Vultures by chinua Achebe

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Vultures - Chinua Achebe
In the greyness
and drizzle of one despondent
dawn unstirred by harbingers
of sunbreak a vulture
perching high on broken
bone of a dead tree
nestled close to his
mate his smooth
bashed-in head, a pebble
on a stem rooted in
a dump of gross
feathers, inclined affectionately
to hers. Yesterday they picked
the eyes of a swollen
corpse in a water-logged
trench and ate the things in its bowel. Full gorged they chose their roost keeping the hollowed remnant
in easy range of cold
telescopic eyes ...
indeed how love in other
ways so particular
will pick a corner
in that charnel-house
tidy it and coil up there, perhaps
even fall asleep - her face
turned to the wall!
... Thus the Commandant at Belsen Camp going home for
the day with fumes of
human roast clinging
rebelliously to his hairy
nostrils will stop
at the wayside sweet-shop
and pick up a chocolate
for his tender offspring
waiting at home for Daddy’s return ...
Praise bounteous providence if you will that grants even an ogre a tiny glow-worm tenderness encapsulated in icy caverns of a cruel heart or else despair for in every germ
of that kindred love is lodged the perpetuity
of evil.

charnel-house (line 26) – a vault where dead bodies or bones are piled up Belsen Camp (line 30) – Bergen Belsen was one of the mot notorious concentration camps of the Second World War. It became a camp for those who were too weak or sick to work and many people died because of the terrible conditions. Anne Frank was interned there and died of typhus in 1945. The camp was liberated in 1945. a) Discuss the poet’s portrayal of the vultures, paying close attention to his use of imagery and other poetic devices. - the poet describes the vultures in a bleak and depressing setting: ‘greyness’ and ‘drizzle’ of one ‘despondent dawn’. His choice of words paint a picture of a miserable environment - it is in this environment that the vultures perch, and by beginning his poem with the description of this bleak environment, he prepares the reader for the scene of horror which is to come - the alliteration in ‘drizzle’ of one ‘despondent dawn’, where the heavy consonant sound ‘d’ is repeated, reinforces the gloomy atmosphere - dawn is supposed to be a symbol of renewal and a new beginning, but the presence of the vultures seem to negate this positive association. - the vultures are ‘unstirred’ by ‘harbingers of sunbreak’, as if they are cold and dispassionate, unfeeling and unmoved by the light. They seem to embody darkness here, immune to the positive effects of light, and by analogy, the effects of hope and goodness - they are perched on the ‘broken bone’ of a dead tree. This metaphor suggests that the tree is like a carcass itself, and it’s bare, bleached branches akin to bones picked clean by the vultures. This makes it seem as though the vultures presence and activities have a corrupting effect on their surroundings. They feed on death, and their presence seems to cover their environment in a deathly shroud - the imagery used so far matches the vulture’s reputation as a harbinger of death. In many cultures, vultures symbolize death and decomposition. The image of vultures circling overhead has long represented impending doom or fast approaching death. - the poet also uses terrifying imagery to describe the vultures and their culinary habits - their heads are ‘smooth’ and ‘bashed-in’, a picture of an unnatural, misshapen shape. ‘Bashed-in’ also suggests violence, and one may imagine the feeing frenzy of a flock of vultures descending on a corpse contributing to this ‘bashed-in’ condition, as ravenous vultures thrust their heads in and out of the horde of feeders - By describing their heads as ‘a pebble on a stem’, ‘rooted in a dump of gross feathers’, the poet reinforces the image of deformity and abnormality. The chaotic nature of their feeding is reflected by the ‘gross feathers’, pointing outwards haphazardly. This image...
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