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Friday, 19 December 2014

Myopia by Syl Cheney Coker

                                       Literary Analysis (Summary)

The Sierra Leoneans after independence had foreseen a brighter day ahead having gained freedom from the exploitation of the colonial masters after years of servitude. They looked forward to a classless and flourishing nation of their dream. After the attainment of independence, their very own political elites and nationalist who fought for the realization of self-government were voted into power with the hope of a turnaround in their fortune. But their high hopes for an egalitarian and prosperous society were shattered and they became disillusioned.

Sadly, things became worse than it used to be during the colonial era. The new crop of leaders who promised heaven on earth after independence became dictatorial and the rights of the people were suppressed. The socio economic situation of the country was in shambles and the political terrain became unbearable. The plight of the ordinary masses cascaded into absolute misery and penury, while the leaders and the members of the political class lived in luxury and extravagance. The government of the day became repressive, especially during the regime of President Siaka Steven, who forced the poet to live in exile. This situation inspired the poet, Syl Cheney Coker, to write Myopia.

Literally, myopia means shortness of sight. Figuratively, it means the inability to see beyond the horizon or the present. It also encompasses the inability to think about the future, especially about the possible results of a particular action. That sets the tone why the poet is full of disdain, rejection and condemnation of the attitude and behaviour of the leaders, who have apparently failed in their responsibilities to the people.

The poem begins “on raining mornings” capturing the poor members of the society. The poem is set in post-independence Sierra Leone, the poet’s country home. It x-rays the dilemma of the under-privileged members of the society, which the poet refers to as “PEASANTS!”

Set in an urban area with well carved out streets, probably in Freetown, the first stanza of the poem exudes an imagery of anguish, penury, misery and suffering of the under-privileged in the urban society. The rural dwellers had moved into the city in search of a green pasture. The city soon became overpopulated and unemployment was on the increase while suffering turned out to be inevitable, as the government could not address the socio economic challenges wrecking the country.

“On raining mornings/ You will see them drenched” (Line 1 & 2). Who are those drenched by the heavy downpour? They are the PEASANTS, who in their “emaciated bones” walk along the streets “shivering” and helpless. Emaciated bones are extremely thin from lack of food or illness. This implies that the peasants are suffering from malnutrition.

The streets are personified as “the boulevards of misery”. A boulevard is a wide road in a town or city, often with trees along the sides. Boulevards are mostly found in wealthy areas. For the peasants to walk in the boulevard shivering, it suggests that the common men in the society are suffering in the midst of plenty. No wonder the poet tags it the boulevard of misery. In another vein, the boulevard as it is being overtly repeated throughout the poem could be interpreted as a metonymy for the social amenities in the country that have deteriorated.

In the second stanza, Cheney Coker illustrates the terrible condition of the streets in his country. “The boulevards of this country/ Are railway tracks in my heart” (Line 5 & 6). By metaphorically describing the boulevards of his country as railway tracks in his heart, the poet is psychologically disturbed by the deplorable state of the roads. “A train of anguish runs on them” (Line 7).

Anguish and misery could be seen in the “corollary of hunger” affecting the peasants walking along the boulevards because the state of agriculture in the country is nothing to write home about and that has become a cause of concern to him. The poet intimates us with “the ricepads of this country”, which has become a “putrid marshland in my soul”. The agricultural products are so unpleasant to the extent that “no magic fertilizer” can refine them. The “marshlands” that should have been tilled to yield bounteous harvest that would heal and enrich the peasants’ “emaciated bones” has become “putrid” (worthless and disgusting), owing to the environmental degradation of mining activities in the country.

In the next stanza, the poet has had enough of the “stillborn promises” of the myopic leaders and so he offers himself as an agent of change. The persona is optimistic as he talks about “the wind” that “blows tomorrow”. That’s the wind of change in which he volunteers himself as catalyst and sacrificial lamb,“a sabir of that wind”. He doesn’t just want to be at the forefront of the change in his country, he also wants to be “the incendiary bomb” and the “hangman”. The poet is apparently on a suicide mission to effect changes in his country through a violent revolutionary method as he declares, “If madness we must have”.

The poet’s radical approach could be bloody as he is ready to hang himself and all the leaders in the helm of affairs, who have brought the country to her knees in “great betrayal” at a time the people should be enjoying the gains of freedom.

1.     Poor leadership
2.     The large-scale suffering of common men in the society
3.     Misery amidst surplus
4.     The effect of broken promises
5.     The need for a radical change
6.     The absolute corruption of the ruling class
7.     The importance of sacrifice

The poem is written in 21 lines of unequal stanzas. The poem is written in blank verse and laced with metaphors. The tone of the poem is sympathetic, while the imagery evokes a mental picture of suffering and corruption at all levels of the poet’s country. There is obvious enjambment throughout the poem.

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