"Flowers For My Homeland"

Karen Atkins '93 (English 32, 1989)

In this poem coral, which is not a flower, embodies Soyinka's philosophy of political resistance. He cites the coral as the "grim, historic flower, a now and future moral." The grim coral represents the oppression and violation that placed his country under political tyranny. Under this political tyranny, human rights are ignored to serve the interests of the Nigerian government. As a result, the government metes out "horrors: the gardens here are furrowed still and bare....dare to think these bones will bloom tomorrow." Immersed in these horrors, Soyinka questions the efficacy of resistance. Despite resistance, the government continually sacrifices "visions" of a true Nigerian autonomy to multinational drilling for oil: "oil erupts/upon the altar casts an evil shade." Soyinka finds his country's political state permeated with the ruthlessness of its governors.

Despite the government's tyranny, Soyinka finds resolve in a philosophy that converts defeat into hope. The grim coral is also an "historic flower" and "a now and future moral." Soyinka challenges the "mangled kind" against the "lesser leagues of death and mutilators of the mind." The coral is a metaphor for hope in prison. Just like the coral that builds itself on generations and generations of other dead coral, so, too will the resistance build itself on generations of resistors. The survivors will chronicle the past resistance, so, like a reef, these chronicles, in verse or prose, will stand as a permanent record of past ills. Each death will create room for more resistance.

In conjunction with his political philosophy, the poem corroborates its resolve through its form as an elegy. In typical elegiac fashion, the poem marks a tremendous sense of loss and disillusionment, indicated by Soyinka's recurring images of dissipation. In contrast to typical elegies, which celebrate the passing of an individual, Soyinka extends this form to a description of his entire nation and its fallen state. Soyinka's notion of decay eventually reaches a point in which it begins to collapse on itself, pointing toward recompense. Under this transformation, the grim coral becomes the historic flower of hope and resurgence. By focussing on this historic flower, Soyinka aligns himself with the pastoral tradition that meditates loss through art.

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