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Christopher Okigbo’s poem “The Passage” displays a number of striking literary devices and stylistic techniques, including the following:
- Use of a trochee in place of an expected iamb at the beginning of line 2, which begins with the word “Naked.” In an iamb, the stress is on the second syllable, as in “rebel”; in a trochee (which is far less common), the stress is on the first syllable, as in “rebel.” Trochees are used elsewhere in the poem, often at the beginnings of lines.
- Use of alliteration, or repetition of the same consonant sounds, in lines 5-6:
Leaning on an oilbean,
Lost in your legend
Alliteration is also a frequent feature of this lyric.
- Balanced phrasing, as in line 9: “Watchman for the watchword . . .”
- Assonance, or repetition of the same vowel sound, as in this phrase from line 11: “my cry.”
- Inverted, unusual, almost Latinate sentence structure, as in lines 16-17:
Me to the orangery
Solitude invites . . .
Instead of writing a more normal English sentence (“Solitude invites me to the orangery”), Okigbo here deliberately disrupts usual English syntax.
- Emphatic repetition, as in lines 24-25:
In silence at the passage
The young bird at the passage
- Echoes of entire lines, as in lines 27 and 32. Repetitions and echoes of various sorts appear often in this poem.
- Inverted placement of adjectives, as in line 33: “panel oblong” (instead of “oblong panel”).
- Vivid and striking imagery, as in lines 37-38:
Strains of pressed orange leaves on pages
Bleach of the light of years held in leather: . . .
The brief lines and frequent repetitions of the poem give it an almost chant-like rhythm, and the influence of T. S. Eliot (an acknowledged precursor of Okigbo) is evident in the poem’s peculiar syntax, strange imagery, and religious focus. Moments in this poem are highly reminiscent of moments in Eliot's "Ash Wednesday" sequence.
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