Literature Studies Site

Examples of Post Colonial Writing: Poetry


Post Colonial writing varies enormously in style and subject matter, as you would expect from literature from so many areas of the world. On this page are four poems by three African writers. Season and Pain contain descriptions of natural processes, but you may consider whether there also may be metaphorical readings from a post colonial persepctive. Piano and Drums, as its title suggests, demonstrates a narrator caught between two different cultures. Telephone Conversation explores the experience of a Nigerian seeking accommodation in London and the racism he encounters in the country which colonised his own.

For extracts from novels, click here.

Season

Rust is ripeness, rust,
And the wilted corn-plume.
Pollen is mating-time when swallows
Weave a dance
Of feathered arrows
Thread corn-stalks in winged
Streaks of light. And we loved to hear
Spliced phrases of the wind, to hear
Rasps in the field, where corn-leaves
Pierce like bamboo slivers.
Now, garnerers we,
Awaiting rust on tassels, draw
Long shadows from the dusk, wreathe
The thatch in wood-smoke. Laden stalks
Ride the germ’s decay – we await
The promise of the rust.

Wole Soyinka

Pain

All was quiet in this park
Until the wind, like a gasping messenger, announced
The tyrant’s coming.
Then did the branches talk in agony.
You remember that raging storm?
In their fear despairing flowers nevertheless held bouquets to the grim king;
Meteors were the tassels of his crown
While like branches that only spoke when the storm menaced
We cried in agony as we fell
Slashed by the cold blade of an invisible sword.
Mutilated our limbs were swept away by the rain
But not our blood:
Indelible, it stuck on the walls
Like wild gum on tree-trunks.

Mbella Sonne Dipoko

Piano and Drums

When at break of day at a riverside
I hear jungle drums telegraphing
the mystic rhythm, urgent, raw
like bleeding flesh, speaking of
primal youth and the beginning,
I see the panther ready to pounce,
the leopard snarling about to leap
and the hunters crouch with spears poised;
And my blood ripples, turns torrent,
topples the years and at once I’m
in my mother’s laps a suckling;
at once I’m walking simple
paths with no innovations,
rugged, fashioned with the naked
warmth of hurrying feet and groping hearts
in green leaves and wild flowers pulsing.
Then I hear a wailing piano
solo speaking of complex ways
in tear-furrowed concerto;
of far away lands
and new horizons with
coaxing diminuendo, counterpoint,
crescendo. But lost in the labyrinth
of its complexities, it ends in the middle
of a phrase at a daggerpoint.
And I lost in the morning mist
of an age at a riverside keep
wandering in the mystic rhythm
of jungle drums and the concerto.

Gabriel Okara

Telephone Conversation

The price seemed reasonable, location
Indifferent. The landlady swore she lived
off premises. Nothing remained
But self-confession. ‘Madam,’ I warned,
‘I hate a wasted journey — I am African.’
Silence. Silenced transmission of
Pressurized good-breeding. Voice, when it came,
Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled
Cigarette-holder pipped. Caught I was, foully.
HOW DARK?’... I had not misheard... ‘ARE YOU LIGHT
OR VERY DARK?’ Button B. Button A. Stench
Of rancid breath of public hide-and-speak.
Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered
Omnibus squelching tar. It was real! Shamed
By ill-mannered silence, surrender
Pushed dumbfoundment to beg simplification.
Considerate she was, varying the emphasis —
ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT?’ Revelation came.
‘You mean — like plain or milk chocolate?’
Her assent was clinical, crushing in its light
Impersonality. Rapidly, wavelength adjusted,
I chose. ‘West African sepia’ — and as afterthought,
‘Down in my passport.’ Silence for spectroscopic
Flight of fancy, till truthfulness clanged her accent
Hard on the mouthpiece. ‘WHAT’S THAT?’ conceding
‘DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS.’ ‘Like brunette.’
‘THAT’S DARK, ISN’T IT?’ ‘Not altogether.
Facially, I am brunette, but, madam, you should see
The rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet
Are a peroxide blond. Friction, caused —
Foolishly, madam — by sitting down, has turned
My bottom raven black — One moment, madam!’ — sensing
Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap
About my ears — ‘Madam,’ I pleaded, ‘wouldn’t you rather
See for yourself?’

Wole Soyinka