“Once Upon a Time” is a poem written by the Nigerian poet Gabriel Okara. It is written in seven stanzas.
In the poem, a father speaks to his son about the difference between being an adult and being a child. The father in the poem misses the innocence of childhood: “I want to be what I used to be when I was like you.“ This is the main theme of the poem and the poet uses various figures of speech to further highlight this.
For example, the poet uses metaphors, such as “ice-block-cold eyes." This adds further emphasis on the fact how cold the poet feels the world of adults has become. The father bemoans the fact that people are not authentic anymore; instead they are hiding behind different faces they display in public. The author uses an analogy to underline this point further: “I have learned to wear many faces like dresses.” This means that the speaker puts on a different face depending on the occasion, just like one would choose a dress depending on which dress would suit an occasion best.
The choice of title lends a nostalgic tone to the whole poem, as this is how fairy tales traditionally start, thus reminding the poet, as well as the reader, of their own childhood, when they were listening to fairy tales themselves. Emphasis is further given to the significance of the title, as it is repeated again in the very last line of the poem. This lends extra emphasis on the nostalgia implied by the title and underlines again the poet’s desire to regain access to the innocence of childhood.