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Collected Poems
Cover of Collected Poems
Collected Poems
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A collection of poetry spanning the full range of the African-born author's acclaimed career has been updated to include seven never-before-published works, as well as much of his early poetry that explores such themes as the African consciousness, the tragedy of Biafra, and the mysteries of human relationships.

A collection of poetry spanning the full range of the African-born author's acclaimed career has been updated to include seven never-before-published works, as well as much of his early poetry that explores such themes as the African consciousness, the tragedy of Biafra, and the mysteries of human relationships.

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  • From the book



    our thoughtless days

    sat at dire controls

    and played indolently

    slowly downward in remote

    subterranean shaft

    a diamond-tipped

    drill point crept closer

    to residual chaos to

    rare artesian hatred

    that once squirted warm

    blood in God's face

    confirming His first

    disappointment in Eden

    Nsukka, November 19, 1971

    Benin Road

    Speed is violence

    Power is violence

    Weight violence

    The butterfly seeks safety in lightness

    In weightless, undulating flight

    But at a crossroads where mottled light

    From old trees falls on a brash new highway

    Our separate errands collide

    I come power-packed for two

    And the gentle butterfly offers

    Itself in bright yellow sacrifice

    Upon my hard silicon shield.

    Mango Seedling

    Through glass windowpane

    Up a modern office block

    I saw, two floors below, on wide-jutting

    concrete canopy a mango seedling newly sprouted

    Purple, two-leafed, standing on its burst

    Black yolk. It waved brightly to sun and wind

    Between rains-daily regaling itself

    On seed yams, prodigally.

    For how long?

    How long the happy waving

    From precipice of rainswept sarcophagus?

    How long the feast on remnant flour

    At pot bottom?

    Perhaps like the widow

    Of infinite faith it stood in wait

    For the holy man of the forest, shaggy-haired

    Powered for eternal replenishment.

    Or else it hoped for Old Tortoise's miraculous feast

    On one ever recurring dot of cocoyam

    Set in a large bowl of green vegetables-

    This day beyond fable, beyond faith?

    Then I saw it

    Poised in courageous impartiality

    Between the primordial quarrel of Earth

    And Sky striving bravely to sink roots

    Into objectivity, midair in stone.

    I thought the rain, prime mover

    To this enterprise, someday would rise in power

    And deliver its ward in delirious waterfall

    Toward earth below. But every rainy day

    Little playful floods assembled on the slab,

    Danced, parted round its feet,

    United again, and passed.

    It went from purple to sickly green

    Before it died.

    Today I see it still-

    Dry, wire-thin in sun and dust of the dry months-

    Headstone on tiny debris of passionate courage.

    Aba, 1968

    Pine Tree in Spring

    (for Leon Damas)

    Pine tree

    flag bearer

    of green memory

    across the breach of a desolate hour

    Loyal tree

    that stood guard

    alone in austere emeraldry

    over Nature's recumbent standard

    Pine tree

    lost now in the shade

    of traitors decked out flamboyantly

    marching back unabashed to the colors they betrayed

    Fine tree

    erect and trustworthy

    what school can teach me

    your silent, stubborn fidelity?

    The Explorer

    Like a dawn unheralded at midnight

    it opened abruptly before me-a rough

    circular clearing, high cliffs of deep

    forest guarding it in amber-tinted spell

    A long journey's end it was though how

    long and from where seemed unclear,

    unimportant; one fact alone mattered

    now-that body so well preserved

    which on seeing I knew had brought me there

    The circumstance of death

    was vague but a floating hint

    pointed to a disaster in the air


    But where, if so, the litter

    of violent...

About the Author-
  • Chinua Achebe (1930–2013) was born in Nigeria. Widely considered to be the father of modern African literature, he is best known for his masterful African Trilogy, consisting of Things Fall Apart, Arrow of God, and No Longer at Ease. The trilogy tells the story of modern Nigeria over three generations from first colonial contact to urban migration and the breakdown of traditional cultures. He is also the author of Anthills of the Savannah, A Man of the People, Girls at War and Other Stories, Home and Exile, Hopes and Impediments, Collected Poems, The Education of a British-Protected Child, Chike and the River, and There Was a Country. He was the David and Marianna Fisher University Professor and Professor of Africana Studies at Brown University and, for over 15 years, was the Charles P. Stevenson Jr. Professor of Languages and Literature at Bard College. Achebe is the recipient of the Nigerian National Merit Award, Nigeria's highest award for intellectual achievement. In 2007, Achebe was awarded the Man Booker International Prize for lifetime achievement.
  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 21, 2004
    One of the world's most admired novelists, Achebe (Things Fall Apart
    ; Anthills of the Savannah
    ) has maintained a separate (and much less prolific) career as a poet: this slender volume shows American readers that work. Achebe was forced out of his native Nigeria in 1966, just before the grisly and devastating Biafran War of 1967–1970. Some of his most authoritative poems respond to those, and to later, public events. "A Mother in a Refugee Camp" shows its title character combing "the rust-colored hair left" on her son's "skull," "Like putting flowers on a tiny grave." Achebe's other poems include lyrics of hope and resolve, "tearful songs/ Of joy," and responses to ceremonial occasions: "Beware, Soul Brother" advises its listener to "protect this patrimony to which/ you must return when the song/ is finished." "Dereliction" (a good candidate for anthologies) denounces those who abandon local traditions. Some of his language is now dated, or sounds awkward, at least to American ears ("evil forests of Soviet technology"), but other, stronger work shows Achebe's narrative gifts, retelling New Testament stories ("Lazarus") or animating Nigerian legends and myths ("Lament of the Sacred Python"). These and scattered other poems are "Clear-signed with a clarity/ rarely encountered in dreams."

  • Booklist

    August 1, 2004
    The dean of the modern African novel in English (" Things Fall Apart" [1958] and several others), Achebe is also a powerful poet. In the introductory "parable" in this book, he suggests that, compared to his fiction, his poems have been nigh unpublishable. Yet their quality is high enough that they should never go out of print after this fine collected edition. There aren't many of them, and not many fill even three pages. But--contemplating, with remarkable restraint, the cultural effects of imperialism; reeling, seemingly forever, from the horrors of postcolonial wars; striving to understand the present and modernity by means of traditional wisdom, story, and ceremony--they trenchantly make their points about contemporary African life. They are often pungently humorous and ironic, as when telling the case of a modern-day Nigerian "Lazarus" or considering lovemaking "Vultures." Elsewhere they can be rueful as the blues about the human condition; see "Knowing Robs Us," in which, when it comes to joy, we humans don't measure up to mere birds.(Reprinted with permission of Booklist, copyright 2004, American Library Association.)

  • Margaret Atwood "A magical writer--one of the greatest of the twentieth century."
  • Caryl Phillips, The Observer "The father of African literature in the English language and undoubtedly one of the most important writers of the second half of the 20th century."
  • Nadine Gordimer "Chinua Achebe is gloriously gifted with the magic of an ebullient, generous, great talent."
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