoy contented least;
Yet in these thoughts myself almost despising,
Happy I think on thee, and then my state,
Like to the lark at break of day arising
From sullen earth, sings hymns at heaven’s gate;
For thy sweet love remembered such wealth brings
That them I scorn to change my state with kings.
(William Shakespeare)

Sonnet 2
I being born of a woman and distressed
Buy all the needs and notions of my kind,
Am urged by your propinguility to find
Your person fair, and feel a certain zest
To bear your body’s weight upon my breast:
So subtly is the fume of life designed,
To clarify the pulse and cloud the mind.
And leave me once again undone possessed.
Think not for this, however, the poor treason
Of my stout blood again my staggering brain,
I shall remember you with love, or season
My scorn with pity,- let me make it plain;
I find this frenzy insufficient reason
For conversation when we meet
Edith St. Vincent Millay

The Road I Travel
I scurry down the road to my childhood
Picking fruits of memory that there are;
Eat the ripe ones, the unripe ones wound

Eating with such viscous appetite
The juice running down the oesophagus with fright
Awakening my coldness as I narrow
My eating into my own tongue
Swallowing its scales first.

But if the fruits I eat have seeds
If the seeds I have thrown away in wealthy soil
If they have grown into trees
And if the trees return new fruits:
Then a thin tomb be my abetting witness.

The road I travel on amidst the trees whose seeds
I threw away is now lined anew, thorny
And the fruits are bitter.
G. S. Nyakundi

When This Carnival Finally Closes
When this frothful carnival finally closes, brother,
When your drumming veins dry, these very officers
Will burn the scripts of the praises we sang to you
And shatter the calabashes you drank from. Your
Charm, these drums, and the effigies blazing will become the
accomplices to your lie-achieved world
Your bamboo hut on the beach they will make a born fire of
Under the cover of giving their hero a true traditional
Burial, though in truth to rid themselves of another
Deadly spirit that might otherwise have haunted them,
And at the wake new mask dancers will quickly leap
Into the arena dancing to fighter skins, boasting
Other clans of calabashes as the undertakers jest:
What did he think he would become, a God?
The devil!
Jack Mapanje

Making our Clowns Martyrs
(On returning home without chauffeurs)
We all know why you have come with no
National colours flanking your black Mercedes Benz.
The radio said the toilets in the banquet halls of your dream have
grown green creepers and cockroaches
Which won’t flush, and the orders you once shouted
To the concubines have now locked you in.
Hard luck friend. But we all know what currents
Have stroked your temper. You come from a breed of
Toxic frogs croaking beside the smoking ashes of
River Shire, and the first words you breathed were
Snapped by the lethal mosquitoes of this Morass.
We knew you would wed your way through the arena.
Though we wondered how you had got chosen for the Benz.
Jack Mapanje

Five Ways to Kill a Man
There are many cumbersome ways to kill a man.
You can make him carry a plank of wood
to the top of a hill and nail him to it. To do this
properly you require a crowd of people
wearing sandals, a cock that crows, a cloak
to dissect, a sponge, some vinegar and one
man to hammer the nails home.

Or you take a length of steel
shaped and chiselled in a traditional way,
and attempt to pierce the metal cage he wears,
but for this you need white horses.
English trees, men with bows and arrows.
at least two flags, a prince, and a
Castle to hold your banquet in.
Dispensing with nobility, you may, if the wind
allows, blow gas at him. But then you need
a mile of mud sliced through with ditches,
not to mention black boots, bomb craters,
more mud a plague of rats, a dozen songs
and some round hats made of steel.

In an age aeroplanes, you may fly
miles above your victim and dispose of him by
pressing one small switch. All you then
require is an ocean to separate you, two
systems of government, a nation’s scientists,
several factories, a psychopath and
land that no one needs for several years.

These are, as I began, cumbersome ways
to kill a man. Simpler, direct, and much more neat
is to see that he is living somewhere in the middle
of the twentieth century, and leave him there.
(Edwin Brook)

A Hymn to God the Father
Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,
Which is my sin, though it were done before?
Wilt thou forgive those sins, through which I run,
And do run still; though still I do deplore?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For, I have more.

Wilt thou forgive that sin by which I have won
Others to sin, and, made my sin their door?
Wilt thou forgive that sin which I did shun
A year or two, but wallowed in, a score?
When thou hast done, thou hast not done,
For, I have more.

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun
My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;
Swear by thy self, that at my death thy son
Shall shine as he shines now, and heretofore:
And, having done that, thou hast done.
I fear no more.
John Donne

The Sun Rising
Busy old fool, unruly sun.
Why dost thou thus
Through windows and through curtains call on us?
Must to thy motions lover’s seasons run?
Saucy, pedantic wretch, go chide
Late school boys and sour ‘prentices.
Go tell court hunts men that the king will ride,
Call country ants to harvest offices
Love, all alike, non season knows nor clime,
Nor hours, days, months, which are the rags of time.

Thy beams, so reverend and strong
Why shouldn’t thou think?
I could eclipse and cloud them with a wink,
But that I would not lose her sight so long.
If her eyes have not blinded thine,
Look, and tomorrow late tell me
Whether both th’indians of spice and mine
Be where thou left’st them, or lie here with me;
Ask for those kings whom thou saw’st yesterday,
And thou shalt hear; all here in one bed lay,

She’s all states, and all princes I;
Nothing else is,
Princes do but play us; compared to this,
All honours mimic, all wealth alchemy;
Thou, sun, art half as happy as we,
In that the world’s contracted thus;
Thine age asks ease, and since thy duties be
To warm the world, that’s done in warming us,
Shine here to us, and thou art every where;
This bed thy center is, these walls thy sphere
John Donne

Crossing the Bar
Sunset and evening star
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea.

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam.
When that which drew out the boundless deep
Turns again home.

Twilight and evening bell.
And after that the dark!
And may thee be no sadness of farewell,
When I embark:

For though from out our bourne of Time and place
The flood may bear me far,
I hope to see my pilot face to face
When I have crossed the bar.

Mother’s ode to a Stillborn Child
You languished patiently
For months on end
in intestinal convolutions
and indefinable chaos

You had neither shadow
nor silhouette
You had every right
to riot and complain
or raise your voice
in protest or defiance

I could feel your lust
To join the dead
Living world
Your muting attempts
To burst like a Christmas chicken
Into life

It is not my fault
That you did not live
To be a brother, sister
Or lover of some black child
That you did not experience pain.
Pleasure voluptuousness and salt
In the wound
That your head did not stop
a police truncheon
that you’re a permanent resident
of a prison island.
Oswald . M. Mtshali

The Birth of Shaka
His baby cry
was of a cub
tearing the neck
of the lioness
because he was fatherless.

The Gods
boiled his blood
in a clay pot of passion
to course in his veins
his heart was shaped into an ox shield
to foil every foe

Ancestors forged
His muscles into
Thongs as tough
as wattle bark
and nerves
as sharp as
syringe thorns

His eyes were lanterns
that shone the dark valleys of Zulu land
to see white swallows
coming across the sea.
His cry to two assassin brothers.

“Lo! You can kill me
but you’ll never rule this land!”
Oswald . M. Mtshali

Just a Passerby
I saw them clobber him with kieries,
I heard him scream with pain
like a victim of slaughter;
I smelt fresh blood gush
from his nostrils,
and flow on the street.

I walked into the church
and knelt in the pew
“Lord! I love you
I also love my neighbour. Amen”

I come out
my heart as light as an angel’s kiss
on the cheek of a saintly soul.

Back home I strutted
past a crowd of onlookers.
Then she came in –
my woman neighbour;
“Have you heard? I’ve been to church.”
Oswald .M. Mtshali

Black Rain
I cannot cry like you
Shoulders hunched into a knot of pain
And the face breaking into a thousand pieces.
I must stand erect, my eyes
spaceless and open; too much thinking
against of the cold wind and they may think
I am holding back tears.
I must live my grief
As a stone breaker lives with his vocation;
must feed them on the thirteenth day on plantain leaves,
go to office with a shaved head,
hang my coat on a peg and pretend
that nothing has happened.
The role are reversed in a way
…. not exactly that would look stage – managed ….
but others are crying around you today.
As I live ash sizzles on the cold river
like a dying passion
it takes all the strength in me
to restrain a shiver;
And yet with all the cold despair around
This sterile moment oozing this black rain
I envy you the quiver
with which your tears came
and your relief.
Keki Darwulla

Piano and Drums

When at breaks of day at the riverside
I hear jungle drums telegraphing
The mystic rhythm, urgent, raw
Like bleeding flesh speaking of
Primal youth and the beginning,
I see the panthers ready to pounce,
The leopard snarling about the leap
And the hunters’ crouching with spear poised.

And my blood ripples, turns torrent
Topples the years and at once I am
In my mothers lap a suckling;
Paths with no innovations
Rugged, fashioned with the hacked
Warmth of hurrying feet and groping heart
In green leaves and wild flowers pulsing.

Then I hear a wailing piano
Solo speaking of complex ways
In tears furrowed concerto
Of far away lands
And new horizons with
Coaxing diminuendo counter point
Crescendo but lost in the labyrinth
Of its complexities, it ends in the middle
Of a phrase at a dagger point.

And I lost in the morning mist
Of an age at riversides keep
Wandering in the mystic rhythm
Of jungle drums and the concert

The Snow Flakes Sail Gently Down
The snowflakes sail gently
Dawn from the misty eye of the sky
And fall lightly on the
Winter weary elms. And the branches
Winter stripped and nude, slowly
With the weight of the weightless show
Bow like grief stricken mourners
As white funeral cloth is slowly
Unrolled over cleat less earth.
And dead sleep stormily from the
Heater rose and closed my eyes with
The touch of the silk cotton on water falling.

Then I dreamed a dream
In my dead sleep but I dreamed
Not of earth dying and elms a vigil
Keeping. I dreamed a bird, black
Birds flying in my inside, nesting
And hatching an oil palms bearing suns
For fruits an with roots denting the
Up rooters spades. And I dreamed the
Up rooter’s tired and limp, leaning on my roots
And the oil palms gave them each a scene.

But on their palms
They balanced the building orbs
They frowned with schisms on their
Brows for the suns reached not
The brightness of gold.

Were I To Choose

When Adam broke the stone
And red streams raged down to
Gather in the womb,
An angel calmed the storm,

And I the breath mewed
In Cain, unblinking gaze
At the world with out
From the blink of an age.

That draws from the grapping lips
A breast – muted cry
To thread the years
(O were I to choose)

And now the close of one
and thirty turns, the world
Of bones is Babel and
The different tongues with in
Are flames the head
Continually burning.

And O of this dark halo
Was the tired head free?

And when the harmattan
Of days has parched the
Throat and skin, and sucked the
Fever of the head away,

The massive dark
Descends and flesh and bone
Are razed and (O were I to choose)
I’d cheat the works and science seeks in stone.

The Mystic Drum
The mystic drum beat in my inside and fishes
Danced in the river and men and women danced
On land to the rhythm of my drum.

But standing behind a tree with leaves
Around her waist She only smiled with a
Shake of her head.

Still my drum continued to beat
Rippling the air with quickened
Tempo compelling the quick
And dead to dance and sing with their shadows.

But standing behind a tree
With leaves around her waist
She only smiled with a shake of her head.

Then the Drum beat with a rhythm of the
Things of the ground and invoked
The eye of the sky the sun and the moon
And the gods and the trees begun to dance,
The fishes turned men.

And things stopped to grow
But standing behind a tree
With leaves around her waist
She only smiled with a shake of her head.

And then the mystic drum
In my inside stopped to beat and men
Became men, Fishes became fishes
And trees, the sun and the moon Found
Their places, ant the dead Went to the ground
And things began to grow.

And behind the tree she stood with roots
Sprouting from her feet and leaves growing
On her head and smoke issuing from her nose
And her lips parted in her smile Turned cavity
Belching darkness.

Then, I packed my mystic drum
and turned away; never to beat so loud any more.

I hear many voices like it’s
Said a madman hears; I hear trees talking
Like it’s said a medicine man hears.

May be I’m a madman, I’m a medicine man,
May be I’m mad, for the voices are cuffing me,
Arguing me from the midnight Moon and the
Silence of my desk To walk on wave crest across a sea.

May be I’m a medicine man
Hearing talking saps, seeing behind
Trees, but who’s lost his powers of invocation.

But the voices and the trees are now name-spelling
and one Figure silence –etched across the
Moon face is walking, stepping over continents and seas.

And I raised my hand, my trembling
Hand gripping my heart as handkerchief
And waved and waved and waved,
But she turned her eyes away.

Spirit Of The Wind
The storks are coming now while specks
In the silent sky they had gone north seeking
Fairer climes to build their homes when here were raining.

They are back with me now spirits
Of the wind, beyond the goals
Confirming hands they go north and
West and east instinct guiding.

But willed by the goal I’m sitting on this
Rock watching them come and go from
Sun rise to sun down, with the spirit urgings with in.

And urgings a red pool stirs and
Each ripple is the instincts vital call,
A desire in a million cells confined.

O God of the gods and me shall I not
Need this prayer bell call the noon angels?
Because my stork is caged in
Slugged hair and dark skin?

One Night At Victoria Beach
The wind comes rushing from the sea,
The waves curling like Mambas strike
The sands and recoiling list in rage
Washing the Alanduras feet pressing hard
On the sand and with eyes fixed hard
On what only hearts can see, they
Shouting pray, the Aladuras pray; and coming

From booths behind, compelling highlife
Forces ears; and car lights startle pairs
Arm in arm passing washer words back
And forth like haggling sellers and buyers.

Still they par, the Aladuras pray
With hands pressed against their hearts
And their while robes pressed against
Their bodies by the wind; and drinking palm
Wine and beer, the peace boast at bars at the
Beach, still they pray.

They pray, the Aladuras pray
To what only hearts can see while dead,
Fisher men long dead with bones rolling
Nibbled clean by nibbling fishes, follow
Four dead carries shinning like stars into deep
Sea where fishes sit in judgment and living
Fishermen in dark huts sit around dim light
With Babalawo throwing their souls in four
Cowries on sand, trying to see tomorrow.

Still, they pray, the Aladuras pray
to what only hearts can see behind the
Curling waves and the sea, the star and the
Subduing unanimity of the sky and their
White bones beneath the sand.

And standing dead on dead sands,
I felt my knees touch living sands but
Rushing wind killed the budding words.

Death At Mulago
Towers of Strength,
Hard concrete, enduring, like life itself

Up they rise tall and slender and around them
white coals Flick like the magic they spell

New Mulago Hospital, the name
Shake, she stood futile, on that
Cool afternoon, giving names,
Tribes and sex, a woman clad in Busuti.

As the full stop was entered on a
White sheet of paper a white coat gave a nod.

Her hands cross her chest and the
Message un said crushing granite and
Concrete in gushing tears of pain and a lonely sorrow.

I have walked in the still dark hours
Of the day and seen elephants graze
And hippos snuggle shifting in
The Nile; An American parts noise
And childishiated shitting in cisterns at
Para lodge. Animal seeing animal each
Asking questions, and nature rolling around
Like sea sick billows to the shore in the
Darkness of space and us standing on tidal
Waves of engulfing life embarking not for
Comfort watched and prayed for an answer.

The Prostitute
I desire her truly, like all men in
The dark cascades of the Susana
Desire beautiful and seductive women;
The Congo beat rippled through her shimmering
Along a bottom down to her feet.

The morning of the light burst through
My thighs in a longing of fire. She almost
A goddess hit in clever cascades of light.
But in the light of another morning, after
The jungle of peanies how could I move to sit the glue pot?

Two Epitaphs
Major Christopher okigbo was shot
Dead in Biafa. Yatura Chisiza was s
Hot dead in Malawi died that Africa may live with integrity.

Christopher Okigbo
Heaven gate
And limits who can reach there?
Head and barrels of heat do so easily.
Youth and love Joy and Faith have gone
Through then and now our limits.
Because the lights of Heaven’s gate have departed.

Yayuta Chisiza
Old soldiers never die the sayings goes so too
to Yatura so too to the cause he lived for

For us, the rank and file, only the agony
And the pity for a piece of lead

There is much to remember and little to
Forget when greatness dies a simple death for souls of men.

The Witch Tree At Mubende
The witch tree old and knobble stood with
Years scratched by a cross abused as cameras
Clicked and learned tongues discoursed.

Naked it stood in its age of mysterious beauty
And innocence stood there too side two witches
As I saw them prismatic lenses prying the old
The new to no she was then the Mubende witch tree.

A Strange Wind
A strange wind is blowing, dust fills our eyes.
We turn and walk the un intended way.
We pass our sore eyes and reopen them,
To expanded horizons, to a new day!
The narrow circle of our cherished
Experience breaks, our trusted gods
Dissolve and ghosts vanish, disembodied
Voices announce world news, we see the
Hidden side of the moon, the dead mans eye
Transfers to the living, the atom splits and
The song bird croaks, economics opposes charity,
Law protects wizards and forbids justice, the small
Nation shouts and the big one brags, futile raids
Cease and global wars commence, and the
Rude son strikes the father – a sword!

Kilembe Mines
Bruised face,
Hacked ribs, Intestines frantically harrowed out
By machine-dislocated men sweating in
Subterranean cells, deep as the grave of mankind
The projected havoc of the frenzy in human blood.

A Taxi Driver On His Death

When with prophetic eye I pear into the future
I see that I shall perish upon this road,
Driving men that do not know, this metallic
Monster that now I dictate this docile elaborate
Horse, that in silence seems to summer and
Strain, shall surely revolt some tempting day.
Thus I shall die; not that I care, for any manes
Journey, nor for proprietors gain. Nor yet for love
of my own. Not for these do I attempt forbidden
Limits for these defy the traffic – man and the cold
Cell, risking everything for the little more, they shall
Say, I know, who pick up my bones, “poor chap”
Another victim to the ruthless machine concealing my
Blood under the metal.

A Psalm Of Lot
By the ashes of Sodom
And the Gomorrah, Lord
Behold me weeping, by
The ashes of men once himbler
Than he got. Not a breath not a trace,
Where at threshold hands itched
Beyond sacrifice to touch the origin of flame.
Then at God time. the terror – pelt and
I suddenly on legs of feather running
And beating the air gaze fixed on demented
Shadow running and beating the air while at
My back the noise of doom hissing and wailing.

And amid the tumult, O God. The costly halt of inquiring feet.
And this lord, the out line this the beloved face that

Thence forth I have dreaded and encountered
In all my dreams; the pained look forever
Piercing, forever probing and doubting
The obedience and love this the God
Planted pillar in this signed valley
To proclaim the eternity of the backward glance

God terror.
God the favour
At whose voice what earth melting!
By whose hand what mountain safety!
God the moulder God the remover what
Wonder will not spring at thy bidding?
What stones not happily turn to flesh?
Dresses trousers on God – like rock.

The Death Of God
The great thumbs stirred shivered and
Pressed a button, giant bells rang in
A long thunderous boom, the tiny death
Words became stronger and more evil,
The great immorality ended in and
Echoless endless mortality; where the night
Is still a soft moon light ivory, there lies
The grave of God with an epitaph inscribed in priceless wood.

the poor man
The poor man knows not how to eat
With the rich when they eat fish, he eats the head.

Invite a poor man and he rushes in licking
His lips and up setting the plates.

The poor man has no manners; he comes
Along with the blood of lice under his nails.

The face of the poor man is lines from
The hunger and thirst in his belly.
Poverty is no state for any mortal man it
Makes him a beast to be fed on grass.

Poverty is unjust. If it befalls a man, though
He is nobly born; he has no power with God.

Air Raid
It comes so quickly the bird of death from
Evil forests of soviet technology.

A man crossing the road to greet a friend
Is much too slow his friend cut in haves
Has other worries now than a friendly handshake at noon.

The message
Send home my long strayed eyes to me
Which (oh) top long have dwelt on thee,
Yet since there they have learned such ill,
Such forced fashions and false passions,
That they be made by thee fit for no good sight,
Keep them still.

Send home my homeless heart again,
Which no unworthy thoughts could stain;
But if it be taught by time, to make jestings
Of protesting and cross both world and oath
Keep it for then its none of mine.

Yet send me back my heart and eyes,
That I may know and see thy lies,
And may laugh and joy, when though
Art anguish that will none; or prove as false as thou art now.

A Set Rising Sent

Thou art not as black as my heart,
Nor half as brittle as her heart, thou art;
What wouldst thou say? Shall but our
Properties by thee be spoke. Nothing more endless.
Nothing sooner broke? Marriage rings
Are not of this stuff; oh, why should ought
Less precious or less tough figure our love?
Except in thy name thou have bid it say.
“I am cheap, naught but fashion, fling me away”.

Yet stay with me since thou art come circle
This figure top which didst her thumb.
Be justly proud, and gladly safe, that thou
Dost dwell – with me; she that oh broke
Her faith would soon break thee.

Confined Love
Some man unworthy to be processors of
Old or new love, himself being false or weak,
Though his pain and shame would be lesser,
If on woman kind he might his anger wreak
And hence a law did grow, one might but one man knows;
But are other creatures so?

Are sun moons or stars by law forbidden
To smile where they list or end away their light?
Are birds devoured or lie abroad at might?
Breasts do not jointures lose thou they
New lovers choose, but we are made worse
Than these whoever rigid fair ship to
Lie harbors and not to seek now lands
Or not to deal with? Or built fair houses,
Set trees and arbors, only to lock up, or else them fall?
Good is not good unless A thou sand it
Possesses but doth waste with greediness.

Of A Woman
Hath no ears for to hear
What vain art can reply
I am sick, I must die
Lord have mercy on us.

Haste, therefore each degree
To welcome destiny Heaven is
our heritage earth but a players
Stages mount we onto the sky I am
Sick I must die Lord, have mercy on us.

Death Do Not Be Proud

Death do not be proud although some
have called the mighty and dreadful
for thou art not so; for those whom
thou think`st thou dost over throw
die not poor death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
For rest and sleep, which but thy pictures
be much pleasure; then, from thee much
more must flow, And soonest, our best men
with thee do go rest of their bones and
Souls delivery thou art slave to fate, chance,
kings and desperate men, and dost with
poison war and sickness dwell, And poppy or
charms can make us sleep well, and better than
Thy stroke, why well’s thou then? One short
Sleep past, we wake eternally and death shall
Be no more; death though shall die.

Witch Craft By A Picture
I fix mine eyes on thine and there
Pity my picture burning in thine eye;
my picture drowned in a transparent tear,
when I took lower I espy hadst thou wicked skill ,
by picture made and married to kill,
How many ways might thou perform thy will?

But now I have drunk thy sweet salt tears,
and though pour more I will depart my
picture vanished vanish fears.

That I can be endangered by that arts
though thou retain at me one picture more,
yet that will be being in their own heart, from all malice free

The Appreciation
When by thy scorn, O murderess I am dead
And that thou thinkst thee free from all
solicitation from me, then shall my ghost
come to thy bed, and thee, feigned vestal in
worse arms shall see; then thy sick taper will begin to wink

Thou callst for more, and in false
sleep will from thee shrink, and then,
poor aspen wrench, neglected thou bathed in
cold quick silver sweat with lie

A venire ghost than I; what I will say,
I will not tell thee now;
lest that preserve thee, thou shouldst
Painfully repent, than by my threatening rest still innocent.

Death In The Dawn

Traveller, you must set out at dawn and
wipe your feet upon the dog nose witness of the earth.

Let sunrise quench four lamps. And
watch faint brush prickling in the sky
light cottoned feet to break the early earth
worm on the hoe shadows stretch with
sap not twilights death and sad proportion
this soft kindling, soft receding breeds
racing joys and apprehensions for a naked day
burdened hulks retract, stoop to the mist in
the faceless throng to wake the silent markets
swift mute processions on the grey by ways …..
on this counter pane, it was ----
sedden winter at the death of dawns lone
trumpeter cascades of white feather flakes ….
But it proved a futile rite propitiation sped grimly ob before

The right foot for joy the left dread and the
mother prayed child may you never walk
when the road waits famished.

Traveller you must set fort at dawn
promise marvels of the holy hours presages
as the white cocks flapped perverse impalement
as who would dare the wrathful wings of mans progression ………

But such another wraith brothers
silenced in the startled hug of your invention
is this mocked grimace this closed contortion.

In vain your bangle cast
Charmed circles at my feet
I am Abiku, calling for the first
And the repeated time

Must I weep for goats and cowries?
For palm oil and the sprinkled ash?
Yams do not sprout in amulets
To earth Abikus limbs.

So when the snail is burnt in his shell,
What the heated fragment brand me
Deeply on the breast you must know him
When Abiku calls again.

I am the squirrel teeth cracked
The riddle of the palm. Remember
This and dig me deeper still into
The god’s swollen foot.

Once and the repeated time ageless
Though puke and when you pour
Libations each finger points me near
The way I came where

The ground is wet with mourning
White dew suckles flesh birds
Evening by friends the spider trapping
Flies in wind froth
Night and Abiku sucks the oil
From lamps mother! I will be there
Suppliant snake coiled on the door step
You’re the killing cry
The ripest fruit was saddest
Where I crept, the warmth was dying
In the silence of webs, Abiku moans, shaping
Mounds from the York.

Rust is ripeness rust
And the wilted corn –plumes;
Pollen is mating-time when swallows
Weave a dance
Of feathered arrows
Thread corn stalls in winged
Streaks of light. And we loved to hear
Spliced phrases of wind, to hear
Rasps in the field, where corn leaves
Pierce like bamboo silvers
Now, garners
Awaiting rust on tassels, draw
Long shadows from the dusk, wreathe
Dry thatch in wooden smock. Larsen stalls
Ride the germs decay – we wait
The promise of the rust

Your hand is heavy, Night, upon my brow,
I bear no heart mercuric like the clouds to dare
Exacerbation from your subtle plough.

Woman as a clam, on the seas crescent
I saw your jealous eye quench the seas
Fluorescence, dance, on the pulse incessant

Of the waves and stood, drained
Submitting like the sands, blood and brine
Coursing of the roots night you rained

Serrated shadows through drank leaves
Till battled warm suffusion of your dappled calls
Sensations pained me faceless, silent as night thieves
Hide me now, when night children haunt the earth
I must hear none! These misted calls will yet
Un do me naked, unbidden at nights muted birth.

I Think It Rains
I think it rains
That tongues may loosen from the perch
Uncleave roof tops of the mouth, hang heavy with knowledge

I saw it rise
The sudden cloud from ashes setting
They joined in a ring of grey with in
The circling spirit
O it must rain
These closures on the mind, binding us
In strange despairs, teaching
Purity of sadness.

And how it beats
Skinned transparencies on wings
Of our desires searing dark longings
In cruel baptism

Rain-reeds practiced in
The grace of yielding yet unbending
From a far, this your conjugation with my earth
Bares crouching rocks.


Grey, to the low grass cropping
Slung wet-linchened, wisps from such
Smoke heaviness, elusive of thin blades
Curl inward to the earth breed
The grey hours

And days and fears for do not
The rise grey temples we must build
To febrile years, here begin not
In tears and ashes, but on the sand mocking
Threads compulsive of the hours

In the desert wilderness, when lone cactus
Cannibal was his love even amidst
the crag and gorge, the leap and night tremors
Even as the past herd stayed and the sand storm
Fell intimations came

In the whorled centre of the storm threnody
But not from this for that far companion,
Made sudden stranger when the wind slacked
And the centre fell grief. And the stricken
Potsherd lay, isolate disconsolate, intimations then

But not from those he knew only
Sudden seizure and time conquest
Bound him helpless to each grey essence.
Nothing remained if pains and longings
Once, once set the walls sadness
closed him, rootless, lacking cause

When you have whispered. It in my cocked ear
With an equivocal voice and quivering frame;
When you have sworn it was by me
And not Tom, Dick or Harry;
When you have reacted the memorable scene
That night after the charity ball
When the heroine of contrived action
Clutched at the elusive moment of emaciated hope; when you have concluded with a certain smile
That the D.C would do it secretly
Modena, do not mock the bruised bosom of the widowed mother
When I make discoveries and speak truths
Which we both knew but never revealed:
How you explained you week –end absences
By attending imaginary funerals of imaginary relatives;
How you realized your battered frame
Like stale beer that has lost its spear,
Would not find any other male patron,
How you gave me hurried promotions
From boy-friend to lover and then to fiancé;
How you butted me with your selfish generosity;
Do not mock the wounded heart of the widowed mother
When I promise you that I will not keep an oath
Extorted from me by your forked tongue;
Do not fool mankind any more
With elegies of innocence, chastity and youth
Let the sun melt all the rings an men’s fingers
After the first treachery, there is no other.

The Pauper
Pauper, Pauper, craning your eyes
In all directions, in no direction
What brutal force, malignant element,
Dared to force, malignant element
Dared to forge your piteous fate?
What is worthy the effort, the time?

You limply lean on a leafless tree
Nursing the jiggers that shrivel your bottom
Like a baby newly born to an old woman
What crime, what treason did you commit
That you are thus condemned to human indifference?

And when you trudge on the horny pads, Gullied like the soles of modern shoes, pads that even jiggers not conquer
Does the admire your sense of endurance
Or turn his head away from your impudent presence?
You sit alone on hairless goatskin
Your ribs and bones reflected the light
Squashing like between your nails
And cleaning your nails with dry saliva

And when the looks at the grimy coating
Off your emancipated skin,
At the root that uproots all your teeth
Like a pick on a stony piece of land,
Does the pat his bouncy at the wonderful sight?

Pauper, Pauper, crouching in beautiful verandas
Of beautiful cities and beautiful people
Tourists and I will take your snapshots
And your M.P with a shinning head and triple chin
Will mourn your fate in a supplementary question at question time.

To the Living

Only those
Who have survived
The final anaesthetization
Those who have enacted the final epilogue
Only those
Have the prescient perception
Of the inner idea of life
And can partake of the spectral dance;

Only they
Have the inner knowledge
Of the numbing notation
On grave still nights when nude priests,
In mortal ecstasy
Bless multicoloured antimulets
On virgin pelvic bone amphorae
To the rhythm of the drum of death
Struck with the high bone
Of him who died on his bridal night

These are they
Who have bared their bones
And submitted to the savage salvation
Of the caustic dew of the cold grave;
Only these
Understand the eloquence of the silence
Between two echoes in a haunted cave

Who but they
Who walk beyond the twilight glimmer
Between sleep and waking,
Who basic in natural sunlight
And breathe the cool diurnal dark breeze,
Who have experienced
The realization of the inevitable dream
Know the revitalizing power of the skilled blood?

But we,
We who clutch at tattered totems
And turn away from solar solace
When the innocence butter
Melts in our hands at the ordeal,
We who raise open hands in supplication to Nyabingi;
Hands that would embrace
What dream are we capable of.

Rhythm of the Pestle
Listen – Listen
Listen to the palpable rhythm
Of the periodic pestle
Plunging in proud perfection
Into the cordial cavity
Of maternal mortar
At each succeeding stroke
The grain darts, glad to be scattered
By the hard glint
Of the pestles passion.

Virgin Madre
Virgin Madre
Daughter of her son
Mother of her son
Musabas marriage
Was not meant to last
Divorce due to incompatibility
Perhaps there were antecedents
She had a premarital son
George defied abortion
Virgin Madre
Blaine could get him self a new wife
Musaba a new husband
Or characters to that effect

Music by the cranes
The cranes on the stage

Musaba must not miss her new lover
Hair imported from Northern Canada
Intense products of I.C.I
Islands of nature amid a sees of civilization
Shades of black on a background of sickly yellow self-suffocation
In cheap repentant dress
As taut as her soul
Betraying a large floppy behind
Supported on two rickety thighs
(Alas the stockings hung loose)
Tapering to shoes three inches off the ground
She sat in the humid ballroom
Issuing incense
From her I.C.I manufactory

George belched in her face and haggled for a dance
The police was a bottle of waragi swig
And it was gone
She staggered on the floor a while
She was led by the back door.
The lights winked for five minutes
They were shy to see the sight

O leka nnyabo togenda

She transcended advice
The price was one bond for incest..


• David Cook and David Rubadiri (EDS) 1971, Peoms From East Africa. East African Educational Publishers, Westland’s, Nairobi.

• Paul Robins and R.A Hargreaves 1981, A Poetry Course For Kcse, East Africa educational Publishes, Westland, Nairobi.