THE ELEGIAC TRADITION IN NIYI OSUNDARE’S SONGS OF THE SEASON AND HOPE EGHAGHA’S MAMA DANCES INTO THE NIGHT AND OTHER POEMS. TABLE OF CONTENTS Chapter One Life and Works of Authors Purpose of Study Scope of Study Methodology Theoretical Background Reviews of Criticism Thesis Statement Chapter Two: Heroism 2.0 Introduction 2.1 Celebration of Sacrificial Leaders 2.2 Display of Courage in Tragic Moments 2.3 Conclusion Chapter Three: Expression of Hope 3.0 Introduction 3.1 Assurance of a New Life in Death 3.2 Death Ushers in Eternal Rest 3.3 Conclusion Chapter Four: The African Concept of Death 4.0 Introduction 4.1 Inevitability of Death 4.2 Death as a Continuation of Existence 4.3 Conclusion Chapter Five: The Painful Nature of Death 5.0 Introduction 5.1 Death as Harbinger of Grief 5.2 Death as a Disintegrating Force 5.3 Conclusion Chapter Six Conclusion Works Cited CHAPTER ONE 1.1 Life and Works of the Poets: Niyi Osundare’s Life and Works The literary icon, Niyi Osundare was born in 1947 in Ikere-Ekiti, Ekiti State. He enjoyed a rich educational background as he obtained his first degree at the University of Ibadan. He gained his second degree at University of Leeds and his PhD at York University, Canada. In 1997, he became professor of English. Between 1993-1997, Osundare headed the Department of English, University of Ibadan. Since 1997 till date, he teaches at University of New Orleans. Osundare is a well known socio-political crusader who has through his works, sought social justice for his people. Apart from his commitment to achieving a better human society, he has also written many works that promote a harmonious relationship between man and his environment. Osundare has the following works to his literary credits: Villages Voices, Songs of the Market place, Songs of the Season, The Word is an Egg, Eye of the Earth, Waiting Laughter, The State Visit, Pages from the Book of the Sun, Tender Moment, Midlife, Early Birds: for Junior Secondary Schools. These works by Osundare are clear expressions of his love for humanity. What this means is that Osundare’s literary compositions thrive to add values to human existence in a world that is disabled by bad leaders. For his prolific writing skill and concern for humanity, Osundare’s works have enjoyed wider readership. Moreover, he has received numerous awards like Nigerian National Merit Award (NNMA) for academic excellence 2004, Noma Award 1990, Commonwealth Poetry Prize and Association of Nigerian Authors 1986, Kwanza Award, Fonlon/Nichols Prize 1989, African Literature Award 1998, the Spectrum Books Award 2004, Tchicaya U Tamsi Prize for African Poetry 2008 and Nigerian National Order of Merit Award 2014. In summary, Osundare has continued to be relevant in all spheres of his life especially in the literary circle. This informs the selection of his collection Songs of the Season In this Study. Hope Eghagha’s Life and Works Hope Eghagha is a poet, playwright and novelist born in 1959 in Burutu, Mereje in Okpe Delta State. He attended Zik Grammer School, Sapele (1972-76) and Baptist High School, Port Harcourt, River State (1976-1978) after which he went for higher education. He graduated from the Department of Theater Arts, UNIJOS. He obtained his MA and PhD at University of Lagos in 1984 and 1994 respectively. He is a lecturer at University of Lagos and he has also taught at Ondo State University (1993-4) and Delta State University, Abraka (2004-5). He is better known as a poet. He has four collections: Rhythm of the Last Testament, This Story Must Not Be Told, The Governor’s Lodge and Premonitions and other Dreams. His only novel is entitled Emperors of Salvation and his play is entitled Death, Not a Redeemer. Apart from being a writer and a lecturer at University of Lagos, Eghagha was politically conscious. For instance, he served as the commissioner for Higher Education in Delta State between 2009 and 2014. He was held captive by kidnappers and upon his release, he returned to classroom as a lecturer. He has earned local and international honours for his legendary creativity. For instance, the USA government honored him with a fellowship award. He also enjoyed Ford Foundation Grant (2007) and that same year, he was honoured with Pat Utomi Award for Literary Excellence. 1.2 Purpose of Study This study investigates the distinctive nature of Niyi Osundare’s elegiac poems in his collection Songs of the Season and those of Hope Eghagha in his collection, Mama Dances into the Night and other Poems. 1.3 Scope of Study This study is limited to Niyi Osundare’s selected elegiac poems in his Song of the Season and Hope Eghagha’s elegiac poems in his Mama Dances into the Night and Other Poems. 1.4 Methodology The method employed in this study is qualitative. A thorough textual analysis of Osundare and Eghagha’s selected poems is carried out with reference to relevant materials sourced from literary journals and the internet. A comparative interpretation of their elegiac poems is carried out based on the researcher’s knowledge. 1.5 Theoretical Background The general concept of elegy forms the critical background on which this study is based. Different scholars’ perceptions on the elegiac tradition are employed in our efforts to understand Osundare and Eghagha’s elegiac poems. Marjorie Boulton defines elegy as “a poem mourning the death of an individual, or occasionally a group of people, or all mankind” (106). The main argument of Boulton is that elegy is a poem that mourns. Elegy reflects on life generally and the painful inevitability of death M. J. Murphy echoes Boulton’s definition when he defines elegy as “a poem of mourning written on the death of a person” (88). Murphy and Boulton agree that an elegy grieves or laments the passing away of an individual. M.H. Abrams and Geoffery Harpham argue that: In Greek and Roman times, “elegy|” denoted any poem written in elegiac meter (alternating hexameter and pentameter lines). The term was also used, however, to refer to the subject matter of change and loss frequently expressed in the elegiac verse form, especially in complaint about love. In accordance with this latter usage, “The Wanderer” “The Seafarer,” and other poems in Old English on the transcience of all worldly things are now called elegies. In Europe and England the word continued to have a variable application through the Renaissance… in the seventeenth century the term elegy began to be limited to its most common present usage. A formal and sustained lament in verse for the death of a particular person, usually ending in a consolation. (77) Abrams and Harpham try to explore the historical origin of elegy with emphasis on the fact that it is an expression of sorrow and grief on the death of an individual. Their definition also argues that life is a transcient journey which ends with death. Elegies are therefore written as an expression of grief emanating from the sorrowful departure of an individual. Elegy is a powerful literary ink in which memories of legends and even ordinary people are preserved. Niyi Osundare in “Adekunle Fajuyi and the Politics of Remembrance” identifies the place of elegy in memory preservation: Remembrance is action actual. To a great extent, memory approximates the state of being; Remembrance the process of becoming. Memory is the giant eagle at the bottom of the Iroko; Remembrance is the wing which gets it to its coveted place on the tallest branch. If memory is the temple, remembrance is the priest who airs its ardent supplications. Because memory is so silent and remembrance such a rare virtue, we strive to cheat Oblivion with statues, plagues, sculptures, paintings, myths, and tendentious facts. We inscribe eloquent epitaphs on the grave of the silent dead and humour their hubris with defiant elegies. (Web) In line with Osundare’s argument, elegy is a literary preservative with which memory are kept. That is, elegies do not lament the passing on of human souls alone, they also keep memory alive. The definition of elegy remains peculiar to every community. That is, different people and communities define elegy based on their own cultural orientation. According to The Oxford Handbook of the Elegy, “the elegy remains remarkably ill-defined: sometimes used as a catch-all to dominate texts of a sober or pessimistic tone, sometimes as a marker for textual monumentalizing, and sometimes strictly as a sign of a lament for the dead” (1). The main subject matters of elegy bother on sorrowful loss. This is because elegies are essentially rendered with a pessimistic tone D.A Powell adds that, “the elegiac mode has three kinds of structures: one with a turn form grief to consolation. One with a turn from grief to the refusal of consolation, and one from grief to deeper grief” (40). An elegy therefore expresses a sorrowful message, however, it may ends with resignation to fate or expression of hope in a world to come. Free Online Encyclopedia defines elegy and makes efforts to differentiate it from “eulogy” This is put thus: An elegy is a meditative lyric poem that has a very mournful and melancholy tone. It is usually written to mourn the death of a close friend or loved one, but also occasionally mourns humanity as a whole. Although this form of poetry reflects on the notion of death, it is not to be confused with a “eulogy” which is a speech that gives tribute to a person, usually after the person has died. (Web) Celebration of the dead and the need to preserve their memories make poets compose elegies. As stated in the above quotation, elegy also “mourns humanity as a whole”. In perilous times when people die in great numbers, elegies are composed to celebrate their horrific departure. There is a genre of elegy known as pastoral elegy. This type of elegy dwells on rural or rustic life of ordinary people mostly shepherds in country sides (villages). This type of elegy celebrates the pure or simple life rural dwellers led before they die. How these people lived in harmony with nature is also celebrated. A good example of pastoral elegy is Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Country Churchyard.” Christian or devotional elegy is sometimes associated with pastoral elegy. This is because it largely describes both religious and pastoral or rustic life of people who led a virtuous life while on earth. John Milton’s “Lycida” is a good example of Christian elegy. It focuses on subject matters of spirituality from the notion of Christians and pagans. However, there are elements of pastoral elegy in it. Therefore it can be described as Christian pastoral elegy. From the foregoing, elegy can be described as a form of poetry that mourns the passing away of the dead. It reflects their lives and in the case of legends, it dwells on their achievements and contributions to human progress. Memory and elegy also go together. As a matter of fact, elegies try to recall the past in order to project the future. In other words, elegies express futility, hope, frustration or disillusionment as their conclusions. Interpretation of selected Osundare and Eghagha’s elegies are based on series of comments scholars have made on elegies as quoted in this study’s theoretical background. 1.6 Review of Criticism Niyi Osundare and Hope Eghagha have enjoyed critics’ attentions due to the humanistic nature of their works. In this review, all the critical comments Osundare’s works have generated will be considered. This is to enrich our knowledge of his poetry. Moreover, the few materials on Eghagha’s Mama Dances into the Night and Other Poems are also reviewed. Osundare can be rightly referred to as African William Wordsworth because of his love for nature, man and his environment. In a comparative study on Wordsworth and Osundare, Kola Eke asserts that, “Osundare actually abides by the Wordsworthian principle reading the portrayal of a low subject” (119). It means that Osundare subscribes to the Wordsworthian tenets guiding poetic composition. Apart from looking at poetry form a nature’s point of view, both poets deploy language in the same way. In the submission of Eke: The Nigerian poet’s praxis contradicts the poetic theory about the language of poetry, but if one interprets poetic principles such as Wordsworth and Osundare’s in the narrowest terms. Neither Wordsworth nor Osundare were really saying that the language of poetry should in no way differ from the language of prose. They both, however, suggesting that there is a poetic language that does not belong to the educated, and that poetry should not be reduced to mechanical, precious word play. (199) Eke’s argument centers on Wordsworth and Osundare’s interest in accurate poetic language. A language that projects their works by making it easier for everyone to understand their message. They are of the opinion that poetic language “does not belong only to the educated” (119). The love for nature is at the forefront of Osundare’s works. It is worthy of note that he believes in the power of language too. According to Felix N. Ogoanah and Ray N. Chikogu, “ Osundare is considered today a most adventurous poet not only in terms of his peculiar use of sound, imagery and exploration of his native Yoruba cultural essence but also in terms of his deliberate linguistic creations and the general organic alignment of his entire verbal system” (68). The use of language is important to Osundare as such he employs and deploys masses friendly languages. A language that is mass oriented here means language that can wake slumbering minds and spur the oppressed into action. Ogoanah and Chikogu therefore argue that Osundare’s quests for a poetic “quintessential language” is striking. Osundare is also a well known poetic activist. His poetry always arises in defence of nature and the down trodden. Oyeniyi Okunoye in his submission holds that: Osundare’s celebration of the masses provides him an occasion to satirize the politicians who, in his judgment, constitute the privileged social formation. Songs of the Market Place (1983), Village Voices (1984), and Songs of the Season (1990) present a materialist survey of Nigerian society, amplifying the necessity of liberating the masses whose plight is traced to the apathy, ineptitude and lack of foresight of their leaders. (25) Okunoye argues that satire against failure of leadership has been the focus of Osundare. As a model of justice who seeks social justice for his people, Osundare quests to expose the hypocrisy of African visionless leaders. In his poetry, he often condemns weakness in African politicians. Asomwan S. Adaoboyin is of the opinion that Osundare is dramatic in his poetry. He praises his ability to manipulate different characters’ voices. This he puts thus: It is observable in Songs of the Season that Osundare also strives to maintain good report with his addressers. He often achieves an informal tone in the many voices, he brings to confront the reader. These voices appear as subject in his ‘songs’ he brings to confront the reader. These voices and these subjects often lay bare their feeling and deep emotions; for example, ‘Song of the Jobless Graduate.’ (SOS 11) Adaoboyin holds the opinion that Osundare’s style is unique .He composes his poetry beyond the scope of expressing just his emotional feelings. In line with Adaoboyin’s observation, Osundare makes his poems dramatic such that one can hear different voices. Sometimes, his poems achieve their dramatic style through his use of dialogue. For instance, Songs of the Season as rightly pointed out by Adaoboyin has dramatic tone that makes it lively. Osundare is therefore a creative poet who gives dramatic flavour to his poems. Olutoyin Jegede in his own submission claims that most of Osundare’s poems rely on Yoruba traditional folklore especially proverbs. He argues that: There is an exploration of the traditional folklore of the writer’s Yoruba (Ekiti) background. His poetry is given its own artistry that is based on the Yoruba culture of lyricism, musicality, fluidity, vividness and directness in simple images and proverbs use; ideas are developed in the images of the drum… since the formalistic devices of proverbs are integral to oral nuances, Osundare employs them as useful tools .(37) Jegede’s observation is apt since it points out the beauty of Osundare’s poetry. The beauty of Osundare’s poetry lies in his employment of local contents (imageries and proverbs) based on Yoruba oral tradition. His choice of Yoruba oral tradition, that is, proverbs in his poetry makes his works distinctive. Osundare uses proverbs to give metaphoric meaning to his messages. That is, through the use of proverbs, he Satires bad leaders and encourages them to wise up. F. Odughemi opines that Osundare is a class poet singer whose songs have the power to transpose a human’s mind. Odughemi observes that Osundare “belts out his songs as though in a joyful trance. He sweeps you from moonrise to moonset. Imagine yourself by the magic seas of a moonlit night lying on a carpet of songs, floating whimsically in the ‘soft windiness’ of this night of the gods” (Web). Osundare is celebrated for his poetic ability to transform the human souls and minds with his melodious songs. The title of his collection Songs of the Season suggests that the poems are music oriented. This is the position of Odugbemi. Among great artists and activist, Osundare is a force to reckon with. With his Marxist oriented works, he speaks for the oppressed and poor in his society. In recognition of this, Nesther N. Alu says that Osundare’s works “address a deluge of themes, which include corruption, poverty, and administrative mismanagement” (62). Unlike poets who solely dwell on personal issues, Osundare satirises societal problems that confront the defenseless. This makes him the “masses” voice. He takes it upon himself to quest for social justice. To support this assertion, Christopher Anyokwu comments that most of Osundare’s poems are “like songs of protest against all forms of injustice and inequality” (5). Truly, Osundare protests against the heartlessness and vissionlesness of African leaders. Godwin J. Doki argues that most of his themes have their “preoccupation on the poor and down trodden in society” (66). As earlier stated, Osundare identifies with the weak by exposing the leadership problems that cause most societal problems they suffer. Osundare laments just to get help for the masses. His lamentation takes the form of complaint against maladministration and as such Eke argues that Osundare “remains the finest and most deeply felt creations in modern Nigerian elegy” (100). With all sincerity, Osundare’s works lament bad leadership and poverty in his society and nay, Africa as a whole. Eghagha’s Mama Dances into the Night and Other Poems has not attracted much reviews. The available comments found are reviewed in this study. Sunny Awhefeda praises Eghagha’s focus in his elegiac collection. Awhefeda argues that: The significance of Mama Dances into the Night and Other Poems lies in Eghagha’s ability to reframe the nation’s tortured sojourn through metaphors that are ordinarily not connected with the bare facts of socio-historical and political expediency… It is this indirectness that Eghagha adopts in many of the poems that bear the weight of Nigeria’s socio-political malaise. However, this style runs the danger of obscuring meaning, even as paradoxically, the lexis strives for openness. (99) Awhefeda praise Eghagha‘s creativity which has been the strength of his poems. A peculiar creativity Eghagha displays in his poetry is indirectness. In most of his satirical works, Eghagha hardly mentions anybody’s names and this shields him from being assaulted. Moreover, it enables him to hit his satirical targets with ease. Chris Anyokwu further argues that: In Hope Eghagha’s poetry we encounter the Udje secular song-poetry elements writ large as he freely draws upon his indigenous oral sources. He is therefore the satiric persona in his work while his butt is the adversaries, i.e., politicians, church leadership and sundry social types. In fact, much of Eghagha’s poetry can be said to be Jeremiad owing to its accusatory and starkly denunciatory tone. To be certain, 20th – and – 21st century Nigerian (African) poetry looms in satiric achievement. (5) It is with the kind of tone Anyokwu describes that Eghagha captures his poems under consideration. He decries the bitter treatment he receives as a result of his mother’s death and his personal loss. Sometimes, Eghagha employs a poetic style that enables him to drive home his argument. This view is noted by Chinaka C. Mgbaojirikwe and Okoronkwo Onyebuchi in their submission which states that: As poet, Eghagha focuses on the social environment and how its structural composition affects various structural units in the society. For the poet, the structure of the society reflects oppression of the majority by the minority. His poetry consequently portrays various forms of social vices such as oppression, exploitation, corruption, injustice, insincerity, apathy, hypocrisy and betrayal, and presents them as driving forces to help the oppressed masses struggle for equitable distribution of resources. The study further demonstrates that this explicational approach facilitates access to the poet's thematic foci which realize the immense constraints of society, and seek to use art as a revolutionary tool to salvage it. Equally, through the treatment of style - language, imagery and symbols, and graphological patterns —insights are got on how the consciousness of the masses is shaped towards revolutionary action against social vices. The study discovers that the style of the poet is soused with the theme of revolutionary impulse which helps to bring out the exquisiteness in the poetry. Ultimately, the research concludes that a study of revolutionary impulse in the poetry of Eghagha could offer a revolutionary understanding and mindset to the poetry of most contemporary Nigerian poets. (Web) Mgbojirikwe and Onyebuchi believe Eghagha’s style is central to his creativity. Through his style, he is able to project his message effortlessly. This unique ability is the secret of Eghagha’s success as far as his poetry is concerned. From the available literature review, no work is found that studied the two collections under this literary investigation. The nearest work to our line of investigation is that of Eke which carried out some research on Osundare’s elegies. It is not detailed enough so this study aims to expand it. From the foregoing, this work presents itself researchable 1.7 Thesis Statement Celebration of heroes, expression of hope and the exploration of African world view on death are central to the elegiac traditions of Hope Eghagha and Niyi Osundare as portrayed in their collections: Mama Dances into the Night and other Poems and Songs of the Season respectively.
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