The Complete Analysis of the poem Elegy to Alto (with drum accompaniment) by Christopher Okigbo.

Also Read

 Title of the poem

The title "Elegy to Alto (with drum accompaniment)" suggests that the poem, written by Christopher Okigbo, is a lament or mournful poem dedicated to someone or something called "Alto." The inclusion of "drum accompaniment" implies a rhythmic and perhaps ceremonial or ritualistic aspect to the elegy, indicating a connection to traditional African cultural elements. The poem itself appears to weave themes of political turmoil, societal upheaval, and the cyclical nature of power, using vivid imagery and symbolism.

Themes of the poem

The poem explores several interrelated themes:

1. **Political Turmoil:** The references to politicians, eagles, and robbers suggest a commentary on political power and corruption. The eagles and robbers may symbolize different political forces, portraying the cyclic nature of political upheavals and the impact on society.

2. **War and Conflict:** Images of bayonets, cannons, howitzers, and detonators evoke a sense of war and conflict. The poem reflects on the destructive consequences of political actions and the toll they take on individuals and communities.

3. **Cyclical Nature of Power:** The repetition of the eagles and robbers descending symbolizes the cyclical nature of power struggles. Political forces rise and fall, impacting the lives of the people caught in the midst of these power shifts.

4. **Loss and Struggle:** The poem speaks to the loss of laughter, thunder, and concubines, emphasizing the personal and societal losses experienced during times of political turbulence. The struggles faced by individuals are portrayed against the backdrop of larger political events.

5. **Yearning for Freedom:** The plea to "unbind" and the desire for the speaker's last testament may reflect a yearning for freedom and a release from the constraints imposed by political forces. The reference to the ram's prayer suggests a desire for liberation.

6. **Cultural and Mythical Elements:** The poem incorporates cultural and mythical elements, such as the mention of the Earth as a mother and references to a hidden wish, a sword, and a scabbard. These elements contribute to the rich tapestry of the poem's imagery.

7. **Temporal Reflections:** The poem contemplates time and existence, with mentions of sirened afternoons, motorcades, voices, days, and crumbling towers. It reflects on the transient nature of human endeavors against the backdrop of enduring societal and natural elements.

Overall, the themes in the poem coalesce to create a complex and layered exploration of political, societal, and existential dimensions.

Tone and Mood of the poem

**Tone:** The tone of the poem is elegiac, reflecting a mournful and lamenting attitude. There's a sense of sorrow and despair as the speaker observes political turmoil, societal decay, and the cyclical nature of power struggles. The repeated references to loss, war, and the plea for release contribute to a tone that is reflective and somber.

**Mood:** The mood of the poem is melancholic and contemplative. The vivid imagery of descending eagles, hidden steps of robbers, and the plea to "unbind" creates an atmosphere of sadness and introspection. The use of symbolic elements, coupled with the rhythmic drum accompaniment, adds a layer of ritualistic or ceremonial mood, emphasizing the gravity of the themes explored in the poem. Overall, there's a pervasive sense of mourning and reflection throughout the verses.

Imagery of the poem

The poem is rich in vivid imagery, using evocative language to paint a detailed picture of its themes. Here are some key images:

1. **Eagles Descending:** The recurring image of eagles descending symbolizes political forces or upheavals. It conveys a sense of power, authority, and sometimes aggression.

2. **Robbers in Black Sudden Steps:** The robbers, portrayed in black sudden steps, evoke an image of stealth and nefarious actions. This could represent corruption, exploitation, or destructive forces within society.

3. **Politicians in Giant Hidden Steps:** The politicians moving in giant hidden steps, described with howitzers and detonators, create an image of powerful and calculated political maneuvers. It suggests a level of secrecy and manipulation in political actions.

4. **The Horn Pawing the Air:** The horn pawing the air howling goodbye adds an auditory dimension to the imagery, conveying a sense of farewell or impending doom.

5. **Iron Dance of Mortars and Generators:** The iron dance of mortars and generators creates a visual and auditory contrast, blending elements of warfare with the hum of technological power.

6. **Old Star Departing and New Star Approaching:** These celestial images symbolize the passage of time and the cyclical nature of events. The departing star suggests an ending, while the approaching star foreshadows new beginnings.

7. **Shadows in the Horizon:** The shadows in the horizon contribute to a sense of foreboding, hinting at the arrival of ominous events or challenges.

8. **Earth as Mother:** The recurring reference to Earth as a mother adds a maternal and nurturing image, contrasting with the turmoil described in the political and societal spheres.

9. **Ram's Hidden Wish to the Sword:** This image combines elements of nature and conflict, suggesting a desire for strength and liberation in the face of adversity.

10. **Gazing Heavenward:** The act of gazing heavenward for a new star creates a visual of people looking towards the future with hope or anticipation.

These vivid images contribute to the overall impact of the poem, allowing readers to engage with its themes on both intellectual and emotional levels.

Symbolism of the poem

The poem is rich in symbolism, using various elements to convey deeper meanings beyond their literal representation. Here are some symbolic elements in the poem:

1. **Eagles:** Symbolize political power, authority, and perhaps predatory forces. The repeated descent of eagles suggests the cyclical nature of political upheavals.

2. **Robbers:** Represent corruption, exploitation, or disruptive elements within society. The use of black sudden steps adds a clandestine and ominous quality to their symbolic meaning.

3. **Politicians:** Symbolize those in power, often making calculated and hidden moves. The references to howitzers and detonators suggest the use of political machinery and manipulation.

4. **Horn Pawing the Air:** Represents a call to attention or a warning. The howling goodbye conveys a sense of farewell or impending danger.

5. **Earth as Mother:** Symbolizes nurturing and the source of life. The plea to unbind from the Earth may represent a desire for freedom from societal constraints.

6. **Ram's Hidden Wish to the Sword:** Combines natural and martial imagery, symbolizing a desire for strength, protection, or liberation in the face of challenges.

7. **Old and New Stars:** Represent the passage of time, cycles of existence, and the inevitability of change. The departing old star and the approaching new star suggest transitions and new beginnings.

8. **Iron Dance of Mortars and Generators:** Symbolizes the intertwining of warfare and technological progress. It may reflect the destructive impact of modernization on society.

9. **Shadows in the Horizon:** Symbolize looming threats or challenges on the horizon. The use of shadows adds a sense of ambiguity and foreboding.

10. **Gazing Heavenward:** Represents a search for hope, guidance, or a better future. Looking toward the heavens suggests a quest for meaning or transcendence.

11. **Dream Smoldering in a Cave:** Symbolizes unfulfilled aspirations or potential, hidden or suppressed by external forces.

Overall, these symbols contribute to the complex tapestry of the poem, allowing readers to interpret its themes in a nuanced and multi-layered way.

Metaphors and similes

The poem employs metaphors and similes to enhance its imagery and convey complex ideas. Here are some examples:

1. **"And the horn may now paw the air howling goodbye":** The horn is metaphorically described as "pawing the air," creating an image of a mournful and powerful farewell, emphasizing the emotional impact.

2. **"Shadows in the horizon":** The use of shadows as a metaphor for impending challenges or threats on the horizon adds a layer of mystery and foreboding.

3. **"The Eagles rain down on us":** The metaphor of eagles raining down suggests a forceful and overwhelming descent of political power, possibly with negative consequences for the people.

4. **"The Eagles have chosen their game, Taken our concubines":** The metaphor of eagles choosing their game and taking concubines symbolizes the predatory nature of political power and its impact on personal lives.

5. **"Politicians are here in this iron dance of mortars, of generators":** The iron dance is a metaphor for the orchestrated and often destructive actions of politicians, blending elements of warfare with technological progress.

6. **"O mother mother Earth, unbind me; let this be my last testament; let this be The ram's hidden wish to the sword the sword's secret prayer to the scabbard":** The plea to Earth, the hidden wish of the ram, and the secret prayer of the sword to the scabbard are metaphorical expressions conveying a desire for liberation, strength, and protection.

7. **"Beyond the blare of sirened afternoons, beyond the motorcades; Beyond the voices and days, the echoing highways; beyond the latescence Of our dissonant airs; through our curtained eyeballs, through our shuttered sleep, Onto our forgotten selves, onto our broken images; beyond the barricades Commandments and edicts, beyond the iron tables, beyond the elephant's Legendary patience, beyond his inviolable bronze bust; beyond our crumbling towers":** The series of "beyond" expressions creates a metaphorical journey, suggesting a transcendent perspective that goes beyond the immediate, mundane, and oppressive aspects of life.

These metaphors and similes contribute to the depth and complexity of the poem, inviting readers to explore its meanings beyond the literal narrative.

Language and diction

The language and diction in Christopher Okigbo's poem "Elegy to Alto (with drum accompaniment)" are rich, evocative, and laden with symbolic imagery. Some notable aspects of the language and diction include:

1. **Imagery and Symbolism:** The poet uses vivid and powerful imagery to convey complex themes. Words like "eagles," "robbers," "politicians," and "horn" are laden with symbolic significance, contributing to the overall depth of the poem.

2. **Rhythmic and Ritualistic Language:** The mention of "drum accompaniment" and phrases like "iron dance of mortars" contribute to a rhythmic and almost ritualistic quality. This rhythmic language, along with the drum accompaniment, may evoke traditional African cultural elements, enhancing the cultural resonance of the poem.

3. **Contrast in Diction:** The poem employs a deliberate contrast in diction. For example, juxtaposing "eagles" with "robbers," or "iron dance" with "hidden steps," creates a stark linguistic contrast that mirrors the thematic tensions within the poem.

4. **Metaphorical Language:** Metaphors, such as "shadows in the horizon" and "ram's hidden wish to the sword," are used to convey abstract ideas and emotions, adding depth to the poem.

5. **Alliteration and Assonance:** The poet uses alliteration (repetition of consonant sounds) and assonance (repetition of vowel sounds) to enhance the musicality of the poem. For instance, in "shadows in the horizon," the repeated "s" sound creates a flowing and rhythmic quality.

6. **Poetic Devices:** The poem employs various poetic devices, such as repetition ("beyond"), parallelism ("beyond the blare of sirened afternoons, beyond the motorcades"), and enjambment (continuation of a sentence without a pause beyond the end of a line).

7. **Formal and Elevated Language:** The language used in the poem is formal and elevated, contributing to the elegiac tone. The formality of language enhances the gravity of the themes explored.

8. **Cultural References:** The use of terms like "mother Earth" and the imagery evoking African landscapes and traditions embeds the poem in a specific cultural context, enriching its linguistic and thematic texture.

Overall, Okigbo's language and diction contribute significantly to the poem's impact, creating a work that is both intellectually engaging and emotionally resonant.

Structure of the poem

The structure of Christopher Okigbo's poem "Elegy to Alto (with drum accompaniment)" is characterized by its free verse style and a division into stanzas. Here's an analysis of its structure:

1. **Stanzas:** The poem is divided into several stanzas of varying lengths. The stanzas range from a single line to several lines, contributing to the irregular and organic flow of the poem. This lack of strict stanzaic structure aligns with the free verse style.

2. **Enjambment:** Okigbo frequently uses enjambment, where a sentence or phrase flows from one line to the next without a pause. This technique creates a sense of continuity and fluidity, enhancing the rhythmic quality of the poem.

3. **Repetition:** The poet employs repetition for emphasis and rhythmic effect. For example, the repetition of the phrase "beyond" creates a thematic thread that ties together various images and ideas, contributing to the overall structure.

4. **Rhythm and Meter:** While the poem is predominantly free verse, there is an inherent rhythmic quality, accentuated by the mention of "drum accompaniment" in the title. The rhythmic elements contribute to a sense of ritual and ceremony.

5. **Shifts in Tone and Imagery:** The poem exhibits shifts in tone and imagery, moving from the mournful and foreboding to the contemplative and transcendent. These shifts contribute to the overall structure, creating a dynamic and evolving emotional landscape.

6. **Cohesive Themes:** Despite the lack of a strict formal structure, the poem maintains cohesion through recurring themes, symbols, and motifs. The repeated references to eagles, robbers, politicians, and the plea to "unbind" contribute to the thematic unity.

7. **Cultural Elements:** The inclusion of cultural and mythical references contributes to the poem's structure by grounding it in a specific cultural context. This adds layers of meaning and enriches the overall structure.

In summary, the structure of the poem is characterized by its free verse form, the use of enjambment, repetition, and a thematic coherence that ties together the diverse images and ideas presented in the verses. The organic and dynamic structure enhances the poem's expressive and contemplative nature.

Sound and rhythm

The poem "Elegy to Alto (with drum accompaniment)" by Christopher Okigbo incorporates sound and rhythm to create a vivid and evocative reading experience. Here are some aspects of sound and rhythm in the poem:

1. **Drum Accompaniment:** The title itself suggests the presence of a drum accompaniment, indicating a rhythmic and musical quality to the poem. This drumbeat, whether literal or metaphorical, contributes to the overall sonic texture of the verses.

2. **Alliteration and Assonance:** The poem features instances of alliteration (repetition of consonant sounds) and assonance (repetition of vowel sounds), adding a musical quality. For example, in "Shadows in the horizon," the repeated "sh" sound creates a flowing and rhythmic effect.

3. **Repetition:** The repetition of certain phrases and words, such as "beyond," not only contributes to the thematic unity but also enhances the rhythmic structure of the poem. Repetition can create a hypnotic or incantatory effect, drawing attention to key ideas.

4. **Enjambment:** The use of enjambment, where sentences or phrases continue from one line to the next without a pause, contributes to a smooth and continuous flow. This technique enhances the rhythmic quality of the poem, allowing ideas to unfold seamlessly.

5. **Variation in Line Lengths:** The poem exhibits variation in line lengths, contributing to a dynamic rhythm. Short lines may create a sense of urgency or emphasis, while longer lines provide space for contemplation. This variation contributes to the overall musicality of the poem.

6. **Imagery and Sound:** The poet uses language that engages the senses, creating a multisensory experience. The choice of words and their sounds adds to the auditory dimension of the poem, enhancing the reader's engagement.

7. **Cultural and Ritualistic Sounds:** The references to drum accompaniment, iron dance, and the horn pawing the air suggest a connection to cultural and ritualistic sounds. These elements contribute to the poem's immersive and ceremonial atmosphere.

8. **Elegiac Tone:** The mournful and elegiac tone of the poem is echoed in the rhythm and soundscape. The use of language and imagery contributes to an emotional resonance that is heightened by the rhythmic elements.

In summary, the poem utilizes a combination of rhythmic techniques, including drum accompaniment, alliteration, repetition, and varied line lengths, to create a rich auditory experience. The interplay of sound and rhythm enhances the poem's emotional impact and contributes to its overall aesthetic.


The syntax of "Elegy to Alto (with drum accompaniment)" by Christopher Okigbo is characterized by its complexity, variety, and flexibility. Here are some aspects of the syntax in the poem:

1. **Enjambment:** The poem features frequent enjambment, where phrases and sentences flow from one line to the next without a pause. This enjambment creates a sense of continuity and fluidity, allowing ideas to unfold seamlessly and contributing to the rhythmic quality of the poem.

2. **Parallelism:** Okigbo employs parallelism, repeating sentence structures or patterns for emphasis and stylistic effect. For example, the repeated use of the phrase "beyond" creates a parallel structure that ties together various images and ideas.

3. **Inversion:** The poet occasionally uses inversion, altering the typical word order for emphasis or poetic effect. An example is found in the line "O mother mother Earth, unbind me," where the direct object precedes the verb.

4. **Ellipsis:** Okigbo uses ellipsis, the omission of words that are understood in context, contributing to the economy of language. This technique allows the poet to convey meaning with conciseness.

5. **Complex Sentence Structure:** The syntax often involves complex sentence structures, reflecting the depth of the poet's thought and the complexity of the themes explored. The intricate syntax adds layers of meaning to the poem.

6. **Use of Colons and Dashes:** Colons and dashes are employed to create pauses, emphasize certain phrases, or introduce lists. These punctuation marks contribute to the overall flow and structure of the poem.

7. **Descriptive Language:** The poet uses descriptive language with carefully chosen adjectives and adverbs, contributing to the vivid imagery in the poem. The syntax allows for the detailed exploration of the depicted scenes and emotions.

8. **Direct Address:** The poem includes instances of direct address, such as "O mother mother Earth," adding a personal and emotive element to the syntax. This direct engagement with the reader or with abstract entities contributes to the poem's intimate tone.

In summary, the syntax of Okigbo's poem is marked by its rhythmic flow, enjambment, complex sentence structures, and deliberate use of punctuation. These syntactic choices contribute to the overall poetic impact, enhancing the richness and depth of the language used in the poem.


"Elegy to Alto (with drum accompaniment)" was written by Christopher Okigbo, a Nigerian poet, in the 1960s. To understand the context of the poem, it's important to consider both the personal background of the poet and the broader historical and cultural context.

**1. **Christopher Okigbo:** Okigbo was born in 1932 in Nigeria and played a significant role in African literature. He was not only a poet but also a scholar, editor, and a participant in the Biafran War (1967–1970). His works often reflect the political and cultural upheavals of his time.

**2. **Political Context:** The 1960s were a turbulent period for Nigeria. The country gained independence from British colonial rule in 1960, leading to political, social, and cultural changes. However, this period was also marked by political instability, ethnic tensions, and struggles for power.

**3. **Biafran War:** The Biafran War, also known as the Nigerian Civil War, erupted in 1967. It was a conflict between the Nigerian government and the secessionist state of Biafra. Okigbo, who had been involved in the Biafran cause, lost his life during the war in 1967. The war deeply influenced his later works, including "Elegy to Alto."

**4. **Cultural Influences:** Okigbo's poetry often draws from Igbo cosmology and mythology. In "Elegy to Alto," there are references to cultural elements such as the Earth as a mother and the use of the drum, which has cultural and ritualistic significance in many African societies.

**5. **Symbolism and Imagery:** The poem is highly symbolic, with eagles, robbers, politicians, and other elements serving as metaphors for political and societal forces. The imagery in the poem reflects the chaos and disruptions caused by political events during Okigbo's time.

**6. **Personal and Political Struggles:** Okigbo's personal and political struggles are interwoven in the poem. The elegiac tone and the plea for liberation may reflect both personal yearnings and a broader desire for freedom in the face of political oppression.

In summary, "Elegy to Alto" is situated in a time of significant political and cultural change in Nigeria. Okigbo's experiences during the Biafran War, his cultural background, and his engagement with the political landscape of post-colonial Nigeria all contribute to the thematic richness and emotional depth of the poem. Understanding the historical and cultural context enhances the appreciation and interpretation of Okigbo's work.

Post a Comment


Leave a comment behind

Post a Comment (0)

#buttons=(Ok, Go it!) #days=(20)

Our website uses cookies to enhance your experience. Learn more
Ok, Go it!