Upon A Time by Gabriel Okara, a Nigerian Poet
Laughed And Laughed And Laughed by Gabriel Okara
problem with and perhaps a need for translations
This is a
photograph of me Margaret Atwood (1966)
Once Upon a Time
By GABRIEL OKARA
a Nigerian Poet
Once upon a time, son,
they used to laugh with their hearts
and laugh with their eyes:
but now they only laugh with their teeth,
while their ice-block-cold eyes
search behind my shadow.
There was a time indeed
they used to shake hands with their hearts:
but that’s gone, son.
Now they shake hands without hearts:
while their left hands search
my empty pockets.
‘Feel at home’! ‘Come
they say, and when I come
again and feel
at home, once, twice,
there will be no thrice –
for then I find doors shut on me.
So I have learned many
I have learned to wear many faces
like dresses – homeface,
officeface, streetface, hostface,
cocktailface, with all their conforming smiles
like a fixed portrait smile.
And I have learned too
to laugh with only my teeth
and shake hands without my heart.
I have also learned to say, ‘Goodbye’,
when I mean ‘Good-riddance’;
to say ‘Glad to meet you’,
without being glad; and to say ‘It’s been
nice talking to you’, after being bored.
But believe me, son.
I want to be what I used to be
when I was like you. I want
to unlearn all these muting things.
Most of all, I want to relearn
how to laugh, for my laugh in the mirror
shows only my teeth like a snake’s bare fangs!
So show me, son,
how to laugh; show me how
I used to laugh and smile
once upon a time when I was like you.
You laughed And Laughed And Laughed
by Gabriel Okara
In your ears my song
is motor car misfiring
stopping with a choking cough;
and you laughed and laughed and laughed.
In your eyes my ante-
natal walk was inhuman, passing
your ‘omnivorous understanding’
and you laughed and laughed and laughed
You laughed at my song,
you laughed at my walk.
Then I danced my magic dance
to the rhythm of talking drums pleading, but
you shut your eyes and laughed and
laughed and laughed
And then I opened my mystic
inside wide like the sky,
instead you entered your
car and laughed and laughed and laughed
You laughed at my dance,
you laughed at my inside.
You laughed and laughed and laughed.
But your laughter was ice-block
laughter and it froze your inside froze
your voice froze your ears
froze your eyes and froze your tongue.
And now it’s my turn to laugh;
but my laughter is not
ice-block laughter. For I
know not cars, know not ice-blocks.
My laughter is the fire
of the eye of the sky, the fire
of the earth, the fire of the air,
the fie of the seas and the
rivers fishes animals trees
and it thawed your inside,
thawed your voice, thawed your
ears, thawed your eyes and
thawed your tongue.
So a meek wonder held
your shadow and you whispered;
And I answered:
‘Because my fathers and I
are owned by the living
warmth of the earth
through our naked feet.’
with and perhaps a need for translations
has tied theoretical reflection to
the linguistic problem that confronts the African novelist in the practice
of writing. In his essay "African Speech ... English Words,"
As a writer who believes in the utilisation of African ideas, African
philosophy and African folk-lore and imagery to the fullest extent possible,
I am of the opinion the only way to use them effectively is to translate
them almost literally from the African language native to the writer into
whatever European language he is using as his medium of expression. I have
endeavoured in my works to keep as close as possible to the vernacular
expressions. For, from a word, a group of words, a sentence and even a name
in any African language, one can glean the social norms, attitudes and
values of a people. In order to capture the vivid images of African speech,
I had to eschew the habit of expressing my thoughts first in English. It was
difficult at first, but I had to learn. I had to study each Ijaw expression
I used and to discover the probable situation in which it was used in order
to bring out the nearest meaning in English. I found it a fascinating
Okara's remarks are clear. If one wants to benefit from
African culture, if one wants to express the African imagination, one cannot
put aside the African language in favor of an academic European language.
Okara has tried systematically to adapt the European
language to the African reality. More than Nazi Boni, he has tried an almost
literal translation of his language into English and the result of this
"fascinating exercise" can be seen in his novel The Voice. One need not
understand Ijo, Okara's native language to
understand that in this novel the mother tongue influences and disrupts the
English language. What Okara has done in this novel
is to let the Ijo tongue speak in the English language, as is evident from
the following passage:
Shuffling feet turned Okolo's head to the door. He saw three men standing
silent, opening not their mouths. "Who are you people be?" Okolo asked. The
people opened not their mouths. "If you are coming-in people be, then come
In the main, The Voice is written in this way. Of course, there are
passages where standard English is written. However, when Okara
makes his characters speak or think, he pushes them to
literally translate their language. Contrary to the example of Nazi Boni,
Okara's writing is a conscious attempt to use the words
and expressions in the way he has chosen to use them. According to Chantal
Zabus, Okara's syntax creates "a counter-value
system which jeopardizes the English logocentric relation between word and
referent, between signifier and signified" (125). In other words, in
attacking and deconstructing the syntax of English through the translation
of Ijo, Okara seeks to free the African text from
its foreign domination.
Source: Kwaku A. Gyasi; 07-15-1999
Writing as Translation: African Literature and the Challenges of
is a photograph of me Margaret Atwood
Surfacing by Mark Tansey
he collection The Circle Game opens with
Is a Photograph of Me,
which describes the landscape surrounding the lake in which the heroine
has recently drowned. In Atwood's wry directions to the viewer lies her
admission of the long and difficult process that surfacing
is to be. First one must realize the need to surface. Identity comes
after that, and full definition much later . . .
Atwood does not dwell on location, physical presence, or details of
place. Her search is instead a piercing interior exploration, driving
through any personal self-consciousness into regions marked by primitive
responses both violent and beautiful.
Critic: Linda W. Wagner
Source: The Art of Margaret Atwood: Essays in Criticism, edited by
Arnold E. Davidson and Cathy N. Davidson, Toronto: House of Anansi
Press, 1981, pp. 81–94.
A novel by Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale, contains a similar theme
of the buried consciousness. The protagonist’s resurfacing hinges on the
possibility of the "other" seeing her. It is as critic Lois Feuer writes, "
. . . a reconstruction of a reconstruction, . . . a rebuilding of a self all
but obliterated by the pain of her experience and the necessity of
forgetting in order to survive. She must create, or recreate, herself after
having been "erased" as a person. When Serena Joy briefly shows her a
photograph of her lost daughter, Offred cannot bear to have been erased from
her child's memory: "I have been obliterated for her. I am only a shadow
now, far back behind the glib shiny surface of this photograph. A shadow of
a shadow, as dead mothers become. You can see it in her eyes. I am not
Feuer, Lois, The calculus of love and nightmare: 'The Handmaid's Tale'
and the dystopian tradition.(Women Writers: Margaret Atwood, A.S. Byatt,
Rosellen Brown, Lee Smith, Wanda Tinasky). Vol. 38, Critique: Studies in
Contemporary Fiction, 01-01-1997, pp 83(13).