“Season,” one of Soyinka’s most widely anthologized poems, is in the Grey Seasons section of his first poetry collection, Idanre, and Other Poems. The poem is easily accessible to readers around the world because of its simple and universal theme. Many of Soyinka’s early poems are of this type. In later poems, Soyinka more frequently turns directly to politics, requiring more knowledge of historical figures and events on the part of the reader.
“Season” is spoken by a narrator who is involved with growing and harvesting. At harvesttime he or she surveys a cornfield and considers how ripening and decay are intermingled. Although the final message is one of hope, the tone of the poem is dark and mournful.
The poem opens with a short statement of the theme: “Rust is ripeness.” The word “rust” can carry many meanings, and all these meanings work in the poem. It can be oxidized iron, a symbol of decay. There is a fungus called rust that can attack plants (destruction) but which is itself alive (creation). Rust is also the color of the corn, when ripe, that is grown in many parts of Africa (creation). “Rust is ripeness” points out a central paradox of life.
The poem contrasts two seasons of life, youth and age, using subtle manipulation of verb tense to develop the ideas. The first stanza describes youth—“mating time”—with images of light and dance, leaves and feathers. The mating time is...
(The entire section is 432 words.)