What are the poetic devices used in the poem "Africa" by David Diop?

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ansleyclark's profile pic

ansleyclark | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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In addition to symbolism, imagery, and personification, Diop also uses a few sonic poetic devices, including repetition and cacophony, to create this poem's rhythmic and sonic quality. It's tricky to talk about sound here, since the original poem is in French and thus the sound changes quite a bit in the English translation. However, there are still a few poetic sonic devices that carry over in the translation. 

Diop repeats "Africa" throughout the poem to create a chant-like, sing-song rhythm. He also repeats himself in the lines "The blood of your sweat / The sweat of your work / The work of your slavery," which firmly drives his point home. The rhythm in these lines is similar in both the English and the French.

Diop also uses cacophony, or harsh sounds, to jar the reader and create a forceful tone. In the English translation, there is cacophony in the line "This back that never breaks" with the "b" and "k" sounds. In the original French, there is cacophony in the line prior "Est-ce donc toi ce dos qui se courbe" ("Is this your back that is unbent") with the "q" and "c" sounds, although the cacophony basically disappears with the translation.


sullymonster's profile pic

sullymonster | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Diop's strongest poetic device in this poem is that of personification.  He infuses Africa with human qualities, and talks directly to her.  He reinforces her humanity with the images of "beautiful black blood... The blood of your sweat.... The sweat of your work ...your back that is unbent ."  The purpose of using personification is to make readers empthasize more with the plight of Africa.  To be just a continent is too abstract - to be a human is more personal.

Diop also uses imagery to allude to the injustice Africa has suffered from.  "This back trembling with red scars
And saying no to the whip under the midday sun"
is an allusion to the slave trade and to colonization from European colonies.  He also uses imagery, however, to prove that Africa is stronger than what she has suffered, for her "back is unbent....[and] never breaks under the weight of humiliation."

Diop finally uses symbolism to describe post-colonial Africa.  He points out a young and strong tree, "Splendidly alone amidst white and faded flowers."  This is Africa after the colonizing European countries have left.  Africa will go strong and her "fruit" - her children - will acquire "the bitter tasts of liberty."  The liberty is bitter because of the injustice that caused it to once be absent from the continent.

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