General Comments - Once Upon a Time - Gabriel Okara
This poem is appealing to young people because it condemns the hypocrisy of adults - hemmed in and constrained by rules and conventions - adopting masks for different occasions: for lying, cheating and betraying - whereas childhood is portrayed as a time of honest laughter, of innocence and spontaneity. Also coming through in this poem is the influence of Western culture on the Nigerian way of life.
The adult is talking to a child - a father to a son. ‘They' refer to other people, and this gives a sinister and impersonal tone, which adds to the poet's feeling as an outsider in the first three stanzas. After this he learns that in order to ‘belong' in the society you have to become like ‘they'. ‘They' know how to use social conventions of greetings and smiles in order to hide their true feelings. ‘These muting things' are the pressures and constraints, social or racial, which make him/people behave falsely or hypocritically - so his true self, his true voice is ‘muted' (silenced). Okara wants to rediscover childhood and its openness and sincerity. He wants most of all to laugh with his heart rather than his ‘teeth'. There is an interesting use of metaphors connected with the word heart - consider the use of metaphors in the poem of eyes, laughter, teeth, hands and face. The title suggests a fairy story - in other words something that is lost, perhaps not real, and will never come again. Also it is like a person telling somebody/ a young child a grim lesson about life. So, although it seems like he is telling the story to a child - he is the one who wants to learn from the child. In terms of growing up - it seems as if Okara's view is that growing up is the moving away from innocence into the corrupt world of false appearances. The poem is loosely structured with occasional rhyme, but no real pattern in line or stanza length. The rhythm however is distinctive, marked by...
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