Civilian and Soldier
My apparition rose from the
fall of lead,
Declared, 'I am a civilian.' It only served
To aggravate your fright. For how could I
a being of this world, in that hour
Of impartial death! And I thought also: nor is
Your quarrel of this world.
For both eternities, and oh I heard the lesson
Of your traing sessions, cautioning -
behind you, do not leave
A dubious neutral to the rear. Reiteration
Of my civilian quandary, burrowing earth
the lead festival of your more eager friends
Worked the worse on your confusion, and when
You brought the gun to bear
on me, and death
Twitched me gently in the eye, your plight
And all of you came clear to me.
I hope some day
Intent upon my trade of living, to be checked
In stride by your apparition in a trench,
Signalling, I am a soldier.
No hesitation then
But I shall shoot you clean and fair
With meat and bread, a gourd of wine
A bunch of breasts
from either arm, and that
Lone question - do you friend,
even now, know
What it is all about?
The poem takes
a snapshot of a civilian facing death by a soldier's fire but the civilian is trying to educate the soldier as to what exactly
he is trying to accomplish, and if in fact he himself understands the big picture of those who have set him off to kill their
own innocent ones.
his doubts, they rose to halt and lame
A resolution on the rack. Passion's flame
Was doused in fear of error; his
Bred indulgence to the state's disease
embowelled his earth; he clung to rails
In a gallery of abstractions, dissecting tales
As 'told by an idiot'. Passionless
he set a stage
Of passion for the guilt he would engage.
The turn and turn abouts
Of reason danced default to duty's counterpoint
Till treachery scratched the slate of primal
Then Metaphysics waived a thought's delay--
It took the salt in the wound, the 'point
Envenom'd too' to steel
the prince of doubts.
"Hamlet," shows the poet's empathy with
Shakespeare's most famous character. "Hamlet" contains many references to the play itself, yet many of the images and lines
could be applied to Soyinka's own life in prison. The poem is written in sonnet form, with a tight rhyme scheme, which focuses
the reader's attention on the emphasis which Soyinka places on the link between himself and the Dane.
reflects Nigeria's sickness and its infection, which permeates through to Soyinka himself.
The confusion and horrors of Denmark have their modern-day counterpart
in Nigeria, and, more specifically, in
the literal and mental imprisonment of Soyinka.
there are more functions to a freezing plant
bee; cold biers of mortuaries
submit their dues, harnessed—glory be!-
in the cold hand of death…
his mouth was cotton filled, his man-pike
shrunk to a subsoil grub
was hallowed and his brain
on scales—was this a trick to prove
fore-knowledge after death?
his flesh confesses
what has stilled
his tongue; masked fingers think from him
to learn, how not to die.
let us love all things of grey;
grey scalpel, one grey sleep and form,
Soyinka is trying to show death and the usual human
behaviors in a very humorous way, by pretending to accept death himself as part of the passage of life and its inescapable
I think it rains
I saw it raise
The sudden cloud, from ashes. Settling
joined in a ring of grey; within,
The circling spirit
Oh it must rain
These closures on the mind, binding us
strange despairs, teaching
Purity of sadness
And how it beats
Skeined transparencies on wings
Of out desires,
searing dark longings
In cruel baptisms
Rain-reeds, practised in
The grace of yielding, yet unbending
afar, this your conjugation with my earth
Bares crouching rocks.
Rust is ripeness,
And the wilted
Pollen is mating-time
Weave a dance.
Streaks of light.
And we loved to hear
of the wind, to hear
Rasps in the
field, where corn-leaves
Pierce like bamboo
on tassels, draw
from the dusk, wreathe
Dry thatch in woodsmoke. Laden stalks
Ride the germ’s
decay - we await
of the rust.
when a wave has such force;
over the lights other lights are a swollen electric talk;
leaving emits beginning, like
a newer tear; &
even then ants eat time;
serious bizness is left inside the music;
ordinance unexploded scattered
on saturated ground;
you might realize, when my reflection explodes;
in the half-light the city becomes dried out,
against a scrawled note;
kennels are a good place to keep silver.
At each quiet moment laughter walks
for Moremi, 1963
Earth will not share the rafter's envy; dung floors
Break, not the gecko's slight skin, but its fall
this soil for death and plumb her deep for life
As this yam, wholly earthed, yet a living tuber
To the warmth of waters, earthed as springs
As roots of baobab,
as the hearth.
The air will not deny you. Like a top
Spin you on the navel of the storm, for the hoe
That roots the forests
plows a path for squirrels.
Be ageless as dark peat, but only that rain's
Fingers, not the feet of men, may wash you over.
Long wear the
sun's shadow; run naked to the night.
Peppers green and red-child-your tongue arch
To scorpion tail, spit straight return to danger's threats
coo with the brown pigeon, tendril dew between your lips.
Shield you like the flesh of palms, skyward held
Cuspids in thorn nesting, insealed as the heart of kernel-
woman's flesh is oil-child, palm oil on your tongue
Is suppleness to life, and wine of this gourd
From self-same timeless run of runnels as refill
child, weaned from yours we embrace
Earth's honeyed milk, wine of the only rib.
Now roll your tongue in honey till your cheeks are
world needs sweetening, child.
Camwood round the heart, chalk for flight
Of blemish-see? it dawns!-antimony beneath
Armpits like a goddess,
and leave this taste
Long on your lips, of salt, that you may seek
None from tears. This, rain-water, is the gift
of its purity, bear fruits in season.
By twenty-three. They hold
Siege against humanity
Employing time to drill through to
Lover of Antigone !
You will? You will unearth
Corpses of yester-
Year? Expose manure of present
Seal him live
In that same necropolis.
May his ghost mistress
Point the classic
Route to Outsiders' Stygian
He sleeps well, eats
Well. His doctors note
Our plastic surgeons tend his public image.
Fiction ? Is truth not essence
Of Art, and fiction Art?
Lest it rust
We kindly borrowed his poetic licence.
We hoped he'd prove - age
Or genius may recant - our butchers
Tired of waiting
Ordered; take the scapegoat,
drop the sage.
Guara'l The lizard:
Every minute scrapes
A concrete mixer throat.
The cola slime
Flies to blotch the walls
in patterned grime
Flushed from hanging, sniffles
Snuff, to clear his head of
Sins -- the law
Declared -- that morning's
gallows load were dead of.
Times his sly patrol
For the hour upon the throne
I think he thrills
To hear the Muse's constipated
poem Live Burial explicitly tries to explain the painful torture of what the military government at the time in Nigerian tried
to impose on Soyinka's mind while the poet was
for two years.
The footsteps in the poem emphasizes the severe
limitations that the walls place on his freedom, and the acknowledgement of pacing, especially with such exact numbers to
reveal the poet's restless energy to seek any outlet possible, which brings us to the opening stanza of the poem the "Sixteen
paces by twenty-three," to explain the space available to live in for 24 months.
The government denied him reading and writing
materials so he had to use toilet papers make up items to write and free his mind. The poet takes this experience into this
poem "Live Burial" as a reflection on his prison of what the government intended to do to his mind, kill it and that ultimately
buries him alive.
Death in the Dawn
Traveller, you must set out
At dawn. And wipe your feet upon
The dog-nose wetness of earth.
Let sunrise quench your lamps, and
Faint brush pricklings in the sky light
Cottoned feet to break the early earthworm
On the hoe. Now shadows
stretch with sap
Not twighlight’s death and sad prostration
This soft kindling, soft receding
Racing joys and apprehensions for
A naked day, burdened hulks retract,
Stoop to the mist in faceless throng
wake the silent markets - swift, mute
Processions on grey byways…
Counterpane, it was -
winter at the death
Of dawn’s lone trumpeter, cascades
Of white feather-flakes, but it proved
A futile rite.
Grimly on, before.
The right foot for joy, the left, dread
And the mother prayed, Child
When the road waits, famished.
Traveller you must set forth
I promise marvels of the holy hour
Presages as the white cock’s flapped
Perverse impalement - as who
The wrathful wings of man’s Progression…
But such another Wraith! Brother,
in the startled hug of
Your invention — is theis mocked grimace
This closed contortion - I
in the Dawn” is a poem that presents itself in a monologue, and addresses the reader as a “traveller,” and
a narrative account of life as a journey and a form of passage. Although it sounds like a form of lyric, the title "death"
might be expected to take place in the evening announces the contradictory concepts the poem will explore. Any concept implies
its opposite, but in fact two deaths do occur during this dawn.
In vain your bangles cast
circles at my feet
I am Abiku, calling for the first
And repeated time.
Must I weep for goats and cowries
For palm oil and sprinkled ask?
Yams do not sprout amulets
To earth Abiku's limbs.
So when the snail is burnt in his
Whet 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 I 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 befriends the spider, trapping
Flies in wine-froth;
Night, and Abiku sucks the oil
From lamps. Mothers! I'll be the
Suppliant snake coiled on the doorstep
Yours the killing cry.
The ripest fruit was saddest
Where I crept, the warmth was cloying.
In silence of webs, Abiku moans, shaping
Mounds from the yolk.
In the poem Abiku, the poet personifies Abiku as himself,
the spiritual problem child who would always come back to torment his mother, the Nigerian government. Soyinka in that poem
made it clear that he would always be around to criticize the Nigeria government and since Abiku he
has been around to voice out his opinion on national issues, to engage those who want to ruin the country in war of words
and much more.
Your hand is heavy, Night,
upon my brow,
I bear no heart mercuric
like the clouds, to dare
Exacerbation from your
Woman as a clam, on the
I saw your jealous eye
quench the sea’s
Fluorescence, dance on
the pulse incessant
Of the waves. And I stood,
Submitting like the sands,
blood and brine
Coursing to the roots.
Night, you rained
Serrated shadows through
Till, bathed in warm
suffusion of your dappled cells
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
Undo me; naked, unbidden,
at Night’s muted birth.