As is the case with most literary works of art, Niyi Osundare’s “A Song for Ajegunle” is a work of art which portrays realism. Realism is portrayed through the setting of the poem — that is, a place in Lagos known as Ajegunle. The place setting is reinforced or rather made known through the title of the poem. Aside from the setting which is drawn from real life, realism is also captured in the text through the way the poet vividly describes the happenings in the location. For example, his description of how so many children that should be in school are out of school aptly captures the situation of many a child in Ajegunle. Hence, one can without any iota of doubt say that this poem is, indeed, realistic.
The poem “A Song for Ajegunle” is one which captures the social, economic and political realities of Ajegunle. The poem centres on the poverty-stricken ghetto area known as Ajegunle. It contains the persona’s description of the dirt-infested and government-ignored area in the morning, evening and night. The persona does not mince words as he vividly describes Ajegunle, using a series of figurative expressions to give maximum effect to his description. Because of the indepth knowledge which the poet has of this area as exposed by the simile “curious bird”, this essay will seek to analyse the poem based on how it represents the poet’s feelings and attitude towards the subject matter.
The poet is a well-known romantic who, through his poems, has been able to promote the conservation of nature. Hence, it comes as no surprise that he bemoans the unhealthy situation of Ajegunle. Some of the issues which the poet raises in this poem include: poverty, insecurity, underdevelopment, irresponsible government, and filth etc. These issues are developed through the poet’s choice of words and of course, his use of figurative expressions.
The issue of poverty is central to this poem in that the poet does not mince words as he describes the pathetic situation of the people who live in Ajegunle. He brings this into focus by describing the smoke which comes out of their idle kitchens as pale. The phrase “idle kitchen” is apt because it depicts the lack which is inherent in this place. Niyi Osundare further comments on the issue of poverty by describing how children are unable to go to school and also how many households cannot afford decent meals — that is, the tables are without bread. Through the poet’s cacophonic choice of words such as rumble, manacling, battering etc., his unhappiness at the state of affairs is evident.
Another issue that is on top of the poet’s mind is the issue of underdevelopment. This issue is brought to the fore by Niyi Osundare through the use of contrast. In comparison to Ikoyi, Ajegunle is simply an empty bag that is sprawled. By this, Niyi Osundare, unequivocally, states the backward nature of Ajegunle in comparison to other popular areas of the state. The poet goes on to lament the deplorable housing condition of Ajegunle. To him, the poet, the houses are hovels or slightly better than hovels. He expresses his unhappiness by his repetition of the word “through” in stanza three. The repetition is significant because it serves as a medium which the poet uses to reveal how backward Ajegunle, indeed, is.
Of course, the theme of underdevelopment is related to the theme of bad governance. Niyi Osundare exposes the inability of the government to provide basic amenities for the people in Ajegunle. Niyi Osundare draws light to this by commenting on: the poor state of roads; the poor toilet facilities as exemplified by people’s penchant for defecating in the gutters; lack of good water as seen in the phrase “taps without water”; and of course, not forgetting the apparent lack of electricity which is exposed by Osundare’s nighttime description of the sweaty stupor of people sleeping in crowded mats. Through his use of different imagery such as sight, touch etc., Osundare is able to comment on the issue of bad governance.
Osundare sticks to stereotype in that this poem is in tandem with other poems written by him which talk about the environment. Due to this, it comes as no surprise that Osundare’s description is filled with visual images of filth. These images are further reinforced by the refrain which continually describes Ajegunle as a place that is sprawled. This issue of filth is one is dominant in the stanzas. Firstly, the poet describes the place as weed-infested. He goes on to address the issue of people defecating in gutters and this is unhealthy because it instigates the outbreak of water-borne viruses such as cholera. Osundare further comments on the issue of filth by drawing upon the image of smell. This is made known through the metaphor “the hooded stench of nightsoil” which further reinforces the issue of filth in the poem. Through this issue, Osundare expresses his disdain for the environmental hazards plaguing Ajegunle.
In conclusion, the poet fully utilises the expressive power of literature in this poem because he is able to shed light on several personal and national issues. In fact, this poem may be described as a poem which the poet uses to protest against the rulers of Nigeria; thereby, championing the cause of the masses.
UDE, Chiedozie Orji.
Department of English, University of Lagos.