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Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Reared in the Catholicism brought to Africa by missionaries and educated in mission schools, Okigbo revolted against the imported theology and like a prodigal son returned to the religion of his ancestors. This rejection and return form the basis of much of his poetry, as does the plight of the artist caught in a chasm between two conflicting traditions, the indigenous and the borrowed. “Siren” gains resonance when read in the context of Okigbo’s other poetry, but even alone it turns into an important document illustrating the way African poetry in English has usurped the colonial language and transformed it into that which is undeniably African.

On one level, “Siren” expresses Okigbo’s dedication to the art of poetry. The poem’s name, “Siren,” suggests that he has no choice but to follow this path, for he has been bewitched. The title, drawing from Greek mythology, brings to mind those insidiously seductive creatures who by their singing lured mariners to destruction. Yet as Okigbo so often does with allusions, he reverses the destructive element of the Siren and turns her into the goddess of poetry whom he invokes in part 1. Thus the Siren of poetry, addressed as a kind of African goddess in spite of her Greek origins, retains the ability to bewitch and seduce, but sheds her pernicious qualities for creative ones.

On another level, “Siren” expresses the dilemma of many an African writer in English, not just that of Okigbo. After all, they are writing in the language of the former colonizer; and African writers and critics, well aware of this irony , often question how the African experience can be expressed in a borrowed...

(The entire section is 421 words.)