The Metaphor of the Muse and Minstrel: A Psychoanalytic Investigation of Tanure Ojaide’s The Beauty I Have Seen

Citation: Ugochukwu, O.I. & Agada, A.A. (2024). The Metaphor of the Muse and Minstrel: A Psychoanalytic Investigation of Tanure Ojaide’s The Beauty I Have Seen. Dynamics in the 21st Century Hausa Prose Literature. Tasambo Journal of Language, Literature, and Culture, 3(1), 86-94. www.doi.org/10.36349/tjllc.2024.v03i01.010.

 The Metaphor of the Muse and Minstrel : A Psychoanalytic Investigation of Tanure Ojaide’s The Beauty I Have Seen


Ugochukwu Ogechi Iwuji, PhD
Department of General Studies
University of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences (UAES)
ugoiwuji@gmail.com , ugochukwu.iwuji@uaes.edu.ng


Agada, Adah Abechi
Department of English
Federal College of Education Katsina
agada.abechi@fcekatsina.edu.ng , bechagada@gmail.com


This paper critically examines the metaphor of the minstrel and the muse using selected verses from Tanure Ojaides’s The Beauty I Have Seen. The unravelling of this metaphor opens up the poetry as nothing short of a beautiful interplay between the minstrel and the muse. There is perhaps no other literary work in the history of modern Nigerian poetry tradition where the relationship between the minstrel and muse has been so profoundly explored. The poetics so espoused in the poetry permeates the subconscious of the reader who is almost transformed into the minstrel who must obey the dictates of the muse if good art must be produced. This is why the use of the theory of Psychoanalysis is central to the work. The metaphor of the minstrel and the muse does not just dawn on the reader at first read. It is reinforced in virtually every verse in the first part of the trilogy. The minstrel is the poet whose excellence in art depends on his compliance and communion with a certain divine inspiration, or muse. Key findings of the work are hinged on the fact that the metaphor of the minstrel and muse should be appreciated by an artist all the time. Also, a young artist must be sensitive to the dictates of the muse if he must produce art that is compelling and sublime.

Keywords : metaphor, minstrel, muse, poetry, poetics, Psychoanalysis.


No other work in modern Nigerian poetry tradition has so explicitly exploited the metaphor of the minstrel and the muse as much as Tanure Ojaide has done in “The Beauty I have seen,” the first part of a trilogy of the same title. The persona in this work makes a serious effort to expose the reader to the beautiful interplay between the duo of the minstrel and the muse, at the end of which Ojaide succeeds in transforming the psychology of a young writer on how to manage the relationship with his muse. Abrams and Harpham (2012:130) define the term, metaphor, as “a word or expression that in literal usage denotes one kind of thing is applied to a distinctly different kind of thing, without asserting a comparison.” The authors classify metaphors into implicit, mixed and dead metaphors. The implicit metaphor is such that its tenor is not specified. Thus, it compares two different things without mentioning one of them.

The mixed metaphor joins two or more diverse metaphorical expressions, while a dead metaphor is such that has become common because of constant usage. The use of the “minstrel” and the “muse” may seem like a dead metaphor, depending on one’s sophistry, as virtually everyone claims knowledge of what the two terms represent. This may not be the truth because the paper seeks to expose this metaphor as going beyond the poet and his inspiration. It is not enough to dismiss the muse as a spirit in Greek mythology that stimulates artistic inspiration, neither is it sufficient to simply say that a minstrel is a medieval singer who recited lyrics and heroic poetry with musical accompaniment. Rather, the understanding of this metaphor unravels with the beautiful interplay between both entities in Ojaide’s “The Beauty I Have Seen”.

The critical theory deployed in the work is Psychoanalysis whose major exponent is Sigmund Freud. The interplay between the minstrel and the muse is such that can best be read with the principles of Psychoanalysis which is the theory of the mind. The task of a Freudian Psychoanalytic critic, meanwhile, is imperative in this study, one of which is to find evidence of the id, ego and superego (Dobie, 2012). This is buttressed further by Barry (1995:75) who declares that what Freudian Psychoanalytic critics do is to give “central importance, in literary interpretation, to the distinction between the conscious and the unconscious mind” while associating “the literary work's 'overt' content with the former, and the 'covert' content with the latter, privileging the latter as being what the work is 'really' about, and aiming to disentangle the two.”

Bressler (2003:132-133) and Dobie (2012:74) summarise the basic principles guiding a Freudian critique:

Central to psychoanalytic criticism is Freud’s assumption that all artists, including authors, are neurotic. Unlike most neurotics, however, the artist escapes many of the outward manifestations and results of neurosis, such as madness or self-destruction, by finding a pathway back to saneness and wholeness in the act of creating his or her art. By employing Freud’s psychoanalytic techniques developed for dream therapy, psychoanalytic critics believe we can unlock the hidden meanings contained within the story and housed in symbols. It is only then that we can arrive at an accurate interpretation of the text. Since Freud believes that the literary text is an artist’s dream or fantasy, the text can and must be analysed like a dream […] Thus like the dream analyst, the psychoanalyst believes that any author’s story is a dream on the surface reveals only the manifest content of the true tale. Hidden and censored throughout the story on various levels lies the latent content of the story, its real meaning or interpretation. Examine whether a character operates according to the pleasure principle, the morality principle, or the reality principle. Explain a character’s typical behaviour by determining whether the personality is ‘balanced’ or dominated by the id or the superego.

Examining the Metaphor of the Minstrel and the Muse in the Poetry of Ojaide

Tanure Ojaide’s “The Beauty I Have Seen” is the first part of a trilogy which presents a set of poems at the centre of which is the minstrel, standing as a metaphor for the poet. There is also the “muse” which stands as a metaphor for a divine inspiration that comes to the minstrel. There is a vivid obsession with the interaction between the minstrel and the muse. The muse energizes both the mind and the pen of the poet. No poetry or serious work of art is produced without the powerful influence of the muse. At the point when a writer is influenced by the muse, he could be said to be out of the terrestrial realm because the muse itself comes like a spell on the writer. The interesting interplay between the muse and the minstrel calls for a scholarly investigation. Three poems from Ojaide’s “The Beauty I Have Seen” are appraised in this paper to investigate the metaphor of the muse and minstrel, and how each cannot be truly independent of the other.

The muse takes centre stage in Ojaide’s “When the muse gives the minstrel the nod”. The persona describes it as a gift which is priceless: “When the muse gives the minstrel a nod/ no bead ever competes with his diamond” (p.9). The binary of the bead and diamond is interesting. The former is cheap, common and almost worthless, while the latter is expensive and priceless and expensive. The power of the muse is thus likened to the grandeur of the diamond which has a powerful effect on the mind.

The muse comes to the minstrel as a mixed bag of joy and sorrow as seen in the second stanza of the poem: “The minstrel gets his share of pain and joy/that he converts into songs of the season” (p.9). This further affirms the source of a writer’s inspiration. He is a victim of both the beauty and regrets of his society. Interestingly, he does not sit and whine in these circumstances. Instead, he turns them into songs of the season. The use of “season” is quite symbolic of what a writer does in his society. Breytenbach (2007:166) asserts that a writer “has at least two tasks, sometimes overlapping: he is the questioner and the implacable centre of the mores and the attitudes and myths of his society, but he is also the exponent of the aspirations of his people.” At any material season, therefore, a writer asserts his level of relevance. He is both a chronicler and a critic of the times. He hardly watches and sits in hapless silence because he is always willing to yield his mind to be possessed by the muse.

The muse in stanza three of the poem is addressed in metaphysical garb: “…the gift, an elixir, he cures migraines of misery; for sure a wizard, he sees without strain in the dark” (p.9). The muse in these foregoing lines assumes the role of a magical potion (elixir) that offers a solution to miserable conditions. The use of the metaphor “migraines of misery” is a collective noun illustrating a debilitating condition that the minstrel can cure with his art. The efficacy of his art gives an impression that he is a “wizard” who definitely “sees without strain in the dark.” The third stanza of Ojaide’s “When the muse gives the nod” gives the minstrel a metaphysical image as he does wonders with his muse-inspired art.

The power of the muse on the minstrel further receives fillip in the fourth stanza as the poet can take “…the impassable road to the pagoda within/knowing the wide road without a sign runs into peril” (p.9). The “impassable toad” symbolizes a difficult and complex task. The “wide road” without a sign is a metaphor for a fruitless journey whose outcome is fraught with dangers. The fourth stanza lucidly paints an apocalyptic imagery of a complex and traumatic condition which is overcome by the power of the muse.

The muse gives the poet (minstrel) zeal to write beautiful rhythmic lines as it transports the minstrel to a realm where the power of art is overarching: “Transported into primeval rapture by the zeal for song/he knocks out others for a singular vision of beauty.” (p.9). The divinity of art is captured in the foregoing lines through the imagery of “primeval rapture”. It is this rapturous state that gives the artist (minstrel) the capacity to “knock out other” for the emergence of artistic beauty/. What the minstrel knocks out by the state of his rapture is describes as “others”. The theory of otherness has been variously explored in the works of Jacques Derrida and Mary Wollstonecraft, among others (Barry, 1995). Derrida presents the binary of the Western culture and others, questioning the rationale for ascribing supremacy to the former. Wollstonecraft decries the exaltation of patriarchal ideals over “others”, represented by the views of the womenfolk. The metaphor of others in Tanure Ojaide’s poem is essentially ascribed to factors clogging the artist’s vision of beauty. The muse therefore confers on the artist the power of choice. It is also noteworthy that the muse “transported” the artist into the primeval rapture. The journey motif involved here implies that the artist is transmogrified by the muse itself.

The import of stanza six of the poem reinforces the fact that great art is produced through a careful exercise of prerogatives, a winnowing of a sort, where the “wheat” is separated from the chaff. The latter must be allegorically knocked out for great art to emerge. This is an allusion to Ngugi wa Thongo’s A Grain of Wheat where the wheat seedling that is planted in the soil must decay and give way for the blooming of a fresh, beautiful wheat flower.

It is remarkable that in stanzas seven and eight, the persona draws a beautiful comparison between the muse and the moon. He regards the two entities as occupying central spaces that grant individual prominence to them. He intones repeatedly, “There is only one moon… there is only one muse…” The repetition, consonance and assonance in the lines add more emphasis on the beauty of the lines. In stanza seven, specifically, the persona describes the moon thus: “There is only one moon, the world’s munificent bride/beside her, legions of attendants in their livery light.” There is a binary opposition between the two lines. The moon is described as “the world’s munificent bride”, a metaphor for illustrating the kindness of the moon to everyone in the world with its incandescent light. In contrast, there are “legions of attendants” in the pantheon which also give out “livery of light”, whose light cannot be considered munificent. The seventh stanza of the poem is an ode to the moon, bearing the tone of nature writers who find great satisfaction in idolizing nature. The romantic description of the moon as a magnanimous bride artistically underpins the indispensability of the moon.

The persona similarly avers that there is only one muse which services writers all over the universe like the moon. The two are universal entities that are unexpendable. The persona further describes the muse romantically: “There is only one muse in the pantheon and muse comes from the breath of her love.” While the moon is a generous bride, the muse simply radiates love with the music that comes from it. Both are universal in the virtue they illustrate and more importantly, there is only one muse and one moon.

Ojaide’s “When the muse gives the minstrel a nod” is a powerful poem on the overarching power of the muse on the artist, who when possessed by the muse recreates or reproduces the world in beautiful lines. Metaphorically, the minstrel can only proclaim or disclaim only when the muse gives the nod. The power is great hence no “bead” (money) can compete with the “diamond” (beauty) it produces; just as it is described as a “gift, an elixir” that cures “migraines of misery” with its product of sublime art.

Similarly, the persona continues in the task of revealing the powerful influence of the muse on the minstrel in Ojaide’s “The minstrel smiles, swaggers”. The style of the poem is the same as the former – lucid, authoritative and exotic. It is a free verse written in unrhymed couplets, where the second lines essentially complete the thought lines provoked by the first. The poem is a twenty-eight-stanza verse written that essentially expands the thoughts already espoused in the preceding poem. The first stanza of the poem expresses the universality of the muse whose power is felt across continents. Hear the persona: “The minstrel smiles, swaggers and glows/that they hear his songs in Canada and Nsukka” (p.10) The first line of the poem presents elegant tropes that describe the nature of the muse. The tone of the poem is light and gay, suggestive of the power of beauty embedded in the muse. There is also the imagery of grace in the use of the verbs “smile” and “swagger” as it is only a confident being that smiles and swaggers. This implies that aspects of art can be overtly entertaining and delightful. Literature primarily teaches and delights (Onuekwusi, 2013). Indeed, literary scholars of formalist and post-structuralist bent have advocated that literature be studied based on its form or style, rather than concentrate on the issues of content or matter. The psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan is associated with the concept of jouissance, a sort of pleasure in text. The second line of the stanza of the poem underpins the universality of art whose beauty is felt in the West (Canada) and Africa (Nsukka), among others.

This second stanza further reveals where the songs of the minstrel are heard: “[…] the songs cross lonely crossroads of Cross River/they shepherd the lost traveller to his destination” (p/10). The imagery of a lost traveller on the lonely crossroads of Cross River being shepherded to his destination validates the power of art to revive and restore depressed humanity.

Stanza three speaks of the poetry in the mythology of water spirits who sing as they escort the mermaid to the depths of the water: “The songs play on lips of the retinue of water spirits/ escorting the watermaid to the depths of the Atlantic.” In an allegorical sense, there is poetry in the movements at waterbodies.

There are also the dramatic activities of the army ants in their line formations as well as the gait of the eagles in the sky: “Army ants pick his works songs for their marching tunes/eagles wing their way across the sky lisping his songs.” The imagery of the army ants in their measured rhythmic movement and the majesty of flying eagles in the sky exemplify the minstrel’s song.

The song of the minstrel gives a spark to the heart of a lonely traveller who must sing it to “keep evil djinns far away.” Art, therefore, keeps the mind aglow with positive vibes that banish fear. The sixth stanza is dramatic as the persona wraps the lines in the mystery of human reproduction: “The minstrel believes his songs conceive/induce labour and deliver beautiful offspring.” (p.10) The import of these lines is that there is poetry in the very activity that results in conception and the pangs of labour. Again, the act of yielding to labour and delivering offspring is poetry itself. The therapeutic power of poetry on the disabled is amplified in stanza seven as the minstrel believes that “his songs lend hands to the disabled” (p.10) who in turn overcome their inability by fending for themselves.

The superiority of poetry over other forms of art is asserted in stanza eight as the minstrel believes “his song is the lion’s speech that goes/uninterrupted by others of the forest population.” The use of “lion” symbolizes authority and dominance, while “others” suggests the existence of other types of art. Here, the lion as the mythical king of the jungle is the minstrel whose speech (poetry) cannot be challenged by “others of the forest population” (other types of art).

The metaphor of the iroko is further evoked in the use of iroko as the minstrel in stanza nine sees himself as “the rook that no other tree can dwarf” (p.10). The iroko is the mythological king of the trees as the lion is king of the animals. There is the evocation of the otherness where “no other tree” can dwarf the iroko just as no other lion can interrupt the lion.

The grandeur of the song of the minstrel attracts admirers to him. These admirers are taken in by his art. They show appreciation by giving the minstrel “deafening- applause.” These admirers are described as a “phantom crowd of adulators” (p.10), who besides giving deafening applause also go “delirious with the rhythm of his songs.” The delirium created by the rhythm of the minstrel’s song suggests the panoptic power of art on human emotion. The emotive power of the minstrel’s song resonates in stanza ten as the minstrel expects the deaf to “nod noisily to his notes” since he is wearing “brocades of smiles.” This suggests that an artist can go paralinguistic when the occasion calls for it.

The persona sees poetry in remote areas and activities. For instance, he sees poetry in the mythological activities of witches and the reassuring act of restitution performed by repentant robbers who return their loot after a robbery. “he believes witches raze their coven with his fire songs/ and robbers return their loot singing his songs of restitution” (p.11). This is why he traces the rhythmic beauty in the fire songs of witches and the penitent confessions of robbers making restitution.

The tone of the poem suddenly changes in stanza thirteen to an apocalyptic one. The persona goes sarcastic about the art of the minstrel. He takes a second look at the minstrel whom he sees as derailing from the rules of his engagement as the mouthpiece of the muse. He senses failure in the artistic mission of the minstrel, who boasts about how his art would bring down the house of politicians who “carouse” in Abuja: “He believes the house in which the politicians carouse/burns without smoke, and Abuja is only buying time” (p.11) This is a subtle criticism of the minstrel who seems to lack focus with his muse as he relapses into hubris. Stanza fourteen reinforces this fact as the persona calls the minstrel a “braggart” who might “break his swagger stick/gilded with wax so combustible it can disappear in seconds” (p.11). This is an allusion to poets who use highfalutin and complex diction in their art as they hardly communicate to their audience, hence make no impact, as their art is only impressionistic – all cymbals and noise – perhaps, with no compelling impact on the subconscious of readers.

It is for this purpose that the muse has to direct the minstrel in stanza fifteen to “narrow his wide grin”, a sarcasm for his lack of simplicity and purpose. This approach according to the persona is essentially what can cover the “scars, smudges, and splotches” (p.11) of the embattled minstrel. The beautiful use of parallelism and alliteration in the presentation of the three nouns scars, smudges and splotches, may contrast the negative metaphor of weakness which they represent. The minstrel has the use of complex diction as a weakness as it undermines his art, making it unable to achieve results. This may be Ojaide’s poetics on the repudiation of defamiliarization theory in the writing of poetry.

Expectedly, the minstrel does not obey his muse on the need to simplify his artistry. The persona presents the reaction of the muse thus:

The bemused muse whispers a sagely message:

Come down the high roof of the house of words


Move away from the hurricane alley to a safe ground

Come down the slender stilts for the long run ahead (p.11)


The tone of the lines above is filled with anger and disappointment for the recalcitrant minstrel who ignores the words of the spirit (muse) that inspires him. The use of the adjective “sagely” is indicative of the role of role of a guardian which the muse plays in the artistic enterprise of the minstrel. In his lone purpose of redirecting the minstrel, the muse employs the use of a journey motif as it is only in making a move that the poet can retrace his steps. The second line above is clear about coming down the “high roof of words”, both a metaphor and sarcasm for the use of grandiloquent diction. In the third line, the muse insists that a movement from the “hurricane alley” (a metaphor for the complex style which can only spell doom) to a “safe ground” (symbolizing simple diction that can make a poetic impact) is the path to follow if the minstrel must make an impact with his art.

The persona breaks into a barrage of rhetorical questions in stanza 18 where he reminds the minstrel about the futility of estranging his audience with his diction: “Should a hunter for carrying his dream in a big bag to the bush/ brag about the game that is now a porcupine and soon an ancestor” (p.11). This is sarcasm on the first-generation Nigerian poets whose verbosity made their art achieve little or no purpose.

The persona deploys rhetorical questions in the ensuing stanzas to flay the minstrel who has retorted in magniloquent and fustian style to derail his art. This is why he claims that the message of the minstrel has not yielded any result in African nations ruled by despots: “If they pick up the minstrel’s songs in Yaounde and Gaborene,/ have the people heeded the message he bears for the muse” (p.11). Yaounde is the metonymy for Cameroun as Gaborene represents Gabon, all countries ruled for decades by the same person. The persona also regrets that the minstrel’s message makes no impact even in Lagos and Abuja who have yet to abandon “lascivious ways” and have not been inspired to challenge “the future with the truth of the past.” Even the disunity in the country of Nigeria has remained perennial because the minstrel’s song has not had any impact on the people: “Have the minstrel’s songs translated the unwritten alphabet/into a new lingua franca of perennial love and friendship.”

Concluding, the persona cautions the minstrel to avoid getting overwhelmed by his artistic strides or sophistry in choosing words but to keep “the commandments of the providing muse” (p.12). The caution is reinforced in stanza 25 thus: “In its festive gyrations the sportive kite/should not take its future for granted.” The persona here forewarns a bleak future for the minstrel should he continue without heeding the warning of the muse. The closing lines of the poem further call on the minstrel to be contented with being a messenger rather than the muse itself:

The minstrel smiles, swaggers and glows

but let him obey the commandments of the muse


Let the masquerade never claim divinity

of the god he masks in costume and dance (p.12)


Ojaide’s “The minstrel smiles, swaggers” is a beautiful presentation of the interplay between the muse and the minstrel. The muse which is divine possesses the minstrel who glows with the inspired song or message. The lines above give a beautiful summary of the twenty-eight stanza poem out of which thirteen stanzas celebrate the conquests of the minstrel, while the remaining is a reflection on his failings. The persona is quick to remind the minstrel that he is only a “masquerade” who deploys “costume and dance” in his trade. The minstrel is therefore a medium through which the muse finds expression.

In another poem, the poet elucidates the true identity of the muse. Ojaide’s poetics on the identity of the minstrel is amplified in his “The Minstrel’s Livery.” The fourteen-stanza poem is characteristically written in unrhymed couplets. The poet’s persona sustains the didactic tone deployed in the preceding verse. He uses clear, powerful lines to define the duty and position of the minstrel in the interplay with the muse. There is a recurring use of the trope “costume” to make a poet realise that he is only a representative who does not own the words he proclaims. The poem contains lines intended to guide young writers against hubris associated with stardom.

The opening stanza reminds the minstrel about his commitment to keep the costume hallowed: “And the minstrel must maintain the sanctity/of the costume that he swore to keep clean” (p.13). The use of the noun “sanctity” is symbolic of inviolability. The costume symbolizes the livery of the minstrel when possessed by the muse. It could in another allegorical sense mean the sacredness of art itself. Thus, he admonishes in stanza two that the minstrel must not allow the costume to be soiled even “if it becomes crushing” (p13). He makes an allusion to Achebe’s Okonkwo in Things Fall Apart who maximizes the use of costume to “avert the obscene snipes of keen cynics.”

Stanzas five to eight warn the minstrel to avoid saying what is not inspired by the muse to save the sanctity of the muse:

If someday the costume becomes feathery

he must not fly the children’s kite in the air


But must carry himself high in chiefly steps

and leave pedestrian rushing to vagabond feet


Since he is everybody in just one body

he must separate poacher from the guard


He must make a difference by saving the truth

from the mauling claws of ferocious lies (p.13)


The use of the adjective “feathery” in line one could be associated with the nebulousness in the reception of the message from the muse. The persona cautions the minstrel in that circumstance to hold his peace and not seek to impress anyone by flying the “children’s kite in the air,” a metaphor for stooping low to alter the truth or impress anyone. The option given to the minstrel is to carry himself with grace. The use of “pedestrian” and “vagabond” in a syntagmatic relationship reinforces the warning not to fly the children’s kite. The third stanza above reminds the minstrel to be conscious of his identity as the bearer of truth who must distinguish between the “poacher” (villain) and the guard, a metaphor for an ally. In the fourth stanza above, the persona insists that the sanctity of truth be upheld always by the minstrel. Thus, he should realize that he occupies a special position which must not be desecrated by his indiscretion. For he must remember to “tread lightly/and not throw his weight over ants” (stanza 8) or “sting others” (stanza 9), because he sees himself as a “crocodile that carries harpooning jaws” (stanza 10).

The minstrel has to be conscious of his sacred duty and gift. Stanza 11 to 14 reinforces the enormity of what the minstrel stands for. Hear the persona:

The minstrel nurses the flower whose fragrance

hallucinates, still, he must bring it to full bloom


He must preserve the prestige of the caste

whose costume he wears to procure his needs


He must keep the clean the costume of his kind

that he enjoys wearing and glows on him


And that means following the dictates

of the muse, procurer of his pain and joy (p.14)


The first stanza above is a timely reminder to properly harness the muse and appropriate his message because it is the flower “whose fragrance hallucinates”, yet which must be brought to “full-blown”. The second stanza reminds the minstrel to carry on with his art with dignity since it is his means of livelihood. The metaphor of “the prestige of the cast” suggests the dignity of artists. The use of repetition in the third stanza above reinforces the persona’s stance about keeping the costume clean. The first emphasis on the cleanliness of the costume was made in the opening lines of the poem. The recipe for keeping the muse clean is all spelt out in the last stanza – the minstrel must abide by “the dictates/of the muse.” The muse has been variously described in the poem as “the truth” “flower with fragrance”, “costume” and the “procurer of pain and joy.” The antithesis in the latter shows that the muse can be a source of pain when misapplied.

The interplay between the minstrel and the muse continues in Ojaide’s “The Minstrel’s Honour” a 15-stanza poem that places the minstrel at the centre stage. He is sought after by virtually everyone because of his art. The art which is a product of his muse brings him honour, hence he rhetorically concludes the poem thus: “But what load placed on me by the muse/isn’t an honour to carry with songs?” (p.16). This conclusion underpins the position of Okoh (2008:3) thus: “Literature, then, has the capability of really shaping, influencing, above all, humanizing us. The literature identifies and brings out in us such humanness or quality of being a man.” The influencing power of literature is felt in the poem as people of the persona’s society throng to the minstrel because they believe in the power of his art.

The first stanza of the poem creates the imagery of being surrounded by people who believe in the ability of his art to receive solace: “Multitudes of poor ones mob me to drain their tears;/they plead with ‘I am going to be rich someday.” (p.15). There is a mood of hopelessness and anguish in the verse. The multitude is faced with the “fate of hardship” hence they seek the minstrel to pacify them since he is a “priest of words” (p.15). The multitude of people with anguished faces are sick “from state corruption and personal neglect” (p.15), hence they seek reprieve through the songs of the minstrel. They bear a mythic assumption as “they believe there’s nothing he can’t do who sings the river song…” It is not only the sick who seek after the minstrel. Some choose to live in the Eldorado of love and prosperity and seek his art for validation, as seen in stanzas 5 and 6: “Others take the trouble to come so far to validate self-interpreted dreams of love and prosperity/ because they choose to be blind to hopeless cases –“ (p.15)

The minstrel (artist) simply cannot be anonymous as “Neither T-shirt nor skull cap masks the minstrel.” Even the government takes notice of him through his art. He is arrested for protesting “gas flares and oil blowouts” (p.15). He cannot do without using art against the irresponsibility of the government. Despite being hunted down by those in power who perpetuate state corruption, the minstrel gains popularity. Even “the confusing nicknames of homeboy and vagabond” do not deter “those who seek the minstrel in songs.” They seek the minstrel to draw solace through his powerful art (songs). They are sure that “at close quarters in his livery of minstrelsy” the minstrel would certainly make them feel “free and happy.”

It is noteworthy that the minstrel also faces “proliferating trials” as seen in stanza 14, yet he is not deterred. He admits in utmost humility in the last couplet thus: “But what load placed on me by the muse/isn’t an honour to carry with songs?” This minstrel is quite different from the one in the preceding poem who smiles, swaggers and glows, perhaps, with hubris. This minstrel is in sync with his muse, hence he is humble despite being sought out by all sections of the society for the beauty and pungency of his art.


Tanure Ojaides’s “The Beauty I Have Seen” is an authoritative voice in the trajectory of Nigerian poetry tradition. It bears repeating that there is virtually no other literary work that has treated the strategic relationship shared by the minstrel and the muse in the historical development of Nigerian literature. By implication, Tanure’s poetry has profoundly demystified the metaphor of the minstrel and the muse, giving young artists room to become better in the artistic enterprise. In Psychoanalytic terms, the poetry so presented is aimed at permeating the subconscious of the reader and boosting his morality principle to become better in their art. The young poet learns that the muse has rules which must be kept by the minstrel if excellent art is to be produced. Some of these rules which have been buttressed in the poems so discussed bear dimensions in language use and personality development. Ojaide’s poetry in “The Beauty I Have Seen” is therefore a set of poetics on how great art can be achieved with proper communion between the minstrel and the muse. Poetry is particularly important to young, aspiring poets. Thus, one of the key findings is the discovery that the metaphor of the minstrel and the muse is expressed in the interplay between the duo in a poetic enterprise. Two, the richness of any art depends on the interplay between the minstrel and the muse. A young writer learns from the foibles of the poet in “The Minstrel Smiles, swaggers” whose art is undermined by hubris and insensitivity to the directions of the muse.


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