Christopher Okigbo (Elegy For Alto) Poem by African Poems

Christopher Okigbo (Elegy For Alto)

Rating: 3.5

(with drum accompaniment)
AND THE HORN may now paw the air howling goodbye…
For the Eagles are now in sight:
Shadows in the horizon-
THE ROBBERS are here in black sudden steps of showers, of
THE EAGLES have come again,
The eagles rain down on us-
POLITICIANS are back in giant hidden steps of howitzers, of
THE EAGLES descend on us,
Bayonets and cannons-
THE ROBBERS descend on us to strip us of our laughter, of our
THE EAGLES have chosen their game,
Taken our concubines-
POLITICIANS are here in this iron dance of mortars, of

THE EAGLES are suddenly there,
New stars of iron dawn;
So let the horn paw the air howling goodbye…
O mother mother Earth, unbind me; let this be
my last testament; let this be
The ram's hidden wish to the sword the sword's
secret prayer to the scabbard-

THE ROBBERS are back in black hidden steps of detonators-
FOR BEYOND the blare of sirened afternoons, beyond
the motorcades;
Beyond the voices and days, the echoing highways; beyond
the latescence
Of our dissonant airs; through our curtained eyeballs,
through our shuttered sleep,
Onto our forgotten selves, onto our broken images;
beyond the barricades
Commandments and edicts, beyond the iron tables,
beyond the elephant's
Legendary patience, beyond his inviolable bronze
bust; beyond our crumbling towers-
BEYOND the iron path careering along the same beaten track-
THE GLIMPSE of a dream lies smouldering in a cave,
together with the mortally wounded birds.
Earth, unbind me; let me be the prodigal; let this be
the ram's ultimate prayer to the tether…

AN OLD STAR departs, leaves us here on the shore
Gazing heavenward for a new star approaching;
The new star appears, foreshadows its going
Before a going and coming that goes on forever…

Nelson Ratau 17 December 2017

Okigbo can been seen as a poet-prophet prophesying his own death. Elegy for Alto is a very haunting poem of wistfulness and beauty. Th first time I encountered the poem, I cried a stream. Okigbo is a very wonderful writer, his imagery speaks to the highest in us, it pokes the sleeping voice that has the power and resonance to speak against our inclination to war.

6 0 Reply
Chike Nzerue 25 April 2016

Okigbo's elegy is truly musical with haunting imagery. The imagery of eagles descending on us, the robbers robbing us of our laughter and Eagles having chosen their game all capture the impending doom of the fratricidal bloodletting of Nigeria's civil war. There is the ironic beauty of it's sad theme, like a Jeremiah lamenting the carnage to come including his own death

4 1 Reply
Chike Nzerue 25 April 2016

This poem shows the true greatness of Okigbo. The poems rhythm is like a cloud gathering before rains pour from the heavens. The imagery is deep and assonant warning of impending violence of the Nigerian civil war. The most painful, but poignant line for me is: O mother mother earth, unbind me; let this be my last testament. Some belief the poet prophesied his own death in that war.Chike Nzerue, MD

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