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As is true in other poems by Christopher Okigbo, repetition plays an important role in creating the rhythm of the “Newcomer” poem that begins with the words “Time for worship.” Repetition takes various forms in this poem, including the following forms:
- The repetition of the entirety of line 1 in line 9 (“Time for worship”).
- The use of alliteration in such lines as line 2, which repeats the consonants “s” and “l”: “softly sing the bells of exile.”
- The echo of alliteration in adjacent lines, as in lines 2-3”
softly sing the bells of exile,
the angelus . . .
- The near-echo of the phrase “softly sing” in line 2 in the phrase “softly sings” in line 4.
- The repetition of the word “Mask” in lines 5-6.
- The exact repetition of line 11 in line 13.
In addition to employing the rhythmic effects noted above, Okigbo also employs many instances of accented first syllables – an unusual technique in much English poetry, in which the first syllable of many or even most lines is unaccented. Placing the accent on the first syllable of a line gives that syllable extra emphasis. Notice, for instance, how the meter in the following two lines emphasizes particularly important words:
Mask over my face -
my own mask . . . (5-6)
In line 5, the emphasis is placed on the initial noun; in line 6, the emphasis falls on the key adjective. Thus, Okigbo repeats phrasing (in this case, the word “mask”), but he doesn’t simply repeat himself; instead, he uses repetition to create precise emphasis on the words he wants to stress in any given line. Lines 5-6 are a perfect example of the way repetition can also involve subtle distinctions.
Here as in other poems by Okigbo, the short lines and heavy emphasis on so many first syllables give the poem a highly rhythmic, lyrical, song-like effect. Because the lines are short, we pay as much attention to their rhythms as to their denotative meanings. Readers of this poem will, perhaps, hear echoes of the kinds of effects T. S. Eliot used in his poem “Ash Wednesday,” including such lines as the following:
Lady of silences
Calm and distressed
Torn and most whole
Rose of memory
Rose of forgetfulness
Exhausted and life-giving
The single Rose
Is now the Garden
Where all loves end
Of love unsatisfied
The greater torment
Of love satisfied
End of the endless
Journey to no end
Conclusion of all that
Speech without word and
Word of no speech
Grace to the Mother
For the Garden
Where all love ends.
Since Eliot was a poet whom Okigbo especially admired, it is not surprising to hear many different kinds of echoes of Eliot in Okigbo’s verse.
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