Author Topic: THE LITERARY GENIUS: WOLE SOYINKA  (Read 35593 times)

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Re: THE LITERARY GENIUS: WOLE SOYINKA
« Reply #100 on: November 15, 2008, 11:03:42 AM »
Soyinka's "Apres La Guerre": After the War and The War After
Anujeet S. Sareen '93 (English 32, 1990)
During his twenty-two months of solitary confinement in a Nigerian prison, Wole Soyinka had so much time for introspection and meditation that insanity hung but a "cobweb" away. A Shuttle in the Crypt, the collection of poems that he wrote during his imprisonment, reverberates with intense despair and fear, the only salvation appears to have been through his poetic genius, which created life and sanity in art to counter his own slow loss of them. One of the last poems in the collection, "Apres La Guerre", not only carries the scars that the imprisonment left on Soyinka but also political convictions of the old Soyinka seasoned with Wordsworth's "still sad music of humanity."
The poem initially exudes a sense of weariness and calm, much like the aftermath of war where a resignation to the destruction gives birth to the desire to reconstruct, to rebuild and forget the past nightmare. The French title perhaps refers to the devastation of France after World War II. In the first two stanzas, Soyinka speaks of the smell of "Seepage from familiar opiates" (the smoke left in the wake of war, of flesh), "Trampled deep in earth" (the death of war), and of "earth's broken skin" (the destruction of war). Soyinka's urges us: "Do not cover up the scars" because he wants to prevent the resignation that follows wars, a resignation that would rather forget and move on with life. Soyinka feels that this "reconstructive" attitude leads people to "forgetting" and to "repression" of the past, Indeed, it provides one reason that man time and time again falls into the chaos of war. Thus, the third stanza Soyinka employs to wrench the reader from the passive calm, and place him or her through a concentrated moment of Soyinka's own confinement where one hears a "a masquerader's / Broken-tongued lament," sees "Its face a painted mask of veils," feels "Its breath unmoistened by the run of bile," and knows "A patchwork heart and death-head grin."

This transition between the second and third stanza also utilizes a "zooming" effect. Initially, Soyinka speaks of the "tuber of our common flesh" and "new-born lives" include an entire race. Here, Soyinka brings to bear his third weapon against the reader by alluding to the Holocaust, a horror that society even today --let alone twenty years ago -- constantly seeks to remind the "new-born" that genocide must never reoccur. The "feet of new-born lives/ Sink[ing] in voids of counterfeiting" alludes metaphorically to the mass genocide of children in the Holocaust. The death that is "new-girthed" was once the death haunting Jews during World War II and is now the death haunting Nigerians during the Biafran War. The "common flesh, when/ Trampled deep in earth" and the swelling of "earth's broken skin" gives rise to the horrifying pictures one often sees of literally mass graves of Jews slaughtered in concentration camps. Alluding to the Holocaust, Soyinka then brings the user into the third stanza and zooms into the remains of a victim of such horror. The "painted mask of veils" globalizes the horror of war and yet the "Broken-tongued lament" and "pathchwork heart and death-head grin" also bespeaks the insanity Soyinka nearly succumbed to during his own personal horror in war, an insanity that the man in "To The Madman Over The Wall" succumbs to.

In addition to France, Jews during WWII, and his own imprisonment , he alludes to Nigeria's freedom from British colonialism. The "familiar opiates", the death before it was "new-girthed", and the face that is "a painted mask of veils" all refer to what James Ngugi ("Satire in Nigeria" from Protest and Conflict in African Literature) calls T. M. Aluko's "black White Men" complex. Soyinka's "painted mask of veils" has moved most recently from white to black. There was a time when Nigerian nationalist leader felt that once you remove the 'White Man' poverty and servitude would slowly end. Yet such has not been the case and in fact, the wealthy, powerful, white elite have simply been replaced by a wealthy, powerful, black elite


The tuber of our common flesh, when
Trampled deep in earth embattles
Death, new-girthed, lunges at the sun.
The final stanza encaptures Soyinka's belief that these problems have nothing to do with color just as his mind's struggle with insanity in prison had nothing to do with his color. As Soyinka warned earlier to not "swell earth's broken skin/ To glaze the fissures in the drum," he leaves the reader with the fact that "Paint cracks," leaving bare whatever lies beneath. The "heartwood" is that fixed, unchanging center of wood that lives much longer than the sapwood surrounding it and thus the "heartwood heart" is bequeathed "To new-born/ followers of the wake" --those few that eternalize the wake of war until man is assured that there will never be another wake of war.

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Re: THE LITERARY GENIUS: WOLE SOYINKA
« Reply #100 on: November 15, 2008, 11:03:42 AM »

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Re: THE LITERARY GENIUS: WOLE SOYINKA
« Reply #101 on: November 15, 2008, 11:04:16 AM »
"Conversation at Night with a Co*kroach"
Karen Van Ness '92 (English 32, Spring 1990)
Soyinka discusses the problem of stopping violence in his poem "Conversation at Night with a Co*kroach." The situation in Nigeria probably influenced this theme. The Nigerian Civil War, the election of 1965, and following riots, and the general corruption and violence that had plagued Nigerian politics all fit into the theme discussed in the poem. Soyinka structures the poem by means of a dialogue between a man and a Co*kroach. He gives the human speaker a voice representing his own; the speaker's statements can be assumed to be Soyinka's. The Co*kroach speaks for the encouragers of violence, it tells humanity to kill for profit and to continue the violence by using lies and treachery. The Co*kroach replies to the man's protest that too many have died by saying:

I murmured to their riven hearts:
Yet blood must flow, a living flood
Bravely guarded, boldly split
Much of the violence in Nigeria during the time Soyinka was writing was done in the name of lofty causes such as the preservation of Yoruba identity. The Co*kroach's argument represents these rationalizations for continuing violence. Soyinka finds these words "stale deception, Blasphemer's consolation." Soyinka suggests a force worse than anything humans could produce plagues his nation, thus he uses Co*kroaches to symbolize this evil. The human speaker claims "Not human attributes were these/that fell upon us". Both the man and the Co*kroach are aware that the violence is unstoppable due to the Co*kroach's actions and man's weaknesses. The poem opens with the man addressing the Co*kroach and lamenting the fact that all of his people's plans for peace have been ruined by the Co*kroach. The Co*kroach acknowledges its fault and laughs at the useless attempts by the humans to cleanse their land.


Half-way up your grove of union
We watched you stumble-mere men
Lose footing on the peaks of deities.
Man has given into and joined with evil, according to Soyinka. Although the human speaker condemns the Co*kroach's falseness, apparently many others have believed in it. A third voice which seems to be an impartial narrator enters the poem and describes


A round table, board
Of the new abiding-man, ghoul, Co*kroach,
Jackal and broods of vile crossbreedings
Broke bread to a loud veneration
Of awe-filled creatures of the wild.
Sat to a feast of love-our pulsing hearts!
Soyinka's picturing of man at a love feast with Co*kroaches and ghouls shows his belief that man has compromised with evil, forming an unnatural, frightening alliance. After witnessing the corruption of the rulers and the nightmares of the violence in Nigeria, it might well have seemed as if man had aligned with some unnatural force.

Throughout the poem, Soyinka uses imagery and symbolism to express his ideas and emotions. In addition to the symbols of the image, Soyinka uses images of the land to help establish the ideas in the poem. The human speaker describes the land as


No air, no earth, no loves or death
Only the brittle sky in harmattan
And in due season, rain to waken the shurb
A hailstone herald to the rouse
Of hills, echoes in canyons, pastures
In the palm of ranges, moss horizons
On distant ridges, anthill spires for milestones.
This image brings out the desolation of the land as well as the mindset of its inhabitants. For example, the phrase "anthill spires for milestones" shows both the flat emptiness of the land and suggests that anthills may be made mentally into milestones. The poems ends when the Co*kroach


Spread its wings in a feeble sun
And rasped his saw-teeth. A song
Of triumph rose on the deadened air
A feeler probed the awful silence,
Withdrew in foreknowing contentment
All was well. All was even
As it was in the beginning
The most prevalent symbol in "Conversation at Night With a Co*kroach", is of course, the Co*kroach. At once it brings up feelings of subversion, obstinate survival, and disgust, all of which are appropriate associations for the evil that it represents. Fire, another important symbol in the poem, stands for the attempt by mankind to purge the land of evil. The human speaker claims


In that year's crucible we sought
To force impurities in nation weal
Belly-up, heat-drawn by fires
Of truth.
The crucible may stand for the elections of 1965, the first free elections held in Nigeria in several years, or it may stand for the combined attempts to purify Nigeria. The Co*kroach picks up on this symbolism and states


You lit the fires, you and saw
Your dawn of dawning yield
To our noon of darkness
The election failed to halt the corrupt practices of the ruling party and ended in riots that were to develope into the Biafran War. One of the most striking symbols in the poem is "a mine/ Of gold-filling the teeth of death". This image refers to the perpetuating of violence for personal gain by Nigerian leaders.

Thus Soyinka's poem "Conversation at Night With a Co*kroach" paints a bleak picture for mankind. Soyinka finds the actions of mankind to be worthy of Co*kroaches, not men. The fact that the conversation is at night as suggested by the title furthers the idea that humanity is lost in darkness. Soyinka shows no solution to the problems he presents, probally because he had seen the same cycles of violence repeated over and over again. He sums up his resignation to disaster in the prayer of the men in the poem: "May Heaven comfort you;/ On earth, our fears must teach us silence."

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Re: THE LITERARY GENIUS: WOLE SOYINKA
« Reply #102 on: November 15, 2008, 11:04:51 AM »
"To the Madmen Over the Wall"
Jason Targoff '94 (English 32, 1990)
Soyinka addresses this poem to people who have lost their sanity because of imprisonment. He cannot see these madmen, but he can hear them howl and does not blame them for their loss of sanity. Yet, Soyinka retains his mind, and creates this book of poems, A Shuttle in the Crypt, to portray his own feelings during his imprisonment.
The men Soyinka hears are mad; not only do they howl like animals but Soyinka also imagines them as crouching, with reality being strane to them. "Crouched / Upon your ledge of space, do you witness/ Ashes of reality drift strangely past?"

The activity in this poem occurs in the minds of the madmen and in Soyinka's mind, as he listens to the madmen and decides not to go with them. The madmen's minds have "dared the infinite" and have journeyed back, to howl in a manner that the sane can understand only as madness and "despair." The men and Soyinka are physically separated, but Soyinka in the Preface claims that the loss of human contact on a spiritual and social level was more "corrosive" than the mere physical isolation.

Soyinka "fears" that the men have returned from "daring the infinite," because on their return they will realize where they are. If the minds had stayed completely crazy and unaware of where they were, they would have no pain. They have returned from a state of insanity to realize where they are; the fact of their imprisonment causes pain and they cannot express this pain except by means of their wild howling. If they stayed completely insane, they would not realize their pain; their half-way state is intolerable, so they howl like animals.

In the third stanza, Soyinka writes of the "magic cloak" which they share, and which the walls of separation have cut. The magic cloak, their humanity, they have forgotten, because they have been treated like animals or sub-humans. They are not able to see or enact with one another, so they cannot affirm their own position as people. The loss of contact de-humanizes a person to the point of confusion and insanity. The solitude can only cause doubts, as it does with the madmen who lose their minds.

Soyinka's despair takes its form in a different manner from the madmen's. Soyinka's language we can understand, although his position of sanity might be more painful. Yet he claims that he cannot join them in their insanity, their drifting "harbour," where things might be safer than on the mainland with its sanity. The "broken buoy" of insanity works as an image because it is just that: broken because it is not normal, but safe and floating like a buoy. But Soyinka must fight his imprisonment in a different way, and his fight takes the form of his poetry.

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Re: THE LITERARY GENIUS: WOLE SOYINKA
« Reply #103 on: November 15, 2008, 11:05:36 AM »
Yoruban Religious Images in Wole Soyinka's "Last Turning"
Wole Soyinka's poem "Last Turning" illustrates death with imagery that refers to Yoruba traditional beliefs. Death is portrayed as a physical, mental and religious act, the culmination of a journey to wisdom. The mention of hills, earth, rainfall and paths all have special significance in Yoruban culture, and Soyinka's metaphoric references to them serve to emphasize the poem's depiction of death as perhaps more valuable than life.
The poem addresses the last survivor of a group of five men who are being executed in Soyinka's prison. It is a more specific development of the introductory prose piece "Chains of Silence," which describes the five men as they walk to their deaths: "Five men are walking the other way, five men walking even more slowly, wearily, with the weight of the world on each foot, on each step towards eternity. I hear them pause at every scrap of life, at every beat of the silence, at every mote in the sun, those five for whom the world is about to die" (32). "Last Turning" moves forward in time to address the moment when four of the men have already been executed, and only one remains, "the last among the five " (47). It attempts to comfort this last man's fears, to quiet his terror as he awaits his turn to be killed.

Soyinka portrays death in "Last Turning" as a mental and physical journey. It is a time for contemplation, when "self/ Encounters self" (47), but also a moment when all is made clear, when men can "read the earth in tremor [and]/ Pierce the day's elusive blindfold" (48). Death thereby becomes an action, rather than a reaction as it is in Western cultures. In the poem one dies actively rather than passively.

Death offers the "Night's/ Enlightening potion" that the dying "drink clear headed" (48). Once having crossed the "last turning in the road" (47), the person who dies completes their understanding of their life, or traverses the "steps on the ascent/...to the sum of seekers' questions" (48). The references to "awakening" and "waters of insight" (48) imply death to be an answer to life. The "passage" from birth to death entails the gathering of "Puns, fables, riddles of the lone" (47), this combined with the above images leads the reader to believe that life is a riddle or a joke that is solved by death. In other words, death is life's punchline.

Death in the poem is more fruitful than life. The living are mere weeds that await the fruits at life's end:


Passionate gleaner, a path of weeds
Comes to time's orchard - on beds of vines
Press lenten hands (47)
The "passionate gleaner" is the living person who is dying, attempting to gather all that life has to offer before he loses it forever. He is the dying man who drags his feet on the way to the execution, who staves off as long as he can the inevitable moment when his life must end. Soyinka claims that life is not as valuable as that. The journey to death is compared to a "path of weeds," a road full of barren plants. When the living die, they reach "life's orchard," where fruit is plentiful; after feasting on the fruit, the dead may, in Bacchanal fashion, "lie on a bed of vines." There is a contradiction here, however. Life is a weed-choked farce that people desperately cling to, but death, despite being a fruit-laden paradise, still causes the dead to "press lenten hands." Soyinka seems to be suggesting by this that neither death nor life is a completely positive experience.

Soyinka exalts death by connecting it to particularly important phenomena in Yoruban belief: hills, the earth, rain and paths. Each pack special power as they are, with the exception of the path, particularly potent factors in the ethnic group's theology. Hills were traditionally honored as the homes of gods, for several reasons: they offered superb protection during wartime, they were of an awe-inspiring size and covered with dense, mysterious vegetation thought to be the home of wild animals and spirits, and thirdly they maintained "an eternal presence" as they were known to outlast generations of humans (Ojo, p. 159). Soyinka's mention of "where the peaks fine needles have embossed/ Missals on the heart" (Soyinka, p. 47) is thereby a religious image connecting death to the holy hills and to Catholicism, which had been an influence in Yorubaland since the late nineteenth century (p. 187). Other hill images permeate the text, such as the mentions of the "weathered face of cliffs" (48), the "rockface" (47), the "mountain-top" and the "fingers of thorn on stony hill;" they stress the religiosity of Soyinka's concept of death.

The earth also held a highly significant role in Yoruba religion; it was "worshipped probably everywhere without exception" (Ojo, p. 168). In 1966 worship of the earth had become transformed into a cult called the Ogboni, who offered sacrifices to the land as giver of food, trees, cash crops and most of the requirements for human sustenance. The first portion of everything that came directly from the land was given back to the land's deity "in the form of libations" (p. 168). The earth maintains significance for the Yoruba also as the home of their ancestors' remains, anscestors who were worshipped by the group. Any offerings that were made to the earth were thought to make those ancestors more comfortable in their abode. Soyinka's mention of the living as "lulled in earthquake" (47), versus the dead as being able to "Read therein the earth's tremor" (48), suggests that the dead may understand the earth, while the living may not. The dead are closer to the holy earth than the living, and as the earth is a religious power, they are also more religiously significant. This portrayal fits in with Yoruban ancestor-worship, as the dead ancestors were certainly religiously significant and close to the earth.

The rain is a third phenomenon that holds great importance in Yoruba religion. The rain-making rituals were the most formal rituals in Yorubaland, as they were often performed and their success was very important to all members of the society. "Rain was eagerly awaited" (Ojo, p. 214) and if it did not fall in the dry season lasting from March to April, the rain-maker was called to perform a dance and chant charms around a boiling pot that contained a secret concoction. If rain did not fall for seven days after this ritual was performed, a state of emergency was declared, and all untethered domestic animals were slaughtered "to propitiate the favor of the goddess presiding over the rainy season" (p. 216). Usually, however, the rain arrived in time, and in the years leading up to 1966, the ceremonies were not performed every day of a drought as they had been in the past. Nevertheless, "rain still dominates the thought of the people" (p. 216). Soyinka therefore refers to a very special phenomenon when he invokes the image of rain. In the poem it serves as a medium of understanding:


Linked by drops shared in evil
To a chrysalis of cairns shall come
Rain's awakening, to heirs of sandals
Waters of insight (Soyinka, p. 48)
The rain gives knowledge to the living as they die. The "awakening" associated with the rain is actually a part of the "ascent...to the sum of seekers questions" (48) that is Soyinka's metaphor for death (see above). As the rain of understanding falls upon the dead, it is thus another device for sanctifying death over life.

Finally, the images of paths in "Last Turning" carry a strong double meaning. The path is a highly symbolic nonreligious image for Soyinka as a Yoruba: it represents death. A traditional Yoruba riddle asks "Which is the very long coffin that can accommodate 1,400 corpses?" (Ojo, p. 227). The answer is a path, which is seen as a long casket capable of containing many "bodies" end to end in single file. The riddle arose from the crowded condition of the paths in Yorubaland between six and eight o'clock in the morning and five and six o'clock in the evening, when hundreds of farmers went to or returned from their farms respectively (p. 228). Soyinka's mention of "pathways narrow on the mountain top/ A sheath for the wanderer" (Soyinka, p. 47), "a path of weeds" (47), and of course "the last turning of the road" after which the poem is named (47) thus all serve as symbols for death. The images of paths are doubly potent in that they not only depict the road which the dying follow to death but represent death itself as well.



--------------------------------------------------------------------------------


Source:
Ojo, G.J. Afolabi. Yoruba Culture. London: University of London Press Ltd., 1966.

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Re: THE LITERARY GENIUS: WOLE SOYINKA
« Reply #104 on: November 15, 2008, 11:06:25 AM »
Wole Soyinka's "Wall of Mists"
Julia Edwards, '93 (English 32, Spring, 1990)
As the name "Wall of Mists" suggests, Soyinka descibes through an absent narrator, the intangible sounds that defined his existance during his months of isolation. Yet, these mysterious and "shrill" echoes are blatantly juxtaposed with the stark and revolting realties which are the "link of all bereaved": i.e., "monster beetles in wall ulcers," "mildew drying," "soiled streams," "brown waters," and "dark channels." Although this horrifying physicality composes a certain aspect of decay in prison, Soyinka states in his introduction that his poems provide a "map of the course trodden by the mind, not a record of the actual struggle against vegetable existance -- that belongs in another place." The description, delivered in a distant third person, exemplifies the secondary importance of physical reality. The physical decay of this section merely sets and provokes the ominous scene of the devastating transformation of the mind into something no longer human. Soyinka makes use of a Western mythological symbol, Circe, to represent the mental "metamorphosis" and destruction of human will that occurs amongst such "vileness":

Mist of metamorphosis
Men to swine, strength to blows
Grace to lizard prances, honour
To sweetmeats on the tongue of vileness
Soyinka uses images ("Witches' Sabbath," "Circe calling home her flock") and intangible motifs ("disembodied laughter," "There rose a shrillness in the air/Grunts, squeals, cackles, wheezes") to illustrate the psychological (un)reality of human isolation.

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Re: THE LITERARY GENIUS: WOLE SOYINKA
« Reply #105 on: November 15, 2008, 11:06:58 AM »
"When Seasons Change"
Melinda Barton '93, English 32 (1990)
"When Seasons Change" represents one part of Wole Soyinka's thoughts in solitary confinement for 22 months. Centering upon the idea of inevitable death, the poem concludes without much hope for idealism in face of death. His personal voice and imagery, including images of rising and falling, convey his internal struggles.
Opening with a change in seasons, the poem describes the "old earth has sucked within it/ Souls of the living"(Wole Soyinka, A Shuttle in the Crypt, p. 15). Like Eliot's image of The Waste Land, this picture of life sucked into the earth presents the changing seasons negatively. The earth throttles life underground. In contrast, the image of the "cloud weeds in air" indicates life coming from death, highlighting the combination of new life containing old thoughts. New life is, therefore, not new but a revival of the past. Although new life has been mentioned, the emphasis rests upon the idea that the future lies with the past.

Whereas the first stanza developed an image of falling, the second describes the mind soaring. Nonetheless, the underlying thought is not entirely uplifting because it recognizes of futility. Just as the plane cannot control its passage but depends upon the wind and fate, the mind is caught in the futility of ideas and actions. Soyinka explains, "The mind/ Is banked upon the bankrupt flow/ Of wisdoms new"(Wole Soyinka, A Shuttle in the Crypt, p. 15). The use of "bank" as part of two words draws attention to their contradictory nature, emphasizing the point that the mind, based upon an empty flow, does not have new wisdom to find.

In the third stanza, the idea that human beings cannot create new knowledge stems in part from battle imagery. Soyinka describes,


...an earth
Stirring to fresh touch of old pretensions
Throbs of dead passion, chilled rebounds
From sensations of the past, old hands and voices
The blows of battle and the scars" ( p. 16).
Although responding, the earth answers old sensations. The choice of diction in "battle", "scars" and "dead passion" invokes images of war. Recalling Soyinka's experience with the ongoing African wars, one sees that the stanza could imply that the future of Africa was trapped in its past. Although the mind is questing, the loss of ideals and vision creates a falling image.

This falling image is followed by one of advancement. To show this progression, Soyinka employs contrasting images stating, "this progression has been source/ For great truths in spite of stammering/ Planes for great building in spite/ Of crooked sights, for plastic strength/ Despite corrosive fumes of treachery" (p. 16). Although mentioning great truth and building, Soyinka also includes in this list of positive points strength described as plastic, which creates a contradiction within the contrasting images of the quotation possibly to emphasize skepticism with his idea.

The final stanzas contradict this idea of progress by denying that one can find truth. In the end, Soyinka sees truth as sinking with "cobweb hangings on the throne of death/ In solitude" (p. 17). This image could indicate that death will always be here and has always been a part of life. No fresh blood, therefore, stains the throne.

Although one can soar, death is inevitable. Soyinka believes one can climb the heights of idealism but eventually one must come crashing down because death exists. Thinking one is discovering everything for the first time does not change the fact that the spires of the mind will be sucked down. The seasons fit into this idea because death represents their "legacy". Each time the seasons change, Soyinka remembers the futility in life. In expressting his inner thoughts, perhaps Soyinka relieved some of the strain on himself, a solitary individual trying to keep his mind from breaking by enlightening others to the problems all people share.

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Re: THE LITERARY GENIUS: WOLE SOYINKA
« Reply #106 on: November 15, 2008, 11:08:12 AM »
Symbolism in "Joseph"
Lisa Sachs '93 English 32 (1989)
In his collection of poems entitled A Shuttle in the Crypt (1972), Wole Soyinka expresses strong views about the human condition while commenting upon the political and social realities of modern Nigeria. Soyinka celebrates his own humanity while indicting the military establishment responsible for his arrest and detention. In the second section of his work, Soyinka universalizes his traumatic Nigerian experience by employing four archetypal figures including Joseph, Hamlet, Gulliver, and Ulysses. Soyinka's self-dramatizing and critical voice emerges from behind these masks as he defends himself against false accusations while denouncing the tyrannical federal establishment. In his dramatic monologue "Joseph," Soyinka records the abuses of the violators of his person and of society. Like Soyinka, Joseph embodies a lonely wanderer in search of truth and ideals while coping with the problems of alienation and persecution as a stranger in the situation he finds himself. Thus, Joseph embodies an objective correlative of the poet's state.
In "Joseph," Soyinka relates the story of the imprisonment of the Biblical figure to his own solitary confinement. Soyinka addresses the poem to Mrs. Potiphar, the wife of Joseph's master. He denounces her hypocrisy by denying the charge of sexual harassment which she directs against him. In Genesis, Joseph maintains a strong discipline in resisting the temptations of his master's wife. Mrs. Potiphar unrighteously lays claim to "principles" and "virtue" as represented by the "trophy" and thus, presents herself as the victim instead of the victimizer. In effect, Mrs. Potiphar symbolizes the federal military government which refuses to grant the honest poet a trial or opportunity to defend himself. In the Biblical story, Mrs. Potiphar remains holding the clothes she herself torn, as represented by the "tattered pieces of her masquerade," in order to fabricate evidence for the rape. This "masquerade" signifies the hypocrisy of the establishment which Soyinka attacks.

In the second stanza, Soyinka disassociates himself from the quality of sainthood, stating, "Indeed I was not Joseph, a cursing martyr I." He discredits "the passive valour" and patience of saints in "a time of evil cries" which necessitates aggression and decisive action. Soyinka replaces this "saintly vision" with "hands of truth to tear all painted masks" in order to reveal "the poison" and "sewers of intrigue" which lie beneath the exterior of militarist rule. By addressing the master's wife as "dear Mrs. Potiphar," Soyinka expresses his anti-establishment view with a strong satirical edge. He strongly desires to reveal the woman's sinfulness as represented by her "scarlet pottage of guilt," "grim manure," and "weeds of sick ambition." Soyinka continues to employ metaphor and irony in the third stanza to expose the emptiness of the woman's chastity. He portrays her resting upon "a whitened couch of bones" and "hollowed skulls" in order to discredit her claim to virtue and expose her identity. These negative epithets dramatize the morbidity of Nigeria's violent civil war while denouncing the selfish opportunism of her past.

Like Joseph, Soyinka wanders "in pursuit of truths" and ideals with a fervent hope in his own humanity, for he proclaims that his "dreams of fire will resolve in light." Soyinka rejects the notion of negritude, a literary concept which urges blacks to ignore European aesthetics and honor their own racial values and roots. As an artist committed to social awareness, he merely uses his African heritage as a background in order to express the universality of the individual's struggle with the environment. Thus, his voice of vision exceeds the confines of his prison and boundaries of his homeland to all those victimized by alienation and loneliness in search of truth. The pursuit of ideals inevitably results in the rejection of negative values. Ultimately, Soyinka achieves self-vindication and castigation of the establishment's "sick ambition" while inspiring hope in the questing hero which society arbitrarily imprisons and betrays.



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(Source: Daniel G. Marowski and Tanure Ojaide. Contemporary Literary Criticism Vol. 36. Detroit: Gale Research, 1986)
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Re: THE LITERARY GENIUS: WOLE SOYINKA
« Reply #107 on: March 03, 2009, 12:44:46 PM »


this man is a nigerian legend...
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Re: THE LITERARY GENIUS: WOLE SOYINKA
« Reply #108 on: July 02, 2009, 05:36:48 PM »


and i can say that again.
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Re: THE LITERARY GENIUS: WOLE SOYINKA
« Reply #109 on: March 06, 2019, 06:57:51 AM »
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Re: THE LITERARY GENIUS: WOLE SOYINKA
« Reply #109 on: March 06, 2019, 06:57:51 AM »

 

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