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Tuesday, 1 August 2017

We Must Learn Again To Fly by Odia Ofeimun

Some wounds cut so deep we forget
where the pain comes from; we itch
to run from congealed blood,
from lakes in rivers
deltas into brimless sea
...we forget how to flow

Some hunger grow so steep
it cuts the sun
and takes away our eyes
till we drown, weighed down
by the call at silt-bed
...we forget how to awaken

Sometimes, danger comes
bringing the sky low
lower than a stoop,
till our hair becomes cumulus
fathering dusk and clipping eager wings
...yet we must learn again to fly.

How hilarious is it for youths of this generation to speak of war with so much enthusiasm - often bringing to question their age. Truth be told, the young in Nigeria know little or nothing about the subject of war - especially the youths who are agitating for secession.
Growing up, our schools taught us about the Nigerian Civil war of 1967, making us understand that many lives were lost due to it. We took it all in like a bitter pill to swallow, sympathizing with the victims, but no one really understood the gravity of the war.
Odia Ofiemun, born on the 16th of March 1950, experienced the Nigerian Civil war which took more than "lives" as we often put it.  The war didn't just claim lives but livelihoods as well. The hope and dreams of many were shot in the heart and buried in the head. Odia Ofiemun also experienced the disastrous misuse of power by the military.
Being a journalist at a rather early age, he became a target for the tyrannical military leaders. Like many other journalists during the military regime, Odia was harassed, threatened because of the truth he spoke of. He experienced how a beautiful home and family could be coloured down to ashes by brutal political leaders. Hence, his poem We Must Learn Again to Fly is centered on the effects of military rulership. He speaks to everyone who has been affected, all Nigerians, telling us that no matter how much we've been affected by the military regime, we need to learn to fly as we once did.

We Must Learn Again to Fly  is a poem of three stanzas, each with six lines- the sixth however preluded with ellipses. With no particular rhyme scheme, it's a highly metaphorical poem with the title as the head of metaphors.

The poet says we must learn again to fly. I haven't seen any human born with wings or have you? The poet doesn't mean we should  literally fly; he only uses it as a metaphor, comparing Nigeria to an eagle whose wings have been clipped by circumstances but must summon up the strength with time to fly again.

In the first line, we are made to believe by the poet persona that wounds can actually grab a scissors or saw (too intense) and cut deep into our skins. Well, welcome to the world of personification - giving human attributes to inanimates. On a normal injurious day, one should be able to figure out where the pain from the injury comes from, but in this case, the poet persona along with his fellow Nigerians cannot remember where the pain comes from.  The pain isn't just called "a pain"; it's specific.  The depth of the wounds makes pain untraceable. The depth of their hurts and suffering has made pain untraceable. It is impossible to treat what can't be found. During this time,  Nigerians suffered so much that they could no longer remember the root of their suffering or how it got there.
In the next two lines,the poet persona expresses the result of the excruciating pain; "we itch". Itching a wound solves nothing. Instead, it makes it worse by opening up more and, at times, forms a sore. The use of "We " represents the whole nation of Nigeria. Nigeria longs to run from "congealed blood". Congealed blood refers to blood which has become solid due to the passage of time. This is because at the initial stage of bleeding, it was left unattended to. Over time, it becomes thick and they long to run from it. How did the blood get there in the first place?
Congealed blood could symbolize the endless, lifeless bodies laid down during the war. "Congealed" is symbolic for the passage of time. The statement " we itch"..."to run from congealed blood" could mean we itch to run away from our piled up mistakes. Mistakes which "cut so deep" that "we forget..." where it all started from.
Running solves nothing though. It's a sign of fear and cowardness. We run from the frying pan into the fire. We " run away from congealed blood" , from  "lakes into rivers" "deltas into brimless sea". Running away from our mistakes, we meet up with the "lakes" and feel "Oh this is real deep!Let's run some more!!". We run further into "rivers" which seems much more deeper. This is a process of transition - not for good though. The circle grows bigger. The river, a natural flow of water which  continues in a long line across land to the sea,  splits up to form a delta- a division of Nigeria- before we enter the sea. The sea isn't just called "sea", it's is a brimless sea!
We run so much that "...We forget to flow". Going through the transition and progressions, we forget how to actually progress. We have become unable to move in a focused direction since we split up into deltas. Forgetting how to flow means we've forgotten how to actually communicate with one another, hence, ethnic rivalry. Since we have forgotten how to flow, we can't speak up with one voice against the violence going on, against military oppression. The last line with the ellipsis is a summary of the first stanza.
Our problem becomes worse with the passage of time. Hunger and suffering becomes the order of the day. "Some hunger grows so steep"..."it cuts out the sun". Hunger has become so unbearable, cutting out daytime. The sun is a symbol of light, and light, a symbol of hope. With the growing hunger, hope is cut out. We are left with no hope. Hope isn't just cut out, it "takes away our eyes". The eyes gives sight. It's the room of revelation; seeing is believing.    
With hope gone, we are left with our eyes, but our eyes are now taken away. We are blind and we haven't mastered the way, so we shall stumble. "We drown", for we can't see the waters we swim in. We also "drown" because we are "weighed down" by a soft "call" at "silt-bed". A soft bed made of rocks weighs us down. The rocks which make for the bed aren't just any rocks, they are rocks deposited by rivers and lakes. The lakes we ran from and the rivers we left behind dropped on our shoulders, rocks of regrets which we made a silt-bed from. Our suffering calls us to the silt-bed which drowns us in the brimless sea- "...We forget how to awaken". We forget how to be alert, we become unconscious in our conscience.
There are times when "danger comes" and it brings "the sky low"..."lower than a stoop". The sky which we say is our limit is now brought low by the approaching danger. The sky which holds the sun (our light and hope) is brought low which implies utter hopelessness. The sky becoming low could mean, a cloudliness caused by the danger which comes clothed in khaki and coughing out dark smoke from exhaust pipes.  The sky brought lower than a doorstep, till "our hair becomes cumulus". Our hair is made as a covering over our skin, when it becomes cumulus, we begin to look like animals in the wild which are either preys or predators. Our outlook begins to arouse pity from other nations.

"...Our hair becomes cumulus"
"fathering dusk and clipping eager wings "
With our new outlook - as that of a mad man- we've become a father to the dusk; the time of the night where evil thrives and birds return home. Most birds fly to their nests- where they are safe- when dusk approaches. With evil as a permanent tenant of dusk, it is important for us to fly back home where we will be safe, but we can't.  Our "eager wings " have been clipped and we are open to danger. With clipped wings, we are bound. We are at the mercy of the evil which lurks at dusk but "...We must learn again to fly". Even with our wings clipped off, we must learn to fly as we once did.
In other words, Nigeria has been through so much in the hands of dictatorial leaders. We've seen congealed blood, steeply grown hunger, and an havoc-wrecking danger, but we need to fly again. We need to break free from the hands that clip us. We need to flow with one another, establishing a uniformed voice. We need to awaken from the unconsciousness of our conscience. We need to rise and fight with our voice, against both military and civilian dictatorship. Shall Nigeria-the super Eagle- remain clipped forever? The poet tells us to "learn" which means we have to start from the scratch and go back to face the problems we ran from. We need to go back to the root of it all. It's a gradual process. We need to flow before we can awaken, and when we are awakened; when we stir to rise, the fighter inside us, we will be able to fly once again.


   "We must learn again to fly"-a metaphorical statement
    "...We forget how to flow"
    "...hunger grows so cuts the sun"
    "Fathering dusk"
    "Some wounds cut..."
     "Pain comes..."
     "hunger grow"
     "hunger..."takes away"
     "Danger comes"
    "eager wings"

3)Enjambment; in the first stanza each line runs into the preceeding line and it's partly the same in the other stanzas.

4)Use of ellipsis at the beginning of the first line to emphasize, the message of each stanza.

  "We must learn again to fly

6)Repetition; of the words "we forget"

  "Some hunger grows so steep"
Tone: The tone of the poem is a subtle tone of resistance which expresses the need to fight against dictatorial governments.
Mood: The mood of the poem however is gloom, sad and filled with hopelessness and helplessness.


1)The fight against injustice
2)The trending evil of military rulership
3) Rising from defeat
4)The need to challenge dictatorship
5)The effect of war
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1 comment:

  1. This is an indepth review. It so much simplifies the poem. Keep withe good work people!