The Complete Analysis of the poem Civilian and Soldier" by Wole Soyinka.

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 Title of the poem 

The poem "Civilian and Soldier" by Wole Soyinka explores the stark contrast between the perspectives of a civilian and a soldier during a time of conflict. The title reflects the central theme of the poem, highlighting the distinction between these two roles and the profound impact of war on their understanding of life and death. The poet delves into the psychological and existential aspects of war, questioning the purpose and comprehension of the conflict from both perspectives.

Themes of the poem

The poem "Civilian and Soldier" by Wole Soyinka encompasses several themes:

1. **War and Conflict:** The central theme revolves around the experience of war and the contrasting viewpoints of a civilian and a soldier. It explores the impact of conflict on individuals and their perceptions of life and death.

2. **Identity and Perspective:** The poem delves into the identity crisis faced by the speaker, who declares himself a civilian, emphasizing the disparity in perspective between those actively engaged in war and those on the sidelines.

3. **Existential Reflection:** The poem raises existential questions about the meaning of life and death, especially in the context of war. The speaker contemplates the nature of their existence and the significance of the conflict they find themselves in.

4. **Fear and Confusion:** There is an exploration of fear and confusion in the face of death and war. The civilian's declaration intensifies fear, and the soldier's training adds to the confusion, highlighting the psychological impact of war.

5. **Moral Dilemma:** The poem introduces a moral dilemma when the speaker envisions a future encounter with the soldier. The decision to shoot or spare the soldier becomes a symbolic representation of moral choices and the consequences of war.

6. **Dehumanization:** The imagery in the poem, such as "lead festival" and "scorch earth," reflects the dehumanizing aspects of war. It portrays the destructive nature of conflict and its impact on both the physical and psychological well-being of individuals.

These themes collectively contribute to the rich and complex exploration of the human experience in the context of war and conflict.

Tone and Mood of the poem

The tone of "Civilian and Soldier" by Wole Soyinka is reflective, contemplative, and carries a sense of irony. The speaker reflects on the complexities of war, their own identity, and the implications of the conflict. There's an underlying seriousness and gravity in the tone as the poem explores profound themes.

The mood of the poem shifts, encompassing moments of tension, fear, and introspection. Initially, there's a sense of unease as the civilian's declaration seems to aggravate fear. The mood becomes more somber as the speaker contemplates the soldier's perspective and the consequences of war. Towards the end, there's a hint of anticipation and resolution as the speaker envisions a future encounter, adding a layer of complexity to the overall mood.

Imagery of the poem

The poem "Civilian and Soldier" by Wole Soyinka is rich in vivid imagery, using powerful language to convey the experiences and emotions of war. Here are some instances of imagery in the poem:

1. **"My apparition rose from the fall of lead":** This line creates an image of a ghostly figure emerging from the chaos and violence of war, emphasizing the lethal nature of the conflict.

2. **"lead festival of your more eager friends":** The phrase "lead festival" vividly depicts the intensity of gunfire and the destructive nature of the weapons used in war, painting a grim picture of the battlefield.

3. **"Scorch earth behind you":** This imagery suggests a military strategy of leaving nothing behind, destroying everything in the path of the army. It conveys the idea of a ruthless and thorough approach to warfare.

4. **"death Twitched me gently in the eye":** The personification of death, described as twitching gently in the eye, creates a haunting and visceral image, capturing the intimate and inevitable connection between life and death in war.

5. **"Signalling, I am a soldier":** This image of a soldier signaling their identity in a trench evokes a sense of impending confrontation and raises questions about the roles and responsibilities of those involved in the conflict.

6. **"With meat and bread, a gourd of wine / A bunch of breasts from either arm":** This vivid imagery at the end of the poem symbolizes sustenance and life. It contrasts with the earlier images of death and conflict, highlighting the speaker's hope for a future free from war.

These images collectively contribute to the emotional and thematic depth of the poem, allowing readers to visualize the impact of war on individuals and their surroundings.

Symbolism of the poem

"Civilian and Soldier" by Wole Soyinka incorporates various symbols that add layers of meaning to the poem:

1. **Lead:** The use of lead as a material for bullets and the phrase "fall of lead" symbolizes the deadly and destructive nature of war. It becomes a central symbol for the violence and mortality associated with armed conflict.

2. **Apparition:** The apparition rising from the fall of lead symbolizes the lingering presence of death and the ghostly, haunting impact war has on those who survive. It serves as a metaphor for the psychological scars left by conflict.

3. **Quarrel not of this world:** The declaration that the quarrel is not of this world suggests a broader, perhaps ideological or abstract, nature of the conflict. It symbolizes the detachment of war from the ordinary concerns and realities of everyday life.

4. **Scorch earth:** The command to "scorch earth behind you" is a symbol of the scorched-earth military strategy, where everything is destroyed or rendered unusable as a tactical move. It represents the brutal and ruthless nature of warfare.

5. **Gun as a Symbol:** The gun becomes a powerful symbol of both fear and authority. When brought to bear on the speaker, it symbolizes the imminent threat of death and the destructive force controlled by the soldier.

6. **Meat, Bread, Wine, and Breasts:** In the speaker's vision of a future encounter, these elements symbolize life, sustenance, and nourishment. They contrast with the earlier symbols associated with death and conflict, suggesting a desire for a more peaceful and nurturing existence.

7. **Neutral Ground:** The idea of leaving no "dubious neutral to the rear" symbolizes the elimination of any potential threats or uncertainties. It reflects the strategic and aggressive mindset of the soldier in the poem.

These symbols contribute to the overall depth of the poem, allowing readers to interpret the work on different levels, from the visceral experience of war to the psychological and existential challenges faced by individuals caught in its grip.

Metaphors and similes

"Civilian and Soldier" by Wole Soyinka employs metaphors and similes to convey its themes and emotions. Here are some examples:

1. **Metaphor: "My apparition rose from the fall of lead"**
   - This metaphorical expression represents the emergence of the speaker from the deadly consequences of war, suggesting a ghostly or otherworldly presence shaped by the violence of conflict.

2. **Simile: "And oh I heard the lesson / Of your training sessions, cautioning –"**
   - The comparison using "like" or "as" is not explicitly present, but the mention of the training sessions serves as a simile, likening the cautioning to a lesson. It implies that the soldier's training is akin to a lesson that leaves an impression on the speaker.

3. **Metaphor: "Scorch earth behind you"**
   - The metaphorical use of "scorch earth" symbolizes a military strategy where everything behind the advancing forces is destroyed. It conveys the idea of leaving nothing usable for the enemy, emphasizing the destructive nature of war.

4. **Simile: "burrowing earth / From the lead festival of your more eager friends"**
   - The comparison here uses "like" indirectly. The action of burrowing earth is likened to the lead festival, creating a vivid image of the speaker trying to find cover amid the intense gunfire, emphasizing the chaos of war.

5. **Metaphor: "And death / Twitched me gently in the eye"**
   - This metaphor personifies death, describing it as if it were a living entity twitching in the eye. It adds a haunting and intimate quality to the experience of facing mortality.

6. **Simile: "Intent upon my trade of living, to be checked / In stride by your apparition in a trench"**
   - The comparison here suggests that encountering the soldier in a trench would be like an interruption or obstacle in the speaker's journey of living. It conveys the unexpected disruption caused by the soldier's presence.

These literary devices contribute to the poem's richness and help convey the complex emotions, experiences, and ideas related to war and its impact on individuals.

Language and diction

The language and diction in "Civilian and Soldier" by Wole Soyinka play a crucial role in conveying the themes and emotions of the poem. Here are some aspects of the language and diction:

1. **Formal and Elevated Language:**
   - The poem employs a formal and elevated language, contributing to its serious and reflective tone. This choice of language adds a sense of gravity to the exploration of war and its consequences.

2. **Precise and Evocative Diction:**
   - The poet uses precise and evocative diction to paint vivid images and convey intense emotions. Phrases like "lead festival," "scorch earth," and "death twitched me gently in the eye" create a visceral impact, capturing the brutality and personal experience of war.

3. **Military Terminology:**
   - The inclusion of military terminology, such as "lead," "scorch earth," and "training sessions," enhances the authenticity of the poem's setting. It immerses the reader in the world of conflict and contributes to the thematic exploration of war.

4. **Symbolic Language:**
   - The poet employs symbolic language to convey deeper meanings. Words like "apparition," "neutral," and "quarrel not of this world" carry symbolic weight, adding layers of interpretation to the poem.

5. **Contrasting Language:**
   - The poem contrasts language associated with death, conflict, and fear with language symbolizing life and sustenance. This stark contrast enhances the thematic exploration of war's impact on individuals and their perspectives.

6. **Irony:**
   - There is an ironic use of language, especially in the declaration "I 'm a civilian." Instead of reassuring, it aggravates fear, highlighting the irony in the civilian's attempt to distance themselves from the conflict.

7. **Conciseness:**
   - The language is concise, with each line delivering a significant impact. This conciseness contributes to the intensity of the poem and allows for a deep exploration of complex themes within a relatively short space.

The combination of formal language, vivid imagery, and symbolic elements creates a powerful poetic language that effectively communicates the profound reflections on war, identity, and the human experience in "Civilian and Soldier."

Structure of the poem

The structure of "Civilian and Soldier" by Wole Soyinka contributes to the overall impact of the poem. Here are some aspects of its structure:

1. **Stanzas:**
   - The poem is divided into stanzas, with each stanza containing a set of lines. The use of stanzas helps organize the thoughts and allows for a rhythmic flow in the presentation of ideas.

2. **Enjambment:**
   - The poem features enjambment, where lines flow into each other without a pause at the end. This technique creates a sense of continuity and propels the reader forward, emphasizing the interconnectedness of the speaker's reflections.

3. **Free Verse:**
   - "Civilian and Soldier" is written in free verse, lacking a strict rhyme or meter. This form gives the poet flexibility in expression and allows for a natural flow of language, contributing to the conversational and contemplative tone.

4. **Repetition:**
   - There is repetition of the word "lead" in the line "My apparition rose from the fall of lead," emphasizing the significance of the material and its connection to the theme of war and death.

5. **Shifts in Tone and Perspective:**
   - The poem exhibits shifts in tone and perspective, moving from the speaker's apparition rising to reflections on the soldier's training sessions. These shifts contribute to the complexity of the poem and add layers to its meaning.

6. **Narrative Flow:**
   - The poem follows a narrative flow, with the speaker recounting experiences and thoughts in a chronological manner. This structure allows for a progression of ideas and emotions.

7. **Closure and Resolution:**
   - The poem concludes with a vision of a future encounter between the civilian and the soldier. This resolution provides a sense of closure and leaves the reader with a contemplative image, adding depth to the overall structure.

The combination of these structural elements helps shape the poem into a cohesive and impactful expression of the themes of war, identity, and the human experience. The free verse form, in particular, allows for a nuanced exploration of complex emotions and ideas.

Sound and rhythm

"Civilian and Soldier" by Wole Soyinka utilizes various sound and rhythmic elements to enhance its poetic expression:

1. **Alliteration:**
   - The poem incorporates alliteration, such as in the phrase "lead festival." The repetition of the "l" sound creates a rhythmic quality and adds emphasis to the harsh and destructive nature of war.

2. **Assonance:**
   - There are instances of assonance, like in the line "cautioning –." The repetition of the "o" sound contributes to the musicality of the poem and adds a sense of caution or warning.

3. **Consonance:**
   - Consonance is present in phrases like "neutral to the rear." The repetition of the "r" sound creates a subtle harmony within the words and contributes to the overall auditory experience.

4. **Rhythm:**
   - The poem lacks a regular meter due to its free verse form. However, there is an underlying rhythmic flow created by the choice of words and the natural cadence of the language. This rhythmic quality enhances the conversational and contemplative tone.

5. **Repetition:**
   - The repetition of certain words and phrases, such as "lead" and "apparition," creates a rhythmic pattern and emphasizes key themes and images throughout the poem.

6. **Caesura:**
   - The poem contains caesurae, or pauses within lines, which contribute to the pacing and rhythm. For example, in the line "Scorch earth behind you, do not leave," the comma creates a brief pause, allowing the reader to absorb the command and its significance.

7. **Imagery and Sound:**
   - The use of vivid imagery, such as "lead festival" and "death twitched me gently in the eye," not only evokes strong mental images but also contributes to the auditory experience by creating a resonance of sound and emotion.

The combination of these sound and rhythmic elements enhances the poetic quality of "Civilian and Soldier," making it an engaging and immersive exploration of war, identity, and the human condition. The absence of a strict rhyme scheme or meter allows for a more natural and flexible expression of the poet's ideas.


The syntax in "Civilian and Soldier" by Wole Soyinka plays a significant role in shaping the poem's meaning and conveying the complexities of war and identity. Here are some aspects of the syntax:

1. **Inversion:**
   - The poem occasionally employs inversion, altering the usual word order for emphasis or poetic effect. For example, "My apparition rose from the fall of lead" has a reversed structure that draws attention to the apparition's origin in the midst of conflict.

2. **Parallelism:**
   - Parallel structures are used for rhetorical effect, contributing to a sense of balance and rhythm. For instance, "And I thought also: nor is / Your quarrel of this world" establishes a parallel structure that emphasizes the speaker's reflection on the nature of the conflict.

3. **Ellipsis:**
   - The use of ellipsis, the omission of words, creates pauses and invites readers to fill in the gaps. For example, "You stood still / For both eternities" leaves room for interpretation, emphasizing the enduring nature of the soldier's stance.

4. **Fragmentation:**
   - The poem features fragmented syntax at times, mirroring the fragmented nature of the speaker's thoughts and experiences. It contributes to the overall contemplative and introspective mood.

5. **Enjambment:**
   - Enjambment, the continuation of a sentence without a pause beyond the end of a line, is present throughout the poem. This technique enhances the fluidity of the narrative and emphasizes the connectedness of ideas.

6. **Punctuation:**
   - The strategic use of punctuation, such as dashes and commas, helps control the pacing and adds nuance to the phrasing. For example, "Scorch earth behind you, do not leave / A dubious neutral to the rear" uses punctuation to guide the reader through the command and its rationale.

7. **Interrogative Sentences:**
   - The poem includes interrogative sentences, inviting contemplation and engagement. For instance, "do you friend, even now, know / What it is all about?" prompts the reader to reflect on the overarching meaning of the conflict.

The syntax in "Civilian and Soldier" serves as a dynamic tool, contributing to the overall structure, rhythm, and thematic depth of the poem. It reflects the internal struggles and complex reflections of the speaker as they grapple with the impact of war on identity and understanding.


"Civilian and Soldier" was written by Wole Soyinka, a Nigerian playwright, poet, and essayist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986. The poem is part of his broader body of work, which often addresses political and social issues, particularly in the context of Nigeria and Africa.

Given that Soyinka has been actively involved in political and social activism, his works often carry a strong sense of social commentary. Nigeria, in particular, has a history marked by political turmoil, including the Nigerian Civil War (1967–1970). This war, also known as the Biafran War, is likely to have influenced Soyinka's perspective on conflict and its impact on individuals.

In "Civilian and Soldier," the themes of war, identity, and the psychological toll of conflict align with Soyinka's broader concerns. The poem delves into the internal and existential struggles faced by individuals caught in the midst of war, exploring the complexities of being a civilian in the face of military conflict.

Understanding Soyinka's background and the historical context of Nigeria provides a deeper layer of interpretation for the poem. It allows readers to consider the broader societal implications and the poet's personal engagement with the themes presented in "Civilian and Soldier."

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