Poetry as Paragon of African Oral Construction. Adeyemi Daramola´s Poem "Coronavirus Pandemic"

Essay, 2020

13 Pages, Grade: 2.5










Poetry continues to provide the place of mirroring the existential reality of the society. The exactitude in this is what animates the architecture of Adeyemi Daramola's "Coronavirus Pandemic." The ruination done by the novel COVID-19 pandemic has taken a geometric trajectory since its outbreak in Wuhan, China. Admittedly, it has shamelessly but viciously become the metaphorical clog in the wheels of our global collective progress. This global issue is gradually serving as a raw material for literature, validating the truth that literature reflects the society. There is no gainsaying that there is a symbiotic relationship between the pair so that what affects one, quite naturally, impinges on the other. Without doubt, the situation has served as a tool in the construction of Adeyemi Daramola's "Coronavirus Pandemic." Daramola, through his poem, lends his voice to the numerous voices that have registered their concern on the influx of the virus and its consequential effect. The poet reaches into the vast repository of oral literature in providing an African interpretation of a Western-named global pandemic experience. He aesthetically weaves traditional nuances into the poem with a polish of sound, while rhythmically and linguistically nativising the piece, touching base with African orality conventions as he attempts to address an existing reality of a globally shared horrifying experience. Given this schema, this paper is bound to the bane of using the analytical tool of orality in appreciating Daramola's artistic craft.

Keywords: Coronavirus Pandemic, COVID-19, African Orature, Oral literature, Adeyemi Daramola, Poetry, African Literature


The Coronavirus pandemic has crippled the world, making a mockery of bilateral treaties and has altogether rendered the globe incapacitated, leaving it in utter destitution. It is registered that as at 5th of April, 2020, more than one million confirmed cases have been recorded globally with no less than sixty-five thousand deaths. The news on the virus seems to be a major headline on every news channel. While scientists in the world had soon accelerated the advance towards procuring a vaccine that can cure the virus, the World Health Organisation (WHO) as well as other professional health organisations has proffered a palliative measure (a lifestyle) that can contain the spread of the pandemic. Today, our world is at a requiem as world leaders seem to be clueless and near helpless as they fight this unconventional war.

Critics are of the unalloyed hunch that the study of poetry is the study of the society that produces it. Plato had long theorised in his The Republic that literature can be largely influenced by society. It is to this that scholars agree that the subject of poetry can originate with situations in the real world. This is not to dismiss the truth that the subject of poetry itself is infinite, that the poet can borrow from the themes of poetry that are derivable from a myriad of sources such as myth, history or his imagination. However, it is strongly believed that the society and its experience still form the bulk of the raw material for the poetic artist. This proves the close relationship between the pair, snowballing into the understanding that poetry and society have provided so much impetus in the belief that what constitutes the fabric of literature remains largely influenced by experiences in the real world.

In the world of poetry, research accords us the knowledge that Nigeria as well as most African countries has practiced a culture of oral tradition. Thus, much of what is identified as Nigerian literature has its root in verbal arts. In his "Oral Literature in Nigeria: A Search for Critical Theory," Mbube Nwi-Akeeri corroborates that "in most cases, especially in Nigeria, oral literature serves as the first contact of the people with issues pertaining literature...Nigerian literature originates from verbal arts" (15). In similar disposition, Bade Ajuwon in his article titled "Oral and Written Literature in Nigeria" witnesses that:

Pre-literate Nigeria once enjoyed a verbal art civilization which, at its high point, was warmly patronized by traditional rulers and the general public. At a period when writing was unknown, the oral medium served the people as a bank for the preservation of their ancient experiences and beliefs. Much of the evidence that related to the past of Nigeria therefore could be found in oral tradition (306; emphasis, mine).

We agree that with the rise of the first generation poets, oral tradition faced an imminent death. However, the second generation poets such as Odia Ofeimun, Niyi Osundare, Remi Raji among others decided to gravitate towards the once primal sympathy of African poetry --- oral tradition. In literature, what appears to accord a fine bearing to the idea of orality may slightly depart from just articulation of sound. Barre Tolken in his Dynamics of Folklore adduces that "[orality] in its narrow definition refers to the love of the traditional societies, but that does not lead us to the conclusion that it is an outmoded subject as the formalists and impressionists may think. Rather this traditional literature is the reflection of people's history, values and identity..."(97). This observation by Tolken collocates with Idiorough's. The latter admits that, "in one sense, oral literature as the integral part of cultural studies refers to the selected body of knowledge or lore shared by the community as the representation of collective image and a conventional mode of human thought characterised by social philosophy and folk wisdom" (37). Of keen interest in this submission is the mention of the idea that oral tradition represents a conventional mode. This mode is what primarily captures the label of the new identity placed on oral tradition. This revealed identity is some sort of a hybrid, as it persuades both the written and the oral modes to lie together and be generative. In blending both the written mode of poetry and the mainstream oral tradition, a new entity of oral culture in poetry was born. Never has it, hitherto, been so cleverly put:

[oral] culture has unlimited boundaries in its performance and offers wider opportunities of interpretation and greater freedom to comment, eulogize and criticize. As cultural and historical document, it powerfully describes natures, events, people's attitude, behaviours and the metaphor of being and becoming... Oral literature is more that just a mechanical reflection of society reality because it is the outcome of the conscious act of people and their wrestling with the environment to make it yield the means of life. The word-image s it embodies depict joys, tensions, conflicts and contradictions the society has experienced in the course of history... [it] is a strategic tool... in [the]... consolidation, socialization and in the boasting of a positive self-image; and in aesthetic terms... (Emmanuel Kehinde, Journal of Multi-disciplinary Academic Research 38).

Through the foregoing, there is a reckoning that the latter version of oral literature of the third generation poets, supersedes and harmonises a complex infrastructure of what was once identified as oral tradition by the pre-literate Nigerian society. Odinje's essay in the Interdisciplinary Journal of African and Asian Studies, informs that "it has also been proved that both the oral and the written forms can exist together in literature as a way of preserving the oral tradition of an existing culture (261). Ezenwa-Ohaeto takes the argument further by introducing the term 'poetics of orality' to define the literary tradition of Nigerian oral poetry. He states that "the new forms and techniques decipherable in contemporary Nigerian poetry are part of the poetics of orality which is hinged on the acceptance of the view that there is the employment of the poetics of orality, the principles of traditional aesthetics and rhetorical devices of the role model in written poetry" (18). Evidently, Ezenwa-Ohaeto here has attempted to crystallise the nexus between traditional as it applies to oral literature and modernism which points towards contemporary poetry writing style. Ifeoma Odinye ties this knot well by noting that "Orality is based on the creative principles that govern the form of contemporary Nigerian poetry"(2). The question our discussion so far must be triggering is none other but “what actually constitutes oral tradition in poetry?” The answer here can be hoisted from Chinweizu et al's subject on Towards the Decolonization of African Literature. The critics firmly declare that "there is evidence in the oral traditions of effective use of narrative poetry, parables, paradoxes, myths, legends, proverbs, poetry of tenderness, chants, songs of praise, songs that celebrate absences and other varied aspects of life" (259-60). To add fine bearing to the argument, Bamikunle in Research in African Literature asserts that the differentiating factor between the 'old' and 'new' poets is that the new generation of Nigerian poets have moved relatively closer to African tradition in their use of "imagery...form and prosody" (51). In all of these, Odinye reasons that these traditional techniques of orature are features that would help explore relevant issues and subject matter of our contemporary society.

The immediate poetic-expression of the artistic creation illuminates the ravaging inferno of COVID-19 and the general maladies ignited by its products. With this as a major coordinating theme and subject of artistic concern, Daramola shows how the world's economy is bound to the bane of deprivation, destitution and a plethora of near-hellish experience that can only be best imagined as present during the outbreak of a conventional war. The nine-stanza lyrical poem takes the reader through a series of progressive appalling pictures of successive damage meted against man's habitation --- earth. However, in achieving all these, Daramola is able to demonstrate creativity in nativising the event so that it does not just appeal to the native African reader who is not eschewed from the social damage but also so the reader can relate perfectly with the interesting architectural construction of oral flavours. The attempt by Daramola, in concrete layout, marks his position as a priest that stands in gap to accomplish the marriage of two indissoluble entities --- society and poetry. Needless to say that the poetic artist employs the nuptial ring (oral construction) which in this case becomes the conduit that perfectly binds this indissolube duo. This maps out the uniqueness in this piece; rather than suffering from the hangover of Western approach in poetic construction, the poem is able to stand tall in borrowing from a sustained appropriation of oral tradition. Thus, in detailing an alternative poetry craftsmanship, Daramola seems to feel the nudge to index an African expression to a Western named global pandemic. To, once again, quote Chinweizu et al, is to maintain that:

African literature is an autonomous entity separate and apart from all other literatures. It has its own traditions, models and norms. Its consistency is separate and radically different from that of the European and other literatures

And its historical and cultural imperatives impose upon it concerns and constraints quite different, altogether antithetical to the European (Towards the decolonization of African Literature 4).

The above calls to attention that African poetry is equally valid and does not play second fiddle to the European poetic style. This validation stems from an understanding that "[P]oetry in Africa is...currently enjoying an unprecedented creative outburst and popularity" (4) because it does not slavishly imitate Western creations, but rather it enamours itself in "some aesthetic strength hitherto unrealized in written form" (Tanure Ojaide, "New Trends in Modern African Poetry" 4).


Ostensibly, the verbal power of Daramola's "Coronavirus Pandemic" is fortified by the flavour of musical essence which has ties with the Yoruba orature. It is, perhaps, through the musical inclusion that the reader first immediately identifies a deviation towards such traditional rendition. The lyricism seems to emphasise Yoruba language cum musical rhythm. In the second stanza, the poem reads, "ko ko ko...//...ko ko ko vi vi vi." It can be noticed here that this interspersing chorus which introduces other chorus to come seems to deviate from European/English alphabetical identification procured for the virus. Daramola attempts to suggest an alternative marker that will fulfill two purposes --- the purpose of identifying with the Yoruba phonological production and the implication of the novel virus. Even as he contrives to harmonise the two, the pulse of rhythm still reigns supreme. Through this, the poet comes close to its oral tradition. Digging deep into the lyrical formulae is to note that the choice of syllable by Daramola is quite intentional. The poet is aware that 'co' which should have been employed in the chorus by merit is alien to the Yoruba phonological process/realisation. Hence, the alternative register 'ko' which is home to the Yoruba linguistic ideal, yet orally/verbally agreeable with the Western phonology is employed. The refrain as in the chorus' first and second line does not suggest only the emphasis of the poetic intention but also creates such candence of musicality. Quite intentional, the poet attempts to create a musical pattern which animates and knits creatively the entire poem. The appropriation of this style, even going by the obvious truncated deviation of the other choruses from the initial, proves that Daramola attempts to identify with the preliterate and stronghold of African traditional oral practices. Again, it can be reasoned that the omission of certain parts of the chorus is deliberate. Daramola, I reason, uses the first chorus to introduce the lyricality of the poem, but as he progresses, he, perhaps, feels the repetition of chorus might nip the flavour that he envisage would be realised in an elliptical fashion. Furthermore, I reason the poem can only gain poetic performance richness when the speaker and the chorus character are in sync with musical symphony. For instance, if the speaker picks up the first stanza, the chorus, intersperse but much to the model of songs in folklore, folktales, oral poems, etc., it is only architecturally correct to limit the full rendition of the chorus as introduced at the beginning of the poem to create a balance between call and response expression. The poet’s antiphonal formula is not novel to the African orature, in fact, it is a fundamental part of what constitutes this oral practice.

Equally important here is the consistency of words in the major stanzas. The regularity of words/lines such as:

Like the crown upon the shadow of Death Headache, sneeze, cough, fever, weakness and death The symbolism of this also gives fine bearing to the musical import. Imbibing this also keeps promise with the rhythm of vibrancy. The effect that this leaves the listener appeals to the auditory sense of the listener as well as the cognitive-emotional being. The continuum of the colourful and vibrantly released form of song here functions as the taskmaster that spellbinds the recipient to embrace what is lyrically embedded in the poem.

The avoidance of the full structure of chorus as seen in the second stanza also suggests to the reader a conscious act by the poet to dismiss what either does not agree with the Yoruba orature or the complexities in English pronunciation that might eclipse the Yoruba oral realisation. Therefore "vi vi vi Corona Pandemic" is deleted after the initial introduction to, perhaps, give way for the primary intention to find its voice and also thrive.

In the end, it is observed that the subject matter of the poem invokes fear and unwholesome imagery but the musical twist which gains its richness from the Yoruba oral tradition offsets this and relaxes the anxiety of the reader and the tensed mood that comes by the havoc of the pandemic.


Language is key in the production of poetry. It is the vehicle with which we use in communicating our idea. As much as it is important to the world of poetry, it is also vital to human existence. Language suggests an identity, it helps in the organisation or classification of what belongs and does not belong to what should make up a category of a body of work. The poem is written in English but there is a heavy evidence of its nativisation. Daramola follows the league of the Soyinkean, Osundarean and even the Rajiean artistic production by sentimentalising the significance of the Yoruba linguistic ethos. In the construction of the poem, he dismisses the impasse that comes with imitating or romanticising the English language. If not, the alluring orality the poem had come to be known for will never be realised. In an attempt to follow the order of other poems that functions in the oral oeuvre, Daramola does not alienate his audience; rather, he provides a socially-inclusive atmosphere. The intended point here is to say that the poem is symbolically grounded on economic happening which miraculously resonates the symbolism of collective global interest but as much, mediated by its continuous use of traditional codes which sets it in fraternal acceptance among the largest ethnic group in Africa, the Yorubas, and by extension, Africa itself. Every mood, move and mill spell out a language that does not conform to European rationale but that which only acts as a medium to relate a wide range of culturally construed phenomenon, so that the lyrical poem does not face its imminent death with the burden of European language complexities. Wole Soyinka echoes this by pontificating in The Fourth Stage: Myth, Literature and the African World that:

Language there is not a barrier to the profound universality of music but a cohesive dimension and clarification of that wilfully independent art-form which we label music. Language reverts in religious rites to its pristine existence, eschewing the sterile limits of particularization... and words are taken back to their roots, to their original poetic sources when fusion was total and the movement of words was the very passage of music and the dance of images. Language is still the embryo of thought and music where myth is daily companion... (147).


Excerpt out of 13 pages


Poetry as Paragon of African Oral Construction. Adeyemi Daramola´s Poem "Coronavirus Pandemic"
University of Lagos
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adeyemi, poem, paragon, pandemic, oral, daramola´s, coronavirus, construction, african, poetry
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Nnadube Ejiogu (Author), 2020, Poetry as Paragon of African Oral Construction. Adeyemi Daramola´s Poem "Coronavirus Pandemic", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/540527


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