Christopher Okigbo once suggested that the speaker of his poem titled “The Passage” resembles Orpheus, the famous figure of Greek myth and legend. Some resemblances between Okigo’s speaker and Orpheus include the following:
- Both figures are poets.
- Orpheus was associated with poetic inspiration; Okigbo’s speaker seeks poetic inspiration.
- Orpheus was associated with the composition of hymns; hymns are explicitly mentioned in Okigbo’s poem when the speaker mentions how
. . . players of loft pipe organs
rehearse old lovely fragments, alone- . . .
- Orpheus is supposed to have learned part of his art from his mother; Okigbo’s poem is a tribute to Okigbo’s own dead mother.
- Orpheus famously created sad music in response to the death of his wife, Eurydice; Okigbo’s poem recalls with sadness the death of Okigbo’s own mother.
- The myth of Orpheus and Eurydice emphasizes, ultimately, Orpheus’s inability to bring his wife back from death; clearly there is a similar sense of finality, in Okigbo’s poem, about the death of Okigbo’s mother.
The most important aspect of Okigbo’s reference to Orpheus, however, seems to be the most general one: the linking of the speaker of Okigbo’s poem to a great and legendary poet. If the name “Orpheus” is almost a synonym for the idea of “inspired, gifted poet,” surely this is how Okigbo hoped that the speaker of his own poem would be perceived. Okigbo probably meant little more by his reference to Orpheus than this, despite the other resemblances noted above.