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‘Text-to-text’ Metaphor as an Aspect of Meaning Making in Osundare’s Poetry: A Stylistic Examination

This article is published in the Tasambo Journal of Language, Literature, and Culture – Volume 1, Issue 1.

Yomi Okunowo, Ph.D
Department of English Studies, Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijebu-Ode, Nigeria


This paper analyses pre-existing texts as rhetorical signifiers of meaning in Osundare’s poetic oeuvre. These texts are recreated and appropriated as a metaphorical representation of meaning within the cultural context of use in Osundare’s poetry. I engage this as an aspect of Osundare’s literary idiolect because, in -spite of the body of scholarship in Osundare studies, the deployment of these pre-existing texts as metaphorical tropes of meaning in Osundare has yet to be analytically examined. For analytical convenience, the topology of Osundare’s metaphor design can largely be conceived as a matrix of two creative formats: ‘text-to-text’ and ‘word-to-word’ frames, and the former, being under-examined, forms the focus of this paper. Metaphoric abstractions from existing prime and second-order texts are what we described as ‘text-to-text’ metaphors. This is when pre-existing texts or phenomena like proverbs and oral tales (second-order texts), and actual events (prime-order texts) existing in the culture are manipulated and textualized for meaning in the process of poetic composition.

Keywords: Text-to-text, phenomena, metaphor, meaning, stylistics


Metaphor is central to Osundare’s poetry because the poet prioritizes aesthetics of language and meaning in his poetic imagination, thus: “I tethered my metaphor to a tree/behind memory’s house/then I went for a nap/in the hammock of the wind./I woke up to a carnival of songs” (Osundare: Words: 71). Osundare's construction of metaphors draws meaning, for the most part, from Yoruba cultural semiotics. Therefore, identifying the sources and patterns of Osundare's ‘text-to-text’ metaphor is critical in analyzing how meaning and themes are construed. Metaphor as a trope of meaning remains an obtrusive presence in the employment of other literary techniques in the poet's corpus and it is an interpretive medium in which the Yoruba 'socio-semio-linguistic life' context serves majorly as the source of the poet's metaphorical construction. This is a factor in arguing that Osundare is a ‘bilingual writer’ whose writing, though expressed in the medium of English, promotes the worldviews and sensibilities of his African, albeit Nigeria-Yoruba background.

Understanding these texts as metaphor takes them away from the ordinary general description of their incorporation and portends a level of critical appreciation of the inexhaustible creativity these texts can afford the African writer. Aesthetics of language and meaning are a priority in Osundare’s deployment of metaphor. Largely, the rhetoric of metaphoric persuasions engages our consciousness and works us through Osundare’s knowledge and perspectives of political, social, and economic inequities, brutal power, war-mongering, and vandalism of the ecosystem, including hardship of the downtrodden and bloody events in world histories. The purpose is to alert and give warning about the contemporary socio-economic and political events in the world.

‘Text to text’ metaphor is a genre in which texts and events existing in the 'socio-semio-linguistic life' of the poet are employed as allegorical creativity. The employment of oral texts and actual historical events and persons in the 'socio-semio-linguistic life' organized poetically within a new, cultural experience, I will generally consider allegorical, being that Osundare manipulated these preexisting texts into a proverbial and metaphorical poetic experience. Additionally, because allegory has long been accepted as a continuum of metaphorical expression in rhetorical traditions, it has been suggested as both a manifestation and large-scale conceptual metaphor (Crisp 2001: 5).

Furthermore, discourse, beyond the orientation of the sentence as a basis of meaning analysis, is basic for the discursive analysis of a literary text as a premise of getting at the meaning and eventually message. Thus, for example, it will not be enough to metaphorically interpret metaphors in the spectrum of linguistic analysis only, except discursively to showcase our real-world experience (see Crisp: 11). Consequently, the discourses of the identified preexisting texts, because they are creatively reworked into new literary experiences, take the interpretive predication of allegory as metaphor because they seem to present themes that are sustained larger than single metaphorical meanings in sentences.

Theoretical Basis 

Critical to this paper are the concepts of stylistics, metaphor, ‘text-to-text’ metaphor, and ‘socio-semio-linguistic life’. I, therefore, provide an understanding of these concepts in my analysis to explain Osundare’s construction of and use of the ‘text-to-text’ metaphor.

On Stylistics: Arguments about what Stylistics is and its purpose, including its modus operandi (See, for example, Fowler 1971, 1996; Leech and Short 1981; Simpson 1997) are almost countless in the literature. In all, because I work from the view that Literature is not an autonomous subject; it gains insight from language, linguistics, history, anthropology, and culture, etc, I claim no more than to argue that Stylistics mediates between literature and other disciplines that have a stake in it (literature). This symbiotic character makes Stylistics a tool of inquiry into Literature as an object of culture and the language that makes that literature communicates its trajectory of purpose and value. This position suggests that Stylistics is an analytical tool that explains ways of meaning- decoding how meaning and message are encoded in texts- particularly literary texts.

On Metaphor: Views of metaphor are countless in the literature (see, for example, Sacks 1977; Lakoff and Johnson 1980; Mark 1981; Ortony 1979; Turner 1987; Goatly 1997). The literary perspective of metaphor is that it is a “figure of speech” in which one sense of an idea is used to veil (in a euphemistic sense) or to make clearer, concretize and engender affective sensibility in the way we perceive another idea. This is a device of meaning addressed by literary theory as a symbol of meaning (Glucksberg, 2001) whereby two items of language are collocated, where the attribute of one (describe as source) is transferred into the other (described as target) to project it in the light of the meaning obtainable in the other. In cognitive science, metaphor is conceived as a thought process in which we conceptualize an idea in terms of another based on our knowledge of the world (Lakoff and Johnson 1992; Lakoff and Turner 1989).

The main argument of Lakoff’s metaphor theory is that metaphor is a process of the brain concretized in linguistic form. Metaphor, according to Lakoff and Turner involves understanding one domain in terms of another in what they call “mapping across domains”. The mapping from a concept-source domain to a concept-target domain is to make clear concepts or abstractions or structures that may be poorly understood; in which case meaning could be understood by ascribing the meaning in the source domain to the target domain for understanding. For example, according to Lakoff and Johnson, the correspondence between “love” and “journey” is understood in our knowledge about “journey” (vehicle, travelers, destination, distance, etc.) and mapped onto our knowledge about love (relationship, lovers, common goals, etc.). Lakoff and followers’ metaphor polemic remains within the contentious conflict between a “mode of thought” and a “figure of speech”. In this paper, I draw insight from both schools of thought because metaphor is not centered on verbalization alone, which is what Lakoff holds against the linguistic perspective of metaphor.

There are other forms of discursive matrices, like myth, allegories or stories, pictorial images, pictures, and symbols which can be metaphorical and account for figurative interpretation (Kovecses, 2002) of meaning. In any case, central to any theory of metaphor is the fact of ‘transferring ideas from one ‘element’ to help another ‘element’ to mean in the sense of the first ‘element’ facilitating meaning and communication. However, while Lakoff recognizes this, the representation of non-linguistic-based metaphor in the conceptual metaphor frame remains a matter of how it is linguistically manifested. Thus, fundamentally, one can say that cognitive metaphor remains essentially at the sentence-level hermeneutic. Consequently, in my analysis, the matrices of ‘text-to-text’ metaphor as non-linguistic textuality are discursively accounted for to explain the thematic essence of the metaphors so identified within the immediate and wider real-world experience of Osundare’s poetry. All this means that linguistic analysis of metaphor- both as “figure of speech” and “representation of thought/experience” is necessarily developed through a discourse (text) beyond the sentence and therefore requires discursive orientation to explicate meaning as it has been applied it to explain aspects of Osundare’s thematic portfolio.

On ‘Text-to-text’ Metaphor: ‘Text-to-Text’ metaphor is interpreted as being domiciled in the cultural contexts of its abstraction and it is context-user-dependent.’ Text-to-text is conceptualized as the deployment of preexisting texts creatively reformulated and re-textualized into a new poetic experience. Unlike ‘word-to-word’ metaphor where lexico-syntactic creativity of incongruities realize conceptual metaphors, ‘text-to-text’ metaphor takes the grandeur of real-life events and oral tales as abstractions, and sometimes, as a provenance of proverbs in Osundare’s poetry. What can be found as a ‘text-to-text’ metaphor in Osundare's poetry include l) reconstructed proverbs drawn as a parallel to an abstraction of a known social event, 2) drawing a paradoxical innuendo to parallel a similar real-life social event, 3) the deploying of phenomena-texts as a trope of meaning and as frames of text-to-text metaphor, and 4) drawing of known real-life characters as metaphors. I will provide representative examples and analytically argue that Osundare extends these existing texts into a metaphoric template within which he runs critical socio-political comments as poetic texts.

On ‘Socio-semio-linguistic life’: This is an argument that means “ways of doing” and “ways of meaning” (Okunowo, 2010); ways of viewing and interpreting the world based on the writer’s historicity, “nativity” and “space” (Ojaide, 2007) in which the writer is grounded. This is where the writer, according to Ojaide, derives his vision and images. Thus ‘linguistic life’ will be the perceptions and use of languages- creative, psychological, semantic, and pragmatic- in the contexts of the mother tongue and languages in contact with the geo-space/speech community of the writer. ‘Social life’ will mean events (social, economic, political, environmental, cultural, etc) and the consequences of human interaction (marriage, naming, burial, politics, conflicts and resolutions, migration, etc) that define the Yorubas concerning themselves and other people in the paradigm of ethnic or race relations and environment. Finally, semiotics will simply mean signs and symbols of meaning or meaning signification and value- cultural or linguistic. It is this ethos, this cultural make-up, and sensibility that the writer abstracts to make meaning in his imaginative production of verbal artifacts to be useful to his geo-space target. 

Extant Literature

 Critics’ admiration for Osundare’s stylistic and thematic profile is heavy, and this has largely occupied the interest of critical scrutiny of the poet’s oeuvre. In particular, the poet’s socio-cultural, political, and economic concerns and style of conveying them have been well researched and documented in books and journals (See, for examples: Na’Allah 2003; Okunowo 2010; Ogunsiji and Okunowo 2018; Adegoke 2018, etc.). However, Osundare’s preoccupation with the metaphor he tethers, particularly what has been identified as ‘text-to-text metaphor remains a gap that this paper attempts to fill. For example, Osundare’s metaphor-making is often more admired than adequately analyzed. For example, a descriptive attempt is made by Demola Jolayemi (2003).

Jolayemi’s analysis of Osundare’s deployment of metaphors, using Village Voices (1984) does not do more than statistically highlight Osundare’s metaphors into types; what he calls “anthropomorphic”, “animal”, “abstract to the concrete”, “synaesthetic, and telescoped metaphors”. This is problematic because it is a typological generalist view of metaphor-making that fails to acknowledge or see Osundare’s other metaphorical activities. There is nothing substantial about the meaning or semiotic sources of Osundare’s metaphorical meaning in Jolayemi’s effort. Subject-based metaphorical analysis occupied the effort of Oloko (2018) and Fortress (2018).

While Oloko shows how metaphor works in Osundare’s nature poems, Fortress provides an analytical effort on the subject of “ruins, “temporality” and “materiality”. These efforts represent the linguistic metaphorical notation (word-to-word metaphor frame as a figure of speech) without an understanding of the semiotic sources of the poet's metaphorical design. Amore’s (2018) analysis of metaphor in Osundare’s poetry, for the most part, shows more interest in demonstrating Lakoff’s theory of metaphor, using Osundare’s poem as material. Amore’s take is therefore more of an analytical polemic of cognitive metaphor according to Lakoff, leaving little to understand about Osundare’s use of metaphor. This paper fills all these missing gaps, particularly that what has been analytically presented as Osundare’s design of ‘text-to-text’ metaphor is what can be found across the poet’s idiolect, where a such device is employed. What is critical is the knowledge that these texts are already used, within the culture, and are therefore capsules of meanings that may be reused, reworked, and extended creatively, depending on the versatility and the purpose of the writer. 

 At the level of text-to-text hermeneutic, meaning is a producer of effect. Text metaphor brings meaning to the table of the muse of the poet, how that text is reproduced as a new poetic experience is hardly a focus of examination in Osundare criticism. This is capable of problematizing aspects of efforts in translating Osundare’s poetry into other languages. This may be so because the translator who is not a Yoruba, lacks Yoruba thought and historicity. Moreover, these texts as semiotic codes and as conceived in this article may lack correspondences in the target languages, even when retained, because of the social condition of their production. Thus, this stylistic explication of the ‘text-to-text’ metaphor as rhetorically deployed by Osundare can mediate between the poetic corpus and the translator’s language.


Selected poems or extracts will be rearranged and focused portions will be in bold or in italics depending on the materials under analysis. This is for analytical convenience and clarity of reference. Texts used as metaphors are identified and representatively categorized into four sub-types thus: 1. proverbs as texts, 2. paradoxical texts, 3. phenomena as texts, and 4. real-life characters as texts. For easy reference, we have abbreviated selected poems under analysis thus: Horses of Memory (Memory), The Word is an Egg (Word), Waiting Laughters (Laughters), Songs of Marketplace (Songs), Village Voices (Village), The Eye of the Earth (Eye), and A Nib in the Pond (Nib).


Proverbs as Texts

In Yoruba metaspeech, òrò, meaning a genre of discourse, in this instance, could be a metaphor derived and reconfigured from a proverb. Thus, it is common to hear the expression, as an annotation, at the end of a speech: òrò tí mo so òwe ni mo fi pami ò bá enì kankan wí ait. (My speech is a proverbial discourse, directed to no one). The annotation is itself a euphemistic statement on meaning that is understood to be true but is now being used (the annotation) deliberately by the encoder as a ‘veil’ to further incite the intended referent and meaning. Indeed the proverbial discourse thus has a target and purpose in mind. This is a case in public discourse where the speaker feigns ignorance of the target of his òrò,.. which he ‘mischievously’ activated as a proverb, with a target and purpose in mind.

This semiotic scenario is observable as a stylistic reconstruction of meaning in Osundare’s poetry. For example, this metaphoric canvas takes a grander dimension in Laughters (1990), where “Waiting” and “Laughters” become the imagery and metaphorical canvas on which diverse socio-political and ideological concerns of the poet are communicated. Osundare does this in two basic ways. Firstly, a proverb is reconstructed and then drawn as being parallel to an abstraction of a known ‘socio-semiotic life’, as the metaphoric domain reference of the subject matter. Osundare then deploys this in a tale-like narrative structure, by way of juxtaposition to conceptualize similar meaning and to construe the social-political concerns he intends as we have in (Songs; 33-4) thus:


The cow is dying/For a trip to London/Let it go/ it will come back/

As corned beef.

Ignorance Kinsvice of superstition/Tyranny's nurture/

And wills/ Cowing instead of kicking. (Songs; 33).

The words and structure of stanza one is an abstraction and a reformulation of a Yoruba proverb (a second-order text): À ngba omo ádìe sílè lówó ikú, ó ní won kò jé kí òwun re àkìtàn lo jeunt: roughly translated thus: ‘We are trying to rescue the chick from death, it complains of not being allowed to seek food on the trash dump’. In both cases, the non-human referents (chicks) are given human behavior. The implicit meaning here is safety and preservation for which the behavior of the non-human elements is a contradiction. Of course, we know that the cow is processed into "corned beef' while the chick, scavenging food on the trash dump is exposed to being preyed on by a hovering eagle in the sky above. The semiotics of this proverbial textuality becomes the conceptual domain within which the thesis- "ignorance" is interpreted and understood as sometimes apparent lack of resistance to corruption and misuse of power on the part of a section of the society, the meaning and theme Osundare is conveying in the poem. From this template, Osundare constructs and metaphorically characterizes "ignorance" in the lines of the poem as: 

-Kinsvice of superstition. 

-father of unknowing.

-Tyranny’s nurture.

-wills cowing instead of kicking.

The first two lines are a refigured translation of a Yoruba idiomatic signification of ignorance; òmùgò baba àìmòkanmmarly (stupidity father of ignorance), being an expression of the weakling of a section of the society who should be resisting, “kicking” instead of encouraging, “nurturing” tyranny and corruption. Thus: 

Hitler armed ignorance/To fight the world/Won the first battle against reason[…]

The pogrom/And a world set ablaze (Songs; 33).


Madaru steals public funds/And blocks the road/With a sleek Mercedes

Custom-made from Germany/They sing his praises/And envy his luck.


Madaru buys a crown/And becomes a king./ And you ask:/

How could sheep all agree/To give their crown to a wolf? (Songs;: 34).

Such a weakling and lack of resistance, aptly projected by the metaphor, are taken advantage of, hence “ignorance” becomes, literally: “what every master wants in his servant” and “what every baas wants in his nigger” (Songs: 34). This conceptualization factors into the socio-political consciousness of Osundare whereby he wonders and questions the inaction or ineffectiveness of the oppressed to rise to confront the social vices that plague the world: “How could sheep all agree/To give their crown to a wolf?” (Songs: 34), the poet asks.

The juxtaposition of “sheep” and “wolf” is used to further highlight the metaphorical significance of “ignorance” in the relationship that is constructed between the mass of society and the corrupt tyrannical class. “Sheep” and “wolf” are not friends, the aggressive one (wolf) preys on the other (sheep), who is weak, meek, and lethargic, lacking resistance, defense, and defiance against the aggression of “wolf”. Here the concepts of weakness (sheep) and aggression (wolf) within the domain of animals, that is animal behavior, are mapped to that of human behavior and relationship. Thus: Human is Animal metaphor→ sheep and wolf, and further Mass of the People as SheepRuling Class as Wolf, where “wolf” oppresses “sheep”. The referent here is the mass of the people, their meek, inaction behavior, predicated on the metaphor of “ignorance” and “sheep”. This is in contradistinction to the ruling class as the “wolf”, despotic, tyrannical, and oppressing the larger population. This is the heuristic intent that the textualized metaphors can ultimately be said to project.

However, the aghast expressed in the form of a rhetorical question- “How could sheep all agree/To give their crown to a wolf?” brings to mind Corazon Aquino’s Philippines, The Nigerian “June 12”, 1993, the 1989 China’s uprising, and lately in Nigeria, the “Endsars” youth uprising. Successes at “people’s power” in the form of revolutionary remediation are scanty but attempt at it and its brutalization are legion in history. These efforts at “people’s power” have always been met with brutal force and sustenance of poverty, which promotes ‘sheepism’, subjugation and division. Thus, “sheep” agreeing “to give their crown to a wolf” is both an entanglement of power, tyranny, and the subjugated marginalized mass of the people and the effort that must be made to displace autocratic practices in modern societies. It is in this that Osundare’s metaphor in these lines could be seen as both a critique of the ruler and the ruled and of course the suggestive line of revolutionary remediation.

Paradoxical Text (Real Social Event)

 In this frame, Osundare simply identifies a social concern, draws a paradoxical innuendo to highlight its absurdity, and makes it a metaphoric template on which he runs critical social commentaries in the light of the thesis of the identified social concern. “Udoji” in Osundare’s Songs of the Market Place illustrates this metaphorical design. 


We ask for food and water/To keep our toiling frames

On the hoe/But they inundate us with udoji


Now pockets burst with arrears/But market stalls are empty/

Gari is dearer than eyes/A naira cannot buy a yam


When a bribe is too heavy/It impoverishes the giver/

Tell the givers of this bribe/That what we need/

Is more than money can buy (pp.35-36).

The socio-economic hardships and the mounting complaints and agitations of the workforce in Nigeria in the face of the brazen corruption of the ruling class brought about what was later known as the “Udoji Award” in Nigeria's socio-economic history. Given the atmosphere of the oil boom in the cultural milieu of Nigeria, the government of the day, in its unguided economic wisdom, awarded salary bonuses to the labour class. The award, at best, was merely a palliative, short-lived balm that later turned into a long-lasting economic doom, culminating in the excruciating economic austerity measures of Nigeria’s Shagari’s administration (1979-1983). The aftermath of that economic miss-step is many and telling, and such are the commentaries of the many consequential paradoxes of the economic bonanza being recalled as a means of social apprehension in this poem. The paradox in stanza one is used as a metaphor to coerce and correspond to “Udoji”, the name of the government official who headed the panel that recommended the award. The name “Udoji” bears the meaning the paradox evokes in the poem. In “Udoji”[1] (Songs: 35), ‘udoji’ is a prime-order character, reconfigured as second-order textuality. The character is therefore to be seen as representing the event itself constructed as Waste/Poverty is Udoji metaphor. For Osundare, the event that the name symbolizes is a national bribe to the unsuspecting populace. The word “Udoji”, a name, draws its conceptual semiotic meaning from the observable socio-economic consequences of a particular real event and not from what resides in the word (Udoji) itself. One is not certain the extent to which Lakoffian theory of metaphor can account for this cultural phenomenon, because there is no immediate direct correlation between the actual features possessed by the source, “Udoji” and target domains ‘waste/poverty’ in the textuality of the metaphor being constructed here. The knowledge to be derived from the source (Udoji) is exercised by a historical event, which helps us to understand “udoji” as it correlates with the target ‘waste/poverty’. Similarly, the orientation of the paradox in Waste/Poverty is Udoji metaphor parallels an oral tale (a second-order text) in the same poem (Songs: stanza 1; Udoji: 35), where the goodwill of the persona “stepmother” is misplaced because the consequence of the goodwill has turned out to be undesirable. “Udoji” is not a “conventionalized concept” by the meaning imbued in it in the context or by the ‘normal’ meaning that can be abstracted from it for metaphor-making. Moreover, the target of the metaphor in this instance is a multiplicity of socio-economic problems engendered by the “salary award” on which Osundare comments, as a committed poet. This is the type of metaphorical textual strangeness in the literature that incites culturally induced meaning, rather than pure linguistic structuring. 

Phenomena as Text Metaphor.

 The characterization of phenomena as metaphors is in the special sense of the ascribed sentimental meaning in the culture. The historicity of their existence encapsulates their being constructed as metaphors. These elements are prime-order text being used as interpretive tools of a fictionalized second-order poetic discourse. They are therefore semiotic signs, representing ideas and mapping those ideas into the thesis being projected as a message within Osundare’s rhetoric of poetry. Our analysis takes on a popular automobile, Mercedes (Benz), which in the recent past acquired ‘fame and opulence notoriety in the social psyche of the rich and the poor of the society to which Osundare refers. “Mercedes” is generally considered a luxury automobile, generally affordable by the rich. It is a symbol of affluence, justifiably so, observing gnawing impoverishment and the criminal lofty height to which the lower hierarchy of the society and the corrupt ruling class have lifted the object. Why is this a stylistic element? And what is the interpretive significance of Osundare’s poetry? I found that there is a repeated figuration of “Mercedes” which appeals to the popular semiotics of the idea being conveyed on each occasion of its deployment as a metaphor. The repeated figuration suggests the use is not fortuitous but a stylistically measured emphasis to make readers recognize the image the metaphor constructs and the meaning it construes into the message being communicated within Osundare’s thematic spectrum. 

 It is a symbol of success, therefore a social symbol of being on the highest level of the social hierarchy of the society. Thus this perception becomes the mapping orientation of Social Distance is Mercedes metaphor by which the image of the criminally imposed gap between the poor and the very rich in that society is to be understood. Thus, “Mercedes” is constructed as a symbol of social breakthrough or success in the following lines: 

Wise ant/You have lined up your chilly hole/With the windfall of sabbatical summers

Merry ride in the Mercedes/Of your clever harvest. (Nib: 27).

This is an outright criticism of academics that predicate their academic success on material acquisition, returning from sabbatical leave with expensive cars instead of concrete contribution to knowledge. The pursuit of wealth is dangerously prioritized over the pursuit of knowledge. The race for material acquisition has therefore found its way into the academic arena as associated with the symbolic “Mercedes”. Thus Windfall is Agricultural Produce by the word “harvest” and by this implication, Agricultural Produce is Mercedes. The “harvest” in this context is conceived as wealth, projecting the psychology attached to “Mercedes”- the materialistic tendencies that have entered the fabric of the academic community, tendencies which are consequences of the display of ill-gotten wealth, infecting a hitherto sane community of academics.

 The understanding of “Mercedes” as a metaphor in this context is further implicated by its culture-specific thought process, where such adulatory phrases as “òbòkún olóyé”, “mèsí olóyè! Premium ” (Descriptive praise names that describe the fabulous luxury in the magnificent automobile) are used as praise names for the object and its fortunate possessor- a socially induced blank-check approval without questioning the source of this ‘wealth’ in the metaphor of “Mercedes”:

Madaru steals public funds/And blocks the road/With a sleek Mercedes

Custommade from Germany/They sing his praises/And envy his luck (Songs: 34). 

What this tells us is that the cultural environment has repercussions for the conceptualization and construal of the metaphor, and therefore projects meaning that expresses the ‘world-view’ of that geo-space. “Madaru” is a second-order fraudulent character in the semiotics, the name is descriptive of the character’s nefarious practices. “Madaru” and “Mercedes” are interplayed as a symbolic metaphor of corruption and we would think that the alliteration in the words is a rhetorical linkage. Thus, Corruption is Mercedes and Madaru is Criminal metaphors. Further in the following lines: 

Several government people/Have passed through these streets

Several Mercedes tyres have drenched/Gaunt road liners in sewer water

                                                                 (Songs; Excursions: 9). 


The messiahs peep at/The tattered hordes from the paradise

Of a Mercedesed distance


Their fences are high/Their gates wild with

Howls of Alsatian soldiery (Laughters: 56).

In Songs, a sharp contrast is drawn between the criminal opulence of the Mercedes (i.e. “government people”) and the poor larger society (“gaunt road liners”). Ironically, the poor larger society who is forced, directly or indirectly to wait in broken down public facilities- “road with sewer water”- uncared for by “government people”, to wave and sing the praise of the same passing “government people”, safely ensconced in their Mercedes cars. In Laughters, the same sense of transitivity between the ruled/poor and the rich/politicians is constructed. In this regard, I observe the manipulation of the noun “Mercedes” into a verbal adjective “Mercedesed”. It metaphorically defines “distance” as the property of the noun “distance” predicated on the rich-poor, have-have nots socio-economic inequality gap. This is the socio-economic inequality between the ironically described “messiahs”-“government people” and the suffering “hordes” of the larger society.

Following this “Mercedes” can be conceptualized metaphorically as Mercedes is Wealth; socio-economic iniquities and inequality, beyond its literal meaning as an automobile object. This tells us that “distance” has nothing to do with distance as a spatial phenomenon. The metaphorical object stands as an instrument of social distance, political arrogance, and arrant display of misuse of power and criminal disregard for the welfare of the larger society, as further lamented in these lines: 

Who shall save us/From a sea red with death’s threat

And the armed legion/Of mercedesed Pharaohs? (Nib: 15).


Our man becomes a locust seen once/In several seasons

His Mercedes thunders through the street/Our dust-laden mats announce the departure

Of the man of power (Village: 48).

The incitation of the “Mercedes thunders” with the resultant “dust-laden mats” is a metaphorical representation of oppression and arrant disregard for the human condition by “man of power”; hence Mercedes is Oppression. Again, from the extract below, it is surprising to see “Akilapa”- another second-order text character-metaphor, suddenly appearing as the owner of a Mercedes car given Akilapa’s family’s poor social status:

 Akilapa’s father washed clothes/For a living/His mother spilt palm-kernels

 For their meatless meals/Their son walked naked/Till his testicles could put


A baby in a woman’s womb/Akilapa left the village one year/Coming back the next

 With a glittering Mercedes/And city women with buttocks

Like galloping mountains/And they say the stars did it. (Village: 64).

The contrast that is drawn between sudden wealth by the metaphor of “Mercedes” and previously known poverty (represented in part by “meatless meals”) of the poetic persona has a ring of criminality to it, therefore Mercedes is Crime metaphor. The semiotics of “Mercedes”, ambiguously encompasses public applause, which in turn puts the approving larger society; “they say the stars did it”, into complicity. This suggests that the larger public gives consent, and therefore has a hand in the public collective tragedy. This is the paradox and the contradiction Osundare draws from the use of “Mercedes” as a metaphor within the semiotic milieu of “Mercedes” generated in the culture. It is therefore a case where the metaphorical subject instantiates different levels of pragmatic interpretations that relate to the socio-political economic events/problems referenced in the poem. In all, one thing that is assured in this stylistic metaphoring and engagement of meaning is the pungency of semantic-pragmatic familiarity which always resonates in the perception of meaning, either in the reading, interpretation or performance of Osundare’s poetry. Following this, we can claim the metaphorical reading of “Mercedes”, for example, thus:


“merry ride in the Mercedes of your

 clever harvest”.


 “several Mercedes tyres have drenched gaunt road liners in sewer water”. “his Mercedes thunders through the street, our dust-laden mats

 announce the departure of the man of power”.


“Madaru steals public funds and blocks the road with a sleek Mercedes”.

Akilapa left the village one year/Coming back the next/With a glittering Mercedes

 = SOCIAL/ECONOMIC GAP/DISTANCE: “the messiahs peep at the


tattered hordes from the paradise of a mercedesed distance”.

The emerging social kaleidoscope from the metaphor of “Mercedes” is a bewildering picture of a malfunctioning society. One, therefore, discerns a feeling and atmosphere of frustration in the poetic context in which this paradigm exists (see similar textualization in the play The Wedding Car (2005), Days (2007) - Yoruba cultural interpretation of the days of the week as associated with the beliefs that exist in the semiotics.

Real-Life Characters as Texts

 There are two levels of the poetic composition of real-life characters and places. The first level is that in which such characters and places are transformed into poetic personae and characterized for ‘mere’ veneration, remembrances, and acquaintances; as in the poems “Goshen, Indiana”, “for Mary, for Valley Avenue” (Midlife: 81-2), “Atewolara- for Tunde Odunlade” and “For Okot p’Bitek” (Nib: 29), to cite few examples. These personalities are co-workers, colleagues, close associates, or people with whom Osundare shared encounters and experiences, including places of unforgettable encounters and experiences. This set is not my focus as they do not yield direct textual metaphoricity to meaning other than acknowledgment of their presence in the poet’s life. The second level, which is the focus of our analysis, is marked by the infusion of real-life characters into the poetic text as a representation of semiotic signs to interpret meaning based on their globally recognizable socio-political ideologies, which either recognize justice, freedom, and egalitarian society or not. This perspective recognizes two sets of real-life characters. One set represents a struggle for a just society, while the second set represents the opposite. It is thus deliberate poetic craftsmanship of metaphor of opposites to highlight socio-political evils and the struggle against them. It also underscores the consciousness intended and incited by the characters as poetic metaphors. My first example is taken from Laughters (1990):

But for how long can the hen wait/Whose lay is forage for galloping wolves?


Ask Sharpeville/Ask Langa/Ask Soweto/

Where green graves cluster like question marks


Ask Steve/Ask Walter/Ask Nelson


Who seed waiting moments with sinews of fleeting seasons/Ask

The metaphor of our strength/Ask 

The strength of our metaphor. (Laughters: pp.37-8). 

The central theme implied here is focused on patiencehope, and triumph. In communicating this meaning, Osundare seeks to mobilize perseverant consciousness, particularly against despotic, tyrannical societies, where freedom, equal opportunity, and basic human right are suppressed and denied. The names “Steve”, “Walter” and “Nelson” are configured as images of struggles embodied in “Sharpeville, Langa and Soweto” against the “foraging galloping wolves” (the despotic political class). We do know that Steve Biko and Nelson Mandela struggled against the evil of the Apartheid regime of South Africa. While on the other hand, Walter Rodney, a political and human right activist struggled against the tyrannical political class of his time; his seminal publication, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (1972), remains a classic in the studies of African political and economic history.

Of course, Osundare’s metaphoric intention here is to use the actual historical events, the life long struggle of these personalities and, perhaps, their successes as a signpost-catalyst, on which other struggles may be apprehended and encouraged, with the possible dividend of victory over tyranny. Thus, STEVE, WALTER AND NELSON ARE PATIENCE, STRUGGLE, STRENGTH, HOPE AND VICTORY metaphors, whereby the “Laughters” in “Waiting Laughters” become the long-awaited consequence, corresponding to that victory. Hence, the interpretive insinuation is a metaphor that engineers hope, in the face of dismal circumstances, on the premise of persistent struggle, with the hope of displacing despotism and enthroning justice and egalitarianism. 

 Similarly, one can conceive “Brutus”, “Soyinka”, “Ngugi” and “Mapanje” in terms of metaphorical signification as constructed by Osundare in the following lines:

And Brutus’s ballad, and the Apartheid dragon/And Soyinka’s shuttle in the General’s crypt

And Ngugi’s travails on the Devil’s cross/

And Mapanje’s chameleons and Band- it gods.

(Midlife: 60).

It is important to observe that the first set of ‘characters’ (Laughters: 37-8) are political elements while the characters in (Midlife: 60) are ‘literary’ elements. The relevance of this is that both sets dovetail into the same thematic abstraction from politics, through the phenomena they are associated with; politics and literature, respectively. It is also important, for the metaphorical validity argument, to note that the characters are incorporated into the poetic composition, as poetic personae. In this way, it is not for mere adulation but for the interpretive trope of meaning that farm into the socio-political preoccupations of Osundare’s poetry.

The characters are canonized, both in their persons and their literary works, as metaphors of the well-known struggle against the vicious tyrannical hegemony of Apartheid and the despotic, brutal military hegemony in Africa. Thus they represent the struggle against injustice, tyranny, and apartheid, in which case, their works become, by way of metaphoricity, the tools/weapons that, literally continue to fight these socio-political evils. This is much appreciated on the observation that the works of these writers can prod the guilty conscience of political despots, stir and mobilize the consciousness of the larger society and then incite civil disobedience, which in many cases has recorded incarceration or exile of some of these characters. For example, Ngugi’s imprisonment and eventual exile were not unconnected with his post-independence socio-political views of Kenya expressed in his works of which Devil on the Cross (1987) is one. The same can be said of Soyinka, imprisoned and exiled on many occasions for his political activism.

Soyinka’s pieces: A Shuttle in the Crypt (1987) and The Man Died (1972)- banned in Nigeria, express some of his socio-political views and his incarceration in the hands of the military junta that ruled Nigeria for over fifteen years. Mapanje’s case is even more pathetic, all his works are banned by the tyrannical ruling class in Malawi. He was arrested and imprisoned between 1987 and 1991 for his socio-political views expressed in his collection of poetry Of Chameleons and gods (1981). 

 Following this explanatory discursive analysis, the metaphorical abstractions and interplay can now be expressed thus: LITERATURE IS WAR, therefore BRUTUS’S POETRY IS A WEAPON against APARTHEID AS WAR, SOYINKA’S POETRY IS A WEAPON against MILITARY HEGEMONY AS WAR, NGUGI’S PROSE IS A WEAPON against DESPOTISM AS WAR, therefore becoming “Ngugi’s travails”, and MAPANJE’S POETRY IS A WEAPON against DESPOTISM AS WAR. We can take the characters-writers as warriors and their writing as weapons of war and construct the metaphor interplay as Brutus, Soyinka, Ngugi, and Mapanje are Writers→ THE WRITERS ARE WARRIORS and therefore BRUTUS’S BALLAD, Soyinka’s A SHUTTLE IN THE CRYPT, Ngugi’s DEVIL ON THE CROSS, Mapanje’s OF CHAMELEONS AND GODS ARE WEAPONS OF WAR. We can imply and establish, by way of extension, and at a more grandiose level that LITERATURE COMPOSING IS FIGHTING WAR metaphor conceptualizes the struggles against tyranny, injustice, and oppression in Africa. Conversely, with a similar analytical orientation is Midlife 49, where historical figures like “Hitler”, “Bokassa”, “Pinochet” and “Botha” represent different evils that construct “man’s inhumanity to man” in which the metaphor is analytically constructed as HITLER, BOKASSA, PINOCHET, BOTHA ARE EVIL metaphor, constructed from the conceptual domains of politics and human behavior.


 What I have analytically argued is that Osundare’s incorporation and rhetorical manipulation of used texts in the reality of our culture into new literary text-poetry and experience project both the realities that are familiar and that which are created. ‘Text-to-text’ metaphor can therefore be seen as drawing what had existed in parallel to what is ‘new’ in the socio-cultural and political historicity of both Nigeria and the global world.


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[1] Osundare’s annotation (Song; 35): In 1975, following the release of a Salary Review Panel headed by Chief Jerome Udoji, government workers and some in the private sector received inflationary salaries and arrears. Chief Udoji’s person became a metaphor for this bonanza.

DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.36349/tjllc.2022.v01i01.003

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