Achebe’s collection of short fiction and prose pieces covered a period of twenty years, tracing his development and changing preoccupations as a writer. His volume of poetry, on the other hand, spans a much shorter period and is unified by its focus on the civil war and the physical, social and psychological consequences of that war. Achebe wrote a collection of poems in which the first poem was named “1966”. It refers to the months preceding the outbreak of the civil war. “Benin Road” is another poem which takes up a related theme of the unexpected but inevitable convergence of fragile beauty or idealism and power. In this poem the driver is identified with his car whose speed, power and weight all equate with violence and whose windscreen is the “silicon hardness” of his own vision. The poem is about the conflicting desires within each individual for power and beauty.
And the gentle
Butterfly pops open
In a bright yellow
Smear in the silicon
Hardness of my vision.
“Mango Seedling” is a poem dedicated to Christopher Okigbo, whom Achebe along with many others regarded as Nigeria’s leading poet and who was killed fighting for Biafra in 1967. Like Okigbo’s own poetry, it draws on a mixture of Igbo and European allusions. The poem celebrates courage and determination of Okigbo.
Poised in courageous impartiality
Between the primordial quarrel of Earth
And sky striving bravely to sink roots
Into objectivity, mid-air in stone.
These lines illustrate how skillfully Achebe is able to use language, rhythm and syntax to heighten the meaning. The poem records the consequences of war in term of personal loss or individual suffering. “Remembrance day” is based on a comparison between an imported European ritual and an African perspective. Military ceremonies and salutations for the fallen soldiers are a feature of “Remembrance day” in Europe and contemporary Nigeria. These are contrasted with the Igbo observance called “Oso Nwandi” which Achebe explains in...
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