Opening with a change in seasons, the poem describes the "old earth has sucked within it/ Souls of the living"(Wole Soyinka, A Shuttle in the Crypt, p. 15). Like Eliot's image of The Waste Land, this picture of life sucked into the earth presents the changing seasons negatively. The earth throttles life underground. In contrast, the image of the "cloud weeds in air" indicates life coming from death, highlighting the combination of new life containing old thoughts. New life is, therefore, not new but a revival of the past. Although new life has been mentioned, the emphasis rests upon the idea that the future lies with the past.
Whereas the first stanza developed an image of falling, the second describes the mind soaring. Nonetheless, the underlying thought is not entirely uplifting because it recognizes of futility. Just as the plane cannot control its passage but depends upon the wind and fate, the mind is caught in the futility of ideas and actions. Soyinka explains, "The mind/ Is banked upon the bankrupt flow/ Of wisdoms new"(Wole Soyinka, A Shuttle in the Crypt, p. 15). The use of "bank" as part of two words draws attention to their contradictory nature, emphasizing the point that the mind, based upon an empty flow, does not have new wisdom to find.
In the third stanza, the idea that human beings cannot create new knowledge stems in part from battle imagery. Soyinka describes,
Stirring to fresh touch of old pretensions
Throbs of dead passion, chilled rebounds
From sensations of the past, old hands and voices
The blows of battle and the scars" ( p. 16).
Although responding, the earth answers old sensations. The choice of diction in "battle", "scars" and "dead passion" invokes images of war. Recalling Soyinka's experience with the ongoing African wars, one sees that the stanza could imply that the future of Africa was trapped in its past. Although the mind is questing, the loss of ideals and vision creates a falling image.
This falling image is followed by one of advancement. To show this progression, Soyinka employs contrasting images stating, "this progression has been source/ For great truths in spite of stammering/ Planes for great building in spite/ Of crooked sights, for plastic strength/ Despite corrosive fumes of treachery" (p. 16). Although mentioning great truth and building, Soyinka also includes in this list of positive points strength described as plastic, which creates a contradiction within the contrasting images of the quotation possibly to emphasize skepticism with his idea.
The final stanzas contradict this idea of progress by denying that one can find truth. In the end, Soyinka sees truth as sinking with "cobweb hangings on the throne of death/ In solitude" (p. 17). This image could indicate that death will always be here and has always been a part of life. No fresh blood, therefore, stains the throne.
Although one can soar, death is inevitable. Soyinka believes one can climb the heights of idealism but eventually one must come crashing down because death exists. Thinking one is discovering everything for the first time does not change the fact that the spires of the mind will be sucked down. The seasons fit into this idea because death represents their "legacy". Each time the seasons change, Soyinka remembers the futility in life. In expressting his inner thoughts, perhaps Soyinka relieved some of the strain on himself, a solitary individual trying to keep his mind from breaking by enlightening others to the problems all people share.
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