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Elegy for a nation

A tribute to the late Prof. Chinua Achebe

By WOLE SOYINKA
AH, Chinua, are you grapevine  wired?
It sings: our nation is not dead, not clinically
Yet. Now this may come as a surprise to you,
It was to me. I thought the form I spied
Beneath the frosted glass of a fifty-carat catafalque
Was the face of our own dear land – ‘own’, ‘dear’,
Voluntary patriotese, you’ll note – we try to please.
An anthem’s sentiment upholds the myth.

Late Prof Chinua Achebe
Late Prof Chinua Achebe

Doctors IMF, World Bank and UNO refuse, it seems,
To issue a certificate of death – if debtors die
May creditors collect? We shall turn Parsees yet,
Lay this hulk in state upon the Tower of Silence,
Let vultures prove what we have seen, but fear to say –
For if Leviathan is dead, we are the maggots
Probing still her monstrous womb – one certainty
That mimics life after death. Is the world fooled?
Is this the price of hubris – to have dared
Sound Renaissance bugles for a continent?

Time was, our gazes roamed the land, godlike,
Pronounced it good, from Lagos to Lake Chad.
The hosts of interlopers would be exorcised,
Not throwing the baby out with the bathwater,
Enthroning ours as ours, bearing names
Lodged in marrow of the dead, attesting lineage.
Consecrated brooms would sweep our earth
Clean of usurpers’ footprints. We marched
To drums of ancient skins, homoeopathic
Beat against the boom of pale-knuckled guns.
We vied with the regal rectitude of Overamwen –
No stranger breath – he swore – shall desecrate
This hour of communion with our gods! We
Died with the women of Aba, they who held
A bridgehead against white levy, armed with pestle,
Sash and spindle, and a potent nudity – eloquent
Abomination in the timeless rites of wrongs.


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