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
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.