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Saturday, 7 October 2017

A Plea For Mercy by Kwesi Brew


We have come to your shrine to worship
We the sons of the land
The naked cowherd has brought
The cows safely home,
And stands silent with his bamboo flute
Wiping the rain from his brow;
As the birds brood in their nests
Awaiting the dawn with unsung melodies
The shadows crowd on the shore
Pressing their lips against the bosom of the sea;
The peasants home from their labours
Sit by their log-fires
Telling tales of long-ago.
Why should we the sons of the land
Plead unheeded before your shrine?
When our hearts are full of song
And our lips tremble with sadness?
The little firefly vies with the star,
The log-fire with the sun
The water in the calabash
With the mighty Volta,
But we have come in tattered penury
Begging at the door of a Master.
   

                         Literary Analysis(Summary)

The struggle for independence has never been easy. Many African countries triumphed through trials and thorns, blood and brothers to gain their freedom. Ghanaian born writer, Kwesi Brew, makes this the theme of his poem,"A plea for Mercy". In 1968, Kwesi Brew published his first collection titled "The Shadows of Laughter" which is divided into five thematic structures including"A plea for Mercy".


A Plea for Mercy is a poem of twenty three lines, lined with vivid imagery. The poet signifies with the "sons of the land" for he is also one. The poem opens with the "sons of the land" at the shrine to worship. The indigenous people of the land come to worship at the consecrated place of worship. They are being led by a "naked cowherd" as "cows". The duty of a cowherd is to lead his cows to green pastures and safe havens. A cowherd is like a shepherd, shepherding his flock. He goes to great lengths just to lead his cows home "safely" and void of harm. The Cowherd leads the cows, enduring the rain on his naked skin.
     
Naked skin signifies the absence of covering. The cowherd may not necessarily be lacking clothes in terms of nakedness. Naked symbolises the absence of western essentials such as education. In other words, he who leads the people is left exposed to the thriving trend of ignorance. All he knows is to lead his cows and he does that well enough, but is that enough? On arrival, he stands "silently" with his "bamboo flute", the "atenteben". The bamboo flute better known as the 'atenteben' is a Ghanaian made musical instrument used in celebrations. Instead of playing his flute he stands "silently", "wiping the rain from his brow" for he has brought the cows home from the foreign pastures to witness the hopeful freedom.

The setting comes to play in the seventh and eight line as the birds "brood" in their nests, "awaiting the dawn with unsung melodies". At this point we know it's not daytime; it's dusk. The birds of the land "brood" in their nests while awaiting daytime with melodies unsung. Birds have always been used with a feminine attachment to it. Birds in this poem refer to the daughters of the land who "brood" in their homes. They nurse their young ones with the hope of a "dawn". They not only brood in terms of nursing their young ones, they brood in terms of deep thinking. They hope for the freedom with unsung melodies. They hope for the worship of the sons of the land to be accepted.
   
It gets darker as the "shadows crowd on the shore". The shadows bring with it the aura of gloom as it meets the sea. They press "their lips against the bosom of the sea". The peasants also join in this gloomy festival of hope and thoughts. The peasants return "from their labours"; most probably, farming is the labour referred to here as Ghana is known for her agriculture. Because it's been raining, they "sit by their log-fires" to keep them warm. Just as most African culture, they tell the moonlight tales of "long ago".

The tales of "long ago" are tales of the "sons of the land" who "plead unheeded" before the shrine of a master. Ghana gained her idependence in 1957 but still had no freedom under the rule of Kwame Nkrumah until 1966 when power changed hands democratically. Kwesi Brew publishing this poem in 1968 was no mere coincidence. Just as the peasants, Kwesi tells the tale of long ago, narrating the struggle for freedom in freedom. Quite ironical right?
   
Hope is dashed under the rug as the pleas of the sons fall through. Their worship is not accepted. With their "hearts full of song" – the unsung melodies – their "lips tremble with sadness". They have songs of freedom written all over their hearts but their lips cannot sing the songs for they are trapped within the walls of freedom. In other words, they see freedom but cannot touch it or access it.
   
In line 18-21, the poet makes it clear that just as the "little firefly vies with the star", so could they contend with the master. Like "the log-fire with the sun", "the water in the calabash with the mighty Volta" so could they the sons – though insignificant compared to their greater sources – contend with the colonial masters and Nkrumah. But, they "come in tattered penury", "begging at the door of a master". They choose to beg instead of contend he who is greater than them. He who is greater than them isn't just the colonialists but their very own who rules them. The chances that Kwesi Brew addresses this poem to the government of Kwame Nkrumah is very high because he uses the word "worship" for their act of reverence to "a master" and not "the" master. Africans often believe in the worship of that which is known and seen.
   
Kwesi Brew addresses this poem indirectly to various issues. Two of the issues being political while the other being religious. In the light of politics, he addresses the struggle for independence and the struggle for freedom even after independence. He also upholds the traditional religion of Ghana by using associative words such as "shrine", "worship". He writes on the unheeded plea of his people to their god. He uses just one stone to kill three birds! Brilliant! A Plea for Mercy is a poem of statement and situation.

Poetic devices
1)Alliteration; "stands silently"(line 5)
"birds brood"(line 7)
"Telling tales" (line 13)

2)Repetition; A repetition of "sons of the land" in line 2 and 14.

3)personification; "shadows crowd" (line 9)
"shadows crowd....Pressing their lips..."(line 9-10). The shadows that crowd are said to have lips.

4)metaphor; "bosom of the sea"(line 16)
"tattered penury" (line 22)

5)Symbolism; "cowherd" symbolises the leader of the indigenous people while the "cows" symbolise the people. The "birds" symbolise the mothers in the land. "Shrine" stands for the institution of the Government. "the dawn" is symbolic for the awaited change.

Tone; the tone of the poem is that of humility and appeal.
Mood; the mood of the poem is that of gloom and disappointment of hope.

Themes
1)The struggle for Independence in Ghana.
2)Bondage amidst freedom
3)The humble plea for freedom
4)The effects of colonial rule
5)Worship as an alternative to war.
6)The indifference of the god; the indifferent of the master
7)The insignificance of citizens to the government.
8)The downfall of hope.


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