A BRIEF REVIEW OF MICHAEL NWAGBEGBE’S POEM, “THE HIGH-BREASTED HILLS” BY ONIS SAMPSON.

(THE POEM CAN BE READ ON LINES AND VERSES POETRY GROUP ON FACEBOOK)

I like this poem a ‘whole whole’ lot. I like it because I like a lot of things about it. It is imagistic; it is laden with the touch of poetic grandeur flowing out of beautiful and novel metaphors. It reminds me of some of our modern poets, their themes and their well developed movements, howbeit differently. The likes of Derek Walcot, Tade Ipadeola etc. Thus, there is an awareness and understanding of self, voice, and mission by the poet as exemplified in this poem. What a startling beginning, “The high-breasted hills!” — a sensuous flow of personification, and yet a grand metaphor. What can be more imagistic than the lines that follow, “Show up/ In the distance.” In my mind’s eye, I can see the hills. But first, I need not jump into concluding that these are just ordinary hills. The poet may be speaking symbolically.

As a matter of academic treatise, in analysing poems and certain works of art, it is not full-proof practice trying to decipher a poet’s mind. We can only glean that from the diction, figures of speech and other devices. Hence, I will thread cautiously, since that is the ideal thing. Nonetheless, this poem contemplates amongst other things (which space herein and time may not afford me the possibility of covering all), the desire for influence, achievement, greatness and extensively fame in life. If we relate this to the person of the poet, we can say it is a desire to be heard by an audience, and in the long run to become fulfilled in that quest. For instance, Christopher Okigbo toed this path at the beginning of his poetic career in his “Labyrinths.” In one of Okigbo’s poems, he compared himself to a poplar amongst the trees. He was the poplar while the trees were his audience. In lines 6 and 7 of the present poem, ” Hopeful, we shall ride/

In dying hours,” the poet announces the mission of the life-sojourner with optimism (“Hopeful we shall ride”) even in the face of pessimism (“in dying hours”). The following lines,” Feeble fingers/

Ambling for prologues/

At twilight,” confirm a certain fact. In African myths and culture, twilight symbolizes a period of decline or fall in a person’s life or in a community.’Prologue’ typifies or means, a beginning. Thus, the feeble fingers (which is a metonymy for a human being) ambling for prologue at twilight, perhaps mean the poet/humans in general struggling to be introduced to an audience or to make it in life extensively at their lowest moment (twilight). TO BE CONTINUED…

CONTINUATION: The poet contemplates the certainty of trials and temptations in the journey of life. This is conveyed in lines 11-14 in stanza 4 of the poem, “We shall ride/

To the dazzling gate,/

Blind to the blazing leaps/

Of these supple thighs.” Supple thighs is evocative of temptation and distraction in life. The imagery of dazzling gate symbolises accomplishment in life. In other words the poet is optimistic that he (or ‘We…’) will get to the apex or peak in his pursuits in life. The use of ‘blind’ in line 13 means the doggedness of the poet in refusing to yield to the temptations in life. Thus, “Blind to the blazing leaps…” As we are seeing, while the poet may have written this poem using images, their meanings go beyond their literal connotation.

Stanza 6 (six) deals with the periodic vicissitudes of life; and the problems that will inevitably come at one point or the other in life. There tends to be a decline of the poet’s optimism. The last stanza of the poem extends this decline. In the last stanza, the poet seems to be neither optimistic nor pessimistic rather he seems ready for whatever may happen although he does not expect the worse. There is the readiness to accept tragedy with a maturity of calmness in the following lines of the last stanza, ” Mirth/

In time of blood.” The mood of the poet conceals some layers of despondency and tries to hide certain pain in the last three lines of the poem,

“In forgetfulness,/

We shall extend our lighted selves/

Content of fevered afternoons.” The poet is invariably saying that, come what may, he shall adopt a carefree and trouble-free attitude. There is the resolve not to get worried. This reminds me of what the Holy Bible says about worry in the New Testament when Christ in Matthew 5:25-34 spoke against the worries of life. The poet accepts the finality of ‘fevered afternoons’ with a worry-free attitude. This is a great poem written with a good understanding of literary devices, particularly metaphor, the queen of Literature. Nwagbegbe’s style is rich and definitive of a conscious attempt at developing a personal voice, and a distinct pre-occupation with theme and subject matter at a metaphysical level. You write brilliantly, Nwagbegbe. Keep it up, Sir! Hope to see more of your works. I appreciate your literary style. It has depth.

[ONIS SAMPSON, a young Nigerian writer, works and lives in Port Harcourt.]

THE POEM CAN BE READ HERE, LINES AND VERSES POETRY CLUB

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