MEET THE POET
Gbemisola Adeoti holds a PhD in English from the University of Ibadan, Nigeria. He worked as a reporter/researcher with The News Magazine, Lagos, before joining the English Department of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile Ife, where he is currently a professor and director of the Institute of Cultural Studies. His areas of teaching and research include dramatic literature, literary history, literary theory and popular culture. His publications include Naked Soles, Voices Offstage, Aesthetics of Adaptation in Contemporary Nigerian Drama and Nigerian Video Film in Yoruba. He co-edited (with Bjorn Beckman) Intellectuals and African Development: Pretension and Resistance in African Politics and (with Femi Osofisan ) Playwriting in Nigeria Today. (culled from http://www.africanbookscollective.com/authors-editors/gbemisola-adeoti)
The land is a giant whale
that swallows the sinker,
with hook, line and bait
aborting dreams of a good catch
fishers turn home at dusk 5
blue Peter on empty ships
all Peters with petered out desires
The land is a saber-toothed tiger
that cries deep in the glade
While infants shudder home 10
the grizzled ones snatch their gut
from bayonets of tribulation
halting venturous walk at dusk
The land is a giant hawk
that courts unceasing disaster 15
as it hovers and hoots in space
The land lies patiently ahead
awaiting in ambush
those who point away from a direction
where nothing happens 20
toward the shore of possibilities.
ANALYSIS OF THE POEM
Hhmm, if you read this poem and you are not struck by the power of poetry, you should ask yourself what planet you emerged from. I did not want to work on this analysis but when one is frustrated by the ineptitude of the Nigerian system of government filled with rascality and mendacity, one is forced to take solace in poetry and what better poem to be caught reading than Gbemisola Adeoti’s “Ambush”? Or do you have something else for me to read? So, since we have read the poem, let us discuss it then.
The poem captures the hopelessness and futility that has come to characterise Nigeria; and in fact most African nations; since the independence era. The dominant image is that of “ambush”. The three animals mentioned at the beginning of each stanza (with the exception of the last stanza) are animals who would not bate an eyelid before devouring their preys. They are all carnivorous and are tagged “dangerous” to smaller animals in their ecosystem. I hope you are following? Now, let us take the stanza as they come for the purpose of explication.
In the first stanza, the country is compared to “a giant whale/ that swallows the sinker/with hook, line and bait”. The image captured here is that of a fisherman struggling to make a catch and when he does make a catch, it is a whale that cannot be pulled into the boat. So it drags with it the fishing equipment (hook, line, sinker and bait), the fisherman goes home dejected without any catch and he cannot continue since everything went with the whale. So sad, it reminds me of Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea. The frustration of the fisherman is further emphasised through the biblical allusion of “blue Peter” who reminds us of one of Jesus apostle frustrated (as emphasised by “blue” in the poem for blue means sadness or lack of gaiety) at sea, and called by Jesus Christ to become a “fisher of men”. That Peter is on EMPTY ships is an indication of the futility and barrenness that has come to characterise the African nations. We, Africans, are the Peters. We are the fisherman who hopes to make a good catch while the whale represent the bad leaders who have frustrated the efforts of the people towards attaining a better life for themselves. Listen, if you are that graduate who after school gets no job because of bad leadership and economic crisis, you are that fisherman whose hook, line, and sinker have been snatched from you by the whales (leaders), and if you are just a common man whose prospect of feeding well and getting a job is foiled by the economic situation, you are that frustrated Peter with “petered out desires”. It has virtually become next to impossible for the common man to attain a good life in this country and many are not happy. In Nigeria we say: “boys are not smiling”.
In the second stanza, the land is compared to an extinct specie of tigers with very long canines. If you have not seen such a tiger, go see ICE AGE (movie) and you would know what a saber toothed tiger is. It is a scary animal, I tell you, and if you dream about it, I have no advice to give you than to tell you to wake up immediately and start running for your dear life! By comparing the country to the saber toothed tiger, the poem is simply explicating how unsafe our own country has become for its citizen. You go to the north, there are the boko boys, you go South South and there are the militants, and in the east are the Fulani cattle herders who have become a serious threat. Yet, there are always those waiting in the shadows to pounce on you once you stand on opposite angles with the government (ask 2Baba). Is it not just absurd? The insecurity in the land is shown by the fact the tiger inspires fear in both young and old (infants and grizzled ones).
In the third stanza, the country is compared to a giant hawk that “courts unceasing disaster” (always found in one problem or the other), the country has never known stability and economic equilibrium, it is either enmeshed in one political problem or economic crisis.
The land is personified in the last stanza for it becomes an unnamed animal lying in ambush, not to attack a prey this time, but waiting patiently for those who will initiate the much needed progress in the land, true leaders with patriotic ideals (“those who point away from a direction/where nothing happens/toward the shore of possibilities”). Are you that much awaited messiah? Do you perceive any prospect of having such true leaders soon? Maybe we should leave time to do the telling. There is a change in the tone of the poet in this stanza from the erstwhile pessimism tone to an optimistic one. Sadly enough, the Nigerian APC political party came singing the song of change and we embraced them as our redeemers (we thought that the ones Gbemisola Adeoti spoke of had finally arrived!) but we came to realise that they are no more better than the old groups. In fact, they are worse! They are owls who have come to wake us up from our nightmares only to begin another long nightmarish night again as described in Tanure Ojaide’s poem, “The Owl Wakes Us”.
The language of the poem is simple but metaphorical. Animal images are used to describe the state of hopelessness in the land.
Hopelessness, futility, disillusionment, bad leadership, and hope of better days ahead; thinly expressed in the last stanza.
MOOD AND TONE
The mood is gloomy and the tone pessimistic. However, there is a glimmer of hope in the last stanza.
The setting is Nigeria, the temporal setting cannot be ascertained as we have and still are in the same state of disillusionment and futility described in the poem. However, the poem is applicable to most African nation with leadership problems whose economy has been run aground by the ineptitude of its leaders. Speak of Zimbabwe with Mugabe sucking it dry or remember the hunger crisis in Kenya. Where did Africa get it all wrong nah? So, Nigeria might as well be a microcosm of Africa and its numerous black nations.
THE POEM STRUCTURE
The poem is divided into four stanza of twenty one unequal lines. It has no rhyme and does not maintain any rhythm. The first line of each stanza is metaphoric (with the exception of the last) as it compares the land to predatory and carnivorous animals who would not bate an eyelid before summarily executing their preys. I think the poet missed an opportunity to use a climax or anti-climax in line 3 or what do you think? Let us now examine the figures of speech in the poem.
FIGURES OF SPEECH
1. Metaphor: This is a dominant figure of speech in the poem, it appears in the first line of every stanza of the poem except in the last stanza. There are two kinds of metaphors in the poem, there are the explicit metaphors and there are inexplicit metaphor where the comparison is only implied. Let us see instances of where metaphors are used.
a. The land is a giant whale (line 1)
b. ABORTING DREAMS of a good catch (line 4: inexplicit metaphor)
c. The land is a saber-toothed tiger (line 8)
e. the CRIES deep in the glade (line 9: inexplicit metaphor)
f. from BAYONETS of tribulation (line 12: inexplicit metaphor)
g. The land is a giant hawk (line 14)
h. that COURTS unceasing disaster (line 15: inexplicit metaphor)
i. toward the SHORE of possibilities (line 21: inexplicit metaphor)
2. Biblical Allusion: blue Peter on empty ships (line 6)
3. Pun: all Peters with petered out desires (line 7)
4. Alliteration: you should not say you know not what alliteration is else you bring me a basket of cola nuts and local gin before I tell you hehe! So we have alliteration in lines 2, 7, 8, 11, 16 and 17. Check the lines and tell me you noticed them too.
5. Synecdoche: the grizzled ones snatch their GUT (line 11)
6. Onomatopoeia: as it hovers and HOOTS in space (line 16)
a. The lands LIES PATIENTLY ahead (line 17)
b. AWAITING IN AMBUSH (line 18)
So, what next is there to be said? I think we have arrived at the end of today’s discussion on Gbemisola Adeoti’s “Ambush” and it is such fun having this discussion with you. If you followed the discussion up to this point, you must be a stubborn reader and learner, wish I had your resilient spirit in my younger days hahaha. Just imagine the whole thing we had to say on such a simple poem with few lines; and that is one fascinating thing about poetry, a simple poem analysis could run into several pages of good paper! I know I talk too much, do not mind me. The nation’s leaders have left us with nothing doing than to talk, so allow me this little indulgence and if it be a sin, do find it in your heart to forgive me my loquacity (haha).
Well, you can also check out other raditical analysis on this site. If you have further questions on the poem which are yet to be answered in the essay above, kindly send in your questions by placing them in the comment section. Thank you for visiting and do let us know when next you visit so we can serve you a plate of amala and egusi soup, hmmm such a local delicacy it is! Hahaha. We shall meet again soon.
Ubaji Isiaka Abubakar Eazy 2017