Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Idanre and Other Poems by Wole Soyinka (3/5)

First published: 1967
Page count: 88


The back says: This collection of poems, the first by Wole Soyinka to be published, originally appeared in 1967. The long poem, Idanre, was written especially for the Commonwealth Arts Festival (1965) and is a creation myth of Ogun, the Yoruba god of Iron. The shorter poems range from a meditation on the news of the October Massacres in Northern Nigeria (1966) to a wry lament To My First White Hairs and the love poem Psalm.

I say: I can’t remember where I heard of Soyinka, but this was the only work of his they had at the library in English, so I thought I’d give it a try.

And I’m not sure what I think.
Some of his poems were really thought-provoking and beautiful, while others made me weary from his extremely posh language. It’s been a long time since I had to look up so many words while reading – and poetry, nonetheless. Make no mistake, I love words more than anything a lot of things, but his poetry made me feel a bit stupid.

I do think a lot of it went over my head, and I will read through it again because of masterpieces like this:
Post Mortem

there are more functions to a freezing plant
than stocking beer; cold biers of mortuaries
submit their dues, harnessed – glory be ! –
is the cold hand of death...
his mouth was cotton filled, his man-pike
shrunk to sub-soil grub


his head was hollowed and his brain
on scales – was this a trick to prove
fore-knowledge after death?
his flesh confessed 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.

It’s the penultimate stanza that my morbid self fell in love with.
Beauty.

The title poem Idandre left me rather cold and unaffected, which is a shame because it has a lot of beautiful lines in it. However, it’s written in so many different styles that I lost my patience and simply wanted Soyinka to find one and stick to it. Soyinka won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986, and it’s no surprise with lines like this one, from A Cry in the Night:
[...] heaven may not contest
Scars, shower ancient scales
To prove her torment shared.

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