A Journey to the Gory Years of the Nigerian Civil War - A Brief Analysis of J.P Clark's The Casualties

in nigeria •  14 days ago  (edited)

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Often regarded as the father of modern African poetry, J.P Clark is arguably the most anthologized poet to have come out of Africa. Born in the small Ijaw town of Ekiabodo, J.P Clark received his university education in the University of Ibadan where he studied English and Literature.

At the end of the Nigerian Civil War (1967-1970), J.P Clark published his famous poem, The Casualties. Clark's message was blunt and clear - that the casualties of the Civil War, which unleashed horror on Eastern Nigeria and claimed the lives of over 5 million people, were not only those who became victims. Clark opines that all Nigerians were casualties of the war, whether they supported the secessionist forces or not.

The opening lines of the poem are stunning and quite emotional.

The casualties are not only those who are dead.
They are well out of it.

Clark goes further to express his views about collective casualty. He holds these views because, though the Civil War is over, ethnic distrust has become the order of the day in Nigeria. The fragile country is now turn apart by rift and strife. This makes every Nigerian a casualty of the Civil War. No wonder Clark wrote:

We fall.
All casualties of the war.
Because we cannot hear each other speak.
Because eyes have ceased the face from the crowd.
Because whether we know or
Do not the extent of wrongs on all sides,
We are characters now other than before
The war began, the stay-at-home unsettled.

Now, I'll live you to enjoy the rest of the brilliant poem:

The Casualties by J.P Clark

The casualties are not only those who are dead.
They are well out of it.
The casualties are not only those who are dead.
Though they await burial by installment.
The casualties are not only those who are lost
Persons or property, hard as it is
To grope for a touch that some
May not know is not there.
The casualties are not only those led away by night.

The casualties are not only those led away by night.
The cell is a cruel place, sometimes a haven.
No where as absolute as the grave.
The casualties are not only those who started
A fire and now cannot put out. Thousands
Are are burning that have no say in the matter.
The casualties are not only those who are escaping.
The shattered shall become prisoners in
A fortress of falling walls

The casualties are many, and a good member as well
Outside the scenes of ravage and wreck;
They are the emissaries of rift,
So smug in smoke-rooms they haunt abroad,
They do not see the funeral piles
At home eating up the forests.
They are wandering minstrels who, beating on
The drums of the human heart, draw the world
Into a dance with rites it does not know.

The drums overwhelm the guns…
Caught in the clash of counter claims and charges
When not in the niche others left,
We fall.
All casualties of the war.
Because we cannot hear each other speak.
Because eyes have ceased the face from the crowd.
Because whether we know or
Do not the extent of wrongs on all sides,
We are characters now other than before
The war began, the stay-at-home unsettled

By taxes and rumours, the looters for office
And wares, fearful everyday the owners may return.
We are all casualties,
All sagging as are
The cases celebrated for kwashiorkor.
The unforseen camp-follower of not just our war.

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