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For Francis Abiola Irele – “Olohun-Iyo” By Wole Soyinka

July 22, 2017

True, numbers diminish, but we are not thereby

Diminished. Memories rack, yet lift

Our spirits off the rack of remembrance. Be it

The echo of a harsh scrape, decades dimmed,

Of a street café chair, rue des Ecoles, puncturing

Peals of laughter, a head thrust sideways,

Quizzical in contestation – these hoarded trivia

Flit in and out of mind, unbidden, contesting

The tyranny of absence.


Earth revolves, nothing is resolved

The hours pass in spurts of sparse fulfillment.

We remain the thoughts we spin, and leave

Lingering over wine vapour, tobacco spirals

Around audacious faces – were we not

The Renaissance generation? Then, Gauloises,

Gitanes vied with filtered cigarillos – it was

That time when smoke-free lives were yet

Unborn. We littered Presence Africaine with stubs

And words of passion, moulders of identity.


Let no one grudge those you leave behind

These keepsakes. Some will speak Negritude,

Others Marxism and aspiring Communes. You were

The cosmopolitan, consummate, straddling proposition isles.

The Muses held you in thrall, deftly you skirted

Dogma traps. A lyric voice, suddenly in full flight

On a Donizetti aria – fittingly we named you

Olohun-iyo – but next breath became a midwife, fixated

On parturition of a new nursery of creativity.


Why this sudden ‘Francis’, I once charged, intrigued.

It swam against the tide of black awakening. Your reply,

A dismissive shrug – The name was stamped on me.

All family history – I merely restored my full identity.

Some enigma lurked, but his was right of reticence.

I simply canonized  St. Francis of the Muses,

For saint indeed he was – of letters - bore the stigmata

Invisibly, the scars of honour, earned in defence

Of hallowed space for unfettered intellect.


Freed of those sudden flares of latent scars –

The triumphal march of neo-barbarians at our gates -

You join the absent throng of griots, preceptors,

Their arms wide open to enfold you.  Enter.

Suave medium of their grand accord – Damas,

Depestre, Okigbo, Aime Cesaire, Walcott, Sedar Senghor -

You made their lives your own. From rubble of the Tower

Of Babel, smoothed paving stones to float an isthmus - Black

Continent to island beaded Caribbean.  You spun

A rainbow of insights over the  waters of Dispersal.


Death kicks us in the groin. We cry Foul

An off-shore umpire looks the other way. Our protests

Merely swell the ocean of separation. Blithe spirit, who

Wove bright sashes round the peaks of lyric,

Plunged, pearl diver, to the ocean beds of thought, brought

Parnassus to Idanre, Montparnasse to Olumo - elegance

Of mind the sustaining cord of an unending quest -

Alas, Aburo, that you must set off, too soon for vain desire  -

For that famed Diaspora of No Return.


                                                                                                            -Wole SOYINKA