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Transcript of Wole Soyinka
For Moremi, 1963
Earth will not share the rafter's envy; dung floors
Break, not the gecko's slight skin, but its fall
Taste this soil for death and plumb her deep for life
As this yam, wholly earthed, yet a living tuber
To the warmth of waters, earthed as springs
As roots of baobab, as the hearth.
The air will not deny you. Like a top
Spin you on the navel of the storm, for the hoe
That roots the forests plows a path for squirrels.
Be ageless as dark peat, but only that rain's
Fingers, not the feet of men, may wash you over.
Long wear the sun's shadow; run naked to the night.
Peppers green and red—child—your tongue arch
To scorpion tail, spit straight return to danger's threats
Yet coo with the brown pigeon, tendril dew between your lips.
Shield you like the flesh of palms, skyward held
Cuspids in thorn nesting, insealed as the heart of kernel—
A woman's flesh is oil—child, palm oil on your tongue
Is suppleness to life, and wine of this gourd
From self-same timeless run of runnels as refill
Your podlings, child, weaned from yours we embrace
Earth's honeyed milk, wine of the only rib.
Now roll your tongue in honey till your cheeks are
Swarming honeycombs—your world needs sweetening, child.
Camwood round the heart, chalk for flight
Of blemish—see? it dawns!—antimony beneath
Armpits like a goddess, and leave this taste
Long on your lips, of salt, that you may seek
None from tears. This, rain-water, is the gift
Of gods—drink of its purity, bear fruits in season.
Fruits then to your lips: haste to repay
The debt of birth. Yield man-tides like the sea
And ebbing, leave a meaning of the fossilled sands. Wole Soyinka Born July 13, 1934 near Ibadan in Western Nigeria MY ANALYSIS:
Moremi was a noblewoman who sacrificed herself (and later her son) for her people. [See: http://www.sacred-texts.com/afr/yl/yl12.htm]
1963 was the year Nigeria gained independence.
There's an interesting contrast established immediately ––
between the natural world and the home, but the home itself seems of
the earth (the "dung floors [that] break").
We have, in the second stanza, the return of that symbolic yam from "Things Fall Apart;" and also the baobab from "The Little Prince."
I love that line "The hoe / That roots the forests plows a path for squirrels." This is setting up the main theme: that the earth will provide/protect.
"Peat," of course, is like a moss. Again the contrast of nature ("rain's fingers") with the world ("the feet") of men. A command to return to nature: to seek protection in nature.
What I love about Soyinka's poems are the sounds: "Peppers green and red––child––your tongue arch / To scorpion tail, spit straight" –– the alliteration, and internal rhyme: "Yet coo [...] tendril dew."
The "cuspids in thorn nesting" leaves me with the impression that the thorns of a plant are being compared to little teeth.
"Run of runnels" is a nice intentional repetition of sound; a "runnel" is like a small stream.
You get a sense of Eden from the lush descriptions of nature here. Or perhaps I am just reminded of Eden when Soyinka writes "wine of the only rib."
This last part also seems to explain parts of Moremi's story –– when she returns to the stream to make a sacrifice to the god there. Unsatisfied, he asks for her son (Ela); Moremi is forced to consent. He is saved (by the earth, it seems) and is able to climb up to heaven.