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Who is Wole Soyinka
His World Was and Now
Poem Patterns
Poems & Analysis
Early Poems
Like Tupac & Fela Kuti
Related Links
What His Critics Are Saying
Literary Theories View Point
Had Me Spinning
Works Cited
Contact Me


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
Have risen, a being of this world, in that hour
Of impartial death! And I thought also: nor is
Your quarrel of this world.

You stood still
For both eternities, and oh I heard the lesson
Of your traing sessions, cautioning -
Scorch earth behind you, do not leave
A dubious neutral to the rear. Reiteration
Of my civilian quandary, burrowing earth
From 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?

My Analysis:

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.




He stilled his doubts, they rose to halt and lame
A resolution on the rack. Passion's flame
Was doused in fear of error; his mind's unease
Bred indulgence to the state's disease

Ghosts 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.

Justice despaired. The turn and turn abouts
Of reason danced default to duty's counterpoint
Till treachery scratched the slate of primal clay
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.

My Analysis:

"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.

Hamlet 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.


'Post Mortem'

there are more functions to a freezing plant
than stocking 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
his head 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 slabs
grey scalpel, one grey sleep and form,
grey images.

My Analysis

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 reality. 

I think it rains
I saw it raise
The sudden cloud, from ashes. Settling
They joined in a ring of grey; within,
The circling spirit

Oh it must rain
These closures on the mind, binding us
In 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
From afar, this your conjugation with my earth
Bares crouching rocks.


Rust is ripeness, rust.

And the wilted corn-plume;

Pollen is mating-time when swallows

Weave a dance.

Of feathered arrows

Thread corn-stalks in winged

Streaks of light. And we loved to hear

Spliced phrases of the wind, to hear

Rasps in the field, where corn-leaves

Pierce like bamboo slivers.


Now, garnerers we,

Awaiting rust on tassels, draw

Long shadows from the dusk, wreathe

Dry  thatch in woodsmoke. Laden stalks

Ride the germ’s decay - we await

The promise of the rust.



we're swallowed, 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,
nailed 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
Taste 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
Yet 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-
A 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
Your podlings, 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
Swarming honeycombs-your 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 gods-drink of its purity, bear fruits in season.


Live Burial

Sixteen paces
By twenty-three. They hold
Siege against humanity
And Truth
Employing time to drill through to his sanity

Lover of Antigone !
You will? You will unearth
Corpses of yester-
Year? Expose manure of present birth?

Seal him live
In that same necropolis.
May his ghost mistress
Point the classic
Route to Outsiders' Stygian Mysteries.

He sleeps well, eats
Well. His doctors note
No damage
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

The ghoul:
Flushed from hanging, sniffles
Snuff, to clear his head of
Sins -- the law
Declared -- that morning's gallows load were dead of.

The voyeur:
Times his sly patrol
For the hour upon the throne
I think he thrills
To hear the Muse's constipated groan


My Analysis

The 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

imprisoned 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 watch
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 breeds
Racing joys and apprehensions for
A naked day, burdened hulks retract,
Stoop to the mist in faceless throng
To wake the silent markets - swift, mute
Processions on grey byways…

On this
Counterpane, it was -
Sudden winter at the death
Of dawn’s lone trumpeter, cascades
Of white feather-flakes, but it proved
A futile rite. Propition sped
Grimly on, 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 forth
At dawn.
I promise marvels of the holy hour
Presages as the white cock’s flapped
Perverse impalement - as who would dare
The wrathful wings of man’s Progression…

But such another Wraith! Brother,
Silenced in the startled hug of
Your invention — is theis mocked grimace
This closed contortion - I

My Analysis:

“Death 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
Charmed 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 shell,
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.

My Analysis

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 subtle plough.


Woman as a clam, on the sea’s crescent

I saw your jealous eye quench the sea’s

Fluorescence, dance on the pulse incessant


Of the waves. And I stood, drained

Submitting like the sands, blood and brine

Coursing to the roots. Night, you rained


Serrated shadows through dank leaves

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.

Artist-Poet-Activist-Dramatist-Author-NobelPrize Winner