Chinua Achebe’s Poems

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I have been fascinated with Chinua Achebe for a log time… well ever since I from: wikipediaread, what else, Things Fall Apart. His fame quite strongly is built on his novels. But I like his poems a lot too. He is forthright in his poems. They are clearly political and display the same poise of mind that empathizes with the miserable, criticises the exploitative yet is not intolerant of humanity whatever its colour may be. Here is one of his poems I like a lot: Butterfly. I like the kind of symbolic value that Achebe brings on to butterfly while celebrating its meekness. The apparent criticism of anthropomorphism really targets in this poem the nature of force in society. Firmly based in a contemplation of the human society, Achebe in this poem questions the terminology of ‘value’.

Butterfly

** Chinua Achebe

Speed is violence
Power is violence
Weight is violence

The butterfly seeks safety in lightness
In weightless, undulating flight

But at a crossroads where mottled light
From trees falls on a brash new highway
Our convergent territories meet

I come power-packed enough for two
And the gentle butterfly offers
Itself in bright yellow sacrifice
Upon my hard silicon shield.

Another poem that really hits us is Refugee Mother and Child. I think this poem captures the sentiments of love and hope amid extreme misery. Yet Achebe is very clear that what he is doing is writing a poem about it. He is very often ironical. If it is the figure of ‘I’ that receives ironic treatment in Butterfly, in this poem it is the images of the society outside the refugee camp that reads about it in newspapers, and where normal life goes on with school life and the rest. But the focus in Achebe’s poems is always on empathy rather than on irony. I think this is a great quality. That is one of the reasons I like his poems.

Refugee Mother and Child


No Madonna and Child could touch
that picture of a mother’s tenderness
for a son she soon will have to forget.

The air was heavy with odors
of diarrhea of unwashed children
with washed-out ribs and dried-up
bottoms struggling in labored
steps behind blown empty bellies.

Most mothers there had long ceased
to care but not this one; she held
a ghost smile between her teeth
and in her eyes the ghost of a mother’s
pride as she combed the rust-colored
hair left on his skull and then –
singing in her eyes – began carefully
to part it… In another life
this would have been a little daily
act of no consequence before his
breakfast and school; now she
did it like putting flowers
on a tiny grave.

Below are some links to Achebe treasure: readings and interviews.

Go here to listen to Achebe reading his poems.

Or here.

Achebe on  Youtube here.

Read about this interview at African Writer here.

Amazon has Chinua Achebe’s collected poems.

For an interview with Achebe go here:

Chinua Achebe in Conversation with K. Anthony Appiah here.

No Madonna and Child could touch
that picture of a mother’s tenderness
for a son she soon will have to forget.
The air was heavy with odors
of diarrhea of unwashed children
with washed-out ribs and dried-up
bottoms struggling in labored
steps behind blown empty bellies.
Most mothers there had long ceased
to care but not this one; she held
a ghost smile between her teeth
and in her eyes the ghost of a mother’s
pride as she combed the rust-colored
hair left on his skull and then –
singing in her eyes – began carefully
to part it… In another life
this would have been a little daily
act of no consequence before his
breakfast and school; now she
did it like putting flowers
on a tiny grave.

8 responses »

  1. I am writing a book on love from a Christian perspective. The poem “Refugee Mother and child” captures the picture of God in Isaiah 49:15. I ask for official permission to cite the entire poem.

  2. Achebe has been my hero ever since i read things fall apart. Since that morning, I had somebody to immitate, some story to narrate. His bewitching motion as he creatively spills the narrative seperated my soul from its frame, into the earth of the story he told. And soon i wanted to say the the things i read. He was the earliest of people to influence and turn round my life. I was not a student of literature; i had neither clue nor interest in it. But this very narrator altered all truth in this sense. I now speak poetry and literature. Every thing has fallen apart!

  3. may you live for ever for you do leave us a heritage by the divine ink that leaves unceasing pleasure whenever i read any of the products of your mind and hand; indeed quality products!

  4. like any other fascinating creative paper-blotter would have remarkable praise, it would seem extra-obvious that achebe recieves a bounty of such acclaim; but with closer judgement, his accomplishments will out-weigh such a less appropriate worth. the objective display of his mind offers us a fine epitome of literally maturity, which when incorporated into his excellent art (or perhaps a sophiscated science) of accurate language selection and distribution; we are only left to admire a divine genius.
    his well-constructed legacy leaves all africans a chance to enjoy the beauty of our own story, the sweetness of our epics and the wormth of our folklore. we shall always smile, for achebe has given us reason to.

  5. Reblogged this on from teeds 2 you and commented:
    Here is the work of a Legend
    in memory of one of Africa’s literary pioneers, a wise,humble and extremely gifted legend Chniua Achebe. His work has had great impact on the development of hundreds if not thousands of african playwrites,poets,actors and specialists in other walks of life. Chinua Achebe’s work was always a marvel and he will forever be respected,comended and adored by the african nation.
    RIP gentle soul.

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