Saturday Evening Poetry: Gabriel Okara

Gabriel Okara is a Nigerian poet and novelist. Winner of the Commonwealth Poetry prize in 1979, he has captured the sights and sounds of Africa with remarkable clarity and sensitivity. His famous poem, Once Upon A Time, was part of our English syllabus, and I loved the poem and the feelings of loss of innocence that it conveyed. I had been looking for other poems of his, and came across another equally amazing poem, The Snowflakes Sail Gently Down, where he contemplates how Westernization is eating away at Africa's cultural heritage. The loneliness of the poet, the wistful yearning for his homeland is very evocative. I was particularly struck by his turn of phrase, especially the "touch of silk cotton on water falling", something I found very beautiful. His voice is melancholy and perceptive, and his poem strikes you in the heart.


The snowflakes sail gently
down from the misty eye of the sky

and fall lightly on the

winter-weary elms. and the branches

winter-stripped and nude, slowly

with the weight of the weightless snow

bow like grief-stricken mourners

as white funeral cloth is slowly

unrolled over the deathless earth.

And dead sleep stealthily from the

heater rose and closed my eyes with

the touch of silk cotton on water falling.

Then I dreamed a dream

in my dead sleep. But I dreamed

not of earth dying and elms a vigil

keeping. I dreamed of birds, black

birds flying in my inside, nesting

and hatching on oil palms bearing suns

for fruits and with roots denting the

uprooters' spades. And I dreamed the

uprooters tired and limp, leaning on my roots --

their abandoned roots

and the oil palms gave them each a sun.

But on their palms

they balanced the blinding orbs

and frowned with schisms on their

brows -- for the suns reached not

the brightness of gold!

Then I awoke. I awoke

to the silently falling snow

and bent-backed elms bowing and

swaying to the winter wind like

white-robed Moslems salaaming at evening

prayer, and the earth lying inscrutable

like the face of a god in a shrine.

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1 Response
  1. Anonymous Says:

    Read this poem years ago after I met Gabriel Okara in person. Wasn't too clear to me back then, but it is now.

    He must really have missed being back "home" during winter.

    I know I would have if I were in his shoes.

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