Gabriel Okara, a Nigerian poet, is immersed in folk-tradition and ballad. One can discern influences of native tradition and English romantic tradition and he often tries to create a synthesis between the two. He often utilizes ‘transliteration’ and thereby renders his poems regional, yet universal. His poems are often marked for their lyrical musicality.
Gabriel Okara’s “Were I to Choose” is reminiscent of Yeats’ “Adam’s Curse.” Adam toiling in the soil can be compared to the Negros working in the soil. They broke the stone themselves which was their very foundation. The red streams are symbolic of the multilingual diversity that reaches the womb Africa.
Cain metaphorically represents the next generation. ‘I’ in Okara’s poems generally refers to the tribe. The poet implies that he is currently imprisoned in the present generation and its identity crisis. The earlier generation’s gaze would not go beyond; but his does and to him, the world is looked at from the brink. Written in 1950s, the period of Nigerian Independence, the poet sees his ancestors-their slavery, their groping lips and the breasts muted by heart-rending suffering. His vision goes outside and backwards. The memory is like a thread going through his ears.
Cain was a wanderer, who if caught by anybody, would be definitely slain. Similar is the case of the modern uneducated man who does not possess any aim. At the turn of 31 years, the poet is multi-lingual and he wonders what should be the medium of his instruction. The tower of Babel symbolizes unity. During the construction of the Tower of Babel, God cursed the people concerned. The people wanted to build a great tower signifying oneness, and around it people would stand united. They wanted to speak the same language but God despised the very fact .There now remains no proper foundation, or structure and his world has deteriorated to a ‘world of bones’.
He wants free himself from the imprisonment of this dark halo(a halo generally considered ‘blessed’ seems dark to the poet).His conflict is not being able to choose from the different languages. He is tornbetween different worlds. The poet likens his predicament with the Harmattan, a parching wind mingling with dust during the period of Dec-Feb in Nigeria. The throat is dry and he is unable to speak out. He is delirious as the flames of torture are burning his existence. The colonial period has made him an amalgam of European and African cultures, and now he finds himself in a no man’s land. He relishes the idea of resolving the crisis by seeking refuge in the silence of the grave. In such a context, he would be even cheating the worms as he would enjoy the state of affairs.
©Rukhaya MK 2010
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