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By Adesina Idris (Max), BSc. Political Science
John F. Kennedy has summarized the significance of poetry in the human society when he said: “when power leads man toward arrogance, poetry reminds him of his limitations. When power narrows the area of man’s concern, poetry reminds him of the richness and diversity of existence. When power corrupts, poetry cleanses”. This assertion could not have been more right if we are to consider the growing influence of poetry around the world today.
Poetry is a language that is spoken virtually by every person who has eyesto read and ears to hear. It is like a mirror through which humans reflect their minds. Poetry invokes rhythm, tone and other poetic instruments to express feelings and emotions that no other words can perfectly convey. A good poem must be able to liberate people from the constraints of thought and sight. It should be able to make one see and feel beyond the barricades of human conception. Poetry serves as an inspiration for man to keep his hope alive even when his socio-political and economic environment is not enabling.
Poetry has been viewed and understood by people vis-a-vis their perceptions of the concept. To some, poetry is a means to an end. Poetry serves as an avenue through which poets enrich their names, fames and pockets. To others, poetry is a tool for social engineering. These people see poetry as a way of promoting socialsanity and order. Most satirical poems fall in this category.
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One of the poetic inventions that will raise your social and political consciousness is the Goodness Olarewaju Ayoola’s Meditations. The poet has successfully shed light on the socio-political configuration of his immediate environment. He has made Africa, particularly, his object of attention. Meditations draws its readers to the scene of power-politics and the position of the citizens in the various political systems in the continent. With the book, you do not have to be an African to know Africa.
Therefore, a proper digestion of Meditations will tell the reader that the book makes a particular call. It inspires the reader into taking a particular action or the other–change. To a political scientist this change can be better exemplified with the Marxist theory.
Marxism is a socio-political and economic expositions of the 19th Century German philosopher, Karl Marx. It analyses the society as consisting of two classes–the dominant bourgeois class and the working proletariats. Marxism x-rays class relations and class struggle using the tenents of dialectical materialism to interpret historical development and social transformation. However, the relationship between the two classes rests on exploitation and conflict.
In Meditations, the poet attests class stratification in ‘faded promises (for Africa)’ by showing how the ruling political class “steal into our bones frigid and pound us into a no-tomorrow”. Obviously, the poet-speaker belongs to the oppressed, “sucked”, “twisted” and “wrinkled” proletariat class. The poem introduces to us the dashed hope of the people when he calls on “motherland” to inform her of how “the greenness you once sprinkle into our thumbs has become the paleness in the pupil of the twilight”. In the second stanza the speaker points at the evils done by the leading dominant class: “your sons…have become the coldness in greedy stones/ they have become the nile and swallow our children”. He further laments that “we are weakened- we have become victims-the wicks for their wickedness. This line creates a perfect imagery of the fates of the Uganda people in the hands ofthe authoritarian government of Idi Ami between 1971 and 1979. This period recorded acts of human rights abuse, opposition repression, clamdown of the media, extra-judicial killings, among other barbarous activities.
Karl Marx opines that the bourgeoisie own the means of production and political power while the proletariats (here the common man) own little or no property and serve their ‘masters’ for wages, thus prone to exploitation. They (bourgeoisie) give little incentives to the masses only for them to live and be able to serve them more. The poet-speaker exposes this deception when he says: “they feed us foolishness-platitude of promises” They are made to hope in “change”, “transformation”, “freedom” but what they rather receive is “bondage”, “demolition”, and “slavery” in the long run. This is in consonance with Marx’s believe that the ruling class ideology has established a false class cognisance among the proletariats which further repels them from diagnosticating the exploitative nature of the capitalist-oppresive system.
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Class struggle is the cornerstone of Marxist theory. It unfolds the fierce struggle bythe dominated to escape from the chains of the ruling class. Marxism raises consciousness on the evils associated with leaving socio-political and economic power in the hands of a few capitalist class. It states that such risk will plunge the ruled class into alienated labour, economic weakness, limited initiative and poor living condition. This stand is further explained by Ayoola’s ‘the sound of a needle-drop’ (1st Place Peregrine Reads Patriotic for Change Creativity Contest, 2015) when it of speaks of “the locusts of absolute power”, how the ruling class “tame noises for revolution vainly and crown themselves proud lords”.
The poet-speaker thus captures the struggles of the proletariats when he enquires that “do we not also teem noises for revolution vainly?” This struggle to belong to the ruling class is further reinstated in stanza 6 of the same poem when the poet introduces to us a “leader of the young shall grow movement for change” who is caught by his lamenting “old mother…unclad in the nude darkness chanting her name in diabolic verses for hot money” .
Even the proletariats who work for wages under the supervision of the ruling class are not left out of this struggle. Stanza 7 of the poem tells us about a “village teacher” who in the name of class struggle becomes an “agent of a corrupt change”. This teacher “prides in the sails of his libidal feats on maidens” and takes “bribery clothes…under the threats of… failure”.
The religious leaders are not spared from the temptations of change. In order to better their lots as proletariats they have become “sycophants in the deceit of change/whose sermons are published alone to feed their bellies…they celebrate the errors of sins in sanity apparel and ring the bell of approval of wileful wickedness”.
However, it is worthy to note the critics of the classical Marxists who have warned that if the change revolutionary process is not carefully taken the new-class proletariats will eventually end up to become another set of bourgeois-masters.
This position is re-evaluated from line 12 to line 20 of ‘the sound of a needle-drop’. Here the speaker brings to our attention how ‘the man who wielded the broom of change yesterday today dangles like a pendulum under the noose of justice”. This man is said to have “disflowered his four daughters…”. It is rather a dramatic irony to see “the man whose index finger faults the abuse of power” now only “feasts his manly prowess on his wife in fistfuls rains”. He is “a celebrated angel outside and the beastly devil within” indeed. We will have a clearer picture of this if we cast our minds back to the series of coup d’etats that spread across the African continent especially in the early 1960s. This was a period when frustrated soldiers, in the name of legal custodians, left their barracks to forcefully take over political power. Unfortunately, most of them ended up to be what they intended to change.
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According to Marxist perspective, a revolutionary uprising is the sole cure for this man-inhuman-treatment-of-man syndrome. Marx states that class consciousness and class struggle will in time lead to proletariats seeking to pull down the exploitative walls of capitalism. According to Karl Marx and Frederick Hegel in their Communist Manifesto, Capitalism will lead to its own destruction. That is, when the oppressed become conscious and fed up of their unfortunate state they will seek change through force, hence, install socialism which willbuild them a communist society. This is similar to the wake-up call of Ayoola’s ’empty lines (for Africa)’.
In the opening line of ’empty lines (for Africa)’, the poet says “I am a hunter hunting for the hunts of haunted hearts”. The speaker has assumed the status of a change alert. However, he warns that his change song is “only for brave hearts…brave dogs who bark and cry at eerie visions of nights to flee”. Truthfully, a revolution demands the brave who are ready to take a bull by the horn. A revolutionary change does not take an easy road. This is why the poet carefully warn “Akanni…(the name symbolises African change seekers) are you a brave dog?” He reinstates this warning by asking again: can “you bark and cry to take up this burden/can you bear…bear burns from the taste of burnt burns?”
An objective evaluation of Meditations will throw in with the conclusion that the book has proven beyond doubt the socio-political pertubance the progressive Africans have found themselves today. Generally, Ayoola’s Meditations hassuccessfully depicted the awareness of young Africans of their socio-economic and political configurations. Similarly, this collection of poems has also given credence to the applicability of grounded theories in studying and confronting socio-economic botheration as well as political misrule in the African society.