Vultures by Chinua Achebe

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Vultures by Chinua Achebe

In the greyness
and drizzle of one despondent
dawn unstirred by harbingers
of sunbreak a vulture
perching high on broken
bones of a dead tree
nestled close to his
mate his smooth
bashed-in head, a pebble
on a stem rooted in
a dump of gross
feathers, inclined affectionately
to hers. Yesterday they picked
the eyes of a swollen
corpse in a water-logged
trench and ate the
things in its bowel. Full
gorged they chose their roost
keeping the hollowed remnant
in easy range of cold
telescopic eyes…

Strange
indeed how love in other
ways so particular
will pick a corner
in that charnel-house
tidy it and coil up there, perhaps
even fall asleep – her face
turned to the wall!

…Thus the Commandant at Belsen
Camp going home for
the day with fumes of
human roast clinging
rebelliously to his hairy
nostrils will stop
at the wayside sweet-shop
and pick up a chocolate
for his tender offspring
waiting at home for Daddy’s
return…

Praise bounteous
providence if you will
that grants even an ogre
a tiny glow-worm
tenderness encapsulated
in icy caverns of a cruel
heart or else despair
for in the very germ
of that kindred love is
lodged the perpetuity
of evil.

*Chinua Achebe is one of the most recognized names in modern African literature. His book Things Fall Apart is one of the most widely read books from Africa. He has several books including volumes of poetry, short stories, novels, critical essays, children’s books as well as political commentary. He is from Nigeria and continues to be one of the most prestigious and respected authors not only from Africa but from around the world. (Source)

Class discussion:

Love is personified

Look at the contrast in scale – ogre/glow worm

Charnel house stores bones of the dead.

Hallstatt Charnel House in Austria (Source)

It is a place of death, despair. And love comes into this place, tidies it up and coils up there, perhaps even falls asleep.

Strange

indeed how love in other

ways so particular

will pick a corner

in that charnel-house

tidy it and coil up there, perhaps

even fall asleep – her face

turned to the wall!

What does this suggest? 

Face to the wall = ignoring what? death and evil?

Is love transforming the charnel house? No.

Love is trying to forget death.

Why would you have to tidy the corner and lie down?

Perhaps because the death/despair are too much to bear.

When you talked about the poem in pairs, was your interpretation shifted in the course of the conversation?  

Sharing your interpretation with others is a crucial step in the construction of your understanding of the poem.

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