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Spirituality of Christopher OkigboResearch Paper

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¶ … Okigbo's Poetry

d) Early Works:

The spiritual underpinnings that helped to gain Okigbo a popular audience among both locals and Westerners stems from his own innate spirituality -- and that of his family and, perhaps, his tribe. The connection the author felt with his grandfather and the latter's spirituality took on decidedly literary tendencies in college (Fraser 22). Okigbo's origins as a writer stem back to his academic ambitions in which he graduated from college with a focus on Greek and Latin literature. During his tenure in school the young man functioned as Editor-In-Chief of a student run publication, for which he provided translations of Greek and Latin literature. Not surprisingly, some of Okigbo's earliest works published were in another student-led publication "Horn," which operated under the auspices of J.P. Clark (Foundation).

e) Activism

One can argue that at its best poetry is a mechanism for social change, and Okigbo was an activist on three fronts: the political, the creative, and spiritually. Again, it largely appears as though his spiritual connection to words, melodies, and higher forces formed the basis for his activism on all three fronts. For instance, the author's Path of Thunder (published in the final years of his life) illustrates his unwavering political commitment both to his recently decolonized Nigerian homeland and to the fledgling state of Biafara. Such a work perhaps denotes the integration of the aforementioned three fronts, as does the fact that he author rejected the fairly prestigious Langston Hughes award for African Poetry at the Festival of Black African Arts because he disbelieved that poetry can be categorized according to race (Nwosu 70). This small gesture merely hints at the ardor with which he would eventually take up arms for Biafara.

f) Themes and Specifics of Work

It would be impossible to deny the thematic influence of Westernization and European poets on the work of Okigbo (Nwosu 70), nor its influence in gaining him popularity among Westerners for his works of poetry. From a purely aesthetic perspective his poems were frequently typified by rhythmic and even musical impulses and reverberations. Such a statement is particularly true of his later works and those published posthumously. Most every true artist evolves during his or her career; the evolution of Okigbo's work generally goes from "Euromodernist" to "Oral African" (Suhr-Sytsma). While engaged in the former stage of his evolution his classical influences were not above generating poems commemorating W.B. Yeats -- the latter were typified by his commitment to African nationalism.

g) War & Legacy

The war which killed Okigbo and his legacy is intrinsically related to his esteem as a poet -- both locally and within the wider sphere of Westernized circles. After Nigeria was decolonized, the Igbo tribe attempted to assert its own independence as the nation of Bafaria. The author eventually was killed in the ensuing civil war as he attempted to defend his Igbo homeland from what he perceived were foreign invaders from the surrounding other tribes in Nigeria. It is critical to note that the zeal and commitment which caused the diminutive author to take up arms and fight at the forefront of the civil war was certainly demonstrated in the proclivities of some of his more nationalistic poetry, as poetry is a viable medium for such tendencies (Aito 5).

h) Western World

Throughout the Western world Okigbo is widely regarded as the premier African poet of the day -- and certainly so for Nigeria. Again, it is critical to realize that the Western influence in the works of Okigbo likely played no small part in this generalization. Such a statement does not imply that the poet lacked talent, but that it was used in languages (English, Greek and Latin) that were most readily accessible to, and thus revered by, Westerners. Another influence that Okigbo has had on Western society is that his work is indicative of the postcolonial poetry that typifies that produced by Africa, and Nigeria as well. The themes of revolution that are found in his work -- in addition to those that pertain to conventional Westernized subjects -- helped to justify such an opinion of Okigbo's poetry.

g) The Okigbo Foundation

This foundation helps to demonstrate the profound influence that Okigbo and his work have had on Western culture. The foundation is not only dedicated to preserving the legacy of the slain author and that of his work, but is also tasked with continuing an appreciation and patronage of the arts in both Africa and Nigeria so that poetry itself remains a viable form of artistic expression. At the very least Okigbo's work provided such a form of artistic expression, and he is heralded as the purveyor of talent and poetry from a place that was little sought after for these attributes prior to his writing. Thus, the foundation is a non-profit organization registered in Belgium and works to provide a contemporary social relevance to Okigbo, his work, and to that of other artists in the same region in which he lived and died.

3) Example of Poem: The Passage

a) The Meaning

The meaning of Okigbo's poem the passage is multifold. There is not a single, solitary meaning -- although there are certainly recurring images and motifs. Still, the poem is about one's return to water -- a specific body of water the speaker reveres as Mother Idoto. That return is both literal and figurative, as the body of water is imbued with spiritual and cosmologic attributes connoting the beginning of the world, or perhaps the beginning of the universe itself. In this respect the speaker is marking his or her return to his true home -- the water that is the source of all existence itself. Literally that return is to the stream referred to as Idoto; figuratively that water reflects the churning waters of chaos that heralded "the beginning" (Okigbo) of existence.

b) Theme

Thematically, this work is centered on water and its significance within both the life of the speaker and the life of the world. As previously mentioned, the particular body of water the poet visits is emblematic of the initial waters that preceded the world's forming. Interestingly enough, fire is also a theme in this poem since it represents the antipode of water and heralds the dawning of existence as it is currently known. Another thematic issue explored in this poem is conception of motherhood -- Idoto is a mother and the earth it gave birth to is a mother as well.

c) Influence

There are limited Western influences in this work. Most of the influences appear to be those of the Okigbo's native culture and land. The spiritual connotations associated with water exist in Western culture -- yet it appears that the only direct influence to that culture is the speaker's description as "prodigal," which offers connotations of the parable of the prodigal son as well as of the speaker's return to water. However, the spirituality associated with water in this poem -- as well as the totem imagery of the "python" and the "tortoise" (Okigbo), all stems from Okigobo's indigenous culture. Moreover, it also stems from some of his familial culture which pertains to the shamanistic qualities of his grandfather which the author believed he greatly resembled.

d) Conflict

There really is no great conflict in this poem. Nonetheless, were one pressed to identify one, it would be the dichotomy between water and fire, between the wet and its innate darkness, and the light which fire produces. That dichotomy also includes the "rain and sun," said to exist in "single combat" (Okigbo) with one another. The reality is that existence needs both of these elements, water and fire (the latter in the form of sunshine to exist. Thus, such a conflict is resolved daily or nightly, and the one element triumphs only to inexorably yield to the other.

4) Connection to Course Studies

Okigbo is definitely a first generation writer of Nigerian literature who wrote during the epoch surrounding the 1960s and the country's independence from British colonial rule. His work connects with the many different moments mentioned in this article because it functions as a bridge between Western influences and traditional Nigerian influences in literature. The musical and oral quality of the latter is bridged with certain Western literary aesthetics -- which is indicative of Nigerian literature in general (Omoyele 34). Moreover, the poet certainly represented the revolutionary struggle in his works of literature which illustrates his connection to his indigenous culture and its effect on literature. Some pundits have attempted to disavow this influence citing that Okigbo's Western influences were more prevalent, but a read of his more compelling work dispels such a notion.

5) Final Conclusion

a) What I learned

I learned much about Nigerian poetry, Okigbo's poetry, and about poetry in general while researching and writing about this assignment. I learned that a large reason why Okigbo's has been celebrated throughout history as the premier Nigerian (or perhaps even African) poet is because… [END OF PREVIEW]

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