As the title of Soyinka’s poem suggests, one of its major thematic ideas is death. In addition, the poem explores issues of man’s role on earth, his impact on nature, and the impact of technology.
Death is explored via the two deaths described in the poem: first, the “line trumpeter of dawn,” or rooster, then the traveler, “silenced in the hug of” a car accident. The juxtaposition of death and dawn suggests that life is fleeting and fragile, and that people often ignore the constant possibility of death that lurks all around us. Despite the traveler’s mother’s warning to “never walk when the road waits,” the traveler—who represents mankind as a whole—goes through life with reckless abandon, destroying what lies ahead if it gets in his way.
The man’s ironic death within the car is a comment about how mankind destroys itself. The speaker of the poem ponders whether this image of the traveler mangled inside his mangled vehicle—the “closed contortion”—is a reflection of the speaker himself. This shows that the traveler’s death represents man’s unintentional self-destruction; while technology like the car allows the traveler to go farther at a faster pace, it is also the source of his demise. Soyinka suggests that the progress of humanity will also be responsible for its end.