What is your critical analysis of Richard Ntiru's poem "The Pauper"?

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Richard Ntiru's poem "The Pauper" uses harsh imagery, rhetoric aimed at God, and contrasts between rich and poor to shine a light on the plight of the destitute poor in Uganda.

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Ugandan Ntiru's poem relentlessly questions God over the situation of paupers in his country. Ntiru's speaker angrily addresses and sharply questions God about the fate of the pauper who is the focus of his poem. Echoing William Blake's question in "The Tyger," the speaker asks,

Pauper, pauper ...
What brutal force, malignant element
dared to forge your piteous fate?

The poem is relentless in its condemnation of a world—or God—that allows a person to live in such hopeless poverty. The pauper is described as having a "shrivel[ed] ... bottom," bare feet, and ribs and bones that show, causing the speaker to ask,

What crime, what treason did you commit,
that you are thus condemned?

This a rhetorical question, one for which there is only one answer: none. He is innocent.

In the fourth stanza, the beautiful cars that drive by and reflect the pauper, implicitly without their occupants seeing him, are contrasted to the pauper himself, who is crushing "lice between [his] nails."

The pauper is "emaciated," a state that is contrasted to God's "paunch." The speaker hits a bitterly ironic note as he wonders if God is satisfied at the "wonderful sight" of this suffering man.

Ntiru repeats the word beautiful three times in the final stanza to emphasize the gulf between the wealth of the city and certain of its people and the pauper's plight. His speaker indicts himself as one who will, like tourists, take his "snapshot," just as he is doing in writing this poem.

However, while the speaker ends on hopeless note, expecting the elected "MP" to do little more than "mourn" the pauper's "fate" without doing anything to help him, the clear import of the poem is to draw attention to the poor in his country and motivate compassionate action.

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Richard Ntiru is an African poet from Uganda in East Africa. There is little biographical information available on Ntiru but critic Rosette Francis called him "one of the young writers" in 1971. Critics generally agree that the underlying impetus of Ntiru's work is to show the "tensions and conflicts" embedded in the "cultural confusion" (Yeshufu) that juxtaposes Ministers of Parliament having "triple" chins with paupers who "lean on a leafless tree" (Ntiru) in order to dramatize "the futility, corruption, injustice, poverty, moral decay" (Yeshufu) in the confused culture of man. This poem certainly is illustrative of these elements of tension and conflict, juxtaposition of power corrupted with the injustice of abject poverty, the cultural confusion that pits the pauper, framed in shining headlights and snapshots, against the beautiful.

Ntiru's poem "The Pauper" is structured in five-line stanzas with no end rhyme. The underlying rhythm is built upon iambic tetrameter but that is varied with the absence of meter or with alternate meters. An example of iambic tetrameter giving way to no meter follows in these lines:

What brutal force, malignant element [tetrameter]
dared to forge your piteous fate? [tetrameter]
Was it worth the effort, the time? [no meter]

Note that the first of these three lines is varied by the addition of a fifth metric foot while the second is varied by being "headless," or having a missing opening unstressed beat:

What bru' / -tal force,' / ma -lig' / -nant el' / -e -ment'

-- dared' / to forge' / your pit' / -eous fate?'

Was it worth' the ef' -fort, the time?'

While there is no end rhyme, Ntiru does employ line internal assonance to tie lines together. Assonance is the repetition of a consonant sound within or between lines. A good example is in the early part of the poem where there is line internal assonance on the /s/ sound:

your eyes
in all directions, in no direction!
What brutal force, malignant element
dared to forge your piteous

Alliteration, the repetition of the first letter, is shown in "limply lean on a leafless." Another repetition Nitru employs is word repetition: "Pauper, pauper, craning yours eyes in all directions, in no direction!"

The theme extends beyond the description of a pauper with feet so hardened that jiggers (parasitic fleas) are unable to penetrate the thickened pad-like flesh. The theme raises the question of the creation of the pauper and asks about the motives and reactions of the Creator.

What brutal force, malignant element
dared to forge your piteous fate?

The Creator is questioned while Nitru subtly connects this Creator to the parliamentary government that periodically raises the Pauper Question for discussion. In our imaginations we can hear the Pauper Question being raised: "We must take pity on the poor pauper, but what shall we do about him? After all, he is of some economic interest as tourists snap photos of him, but what are we to do about him?"

Pauper, pauper crouching in beautiful verandas
of beautiful cities and beautiful people.
Tourists and I will take you snapshots.
And your MP with a shining head and triple chin
will mourn your fate in a supplementary question at
question time

For additional discussion on thematic elements, see: A. Rasheed Yesufu. "Darkness and Light: the Interplay of Pessimism and Hope in the Poetry of Richard Ntiru."

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