The Complete Analysis of the poem WaterMaid" by Christopher Okigbo

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 Title of the poem

The title "Water Maid" suggests a central theme related to a female figure associated with water. In Christopher Okigbo's poem, this Water Maid is vividly described as being adorned with the brilliance of a lioness and enveloped in white light. The imagery continues with her being escorted by waves, crowned with moonlight, and eventually descending into the depths.

The poem seems to explore the transient nature of her presence, likening it to the fleeting illumination of a match in the wind. The watermaid becomes a symbol of beauty and mystery, with her descent into the waves carrying a sense of inevitability and perhaps loss.

The reference to "the ears of the secret" at the end adds an enigmatic layer, suggesting hidden knowledge or revelations associated with the Water Maid and the elements she embodies. The title, therefore, encapsulates the essence of the poem, emphasizing the enchanting and elusive qualities of this water-associated female figure.

Themes of the poem

The poem "Water Maid" by Christopher Okigbo encompasses several themes:

1. **Transience and Ephemeral Beauty:**
   The poem conveys a sense of fleeting beauty, emphasizing the brief presence of the Water Maid. Images like a match-flare in the wind and the sinking gold crop evoke a transitory nature, highlighting the ephemeral quality of her existence.

2. **Natural Imagery:**
   The poem is rich in natural imagery, portraying the Water Maid with elements such as the armpit dazzle of a lioness, waves, moonlight, and the sinking gold crop. These images connect the human experience with nature, emphasizing the interplay between the elements and the character.

3. **Mystery and Enigma:**
   The poem carries an air of mystery and enigma, especially in the closing lines that mention "the ears of the secret." This suggests hidden knowledge or deeper meanings associated with the Water Maid, adding an element of intrigue and ambiguity to the poem.

4. **Symbolism of Water:**
   Water serves as a central symbol, with the Water Maid being described as the "Watermaid of the salt emptiness." Water often symbolizes emotions, depth, and the subconscious. The poem explores the symbolic significance of water in connection with the elusive nature of the female figure.

5. **Lyrical Beauty:**
   The language used in the poem contributes to a lyrical beauty. The descriptions of the Water Maid, the waves, and the overall atmosphere create a poetic and evocative tone, enhancing the aesthetic appeal of the verses.

6. **Cultural and Mythical Elements:**
   The reference to a lioness, moonlight, and the Water Maid herself may carry cultural and mythical undertones, connecting the poem to broader themes or narratives present in the poet's cultural background.

Overall, "Water Maid" weaves together these themes to create a multi-layered exploration of beauty, transience, nature, and mystery. The richness of imagery and symbolism invites readers to interpret and appreciate the poem from various perspectives.

Tone and Mood of the poem

The tone of "Water Maid" by Christopher Okigbo can be described as contemplative, mysterious, and elegiac. The poet reflects on the fleeting nature of the Water Maid's presence and uses vivid imagery to convey a sense of beauty tinged with impermanence. The choice of words and the overall mood evoke a contemplative atmosphere, prompting readers to reflect on the deeper meanings embedded in the poem.

The mood of the poem is imbued with a mix of awe and melancholy. The descriptions of the Water Maid's brilliance, the escorting waves, and the moonlight create a sense of wonder and admiration. However, this is counterbalanced by the recognition of the brevity of her presence, symbolized by the match-flare in the wind and the sinking gold crop. This juxtaposition of beauty and transience contributes to a mood that is both enchanting and tinged with a sense of loss.

Overall, the tone and mood work together to convey a complex emotional landscape, inviting readers to engage with the themes of the poem and experience a blend of admiration, introspection, and a subtle undercurrent of melancholy.

Imagery of the poem

"Water Maid" by Christopher Okigbo is rich in vivid imagery that creates a sensory and evocative experience for the reader. Here are some key elements of imagery in the poem:

1. **Luminosity and Brilliance:**
   The poet uses imagery associated with brightness, describing the Water Maid as "Bright" and possessing the "armpit dazzle of a lioness." This creates a visual image of radiant beauty.

2. **White Light and Moonlight:**
   The Water Maid is depicted as "wearing white light about her" and being "crowned with moonlight." These images evoke a sense of purity, ethereality, and a celestial quality.

3. **Waves and Water Imagery:**
   The waves play a significant role in the poem, escorting the Water Maid. The poem describes her as the "Watermaid of the salt emptiness," connecting her to the fluid and ever-changing nature of water.

4. **Transience and Brevity:**
   The poem utilizes imagery to convey the fleeting nature of the Water Maid's presence. The comparison of her presence to a "match-flare in wind’s breath" and the sinking "gold crop" paints a picture of brief and delicate beauty.

5. **Nature and Elemental Imagery:**
   Natural elements such as wind, mirrors, and the sinking gold crop contribute to the overall imagery. These elements are woven together to create a sensory and elemental atmosphere in the poem.

6. **Enigmatic and Mystical Images:**
   The closing lines introduce an enigmatic image with "grown are the ears of the secret." This mysterious imagery adds depth to the overall atmosphere, inviting interpretation and contemplation.

7. **Cultural and Mythical References:**
   The mention of a lioness, often associated with strength and majesty, adds a cultural and mythical layer to the imagery, enhancing the symbolic depth of the poem.

Through these vivid and varied images, Okigbo crafts a poetic landscape that engages the reader's imagination and emotions, inviting them to explore the themes of transience, beauty, and mystery.

Symbolism of the poem

"Water Maid" by Christopher Okigbo incorporates several symbols that contribute to the poem's depth and meaning:

1. **Water:**
   - *Symbolism:* Water symbolizes emotions, the subconscious, and the depth of human experience. The Water Maid's association with water suggests a connection to profound feelings and the mysterious aspects of life.

2. **Moonlight:**
   - *Symbolism:* Moonlight often symbolizes beauty, tranquility, and the ephemeral nature of life. The Water Maid being "crowned with moonlight" adds a celestial and ethereal quality to her character.

3. **Lioness:**
   - *Symbolism:* The image of the lioness conveys strength, majesty, and wild beauty. The poet's description of the Water Maid having the "armpit dazzle of a lioness" adds a regal and powerful dimension to her presence.

4. **Match-flare in Wind’s Breath:**
   - *Symbolism:* The briefness of the Water Maid's presence is likened to a match-flare in the wind. This symbolizes the fleeting nature of beauty and experiences, emphasizing their transience.

5. **Mirrors:**
   - *Symbolism:* The briefness of the Water Maid's presence is highlighted with the image of mirrors around the speaker. Mirrors often symbolize self-reflection, and in this context, they may represent the poet's introspection on the fleeting nature of beauty.

6. **Gold Crop Sinking Ungathered:**
   - *Symbolism:* The sinking gold crop serves as a poignant image, symbolizing unrealized potential or beauty that goes unnoticed or unappreciated. It adds a sense of melancholy to the poem.

7. **Ears of the Secret:**
   - *Symbolism:* The phrase "grown are the ears of the secret" introduces an enigmatic element, suggesting hidden knowledge or revelations. It adds a layer of mystery and invites interpretation about deeper, concealed meanings.

8. **White Light:**
   - *Symbolism:* The Water Maid "wearing white light about her" suggests purity and divine presence. White is often associated with innocence and spiritual elements, enhancing the mystical quality of the character.

The interplay of these symbols weaves a complex tapestry of meaning in the poem, inviting readers to explore themes of beauty, transience, mystery, and the deeper currents of human experience.

Metaphors and similes

"Water Maid" by Christopher Okigbo incorporates several metaphors and similes to enhance its imagery and convey deeper meanings. Here are some examples:

1. **"armpit dazzle of a lioness":**
   - *Metaphor:* Compares the brilliance of the Water Maid to the dazzling light associated with a lioness. This metaphor adds a sense of regality and majestic beauty to the description.

2. **"match-flare in wind’s breath":**
   - *Metaphor:* Describes the briefness of the Water Maid's presence by likening it to the fleeting light of a match-flare in the wind. This metaphor emphasizes the transitory nature of her beauty.

3. **"Watermaid of the salt emptiness":**
   - *Metaphor:* Describes the Water Maid as a "Watermaid of the salt emptiness," using water as a metaphor for the emotional depth and vastness of human experience.

1. **"wearing white light about her":**
   - *Simile:* Compares the Water Maid to someone "wearing white light," using the simile to evoke an image of purity and radiance surrounding her.

2. **"so brief with mirrors around me":**
   - *Simile:* Describes the brevity of the Water Maid's presence by using the simile "so brief with mirrors around me," suggesting a reflection on the fleeting nature of beauty.

3. **"crowned with moonlight":**
   - *Simile:* Compares the Water Maid to being "crowned with moonlight," creating an image of her as a celestial and ethereal figure.

4. **"match-flare in wind’s breath":**
   - *Simile:* Compares the brevity of the Water Maid's presence to a "match-flare in wind’s breath," using the simile to emphasize the ephemeral nature of the experience.

These metaphors and similes contribute to the poem's richness, creating a vivid and imaginative portrayal of the Water Maid and enhancing the overall depth and emotional resonance of the verses.

Language and diction

The language and diction in "Water Maid" by Christopher Okigbo are notable for their poetic and evocative qualities. Here are some features:

1. **Rich Imagery:**
   - The language is imbued with vivid and sensory imagery, painting a detailed picture of the Water Maid, the waves, and the surroundings. Phrases like "armpit dazzle of a lioness," "white light about her," and "crowned with moonlight" contribute to the poem's aesthetic appeal.

2. **Symbolic Language:**
   - The poet employs symbolic language to convey deeper meanings. Water, moonlight, mirrors, and the sinking gold crop serve as symbols that enrich the poem with layers of interpretation.

3. **Elevated and Lyrical Tone:**
   - The language carries an elevated and lyrical tone, enhancing the poem's emotional impact. The choice of words and the rhythmic flow contribute to a sense of beauty and contemplation.

4. **Enigmatic Phrases:**
   - Okigbo uses enigmatic phrases such as "grown are the ears of the secret," adding a layer of mystery and inviting readers to delve into the hidden meanings within the poem.

5. **Economy of Words:**
   - The poet often conveys profound ideas with a concise use of language. This economy of words adds to the poem's intensity and allows readers to extract deeper significance from each line.

6. **Cultural and Mythical References:**
   - The inclusion of phrases like "armpit dazzle of a lioness" and the mention of a "Watermaid of the salt emptiness" reflects a cultural and possibly mythical dimension, incorporating specific references that contribute to the uniqueness of the language.

7. **Metaphorical Language:**
   - Metaphors, such as the comparison of the Water Maid's presence to a "match-flare in wind’s breath," add layers of meaning and contribute to the overall metaphorical richness of the poem.

8. **Poetic Devices:**
   - The use of poetic devices, including alliteration, assonance, and consonance, enhances the musicality of the language. These devices contribute to the poem's rhythmic flow and create a pleasing auditory experience.

In summary, the language and diction in "Water Maid" are carefully crafted to evoke emotion, convey intricate imagery, and explore profound themes through a combination of symbolic, metaphorical, and culturally resonant language.

Structure of the poem

The structure of "Water Maid" by Christopher Okigbo contributes to the overall impact of the poem. Here are key aspects of its structure:

1. **Stanzas:**
   - The poem is divided into stanzas of varying lengths. The use of stanzas allows for a rhythmic and visually organized presentation of the verses. The shifts between stanzas may indicate shifts in tone, theme, or imagery.

2. **Free Verse:**
   - "Water Maid" is written in free verse, lacking a strict rhyme scheme or meter. This form of poetry allows for flexibility in expression and a more natural flow of language. The absence of a predetermined structure contributes to the poem's organic and contemplative feel.

3. **Enjambment:**
   - The poem features enjambment, where lines continue without a pause into the next line. This technique enhances the fluidity of the poem, connecting ideas and images seamlessly. Enjambment is particularly fitting for a poem centered around water imagery.

4. **Imagistic Structure:**
   - The poem follows an imagistic structure, focusing on rich and detailed imagery to convey its themes. Each stanza builds upon the visual and sensory elements, creating a tapestry of images that contribute to the overall meaning of the poem.

5. **Narrative Flow:**
   - While the poem doesn't follow a strict narrative structure, there is a discernible flow of ideas and images. The progression from the initial description of the Water Maid's brilliance to the imagery of her descent into the waves contributes to a cohesive exploration of themes.

6. **Punctuation:**
   - The punctuation is used judiciously to guide the reader's pace and emphasize certain phrases. Commas, colons, and ellipses contribute to the overall rhythm and tone of the poem.

7. **Concluding Lines:**
   - The poem concludes with a mysterious and enigmatic statement, "Watermaid of the salt emptiness, grown are the ears of the secret." The placement of this line at the end adds to the overall sense of mystery and invites contemplation.

In summary, the structure of "Water Maid" combines free verse, enjambment, and an imagistic approach to create a poem that flows organically, utilizing vivid imagery and carefully chosen language to explore themes of transience, beauty, and mystery.

Sound and rhythm

"Water Maid" by Christopher Okigbo exhibits a distinct sound and rhythm that contribute to the poem's overall musicality and emotive resonance:

1. **Rhythm:**
   - The poem has a rhythmic flow, aided by the use of enjambment. The lines often continue into the next without a pause, creating a smooth and flowing cadence. This rhythm mirrors the fluidity of water, which is a prominent theme in the poem.

2. **Repetition:**
   - While not overtly repetitive, there are instances of repeated sounds and structures, contributing to a sense of rhythm. For example, the repetition of "my lioness" and the recurrence of the "brief" in "so brief" and "brief with mirrors" add a rhythmic pattern.

3. **Assonance and Consonance:**
   - Okigbo employs assonance (repetition of vowel sounds) and consonance (repetition of consonant sounds) to enhance the musical quality of the poem. For instance, the repetition of the "s" sound in "armpit dazzle of a lioness" contributes to the poem's auditory appeal.

4. **Alliteration:**
   - Alliteration, or the repetition of initial consonant sounds, is present in phrases like "match-flare in wind’s breath," adding a sense of cohesion and rhythm to the lines.

5. **Imagery and Sound:**
   - The choice of words and the vivid imagery contribute to the auditory experience. Phrases like "crowned with moonlight" evoke not only visual but also auditory sensations, creating a multisensory effect.

6. **Pacing:**
   - The punctuation and line breaks contribute to the pacing of the poem. Commas and colons guide the reader, and the enjambment creates a sense of continuous movement, mirroring the flowing and transient nature of water.

7. **Mellifluous Language:**
   - The poet uses mellifluous language, employing words with a harmonious and melodious quality. This choice of language enhances the overall musicality of the poem.

8. **Cadence:**
   - The poem has a distinct cadence, created through the interplay of rhythm, sound devices, and the thematic imagery. The cadence contributes to the emotional and contemplative atmosphere of the poem.

In summary, "Water Maid" achieves a harmonious blend of sound and rhythm, using various poetic devices to create an auditory experience that complements the poem's themes and imagery.


The syntax in "Water Maid" by Christopher Okigbo is characterized by a combination of straightforward and complex sentence structures, contributing to the poem's overall style and meaning:

1. **Parallel Structure:**
   - The poet employs parallel structures, repeating certain phrases or sentence patterns to create a rhythmic and cohesive effect. For example, the repetition of "my lioness" and the use of parallelism in the description of the Water Maid's attire ("wearing white light about her") contribute to the poem's structure.

2. **Ellipses and Fragmentation:**
   - Okigbo uses ellipses and fragmented sentences, creating pauses and adding a sense of contemplation or anticipation. For instance, the ellipsis in "So brief her presence – match-flare in wind’s breath – so brief with mirrors around me" adds to the poem's reflective tone.

3. **Inversion:**
   - There are instances of inversion, where the usual word order is reversed for poetic effect. An example is "Downward…the waves distil her," which deviates from a typical sentence structure and emphasizes the downward motion.

4. **Complex Sentences:**
   - The poem features complex sentences that convey intricate ideas and images. These sentences often contain multiple clauses, allowing for a nuanced exploration of the themes. The complexity mirrors the depth of the emotions and concepts being conveyed.

5. **Descriptive Language Placement:**
   - Descriptive language is strategically placed within sentences to emphasize certain qualities. For instance, "Bright with the armpit dazzle of a lioness" positions vivid imagery at the beginning of a sentence, capturing immediate attention and setting the tone for the description of the Water Maid.

6. **Use of Commas and Colons:**
   - Commas and colons are utilized effectively to structure the flow of ideas and guide the reader. Commas create pauses, and colons introduce elaborations or explanations, contributing to the overall pacing and coherence of the poem.

7. **Enjambment:**
   - Enjambment is a prominent syntactic feature, with lines flowing into each other without a pause. This technique contributes to the smooth and continuous rhythm of the poem, reflecting the fluidity of the water imagery.

In summary, the syntax in "Water Maid" is carefully crafted to enhance the poem's musicality, rhythm, and thematic depth. The poet's use of various syntactic structures adds layers of meaning and contributes to the overall artistic expression of the work.


"Water Maid" was written by Christopher Okigbo, a Nigerian poet, during a period of significant cultural and political change in Africa. Okigbo, born in 1932, was active in the 1960s, a time marked by the decolonization of African nations and the quest for independence. Nigeria gained its independence from British rule in 1960, and Okigbo's works reflect the complexities and challenges of this era.

Some contextual elements for "Water Maid" include:

1. **Cultural and Mythical Influences:**
   - Okigbo's poetry often draws on the rich cultural and mythical traditions of Igbo society in Nigeria. In "Water Maid," references to a lioness, moonlight, and watermaid may carry cultural and symbolic significance rooted in Igbo folklore and beliefs.

2. **Postcolonial Period:**
   - The poem emerges in the postcolonial context, reflecting the aftermath of colonial rule in Africa. Okigbo's poetry engages with themes of identity, tradition, and the impact of Western influences on African societies.

3. **Biafran War:**
   - The Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970), also known as the Biafran War, occurred during Okigbo's lifetime. He actively participated in the conflict on the side of the secessionist state of Biafra. The war deeply influenced his later works, and his poetry, including "Water Maid," is often interpreted in the context of the war's trauma and its impact on the collective consciousness.

4. **Modernist Influences:**
   - Okigbo was influenced by modernist poetic traditions. His poetry often exhibits experimental language, rich imagery, and a complexity of themes. "Water Maid" showcases these modernist influences through its use of enigmatic language, vivid imagery, and a non-traditional structure.

5. **Personal and Political Engagement:**
   - Okigbo was not only a poet but also politically engaged. His involvement in the Biafran War reflects a commitment to social and political causes. The themes in "Water Maid" may be interpreted against the backdrop of his personal and political experiences during this turbulent period in Nigerian history.

Understanding the historical and cultural context of Okigbo's works provides a deeper appreciation of the themes and nuances in "Water Maid." The poem can be seen as a reflection of the poet's engagement with the complex issues of identity, tradition, and the impact of historical events on the African continent.

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