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Poetry: Easy Ways to Understanding It

Poetry

Over the years, I have observed that appreciating poetry is one of the most effective ways to sharpen my intellect. Poetry also expands the bounds of my imagination and creativity. There are a few genres of writing that can enhance my imagination and creative genius, like reading and appreciating poetry.

In this piece, I will not drown you in scientific theories about the structures and functions of the human brain. There are numerous articles from experts in neuroscience to educate you on such.  And I strongly suggest that you take some time to study such articles, because understanding your brain will enable you deploy it better. But here, I’m taking you along with me straight into the meat of the matter – practical appreciation of poetry and how it makes me tick.

 

THE THINGS I LEARNED FROM “FINALE,” A POEM BY EMMAN USMAN SHEHU

In this maiden edition, I welcome you on board as I retrospect on the poem “Finale.” It is the number 9 poem from the graceful collection of poetry titled The River Never Returns by Emman Usman Shehu.

The poem reads:

                        As it catches the first sun rays

                        Sunday devotedly shuffles the pack,

 

                        Reaches for the solemnity card

                        But as the sundial rotates

 

                       Succumbs to the ruling spirit

                       which wants to have its way,

 

                       and plays the conviviality set

                       In spurts of inspiration

                       from the previous day

                      For a fitful weekend finale.

 

At first reading, the poem appeared simple and yet it didn’t make much sense. If you have read any poem of Shehu’s, you’d know his emblem – simplicity and playfulness, even. But by the time you take a second read, a third read and maybe a fourth read, you see the pearls and diamonds in his well-crafted words. However, let me pause with my commentary here, so that I will show, and not tell.

The first thing I did was to clear the mist that made the poem appear vague to me. I took stock of the unfamiliar words and look them up in a dictionary. I checked up the meaning of the word “sundial” which appears in line two of the second stanza of the poem. I also checked up the word “conviviality” (this I needed to understand it in context), which appears in the first line of the fourth stanza.

Note that I didn’t just check the meaning of those words, but I studied all the various meanings and the contexts in which those words can be used. So, by reading this poem, I have learned two new words and the various ways that I can use them to express myself or create imageries in my works.

Now, let’s see the meaning of those words and analyze how they, amongst so many others, helped the poet in telling his story through such powerful imageries and deeply layered reflection on life, history and Christianity.

According to the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, sundial “is a device used outside, especially in the past, which comprises a thin piece of metal fixed to a flat surface printed with numbers. It shows the time by the metal, making a dark line on the surface as the sun moves across the sky.” Now, as a student of history, I didn’t just stop at looking up the meaning of “sundial,” since the definition says “especially in the past.”

I remember my grandfather once told me that before the advent of clocks in their villages, they used to observe the movement of the sun to tell the time of day. This spiked my curiosity, and I did a quick Google search which landed me in Britannica online, where I learned sundial is one of the earliest devices used in telling the time of day. Sundial dates back to about 300 BC and this study also gave me some insights into the ingenuity of ancient Africans. I learned that “the earliest known sundial still preserved is an Egyptian shadow clock of green schist.” It dates back to, at least, 8th century BCE, according to Encyclopedia Britanica. So, if you’re like me, you might have wondered whether civilization truly began in Africa, or if ancient Africans had made any significant contributions to arts and science leading to these modern technologies across the globe. To me, this is something to think about, because this can change our mindset as Africans.

I also browsed for the images of sundial and I saw how the designs of modern day clocks and wristwatches are being built on the geniuses of those people who had founded this ancient time-keeping device.

All these and more I learned because of a single word, which was initially unfamiliar, “sundial.” Isn’t poetry a beautiful thing?

The second word I had to look up the meaning was familiar, but I wanted to understand it in the poem’s context. Thinking up the meaning of words in context or meditating on them activates and expands my imagination. It makes me travel to unfamiliar territories in my mind. And I know that the more I meditate on such things, the sharper and deeper my mind gets.

“Conviviality,” according to the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, means “friendly and making you feel happy and welcome.” Okay, what does this do? It brings the whole poem home together in my mind – the reflection I mentioned earlier about life, history and Christianity.

From the third to the ninth poem in The River Never Returns, Shehu captivates his readers, leading them on an exciting journey through the 7 days of the week. You would wonder what days of the week have got to do with poetry, but not after reading the very first one, “Headlong.” I just took liberty to start off this series with the seventh or first day of the week – Sunday, titled “Finale” in the collection.

I should remind you that appreciating poetry, or any work of arts, is rather subjective. You’re at liberty to react differently from the way I do. My intention here is to share with you how poetry widens my horizon, sharpens my mind, improves my imagination, and teaches me creativity and so much more. It’s also my intention to let you know that you too can also enjoy poetry and learn a lot from it as well.

The first stanza in “Finale” reads:

                                                     As it catches the first sun rays

                                                    Sunday devotedly shuffles the pack,

This brings to my mind a picture of Sunday morning when Christians all over the world go to their various places of worship. Sunday is personified as it shuffles the pack. This creates imagery of people of the same faith, but now broken into several denominations or doctrines. In Nigeria we have: Catholic church, ECWA church, Living Faith church, Dunamis church and others.

Stanza 2 leads us into the attitude of the faithful:

                                                                          Reaches for the solemnity card

How many of us put on some holy faces or attitudes, especially in church, but sometimes with some level of disconnect from our attitude in other places? While the poem seems to attack our hypocrisy, it seems to sympathize with our struggle as we journey into the perfection of holiness. And this is where my favorite imagery in the poem appears as it runs into stanza 3:

But as the sundial rotates,

 

           Succumbs to the ruling spirit

           which wants to have its way,

Shehu doesn’t say that our solemnity passes or fails after a day or two, or even hours. He brings the picture of this ancient time-keeping device and used it to paint how dramatic our holy attitudes are. We put on holy attitudes in church or around the church premises, but that soon give way to our human frailty with the passage time. Our attitudes around the church are quite different from that which we exhibit elsewhere.

Stanza 4:

   and plays the conviviality set

              In spurts of inspiration

This adds to how unreliable this seeming conditional attitude can be. The word “spurts” brings to my mind an image of something coming out with sudden force, but not lasting long enough. Following the word “convivial,” I see the beams, the smiles and laughter that you experience when you meet people around the church – most people are super friendly and nice. However, at the same time, I see in this imagery, the aggression or unwholesome attitude or expressions you get from these same people in different places such as at their offices or in the market.

I remember a time that our pastor preached a powerful message about patience and consideration for other people, but after that same service, a church member, out of impatience to drive back home, almost knocked off a passer-by as the person wanted to cross the road.

The last stanza which reads:

                       from the previous day

                      For a fitful weekend finale.

Further expands the imageries of inconsistency already established by the preceding stanzas. Shehu rounds off the poem with a deliberate word, “finale” which evokes the emotional quality of the poem. The word “finale” sings the sound of finality on my mind and yet in that context conveys a deeper meaning beyond just bringing the poem to conclusion – it shows excitement. That particular word seems double-barrel to me – while painting the picture of Sunday as being the last day or the beginning of another week, it attributes the inconsistent attitudes and, or characters of the people to the weekend finale – the day of the week which is usually pregnant with emotions.

These are so much for me to learn from a five-stanza poem of two short lines each. I learned a bit about astronomy and history. It improved my research skill; it made me think of the place of Africans on the global stage and it made me reexamine my life – is my attitude in church and elsewhere consistent?

Please read the poem and share your thoughts on the comment section below.

Until next time when I come with another one. Thank you for reading.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Posted in Articles, Poetry

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1 Comment

  1. Jeffrey Pope

    Your breakdown and step by step analysis of the peom ‘Finale’ just makes me appreciate art even more. You couldn’t have said it better. Well done!

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