Background of the poet
John Pepper Clark, an Ijaw of the Delta area of Nigeria, was born in 1935, and was educated in University of Ibadan, Nigeria, where he studied English Literature. He started and edited a poetry magazine, The Horn, while a student, and his early poems appeared in the magazine. He has worked as an editor on a newspaper, conducted research into the Ijaw traditional legend under the Institute of African Studies, Ibadan, and now is a lecturer in African Literature in the University of Lagos.
The Casualties by John Pepper Clark
The casualties are not only those who are dead.
They are well out of it.
The casualties are not only those who are dead.
Though they await burial by installment.
The casualties are not only those who are lost
Persons or property, hard as it is
To grope for a touch that some
May not know is not there.
The casualties are not only those led away by night.
The cell is a cruel place, sometimes a haven.
No where as absolute as the grave.
The casualties are not only those who started
A fire and now cannot put out. Thousands
Are are burning that have no say in the matter.
The casualties are not only those who are escaping.
The shattered shall become prisoners in
A fortress of falling walls
The casualties are many, and a good member as well
Outside the scenes of ravage and wreck;
They are the emissaries of rift,
So smug in smoke-rooms they haunt abroad,
They do not see the funeral piles
At home eating up the forests.
They are wandering minstrels who, beating on
The drums of the human heart, draw the world
Into a dance with rites it does not know.
The drums overwhelm the guns…
Caught in the clash of counter claims and charges
When not in the niche others left,
All casualties of the war.
Because we cannot hear each other speak.
Because eyes have ceased the face from the crowd.
Because whether we know or
Do not the extent of wrongs on all sides,
We are characters now other than before
The war began, the stay-at-home unsettled
By taxes and rumours, the looters for office
And wares, fearful everyday the owners may return.
We are all casualties,
All sagging as are
The cases celebrated for kwashiorkor.
The unforseen camp-follower of not just our war.
Read also: Abiku by John Pepper Clark
Analysis/summary of The Casualties by John Pepper Clark
“The Casualties” is ostensibly a poem which portrayed the image of ravages, tragedy, sorrow, homelessness and death effectuated by the Nigerian Civil War. Since both the infighting factions involved – Biafra and Nigeria – lost their loved ones in the war, they are apparently The Casualties. John Pepper Clark wrote “THE CASUALTIES” specifically “for Chinua Achebe,” reminding the Nigerian novelist, poet, essayist and professor that though his (Chinua Achebe’s) role in the war is to play out as ambassador alongside with Cyprian Ekwensi, Chinua Achebe cannot be counted out among the The Casualties.
Though Chinua Achebe did not bravely and directly match into war with gun like Christopher Okigbo did, but he only principally acted as ambassador, travelling from one country to the other seeking the aid for Biafra actualization; thus for Chinua Achebe whom the poem is written for, he is equally affected and had suffered The Casualties of the Nigerian Civil War.
Line 1 and 2: “The Casualties” by John Pepper Clark is a poem of 43 lines. It is portrayed by J. P. Clark as those who suffered the effect of war, and not simply all those who died in the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 – 1970. In the second line of the poem, John Pepper Clark says that those who died in the war “are well out of it.”
Line 3 – 8: During the war, houses and properties were destroyed and many people, including soldiers and civilians sustained severe degrees of wound. Some of them did not escape death at moment of being taken to the hospitals or healing centers. The relatives of the wounded victims knew that their loved ones, having sustained such a wound in a vital part of the body, may not survive or stay alive for quite a long time, hence the victims “await burial by instalment” as they gradually and painfully died.
Line 9 – 17: The captives of war who were taken into cell, though they suffered miserably in the cell which the poet calls “a cruel place,” but they are actually not only The Casualties. The Casualties does not distinctly and only refer to the faction that started the war, and now that the war has swallowed many lives, they sought to put an end to it but could not. Though they started the war and faced the penalty, their enemies were not logical enough to wisely figure out a way to evade the war but blindly step their feet into the challenged – drawn circle of war and end up loosing loved ones, and for loosing their loved ones, they are also The Casualties. And for those who ran away from their country during the war, seeking protection in another country are highly regarded as The Casualties.
Line 18 – 26: In fact, “The Casualties are many” and even those who did not suffer the effect of the war are casualties. They acted simply as emissaries of the infighting factions, travelling from one country to another seeking for ammunition but were blind to see the people slain in the war.
Line 27 – 37: The Casualties are those who bluntly refused to the peace talk. They do not admit their fault and consequently let peace to reign. The Casualties are those who suffered the stay – at – home caused by the war.
Line 38 – 43: In the last stanza of the poem, the poet says everyone is a casualties as well as himself. The war caused serious concerns of food scarcity. As many could not find food and thus suffer from protein deficiency, their health surrendered to diseases such as kwashiorkor.
Themes in The Casualties by John Pepper Clark
The dominant themes in J. P. Clark’s The Casualties are “War” and the “Victims of War.” These two major themes are the aim of the poem. John Pepper Clark portrays casualties in the war as those victims who died and also those who are still alive but suffered the loss of loved ones.
Diction in The Casualties
The choice of words used by John Pepper Clark is simple, straightforward and easy to understand. The words do not require deep poetic thinking before the reader will have insight of what the poem is about.
John Pepper Clark employs the use of repetition to establish emphasis in the poem. The word “casualties,” for instance, is repeated several times. It occurs in line 1, 2, 5, 9, 12, 15, 18, 31 and 40.
Metaphor occurs in:
Line 20 – “They are emissaries”.
Line 36 – “We are characters”.
Line 40 – “We are all casualties”.