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Monday, 22 May 2017

A Taxi Driver On His Death by Timothy Wangusa

When with prophetic eye I peer into the future
I see that I shall perish upon this road
Driving men that I do not know.
This metallic monster that now I dictate,
This docile elaborate horse,
That in silence seems to simmer and strain,
Shall surely revolt some tempting day.
Thus I shall die; not that I care
For any man’s journey,
Nor for proprietor’s gain,
Nor yet for love of my own.
Not for these do I attempt the forbidden limits,
For these defy the traffic-man and the cold cell,
Risking everything for the little, little more.
They shall say, I know, who pick up my bones,
“Poor chap, another victim to the ruthless machine”—
Concealing my blood under the metal.

                                                         Literary Analysis (Summary)

A close look at the title "A Taxi driver to his death" should remind you of the work of  the neoclassicist, Alexander Pope's A Dying Christian to his Soul. These two poems share something in common and you'll get to find out as you read.
According to World Health Organisation(WHO) in 2010, road traffic injuries/accidents caused an estimated 1.25 million death worldwide. Africa compared to other regions has the highest road traffic death rate. South Africa in the year 2009 had 13,768 traffic related deaths while Nigeria followed duly with 4,665 and Uganda, with 2,954. WHO says that one is likely to be killed in a car accident in Uganda, than anywhere else in East Africa. This is truly pathetic and most of these deaths are attributed to reckless driving by persons under the influence of substances such as alcohol. Innocent lives are claimed by deranged reckless drivers who do not care a bit for the lives of those they transport. This makes a large part of Ugandan born poet and novelist,Timothy Wangusa's poem. He tries to make readers understand the character and mindset of most taxi drivers in his time by writing in first person pronoun.
The poem opens with the taxi driver as a seer who with a "prophetic eye" peers into the future. Although he has a prophetic eye, which is most probable a resultant of his years of experience, not just as a taxi driver but from the onlookers view-he still finds it hard to look into the future.The use of the word "peer" denotes looking for something with difficulty. In other words despite his experience, exposure and intuitions, he still has difficulty in seeing the future with his self acclaimed "prophetic eye". Now one ought to ask, whose future is he peering into? The word "The" does not give an explicit description as to whose future the taxi driver is looking into. In the next line, he reveals that it's his own future which he sees and that future is one which he is certain he'll "perish upon " this road". The poet uses "this" to signify the specific and precise road which the driver will end his life on. This could give us the notion that the driver has a specific route which he often drives through but at the same time, it could simply be Wangusa talking about the general road.
The third line brings us to the second animate character in the poem by grouping them as "men". These men are the unfortunate passengers who board the taxi with no gleam into the future. Perhaps, if they had a prophetic eye like that of the taxi driver, maybe they'd have been able to see their impending doom. The taxi drive foresees his death driving men he knows not. In the ethics of driving, taxi drivers are expected to act in a professional way which entails them speaking only when necessary. Asides a conversation which is prompted by the customer, the driver remains silent. But the driver in this poem says "men I do not know" (which to me sounds like a lamentation). Didn't it occur to him when he took up the job that he had no business in knowing his passengers? Also,the passengers who board his taxi do not bother to know the driver or engage him in a conversation(at least most of them). If they had,the taxi driver wouldn't make the statement "Men that I do not know". 

The next line however introduces us to the presence of a "metallic monster". For a moment there, I shrieked at the word "monster" because all I can think of is Godzilla, Frankenstein and Dracula! That sure sounds scary, doesn't it? Now imagine a "metallic monster". The taxi driver compares his taxi to a metallic monster. Why?
A taxi isn't so large as to be referred to a monster; so what exactly is the poet talking about? By comparing the taxi to a metallic monster, the taxi driver simply expresses what he thinks of his taxi. He thinks of it as a dangerous and terrifying creature because of the havoc it causes day after day. As little as the taxi may look, it brings the life of many to an abrupt end showing no mercy. But this metallic monster does not control itself. Despite its terrifying potentials to wreak havoc, it needs a kinetic energy to give motion to its potentials. The taxi driver in this case serves as the medium by which the "metallic monster" can express its potential. The driver "dictate"(s) the metallic monster. This means he had absolute control over it but still allows it to wreak havoc, yet the taxi could evince the monster in him going haywire in such away that the driver loses control, causing accidents. 

He goes further to compare the taxi to a "docile elaborate horse" which in "silence seems to simmer and strain". The word docile means being submissive and ready to submit. The car is presented in this context to have a will just like man. This is because submitting involves giving up either oneself or will to another. This submissive taxi is also elaborate. Elaborate not in the context of sophistication but complexity. The way a car is wired and built with every part being interconnected and dependent on each other is truly am elaborate art, highly detailed and complex.  At one point in time, it is a monster. At another point, it becomes docile. This in itself can be the taxi driver sincerely telling us that he doesn't understand the complex nature of the taxi he drives. 

The poet calls his taxi a "docile elaborate horse" . One might wonder why he used a horse instead of another animal lIke a cow or goat. A horse is known to be one of the only animals which possess a great amount of physical strength and vitality and is still able to balance up. The taxi being a horse simply tells of the condition on which the taxi is. It's strong and has no mechanical defaults.  Fast and agile. The wordsame "simmer " and "strain" conveys the state of the car when it comes to a halt. It simmer and strains because of the speed and force earlier exerted on it by the driver. The taxi driver knows that verily verily, his taxi will revolt one day. The word revolt is an attribute likened to try animate but in this case the poet presents the obviously inanimate taxi to have some sort of will of its own once again. It is in this will that it revolts not just on any day but a tempting day. 

Why is the day tempting? This could suggest an allusion to the temptation of Jesus; and just as then, the devil comes around to tempt. But who is the object of temptation here? The "docile elaborate horse" or the prophetic taxi driver? That which revolts is that which yields to temptation, the taxi.  It revolts because it has yielded to the tempting incentives of uncautioned racing. It's act of rebellion means it shall no longer allow it's master (the driver) to god him around. It's revolt now becomes the sure end of the driver and his passengers therein but the driver doesn't care
It concerns him not if the passengers die alongside himself. He's also indifferent as to that which he stands to gain from taking up "any man's journey" and to loving his life. The taxi driver doesn't care for his life,  the life of his passengers, the money he makes and his own family which he refers to as "my own". He attempts the "forbidden limits". Defies the "traffic-man" and cares less for the "cold cell". He is aware of the obvious consequence to over speeding and breaking traffic laws. One could easily picture the taxi driver on the wheels racing past the traffic-man who waves him down with his flag but the taxi driver tags along with his unruly "monster". The consequence of this is the "cold cell". Knowing all these, he still risks both his life and that of others for the "little little more".  Little little more doesn't refer to money because he earlier said that he doesn't care for proprietor's gain which is his proceeds or profit. The only reason why he puts everything at stake is for the little little more. The repetition of little denotes a progression to the word more. This could refer to the speed which starts from little and progresses to more. But then again, the poet intentionally uses those words to give us a vague insight as to why the driver risks everything. This is to say no one knows and will ever know why he truly risks it all.
At the infinite end of his prophetic session, knowing fully well it all ends in death, he captures the words and thoughts of sympathizers - those who pick up his bones. Instead of blaming him, they blame the "ruthless machine" which revolted. This brings to limelight the mentality of those in the poet's society. They do not peg the blame on the reckless driver but on the docile wild taxi which simply said enough-is-enough to his master's dictates of speeding which causes it to "simmer"and "strain". His blood is at the end, " concealed under the metal" ; the metal which is no longer a "metallic monster" because its revolution had made it a mere metal again. It needs not be a "docile elaborate horse" anymore for its rebellion has freed it.


METAPHOR: The poem is laced with metaphors and metaphorical statements.
"Metallic monster"  comparing the taxi to a monster.
"Docile elaborate horse"
"Cold cell"
"Ruthless machine".
"Tempting day".

"Metallic momster" (m alliterates)
"Silence seems to simmer and strain" (s alliterates)

ANAPHORA: Line 10-13.
REPETITION: "little" is repeated in line 14.

STRUCTURE: It's a 17 line poem written in free verse and laced with vivid imagery.

TONE: It has a serious and pessimistic tone. The poet is serious about the subject matter at hand and also unconcerned about the latter end.

MOOD: The mood in the poem is one of pity and also concern. As readers, we cannot but pity the victims in the poem. It also has a mood which awakens consciousness in us. Consciousness to the impending danger of reckless driving.

The danger of reckless driving
The gloomy future
Urgency of the law (why the law is needed to act)
Inevitability of death
The complexity of vehicles
Playing the blame game

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