Watermaid by Christopher Okigbo poem analysis

Background of the poet

 Christopher Okigbo is apparently one of the Nigeria’s greatest poets. Born in 1932 in Ojoto, Eastern Nigeria, Okigbo studied Classics at the University College. He had written several poems including The Star Have Departed, Newcormer, Watermaid, Love Apart and For He Was a Shrub Among The Poplars.

Watermaid by Christopher Okigbo


with the armpit-dazzle of a lioness, 

she answers,

wearing white light about her;

and the waves escort her, 

my lioness, 

crowned with moonlight.

So brief her presence- 

match-flare in wind’s breath- 

so brief with mirrors around me.


the waves distil her: 

gold crop sinking ungathered.

Watermaid of the salt emptiness, 

grown are the ears of the secret.

Watermaid by Christopher Okigbo is a romantic or love poem in which the poet is deeply and emotionally enthralled by the irresistible beauty of a lady. By Watermaid, Christopher Okigbo refers distinctly and directly also to mermaid or mammy water. In African traditional setting, it is a myth that mammy water are the most beautiful sea creatures. In spite of mermaid’s enchanting appearance, they are known to possess supernatural power beyond human imagination. This is clearly illustrated in a poem, Idoto by Christopher Okigbo.

In Watermaid, Okigbo compares the beauty of a lady he sees to mammy water. He renders successfully the patent description of the lady’s beauty by proffering a lucid image throughout the poem.

This is vividly seen in the first line of the poem in which the lady is being described as “Bright.” The image of bright or something bright appeals to the sense of visual. It simply denotes categorically that the lady is fair in complexion.

Her skin radiates brilliantly and beautifully, attracting the poet to stand in awe and gaze wordlessly; and momentarily another thing arrests his attention emotionally: it is the lady’s armpit. The poet portray the armpit of the lady in line 2 of the as “armpit – dazzle of a lioness.”


with the armpit – dazzle of lioness

In stanza 2, the poet observes that there is something significantly noticeable about the lady. It is, of course, apparently the lady’s appearance. Her beauty coupled with her bright skin screamingly marks her out among other ladies, therefore making her appearance not just only noticeable but like a “white light about her.”

Having stood speechlessly as he studies by sight everything including the movement of the lady, the poet comes to conclusive examination of the lady that even “the waves escort her.” Symbolically, the word “waves” used in the third stanza of the poem connotes fragrance of the lady’s perfume. This fragrance “escorts her” wherever the lady goes and the poet, though far from the lady, could easily perceive it instantaneously.

Perfection is what can be appropriately used to define the lady. The poet avers that the beauty of the lady is similar to the light of the moon which does hurt the eyes as the sun does when one looks up at it steadily for a long time – “crowned with moonlight.”

Stanza four and others disclose the lamentation of the poet. His desire to stand and gaze more and more of the lady’s beauty is abruptly truncated as the lady keeps walking and gradually vanishes from the sight of the poet. The poet, so emotionally whisked away by the beauty of the lady, describes his encounter with the lady as a “wind’s breath.” By wind’s breath, the poet means the appearance of the lady is equated with a person simply breathing in and out; that is, their meeting is short. He desires an elongated gaze at the lady.

The impact of the poet’s encounter with the lady is that it drenches him into reflecting or thinking about the lady. The image of the lady, according to the poet, is like “mirror around me.”

So brief her presence –

match-flare in wind’s breath-

so brief with mirrors around me.

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