A loss is defined as a feeling of grief when deprived of someone or something of value (quoted from oxforddictionaries.com). Everyday we experience a loss of one kind or another. It could be the loss of time, the loss of memory, or just the loss of personal belongings. However, these losses are very minor and don’t affect us in a significant way. Many works of literature explore this feeling. In the poems ‘Once Upon a Time’ by Gabriel Okara and ‘Mother in a Refugee Camp’ by Chinua Achebe the heartfelt, negative loss of culture and identity is revealed. Similarly, ‘Catrin’ by Gillian Clarke and ‘Mother Any Distance’ by Simon Armitage, look at the loss of a child along with the loss of identity. The loss of identity here, however, could be argued as being positive unlike the stereotypical view of a loss being negative. Finally, ‘Piano’ by D. H. Lawrence and ‘04/01/07’ by Ian McMillan also explore the loss of a loved one, their mothers. This loss is expressed as a heartfelt and distressing one.
In ‘Once Upon a Time’, Gabriel Okara talks about the loss of genuineness and identity as time passes. He narrates to his son how over a period of time people have stopped doing things with their ‘hearts’ and are now ‘ice-block-cold’. He shows how over time people have lost their authenticity. By contrasting the warm and love-filled word ‘heart’ with ‘ice-block-cold’ inevitably forces the reader to be traumatised as they would favour a friendly neighbour over a hostile one. The juxtaposition is effective as Okara is able to put the readers in his shoes and sympathise with him making the loss explored sentimental for the reader as well as himself.
Similarly, Okara structures the poem in a chronological manner starting with the past and what they ‘used to’ do. He then moves on to the present and what they do ‘now’, concluding with his opinion. This clear progression of the poem makes it easier for the reader to compare and clearly see the gradual loss over time. It almost takes the reader back in time and presents it as a story. It is fairly effective as the reader can empathise with the poet as the events take place and the reader almost experiences the loss making it more prominent and more emotional.
In addition, Okara uses the repetition of ‘I want’ when stating what he wants to be. The repetition of this emphasises how badly he wants to regain what he has lost. It shows his desperation implying that what he lost was a precious part of him and he grieves the loss of it. The feeling of nostalgia is present throughout the poem and the despair portrayed makes the reader pity him and possibly inspire them not to lose their individuality. Alternatively, this use of repetition could emphasise the horrifying state of the present day society. By repeatedly asking for his past, the poet expresses impatience and eagerness which could suggest that the fictitious lives lived today are unbearable and appalling.
As ‘Once Upon a Time’ is a poem based on the real life...