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Thursday, 18 December 2014

Give Me the Minstrel Seat- Traditional Poem

Literary Analysis (Summary)

This is a traditional Swahili poem from Kenya that is centered on companionship. As social beings, one is not expected to live a life of solitude. No one is an island. We are meant to interact or develop an interpersonal relationship with one another. This poem casts light on companionship in the basic areas of human life, starting with companionship in marriage.

A minstrel is a singer in the Middle ages, who travels from place to place to sing and recite poetry. For this poet to ask for the minstrel seat, he sees himself as an entertainer, who is trying to pass across some words of advice to his listeners.

The narrator ruminates on life and its complexities. Starting with marriage, the most significant institution in the society, he poses challenging questions to his listeners, who he refers to as “my friends” to ponder on as touching basic issues of life. He ponders on why some women refuse to marry: “Let me ask for what reason or rhyme women refuse to marry?” To the narrator, women are incomplete without men, so they cannot achieve their full potential unless a man is present in their life. The narrator further opines that for a woman to prosper and achieve greater success, she must “cleave unto” her man as a backup and adviser. “A woman is she who has a husband and she cannot but proper.”

And when the woman cleaves to her husband in unity, his kinsmen become divided with jealousy. They harvest the fruit of discord because they are jealous of the oneness between the man and the woman, who have made their companionship strong and everlasting.

From there, the narrator moves to companionship among friends. Friendship is so vital in our lives that we cannot do without it. The narrator empasises on socialising that no one should walk alone. This is a charge for us to keep good companionship, “for he who walks alone has no good fortune.” With that, having a good friend gives one good fortune. He says, “When a man goes on the road, he goes with a friend.”  That is, no one is expected to walk through the road of life alone.

The poet-speaker reiterates that life is not a bed of roses. It is full of challenges and obstacles. In the journey of life, at one point or the other, one will be “pierced by the thorn or the sand-mote enters his eye.” The “thorn” and “sand-mote” symbolise the stumbling blocks and difficulties one faces as one walks through life. This is a normal feature of life. When the challenges seem overwhelming, sometimes men become helpless and irrational. Quite often, the best way out are friends or loved ones. “He needs a friend to remove it.” That reiterates the benefit of cultivating good friendship.

Towards the end of the poem, the speaker assumes a philosophical tone. He talks about the rich and the poor. He points to the chasm between them. “The rich man and the poor man join hands across the shroud.” (A shroud is the cloth that is wrapped around a dead person’s body before it is buried). With the quoted euphemism above, the poet is trying to ridicule the obsession for material things and the craze to be become rich by any means, since both the rich and the poor will die. Death is constant. It is not exempted from the rich. Death is the intersection that bridges the gap between the poor and the rich.

The poem ends with an appeal to maintain a good name and moral integrity, as that will outlive a man than the riches one acquires. The ending antithesis, “better a loin-cloth without disgrace than the fine-flowered shawl of shame” echoes the need to be contented with the little one has than acquiring ill-gotten wealth.

Benefits of good friendship
Life is not a bed of roses
Dangers of solitude
Unity in marriage
Marriage is indispensable
Jealousy breeds discord
Death is constant
A good name is better than riches

The poem is full of words of advice and wisdom. Written in prose-like form, it ponders on different aspects of life.

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  1. thanks a lot for this, it really help and it's also comprehensive good one. Kudos