Song by John Pepper Clark poem analysis

Backgroud of the poet

John Pepper Clark was born Kiagbodo in Ijaw, 1935. He was educated at Government College, Ughelli and has an English degree from University College, Ibadan. He was the founding editor of The Horn, Student poetry magazines which played a crucial role in the history of literary development in Nigeria. He worked for a while as a newspaper editor, was a Parvin Fellow at Princeton University in the United State and Research Fellow at the University of Ibadan. He taught at University of Lagos where he became Professor and head of Department. He retired voluntarily in 1980 and set up the first Repertory theatre in the country, PEC Repertory Theatre. He was for ten years editor of the Black Orpheus.

Analysis of the poem song by John Pepper Clark

The poem, “Song” by John Pepper Clark, is an expressed feeling of relationship that exists between the poet and those he calls friends. The poet’s genial mannerism or friendliness towards his friends diminishes chiefly because of the dispute that subsist, presumably days, months or years ago. Presently, the firm chain that bound them together mutually is broken. The poet expresses this in line one of the poem by saying he “can look the sun in the face,” but finds it extremely difficult to look at the face of “the friends that I have lost.” He admits that “I dare not look at any” face of his friends. One may ask: to look at the sun shining in its strength and friends’ face, which is difficult and harmful to the eyes?

The friends that John Pepper Clark is directly referring to are those who, during the Nigeria Civil War, an enmity was created due to different factions, some support Nigeria and others lift their hands in support of Biafra. Some of his friends are writers such as Chinua Achebe. The poem, The Casualties by John Pepper Clark, is apparently an illustration of what Clark is simply hinting at. To Clark, Chinua Achebe who was an ambassador to Biafra, travelling from one country to the other, seeking support for Biafra, is also a casualty victim of the war.

The poet recalls that in years past when he was still genial with his friends, he used to shake hands with them and embrace them: “I have held / Them in my arms” – lines 3 and 4. He “share with them/ The same bath and bed”. They eat “the same dish” together and share many things in common.

These are memories, screamingly thought of the past. The disaster which now separates him and his friends cannot be assumed if it is “made by God or man.”

When but to think of an ill, made

By God or man – line 8 and 9.

The ill, which poetically symbolizes the dispute, does not have a cure from a physician who could have easily prescribe a drug that will abate or suppress the present tension, chaos and disagreement. The prophet who is well know to see and predict the future could not reveal this disastrous phenomenon in order for it to be stopped.

In the last two lines of the poem, 12 and 13 respectively, the poet reiterates his inability to stare at his friends’ face but could do that so easily with the face of the sun.

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