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Culture In Piano And Drums By Gabriel Okara

1027 words - 4 pages

Culture in Piano and Drums by Gabriel Okara

In the poem “Piano and Drums” the poet Gabriel Okara depicts and
contrasts two different cultures through symbolism of pianos and

The Poem is divided into four stanzas. The first two stanzas represent
the “drum” culture and the second two stanzas show the “piano”

The description of the drums is in two stanzas, but is one sentence
long. The first line of the first stanza:

‘When at break of day at a riverside’

Uses trochees to emphasize the deliberate broken rhythm. The stanza
has savage words, “bleeding flesh,” “urgent raw,” “leopard snarling,”
“spears poised,” to show that this is a primitive culture, one which
has dependency on the environment, as is represented by the “hunters
crouch with spears poised.” The environment in this culture is
physically dangerous, surrounded by wild animals. Drums here are a way
of communication, and “jungle drums telegraphing the mystic rhythm,
urgent, raw…” shows the way of life in this culture. This is life
which is simple, near the beginnings of man. The stanza uses
alliteration, consonances and similes to give a rhythm that is like
that of a drum.

Threatening imagery is also used to give the image of danger and show
physical hazards.

The first stanza mainly describes the way of life and sets the scene.
It shows how the drums are associated with the jungle and a primitive
way of life.

In the second stanza the persona says how when he hears the drums, he
goes back to his youth, “my blood ripples, turns torrent, topples the
years...” reminiscent of his childhood to when things were simpler and
carefree, “in my mother’s lap a suckling.” The repetition of the ‘t’
sound in “turns, torrent and topples are plosives, they are not harsh
and are intimate, like a life force and is tribal. “Blood Ripples” is
violent and shows how the drum beating is like his heart beat, his
life force and how it resonates inside him, the very essence of his
being. The piano which is shown in the next two stanzas contrasts from
the drum as it is separate from him, external, such as education and

The word ‘suckling,’ with the ‘s’ sound is one of instinct, becoming a
baby again. It is reductive, taking away his manhood and
sophistication, becoming a baby.

The next phrase also shows the expectation of life in his culture:

“I’m walking simple paths with no innovations, rugged, fashioned with
the naked warmth of hurrying feet and groping hearts…”

This shows how there are few options in his culture, with only one
path out which has been taken many times before. It has an instinctive
rhythm, basic, and nothing new.

“Simple Paths” is a metaphor; it has what his education has provided
for him. There are few life choices, simple, and contrasts to the
complex European lifestyle where it is often easy to get lost with all
the different options available. Life for the African culture is more

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