“Compare and contrast the different moods, themes and ideas created in the ‘childhood’ poems from Section C of the anthology”


Main Point 1 - The essence of childhood: naivety, innocence, simplicity, freedom and purity.

Sub Point A:    The poems ‘Hide and Seek’ and ‘Half-past Two’ captures the simplistic, exciting and almost naïve aspect of a child’s life.

Evidence:         “Call out.”, “Here I am!”, “Don’t breathe. Don’t move. Stay dumb.”

Explanation:     The use of numerous short sentences throughout the poem helps maintain a fast pace and build up tension to create the child’s feverish excitement. The poem is foregrounded with a short, sharp sentence. This immediately creates excitement grabbing the reader’s attention. The lack of any other detail and background information reveals probes the reader to continue reading. “Here I am!” once again uses a short sentence to maintain the fast pace of ‘Hide and Seek’. This is accentuated through the use of an exclamation mark. The excitement is then reinforced with the use of “Don’t breathe. Don’t move. Stay dumb.” The three short sentences sets a fast pace as well as convey to the reader the sheer excitement of the boy, going over each and everything to ensure that he stays well hidden. This is emphasised through the use of monosyllabic words.


Evidence:         The lack of stanzas in ‘Hide and Seek’, and the tone of uncontainable excitement.

Explanation:     The lack of stanzas contributes to creating the fast pace of poem as well as reflecting the excitement within the game that is being played. The lack of stanza creates the impression of the excitement within this face paced game of Hide and Seek as well as creates the sense of breathlessness of the child playing the game and the contagious excitement of the environment. The tone of barely containable excitement runs throughout the poems, most evident through lines 1-17.


Evidence:         ‘Something Very Wrong’, ‘Gettinguptime’, ‘timeyouwereofftime’, ‘Timetogohomenowtime’, ‘TVtime’, ‘She’, ‘Her’, ‘Time’

Explanation:     The neologism ‘Gettinguptime’, ‘timeyouwereofftime’, ‘Timetogohomenowtime’, ‘TVtime’ that is used by the child to describe the times of the day portrays the naivety of the child. The neologism effectively recreates the naïve perspective of a child. The child’s inability to understand the idea of ‘Time’ as a measure of a point of a certain day and instead uses the phrases that he continuously hear used by adults to define the “times” of his day. This naivety of the child is further emphasised as he is unable to break up the phrases that he hears into their individual part and instead treats them as an entire idea. The impression of naivety is also created through the capitalization of ‘She’ and ‘Her’ as the child refers to the teacher. This capitalization conveys a child-like respect and admiration that the child has towards this figure of authority.


Evidence:         The use of free indirect discourse

Explanation:     The use of free direct discourse allows the reader to experience the situation from both a child’s simplistic and naïve perspective as well as a more mature, adult perspective. ‘Timeformykisstime (that was Grantime)… Where time hides tick-less waiting to be born’ allows the reader to gain a childish insight into the situation but also a more matured and experience point of view. These two perspective contrast greatly, making the child’s perspective of the situation appear more simplistic and naïve.



Sub Point B:    In contrast, the innocence and purity of childhood is a more subtle and underlying theme in the poems ‘A Mother in a Refugee Camp’, ‘Once Upon a Time’ and ‘Prayer Before Birth’

Evidence:         (Prayer Before Birth) ‘bloodsucking bat’, ‘club-footed ghoul’, ‘trees to talk’, ‘water to dandle me’, ‘grass to grow me’, ‘sky to sing me’, ‘birds and a white light’

Explanation:     The childish fears of ‘bloodsucking bat’ and ‘club-footed ghouls’ as well as the child’s innocence that is conveyed through the soothing images of ‘trees’, ‘water’, ‘grass’, ‘sky’ and ‘birds’ as well as ‘a white light’ to ‘guide me’. The fears of ‘bloodsucking bat’s and ‘club-footed ghouls’ establishes a sense of innocence that the baby possesses through its tone. These fears of supernatural horrors show the unrealistic and more immature fears as opposed to the fears of the child as he/she matures. ‘Bloodsucking bat’ conveys a fear of the life being sucked out of the child, ‘blood’ being associated with life’. This is emphasized by the use of plosives within it. However, the innocence of the child is also created through the soothing images and gentle adjectives. The baby’s hope is represented through positive natural images. This is positivity is exaggerated through the soft alliteration: ‘tree to talk to me’, ‘grass to grow me’, and ‘sky to sing to me’. The ‘white light’ that the child is asking for to ‘guide’ creates a pure image in the reader’s head. ‘White’ has the connotations of being pure and innocent, ‘light’ also has the connotations of being pure and being illuminated.


Evidence:         (A Mother in a Refugee Camp) ‘No Madonna and Child’,

Explanation:     Childhood is pure and precious. The ‘Madonna and Child’, also known as Stoclet Madonna or Stroganoff Madonna, is a reference to Christian religious art, it depicts Mary, the mother of Jesus being the ‘Madonna’ and the ‘Child’ being the infant Jesus. Symbol of purity of the child and the mother and their relationship


Evidence:         (Once Upon a Time): Repetition of ‘laugh’ and ‘smile’

Explanation:     The repetition of ‘laugh’ and ‘smile’ shows what the persona longs to get back. The repetition of ‘laugh’ and ‘smile’ throughout the poems shows what the persona is nostalgic for and longs for. His pleas to him suns implies that his sun possess this purity and innocence that has yet been untainted by the world.



Main Point 2 - The innocence and purity of childhood is being tainted by the tyranny of the world.

Sub Point A:    ‘A Mother in a Refugee Camp’ conveys the threat that the civil war is placing on the innocence and the perciousness of childhood. Cultural Context: Achebe’s poems aimed to publicise the plight of the refugees in camps. These refugee camps were located in the Republic Biafra due to civil war between the Biafrians and the Nigerians. However, the Nigerian army was more powerful and they were able to impose economic sanctions on the Biafrians to prevent them from receiving food. Among the banned items were also foreign medical supplies and doctors. The inhabitants of the country ended up starving and it is estimated that between one and three million people died due to malnutrition, most of these were civilians not involved in the actual combat. Their deaths were due to malnutrition and inadequate health supplies.


Evidence:         ‘unwashed children’, ‘washed-out ribs’, ‘dried up bottoms’, ‘behind blow-empty bellies’, ‘rust-colored hair left on his skull’, ‘like putting flowers on a tiny grave’

Explanation:     Achebe describes the air in the camp as being ‘heavy’. This is partly literal; the smells, sounds from the camp creates a suffocating atmosphere. This is also metaphorical, implying that the mood of the camp is heavy and tragic, creating the impression that all that has been going on around the refugee camp has taken its toll on the people and is acting like a dead-weight upon them. This effectively creates a solemn tone for the poem, allowing the readers to understand the weighed down mood in these refugee camps. The severity of the conditions in the refugee camp is fully exposed through the appalling conditions of the ‘unwashed children’ with ‘washed-out ribs’ and ‘dried up bottoms’. In contrast to the celebration of purity and innocence of childhood in poems ‘Hide and Seek’ and ‘Half-past Two’, ‘A Mother in a Refugee Camp’ mourns the lost of the same innocence and purity of childhood. The children in the camp are depicted as ‘unwashed’ implying a sense of neglect for these children that are in the refugee camp. In addition, the atrocious conditions of the refugee camp are emphasized through the ‘washed-out ribs’ reflecting the hunger and emptiness of the children. The vitality and life that was so evident in ‘Hide and Seek’ and ‘Half-past Two’ is indicated by ‘washed-out’ creating a sense of the children’s spirits fading away slowly under the strain that is upon them due to everything that is going on around the. The juxtaposition and irony of the children’s ‘blown-empty bellies’ emphasizes the extent of the emptiness of the children. This creates a sense of metaphorical hollowness of the people, even the children who are expected to be most resilient, accentuating the hopeless of the people. The use of plosives effectively places emphasis on the emptiness of the people and the lack of hope. The child’s ‘rust-colored hair’ on his ‘skull’ conveys a sense of decayed, of being used and strained. In addition, the portrayal of the child’s head as a ‘skull’ once again creates the sense of hollowness. ‘Skull’ having the connotations of death and dying, illustrates the lost of hope in the child and the undeniable reality that the child will eventually die. This definite death of the child is further emphasized through the last line of the poem: ‘like putting flowers on a tiny grave’. The lack of doubt within the last line portrays the mother’s acceptance of the bleak future that the child has. Achebe’s most effective method for creating pathos for the children in the refugee camp is through the image of the ‘tiny grave’ of the child. This is powerfully emphasized with the final world of the poem being ‘grave’, showing that death will definitely and eventually going to occur.



Sub Point B:    in ‘prayer before birth’, the child conveys fear of what the world might do to taint It’s purity and innocence as well as the fear of what it might do as a result of the negative influence of the world.

 Evidence:        ‘with tall walls wall me’, ‘wise lies lure me’, ‘black racks rack me’, ‘blood-baths roll me’, ‘for the sins that in me the world shall commit’, ‘blow me like thistledown hither and thither or hither and thither’, ‘dissipate my entirety’  ‘hands would spill me’, ‘otherwise kill me’

Explanation:     The child fears that the harsh reality of the real world would entrap him and impose a sense of control on him. The child fears that the human race would with ‘tall walls wall’ it. The walls create a sense of isolation and a claustrophobic atmosphere. The ‘tall walls’ may be interpreted literally as physical walls, or metaphorical as social walls and even mental walls, preventing him from connecting to the person that the child is now fervently praying to. Repetition of ‘walls’ suggests a continuously building up process. The ‘all’ vowel sounds also suggest the sheer height and size of the walls. ‘wise lies lure me’ uses an oxymoron to convey the fear of how deceptive the world can be, the word ‘lure’ creates a sense of the world being sly and cunning on top of being deceiving. The baby also fears what torture man will put it through, with ‘black racks rack me’, ‘blood-baths roll me’. MacNeice uses two vivid images that the readers are able to imagine to provide a more visual display of the extent of the evilness of this world. MacNeice effectively uses premodifiers when describing the threats and the fears of the baby to make the object seem more sinister and to create an internal rhyme that implies the threats are ongoing and regular. Furthermore, the baby is also fearful of what sins and deeds that the world might influence him into committing. The baby fears ‘for the sins that’ in it ‘the world shall commit’ suggest that the baby is being used by ‘the world’, everyone else around it, to commit atrocities. The can also be interpreted as the world acting through the baby and the complete lack of control the baby has. This derives the idea that the baby is only a tool, an object, in the world’s evil motives and it’s powerlessness in the matter. The idea that the baby is controlled and not in charge of it’s action is emphasised through the motion of it being blown around like thistledown. The baby’s motion is depicted as a uncontrolled motion of ‘hither and thither… hither and thither’. This conveys a sense of uncertainty and a lack of control over it’s own path in life and a sense of fragility that the child possesses and how easily manipulated it is. ‘Hither and thither… hither and thither’ also suggest a sense of the. The world is said to ‘dissipate’ the persona’s ‘entirety’, implying that the world would lead to him breaking up, ‘entirety’ creates the impression that it’s not only the baby’s body that will disappear, but also it’s soul. This creates the impression that baby will not be whole after he has experienced the harsh reality of the world. The baby also conveys it’s fear of losing control, that the world would ‘spill’ the life from it and the lack of though that would be given to this is implied by the word ‘spill’. In an alarming end to the poem, the baby shocks the reader through it’s one and only strong demand in the entire poem. MacNeice most effectively critique’s the world and it’s horrific nature through the unborn baby’s final request to ‘kill me’. The blunt nature of the phrasing creates shock and horror, that this is even considered by the unborn baby that is meant to be a symbol of hope for the world, purity and innocence.


Evidence:         Narrowing stanzas

Explanation:     This narrowing stanza layout could be interpreted as a sense of loss that the persona feels, the baby feels itself dissipating and spreading out. Sense of things and threats that are in the world are closing in on him.


Evidence:         Lack of a specific thing or person that is posing the threat to the baby, very generalized and vague.

Explanation:     There are no mentions of a specific thing or people that are the threats. Sinister ‘they’ are the threat, making the child do things that it does not want to. Unable to specifically identity and avoid the threat creates and impression that this threat is all around and constantly hovering over the persona.



Sub Point C:    in ‘once upon a time’, gabriel okara explores more generally the world losing it’s cultural identity and a loss of genuinenity within human connections due to natural process of growing up and specifically in this poem europeanisation.  Cultural Context: Okara’s poems tend to reflect the problems the African nations face as they are torn between the culture of their European colonizer and their traditional African heritage. In ‘Once Upon a Time’, he explores the traumatic effect that colonization and de-colonisation can have on the self and one’s sense of personal identity. ‘Once Upon a Time’ describes the problems that can arise when the cultures of ancient Africa and modern Europe clash leaving people without a clear sense of how to behave and where to look for guidance. Okara also explores the honest simplicities of the past and the superficial unreliability of the modern world.

Evidence:         ‘Once Upon a Time’

Explanation:     The time clause gives the reader an idea of the point in time that this happened. ‘Once upon a time’ is commonly associated to the beginning of a fairytale, suggesting that this has happened a long time ago and is not a part of the persona’s life anymore. ‘Once upon a time’ also implies that this type of life that the persona is nostalgic for has ceased to exist anymore and this creates an impression that this type of life does not exist in reality, as we know it.


Evidence:         ‘laugh with their teeth’, ‘ice-block-cold eyes’, ‘search behind my shadow’, ‘wear many faces like dresses’, ‘find doors shut on me’, ‘a snake’s bare fangs!’

Explanation:     The contrast of what people used to do and what they do now, emphasizes how much has changed and how people have changed. The persona describes how people use to ‘laugh with their hearts’ but not they ‘only laugh with their teeth’. This suggests that laughs used to be a genuine feeling, coming from the inside of someone, as is the heart an internal organ. The heart is also commonly associated with love, warmth and innocence. Whereas now, people ‘laugh with their teeth’, implying a sense of superficiality, in contrast with the eyes and the heart (positive organs). Instead people now laugh with ‘ice-block-cold eyes’, a metaphor to show the lack of real emotion behind the laugh. This shows the full extent of the superficiality of society as eyes are said to be ‘the windows to the soul’, and commonly associated with honesty and trust. This is accentuated through the use of ‘ice’, which has the connotations of being cold, harsh and emotionless. Eyes and hard contrasts with teeth, which are cold and sharp, emotionless, hard and vicious. Teeth are associated with animalistic, savage behaviors. This is emphasised through the harsh double ‘e’ consonants. ‘Search behind my shadow’ creates an impression that the person feels vaguely threatened as ‘shadow’s tend to be associated to the negative side or the weakness of one so this searching gives the impression that ‘they’ are superficially nice but are actually summing the persona up, assessing him and furtively looking for a weakness that they can exploit. ‘Wear many faces life dresses’ emphasises the superficiality and how emotions completely lack any genuinely. Faces that people tend to associate with emotions and one’s expression are now worn, like the masks of one’s pre-planned outfits. This is emphasised through the list of faces that follows to show how meaningless faces are, and shows the ease at which they are interchanged like dresses. The repetition of the word ‘face’ demonstrates how when things are done too often, said too often, they become meaningless. In addition, Okara states the gestures that used to be genuine have almost become routines of no meaning, people will always say ‘Feel at home! Come again’ but lack the genuine invitation when they say it. This is highlighted by the exclamation, which suggest that it is almost forced and these sediments are empty and fake. ‘Find doors shut on me’ shows how the sediments made by society before are pretention as the persona uses modal verbs, which show the certainty that this will definitely happen. ‘Doors shut on me’ is an image of clear social exclusion. The persona compares his teeth to a ‘snake’s bare fangs’ shows the how deceptive his emotions are. ‘Snake’ has the connotations of being sinister, evil and venomous which might imply the effects on society-dehumanising an individual. In additions, these fangs are depicted as bare which show how they are undisguised and displayed for all to see. ‘Snake’ is also the biblical image of evil, satan disguised as a snake, deceiving the innocent and pure Adam and Eve; the pure and innocence of childhood.


Evidence:         Repetition of ‘learned, ‘learn’ and ‘relearn’

Explanation:     The suggesting that one’s emotions and feelings have to be learnt show the extent of corruption of society. The person has ‘learned many things’ gives the impression is not natural that is has been fine-tuned to perfection and has been imposed upon the persona instead of the person discovering it personally. ‘Learn’ has negative connotations; suggest that people are brainwash and an imitation of one another. The persona has learned a whole list of phrases and the repetition of them in stanza 5 shows that the persona has succumbed. Persona starts contradicting himself by stating that he wants to ‘relearn how to laugh’ even though a laugh cannot be learn or taught by anyone but felt from the inside for it to be genuine. This reflects how much society has corrupted him.


Evidence:         Progression from the things ‘they do’ at the beginning of the poem to ‘I’ doing them, contrast between the ‘used to’ and ‘now’ time clauses.

Explanation:     Persona is conforming to the social norm. Beginning of the poem has a continuous repetition of ‘their’ and ‘they’ however this gradually progresses to ‘I have’ which shows how the persona is adapting himself to become accepted in society and conforming to his surroundings. Contrast between ‘used to’ and ‘now’ suggest a change, development and growth but for the worse.



Main Point 3 - Nostalgia for the past

Sub Point A:    in ‘piano’ the persona displays nostalgia for his childhood. Cultural Context: D.H. Lawrence had always had a strong emotional bond with his mother and became interested in arts as a result of his mother’s encouragement. He is believed to have helped his mother die by giving her an overdose of sleeping pill when she was stricken with cancer in 1910.

Evidence:         ‘the heart of me weeps to belong’, ‘old Sunday evenings at home’, ‘manhood is cast Down in the flood of remembrance’, ‘I weep like a child for the past

Explanation:     The persona shows longing for a warmth and comfort that existed in his past. ‘The heart of me weeps to belong’ shows the persona’s genuine and legitimate desire to belong back in the past. This is emphasised through the ‘heart’, which has connotations with love and warmth as well as ‘weep’ which highlights how deeply and badly he wishes to once again belong. A grown man weeping with his heart to belong.old Sunday evenings at home’ conveys the warmth, comfort and peacefulness the persona misses from his past. There is an implication that his present life is lacking the warmth, possible because his mother has passed away, and the vitality of his childhood. ‘Manhood is cast Down in the flood of remembrance’ suggest this overwhelming sense of nostalgia, his ‘manhood’ being ‘cast down’ shows this shameless outbreak of his grown-man, that is it ‘cast down’ suggest that it is done without much thought and care. This is accentuated through the use of enjambment that implies an overwhelming emotion coursing through the persona. ‘Flood of remembrance’ once again suggest that there is an overwhelming amount of longing the persona feels towards his childhood. The persona ‘weeping like a child for the past’ once again reveals the degree of longing and nostalgia that the person is conveying, a man is ‘weeping like a child’ shows


Sub Point B:    in contrast, ‘A mother in a refugee camp’ depicts nostalgia for the better past life when there was no war.

Evidence:         ‘held a ghost-smile between her teeth’, ‘memory of a mother’s pride…’, ‘bundle of possessions’, ‘a broken comb and combed’, ‘In their former life this was perhaps a daily act of no consequences’

Explanation:     The ‘ghost-smile’ that the mother ‘held between her teeth’ reflects a sense of desperation, as well as a smile that has ceased to exist but is simply in place perhaps for the child. ‘Memory of a mother’s pride…’ shows a change in the tone, to a slightly more quiet, implying the hopelessness that the mother feels. This comes across almost like a question; as if the mother is questioning herself if she still remembers the mother’s pride that she had once felt. It creates an impression that the mother is subdued and quiet when remembering it, taking a moment to hold onto the memory. This is emphasised through the ellipse after and the short length of the line. ‘Bundle of possession’ indicate how little the mother and child have left with them, implying that they now live a transitory life and are transitory people, they have no permanent place to call home. The image of a mother using a ‘broken comb’ to ‘comb’ her child’s hair reveals the tenderness and how desperate she is to hold on to her child, as well as her old life. The use of a small act of combing the child’s hair shows how helpless the mother is, unable to do anything else for the baby. In addition, this creates pathos as the mother is fully aware that while combing the baby’s hair today, she could be burying him tomorrow. The ‘broken comb’ reflects the state of poverty that they are in, but even in that, the mother is clinging onto the routine, implying a longing to keep hold of her past life. ‘In their former life’ creates this impression that this life was a completely different life but one that had existing so long ago. ‘A little daily act of no consequences’ shows how this act of combing the baby’s hair used to be insignificant in the past because they were so easily achieved and attainted and therefore unappreciated. However now, they become valued and important because this small act has become so important and the opportunity to do it each day is so dearly cherished because any day might be the last day the mother is able to comb her child’s hair. This conveys the mother’s fear of losing the child and how dearly she is clinging onto him. The lack of ‘consequences’ in the ‘former life’ now contrast to the amounts of consequences this daily act has for the mother. The mother is fully aware that the baby will eventually die and she would eventually have to let go and each day might be the last day that she gets to comb his hair and bath him.



Main Point 4 - Identity and finding yourself

Sub Point A:    in ‘hide and seek’ describes a childhood experience that could help shape one’s identity

Evidence:         ‘Yes, here you are. But where are they who sought you?’

Explanation:     The poem is about a game of hide and seek but it also conveys a theme of identity. Firstly, that childhood experiences are part of one’s identity and are a part of the formation process. The idea that identity can only be found by yourself and not by others. One cannot rely on other to find them ‘Yes, here you are. But where are they who sough you?’ is a rhetorical questions that questions the persona in the poem where the people he was relying on to find him had gone and acting as a reminder that if you continuously wait on people to come find you, you’ll end up right at the start- lost and alone.


Sub Point B:    however, in ‘prayer before birth’ louis macneice reveals the baby’s fear of losing his identity because of the controlling nature of the world

Evidence:         ‘my words they speak me’, ‘my thoughts when they think me’, ‘freeze my humanity’, ‘make me a cog in a machine’, ‘a thing with one face, a thing’, ‘let them not make me a stone’

Explanation:     The repetition of ‘they’ making the persona do things the he doesn’t want to do is not specified. This repetition creates the impression of a large number of ‘they’s and it creates a feeling of being threatened because of how indistinctive it is and also because ‘they’ imply a universal, vague, amorphous and homogenous force that is determined to harm the baby’s purity and innocence. The persona is personifying his thoughts and conveying his helpless as the ‘words they speak me’ and ‘my thought when they think me’. This shows the lack of control the persona has and creates the impression that the baby is being manipulated and forced into committing atrocities that it does not want to. ‘Freeze my humanity’ suggest a sense of stealing the things that make up the baby’s humanity: warmth compassion, love, kindness, charity, innocence and purity and instead, turn him into a cold, heartless machine. ‘Make me a cog in the machine’ conveys the reader’s fear of lack of freedom and being controlled by other. ‘A cog in the machine’ suggests a sense of no identity as there are numerous identical cogs and they all make up the machine and there is no recognition for each individual cog. ‘A thing with one face, a thing’ once again shows the baby’s fear of losing it’s uniqueness and identity and instead being a thing. The use and repetition of ‘thing’, a depersonalized pronoun emphasises the baby’s fear of losing control and it’s personality. ‘Let them not make me a stone’ reveals the baby’s fear of being lifeless, emotionless and unmoving. ‘Stone’ creates the impression of the baby being only an object, that is unable to feel and to think on it’s own and losing all sense of humanity.


Sub Point C:    In ‘once upon a time’, okara conveys how society has lack any personal identity and has lost all it’s honest qualities that it once possessed but also find a hope of society within children.

Evidence:         ‘unlearn these muting things’, ‘I want relearn how to laugh’

Explanation:     These reveal the persona’s desire to regain the sincerity that he once possessed. ‘Unlearn these muting things’, ‘muting’ suggest that the persona has lost his individual identity, spark and meaning, however, hope is present because of his desire to unlearn them ‘I want to relearn how to laugh’ allows the reader to understand the plea that the persona is posing to his son; it also reveals how desperate he is to regain the genuine emotions and expressions that he once had. ‘Relearn’ implies that he wishes to repair and undo all the things society has done to corrupt him.


Evidence:         ‘so show me, son,’, ‘so show me how I used to laugh and smile’, ‘once upon a time when I was like you’

Explanation:     The persona, father, is requesting for help from the son- reversal of roles- to show that the son is now respected by the father for his purity, sincerity and genuine happiness. The ‘son’ in line 40 reveals that the children are the symbol of hope that the children may offer redemption. This is also be a biblical reference to Jesus who died on the cross to redeem the people of their sins. The poem is a significant cyclical poem, there is a repetition of the title and the opening line, which suggest that a full cycle has been completed, and it is now the child’s turn to teach the father. The poem places a final focus on ‘you’ to emphasis the importance of the coming generation and their ability to be a role model, the ‘you’ is emphasised through the ‘I’ which is lost in the proceeding sentence.