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The poetry of Christopher Okigo, like the verse of other notable writers, arguably depends to a great degree on the interest created by its rhythms. This is clearly the case, for instance, in Okigbo’s poem “The Passage,” which opens as follows:
BEFORE YOU, mother Idoto,
Naked I stand;
Before your watery presence,
Leaning on an oilbean,
Lost in your legend.
Under your power wait I
watchman for the watchword
out of the depths my cry:
give ear and hearken…
Okigo here gives special metrical emphasis to such key words as “Naked,” “Leaning,” “Lost,” “Under,” “watchman,” and “out.” In each case he uses a trochee (example: REBel) rather than the expected iamb (example: reBEL). The brevity of the lines helps create an urgent rhythm, while the repetition of “before” is rhythmic in its own way, as is the alliteration of such words as “Leaning” and “Lost.” By echoing “watchman” in “watchword,” Okigbo adds further rhythmic interest to this opening.
Similar techniques continue to appear as the poem develops, as in the alliteration of “Foreshadow the fire,” the wordplay in “A wagtail, to tell,” the repetition of the whole word “faces,” the repetition of the whole phrase “festivity in black,” and the near-echo of “lovely fragments” in the later phrase “loveliest fragment.”
All in all, Okigbo shows himself attentive to a variety of kinds of rhythms in this poem, and his skillful use of them makes the reader attentive, too.
TIME for worship -
softly sing the bells of exile,
softly sings my guardian angel.
Mask over my face -
my own mask, not ancestral - I sign:
remembrance of cavalry,
and of age of innocence, which is of ...
Time for worship:
Anna of the panel oblongs,
from them f******* angels;
my sandhouse and bones.
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