Poem #17: Civilian and Soldier by Wole Soyinka

Wole Soyinka is a Nigerian playwright and poet. He was awarded the Nobel prize (in Literature) in 1986. Enjoy.

Civilian and Soldier

My apparition rose from the fall of lead,
Declared, ‘I am a civilian.’ It only served
To aggravate your fright. For how could I
Have risen, a being of this world, in that hour
Of impartial death! And I thought also: nor is
Your quarrel of this world.

You stood still
For both eternities, and oh I heard the lesson
Of your training sessions, cautioning –
Scorch earth behind you, do not leave
A dubious neutral to the rear. Reiteration
Of my civilian quandary, burrowing earth
From the lead festival of your more eager friends
Worked the worse on your confusion, and when
You brought the gun to bear on me, and death
Twitched me gently in the eye, your plight
And all of you came clear to me.

I hope some day
Intent upon my trade of living, to be checked
In stride by your apparition in a trench,
Signalling, I am a soldier. No hesitation then
But I shall shoot you clean and fair
With meat and bread, a gourd of wine
A bunch of breasts from either arm, and that
Lone question – do you friend, even now, know
What it is all about?

One comment

  1. Soyinka is a great writer. I have a few of his books on my tbr shelves that I am really looking forward to. I love the closing lines of this – ‘do you friend, even now, know / What it is all about?’ It really highlights the discord that was going on at the time.


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