POETIC INSIGHT (ISSUE 5)
OGHENERO EZAZA’S CRITICISM OF DENNIS OSADEBE’S POEM, ‘A SONG OF HOPE’
This analytical essay is on Dennis Osadebe’s poem, ‘A Song of Hope’ carefully chosen in reflection of the grueling economic recession in my country, Nigeria.
ABOUT THE POET
Chief Dennis Chukude Osadebey was born on June 29, 1911 in Asaba, the capital of the present day Delta State of Nigeria. He studied and worked in Nigeria, before traveling to England, where he studied law. He was a premier of the defunct Mid-Western Region of Nigeria. In the 1930s, his poems featured in reputable local and international Newspapers and journals. As a student in England, his book of poetry Africa Sings, was published. He achieved success both as a journalist and politician. He died on December 26, 1994 at 83yrs.
A Song of Hope
Is thy weather rough and cruel,
Charged with thunder, dark and cold?
Does thy fire lacking fuel
To thy heart great misery hold?
Look around, O woman’s born,
Full many a soul by sorrow torn
From happiness and heaven’s door
Is worse than thou on Fortune’s floor
Dost thou lack the wherewithal
To keep thy soul and body one?
Dost thou still bemoan thy fall
And think thy weary self undone?
Think again, O mortal man,
And know that since this world began
Men and stars have fallen low
And living things have ceased to grow
Art thou full of wealth and life,
Smiled upon by Fortune fair?
Does thy strength overcome all strife?
Is thy learning great and rare
Thou art not the first to gain
Health or wealth or power or brain;
Help thy neighbour rise to-day;
Thou art only dust and clay
Lines 1-4 address the hardship facing the people. Line 5 urges them to be conscious of their environment, while lines 6-8 say they will see others suffering worse fate, thus, will have no choice but consider themselves as lucky i.e. ‘on Fortune’s floor’ (line 8).
The speaker continued in his focus on those believed to have lost hope thinking they are in the most pathetic of situations. Line 13 begins the message of hope running through lines 14-16 telling the seemingly pathetic to take notice of the reality of life that, in a world of struggles, he (the pathetic) is not alone.
In stanza 3, the poet-speaker no longer addresses those considered as suffering; he is rather concerned of those assumed to be rich, comfortable and satisfied. In line 18 the speaker says, the rich have acquired riches by favour – ‘smiled upon by Fortune fair.’ If you notice, the term Fortune is always capitalized everywhere it appears in the poem. This suggests the poet is using the term ‘Fortune’ to refer to ‘God’ the creator whom Christians refer to as ‘the author and finisher of our fate.’
Accordingly, the poet, in line 18, is saying the rich only became rich by the grace of God. In line 20 the poet refers to those who have gained academic successes and intelligence. In Line 22, Health refers to those that don’t have any deformity like asthma, leprosy, sickle cell anaemia; well and strong. ‘Wealth’ in that same line refers to the rich, ‘Power’ refers to the political leaders (including the royalties), while the term ‘brain’ refers to the scholars, that is, those that have attained high academic standards. In lines 21-22 the poet is telling such category of people that, they were not the first to achieve these successes. In line 23 he urges them to assist others to also achieve success. In the final line of the poem, the speaker reminds all successful ones that they are only dust and clay. This, is another allusion to the Bible, the Holy book of Christians. The biblical story of the creation of the world says that God created man from dust and clay.
Hope: This is the most prominent theme of the poem.
Hardship/Suffering: The poem celebrates the hardship and suffering of the masses.
Fortune/Grace/ Favour: The poet says those that are rich, healthy, etc are only favoured by the creator.
Call to Charity: The poet calls on the favoured, i.e. the rich to help those that are not well to do.
Fate: This can also be linked to the theme of Fortune. The speaker says just as some are favoured, some only found themselves on the wrong side of favour. Hence his call on the rich to help the poor.
Supremacy of God: The poet uses the term ‘Fortune’ to mean ‘God’. He says God is all-powerful and is responsible for the success of those who are successful.
Man’s mortality and weakness: The poet presents man as weak and powerless before God the Supreme Being, even in the determination of man’s fate.
- Rhetorical Question: This is a question that suggests its own answer. This device is predominant in the poem as the poet employs it at the beginning of every stanza.
- Metaphor: Lines 1-4 are metaphorical as well as lines 6-8. Other instances include: ‘to keep thy soul and body one’ (line 11), ‘wealth and life’ (line 17) etc.
- Metonymy: This is a literary device which refers to a thing while using a closely associated term/word. E.g. the use of ‘health’ ‘wealth’ ‘power’, ‘brain’ in line 22. Also the use of ‘Fortune Fair’ (18), ‘learning’ (line 20), ‘wealth and life’ (line 17).
- Synecdoche: This device is close to metonymy. This is using a part of a thing to refer to the whole of it, or using the whole to refer to a part. E.g. ‘soul and body one (line 10), heart (line 4)
- Allusion: The use of thy (line 1), thou, Art thou (line 17) thy neighbour. These terms are borrowed from Bible usage especially King James Version. This type of allusion is known as Biblical Allusion.
The most commendable thing about the poem is its structure. The poem is made up of three octaves. An OCTAVE is a poem of eight lines. Each stanza in this poem is an octave. The rhyme scheme is as follows;
Stanza 1: A B A B C C D D
Stanza 2: E F E F G G H H
Stanza 3: I J I J K K L L
Note: The 1st -4th lines of each stanza are made up of rhetorical questions, while the 5th line starts the message of hope.
- Diction: Simple, Ancient, and Biblical. This is to maintain the purpose of the poem being didactic.
- Mood/ Tone: Didactic, Admonishing.
ABOUT THE WRITER OF THIS ARTICLE
Oghenero Ezaza writes prose and poetry. He has a published collection of poems entitled Reflections. He is the coordinator of the Warri Literary Society. His poems have also featured in various anthologies including Who Shall I Make My Wife, Wushapa (Beating the Drums of Peace), Black Communion, etc. He is also a comedian and performance poet with the stage name: Genza.