Jonathan Protass '92 (English 32, 1990)

In the man died Wole Soyinka states "The man dies in all who keep silent in the face of tyranny"(London: Collings, 1972, p13). Tyranny, in this context, reflects a severe condition. Along with his prison notes which make up the man died, Soyinka managed to compile a series of poems entitled A Shuttle in the Crypt.(1972) during his imprisonment. In the face of Soyinka's personal experience of tyranny (his confinement), the poet was certainly silenced to the extent that he was kept from the from the public. However, Soyinka's mind could not yield to silence. In his poem "Seed, Soyinka compares himself to a buried seed waiting to emerge from the depths of the underground. In "Seed," the reader gains a true sense of Soyinka's character, restless and eager to rejoin the rest of the free world, like a seed waiting to blossom into a flower.

In the first stanza, Soyinka refers to his eventual freedom as the break of a new day. In this stanza, Soyinka also compares himself to Lazarus, a man who was supposedely brought back to life by Jesus after being in a tomb for four days.

Roll away the stone to echoes
Of silver reins retreating. Was ears
Of corn in the rain to await dawqn's embassy
Unshroud the cavern's other mouth
Where Lazarus sheds his rags and tears. (1-5)

According to the Bible, raising of Lazarus is considered the crowining miracle or sign revealing Jesus as the giver of life. Wole Soyinka's mother, Grace Eniola Soyinka, was dubbed the nickname "Wild Christian" for her pioneering role in spreading Christianity. Apparently, this "Wild Christian" was a major influence on her son and his poetry -- a fact that appears in Soyinka's biblical allusions.

Later in the poem, Soyinka acquires the"voice of gentle rain," whose droplets will sink their way into the earth and eventually nourish the seed and bring it to life. The rain is analogous to Soyinka's hope in "Seed."

I speak in the voice of gentle rain
In whispers of growth
In sleight of light
I speak in aged hairs of wind
Midwife to cloud
And sheaves on threshing-floor. [17-22]

Here Soyinka optimistically hopes for his liberation. The growth of a flower from a seed is a slow process, and this process calls for the cooperation of several different natural factors. The rain must be gentle, and there must be sufficient sunlight for proper growth to occur. The wind must be such that the seeds recently fallen upon the surface will find their place in the earth. Only then will a seed become a flower. Soyinka plays the role of the seed in this poem, and only the outside forces can free him from his imprisonment.

Toward the end of the poem, Soyinka sees a "passage." Instead of a passage of light leading to Soyinka's freedom, the sight of the passage casts a gloomy sense of doom and emptiness upon the poet. The seed's optimism turns into dark solitude, for time has produced no freedom:

Drop, as moments, dissolve
In solitudes of dark ebony essence
Dirge, loom, emptiness of passage. (43-45)

It seems that if the poet has not already lost hope, he feels that he should. A "dirge" is a hymn of lamentation, and Soyinka sings it. The sight of the dark passage induces a sense of hpelessness upon the seed. Soyinka was released from prison in 1969: the flower eventually blossomed.

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