Night Rain By John Pepper – Summary and Analysis
THE POET AND PERSON
Johnson Pepper Clark was born on April 6, 1935 at Kiagbodo, Warri Province, in the now defunct Western Region of Nigeria to Chief Clark Fuludu Bekederemo and Poro, his wife. Between 1940 and 1953, he received his primary and secondary education, after which he continued his studies at University College, Ibadan (UCI) in 1955.There, as a student, he started his writing career. He was the editor of the Students’ Union journal, The Beacon. He became the founding editor of the UCI poetry journal, The Horn, in which his early poems first appeared. This venture was undertaken with the support of his teacher, Martin Banham, who provided both moral and financial support for starting the journal (Stevenson, 1979: 210; Elimimian, 1989: 1). Some of his contemporaries in his student days included Christopher Okigbo, Emmanuel Ifejuana, Abiola Irele, and a number of other Nigerian writers of repute, who were also contributors to the journal. With some of these people, he formed friendships that endured beyond the campus gates, as shown in his later poems.
In 1960, he graduated with honors from the Department of English. In 1962, his first collection of poems, Poems, was published by Mbari Publications, Ibadan. In 1965, he published A Reed in the Tide, followed by Casualties in 1970. In the 1980s, State of the Union(1985) made its debut, while Mandela and other poems was published in 1988. A Lot from Paradise was his gift to the literary world for the 1990s. The backdrop of his birthplace, his school’s locale, his close relationship with his grandmother, his friends and his nation all had a profound effect on Clark-Bekederemo’s works. In addition to his poetry, J. P. Clark-Bekederemo is also a renowned playwright.
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‘ ism_overlock=’default’ ] In conclusion, it should be emphasized that the poems of J. P. Clark-Bekederemo in general, and Casualtiesin particular, whatever their weaknesses, have opened the eyes of many to deeply shared feelings. As observed by Egudu, cited in Elimimian (1989: vii), Clark-Bekederemok’s “intererest is in the problems of human beings everywhere”.Clark-Bekederemo’s text mediates an empathetic understanding of the poor and the battered, implying that all are affected:
… Do not tremble then
But turn, brothers, turn upon your side
Of the loosening mats
To where the others lie
So let us roll over on our backs
And again roll to the beat
Of drumming over all the land
And under its ample soothing hand
Joined to that of the sea
We will settle to a sleep of the
… Innocent and the free.
“Night Rain,” West African Verse (p. 60)
It should be noted that the ending of the poem projects the idea of hope and peace as an antidote to despair on the part of individuals and the nation. Interestingly, this reveals an analogous link to the biblical Jeremiah who, after declaring society’s shortcomings, also announced hope for a better tomorrow. The poet, through his effective use of language, does not only cry for Nigeria’s sorrowful history but warns the nation to avoid a repeat performance of the nightmare of the 1960s and 70s; he suggests that Nigeria’s politics do not have to lead to self-destruction.
J.P Clark’s poetry for example, strives for the place of man in the face of natural and uncontrollable phenomenon. In his poem “Casualties”, J.P Clark informs us about the reality that /The casualties are not only those who are dead / (line 1) but every one in the society. He structures the language in such a way that it addresses socio-political issues. Clark tries to capture the state of the down trodden in the society. A lot of problems hover round man as he moves in time and space. Even in his poem “Night rain”, Clark hints on the extent of poverty prevalent in the African society; a direct reference to the sociological experience of Africans in the hinterland and villages. Lines 10-24 clearly brings this to fore as they battle to survive the surging rain on their thatch roof house
made from rafters.
Droning with insistent ardour upon
Our roof thatch and shed
And thro’ sheaves slit open
To lightning and rafters
I cannot quite make out overhead
Great drops are dribbling
Falling like mango…
In wooden bowls and earthen ware
Mother is busy now deploying…
With a rich use of imagery, metaphors and irony, African poetry is an embodiment of creativity. It is with these elements that its structural form is achieved. It is expedient to state here that these poets use distinct imagery which set them out from their contemporaries in Europe. It is also paramount to state that new metaphors were created to illuminate the various themes based on the poet’s divergence of cultures.
Finally, African literature is universal for its artistry and descriptive power, and singular for the attention that it draws to its own locality for its imagery and ideology. It is an enriching combination of rich oral literature, native experiences and the cultural heritage naturally inherited by the poets with the acquired Western tradition gotten through Western education. Situating Humanity in J.P. Clark’s Poetry of the Elements
We are here to celebrate life and the accident of a benevolent history that has preserved a literary icon for close to two generations writing in poetry and drama genres of literature. John Pepper Clark is a Nigerian foremost poet, playwright, essayist and epic writer. He is also well-known for his philosophical essay, The Example of Shakespeare, and his vehement protest against racism in his autobiography and travelogue, America Their America. He is a poet recluse who champions the public cause, a rebel who hides in the shade of innocuous innuendoes of simplicity and the decoy of metaphors to articulate the hard truth. He is indeed the conscience of his generation by virtually poeticizing critical national and international issues, especially in Mandela and Other Poems. He is still writing.
In John Pepper Clark-Bekederemo, nature speaks in arts and humanity. But just as William Golding says, ‘the greatest idea is the simplest’. But the poetic simplicity of JP Clark is a deceptive camouflage that masks a brutal truth. Nature is variously foregrounded in his poetic works. In The Casualties, for example, it is the irruption of wounds demanding justice in poetic voice. His poetic vision never loses the sight of the natural circumstances of man, which are either explicitly articulated or built into his stylistic devices. At times, the humanity is at the mercy of nature and often, they are at loggerheads and sometimes, they compliment. JP Clark too has committed the generic sins of other writers: for not leaving the thought at the level imagination. Committing thoughts into writing is rebellion.
REPRESENTATIONS OF NATURE IN J. P. CLARK’S “NIGHT RAIN”: AN ECO- CRITICAL
Analysis of the text J. P. Clark’s “Night Rain ” is a narrative poem which reflects on the consequences of nature on a group of people; the narrator, his parents and brothers. The poet attempts to put across a varying universal natural phenomenon adopting a typified poor African household that is worried by a blind night rain. The word “rain” can be variously used and interpreted as there is rain of Fortune, rain of misfortune, rain of poverty and physical rainfall. In this analysis however, the less complex manner of appreciating J. P. Clark’s “Night Rain” is presenting it purely as physical/ordinary night rain in tune with our theoretical framework; Eco criticism.
Nature is presented as being more powerful than man, yet when there is a problem of life, it is not for man to start panicking but to face the situation squarely until a solution is found to the problem. With uncommon courage and gallantry, the victims in J. P. Clark’s “ Night Rain”, especially the narrator and her mother overcome their problem.
The common application of the term “Night Rain” as experienced by the poet and, or narrator of the incidence fundamentally depicts man and his environment with different challenges facing him within his ecological existence. It can be understood therefore that the problems of life could take any form, colour, shape or size and can take place any time it so desires as demonstrated by the poet’s sudden rise from sleep at night:
“What time of night it is
I do not know”
This shows the non-availability of clue to time-piece. But, the narrator compares his experiences with that of a fish which is forced out of the depth of water with a chemical substance:
“Like some fish
Doped out of the deep
I have bobbed up belly-wise
From stream of sleep
Linking eco-criticism to the scholarly analysis of critical representations, in 1996, Cheryll Glotfelty, the Eco-criticism Reader observes that Eco-criticism maintains “a triple allegiance to the scientific study of nature, the scholarly analysis of critical representations, and the political struggle for more sustainable ways of inhabiting the natural world.” In African culture, women are presented as every-busy people in the affairs of home keeping or home management, very motherly and caring. The poet demonstrates this fact by pointing out that in the dead of night when the rain arrives uninvited; their mother is given a job to do “Mother is busy now deploying… Although it is so dark I know her practiced step as She moves her bins, bags and vats Out of the run of water” The noun phrase “her practiced step” , which is the direct object of the verb “|know” consolidates the fact that this is not the first time the woman engages in this act. It is a usual thing. The perpetual poverty which bedevils the household is further x-rayed through the group of words, “her practiced step”.
Again, the imagery of a riverside or seaside area or a mangrove/rainforest region is equally well painted in the poem, J. P. Clark’s “Night Rain” with references made to words such as water, fish, tree, owl and bat. The metaphors of the land and, or the environment is also documented. This imagery makes the poem to be picturesque, understandable and entertaining. The setting/physical locale of the poem as well as the poet’s choice of words/diction suggests the kind of work J. P. Clark’s people are known for. The Ijaw people are predominantly fishermen and this explains the environment where they found themselves.
The mental pictures of drumming, dribbling, droning, deploying, doped among others help to visualize the density of the down-pour as well as its negative consequences on man. And of course, the images of sheaves, shed, rafters, wooden bowls, earthenware and mats paint the sordid condition of a household living in an abject poverty.
Nature is powerful and natural occurrences are blind as they do not give concession or consideration to anybody. Rainfall,. Thunder storm, volcanic eruption and earthquake just occur without any provision for man, who is always at the receiving end of those natural calamities. The effect of natural phenomenon, rain, in this poem, on human beings is the central theme of the poet. It consolidates the popular saying that man cannot cheat nature. As you lay your bed, so you lie on it. Man needsto treat his environment in a mode to pave the way for a peaceful and successful co-presence, co-existence and co-habitation among the various occupants, tenants or habitants of a given ecological entity so that man himself can be happy.
It is evident that man’s struggle and encounter with the wild forces of nature is practically inevitable since the survival of man is entirely tied to his environment. The air, the water, the food and the materials for man’s shelter are all products of nature. Man therefore should be sensitive and conscious of his environment as well as what the environment demands from him for a happy living.
Besides the effect of nature on man, the poem shows the ravaging poverty in Africa where people lack basic necessities of life. There is no decent shelter for the citizens. The victims of this poem, according to the narrator, are wet even more than the birds which perch on a tree all through the rain:
“We have drunk tonight of a spell Deeper than the owls or bats”
The poet systematically calls our attention to the perceived inadequacies of the society we livein combing the sober and the humorous, the grim and the witty. Commenting about this trend in African communities, Okey, D. Ebele, (1998) observes: “It is evident today; the rural communities have been cut off from the urban areas because their roads have become impassable. Most, if not all our communities, are smarting from their rustic eerie darkness. The people of our hinterland are hungry for development, and desirous of the opening up of their villages to beat back the forays of want, deprivation, poverty, primitivism, superstition. Generally, they long for better living conditions and the benefits of science and technology,” It is therefore not surprising,
if we link the event in this poem to the neglect the Africans suffer in the hands of their governments. Instead of marching on with primitive cultural practices, Africans should think of fixing the system and prevent it from collapsing. As it were, the economy is meltdown, occasioned by bad governance, repressive policies, corruption and docile followership. African countries are in bad state of indebtedness, flat broke up to their ears, even with cuts in government expenditures like the removal of subside on basic daily commodities. This pitiable and poor living conditions of most Africans in forgotten villages is a serious issue, again, there is the need to prepare for emergencies.
The situation of the victims in J. P. Clark’s “Night Rain” would not have been so bad if they had made provision for the said rain. We all know the seasons of the year and their peculiarities. There is a feeling of tenderness and sympathy as the victims react with an attitude of helpless resignation to the powerful natural phenomenon in the name of a heavy rain. The run-on-line technique employed denotes continuity and progressiveness of the event captures in the poem
while the first person narrative point of view makes the event real.
Problems come and go as no condition is permanent. The experience of the narrator is an everlasting lesson for us that we do not need to blame the natural phenomenon for making life unbearable for us or blaming God for making our family poor. Instead the poet just displayed a nuance of Shakespeare’s literary wisdom in “King Lear”: “This is the excellent foppery of the world that when we are sick in fortune – often the surfeit of our behavior- we make guilty of our disasters the sun, the moon, and the stars, as if we were villains by necessity, fools by heavenly compulsion.”
Literature is without doubt, expected to perform the function of healing which we described as therapeutic function. Readers are expected to be healed or cured of emotional, psychological, economic, pathological and/or socially related health challenges through reading a text, watching a drama or listening to the recitation of a poem. It is again believed that literature can be employed to develop the language of both the writers and the readers. Language is the vehicle, the context or the medium by which message content/information in any literature is been conveyed and disseminated to its publics.
Hence, language and literature are two inseparable kinds. “Literature is a social institution, using as its medium language, a social creation…Literature represents life and life is in large measure, a social reality, even though the natural world and the inner or subjective world of the individual have also been objects of literary imitation”,(Wellek
andWarren,1968). In a simple diction, a regular rhythm and a high degree of narrative expertise which provide suitable imagery, readers are made to share the poet’s or the narrator’s agonized situation and his unsettled state of mind as well as the degrading living conditions of the entire content message..
Words such as dope, bobbed, droning, dribbling, deploying, sheaves, rafters, tremble, spell, bedraggled, stir, scurry, ample and soothing keep the pictures of the narrated event in the minds of readers. Thanks to his ability to adopt and use constructively relevant literary techniques and, or devices such as figures of speech (alliteration, assonance, irony, metaphor, personification, simile, etc); enjambment, I-narrator, detailed description and didacticism only to mention a few, J. P.Clark is successful in documenting the representations of nature in his literary creation.
“Literature, whether handed down by the word of mouth, or in print, gives us a second handle on reality, enabling us to encounter in the safe, manageable dimension of make-believe the very same threat to integrity that may assail the psyche in real life, and at the same providing through the self discovery which imparts a veritable weapon for coping with these threats whether they are found within problematic and incoherent selves or in the world around us”, Achebe (1988).
We have demonstrated in this study the relationship between literary works and environment, which is portrayed as eco-criticism and how literature can serve as a tool for lasting developments. Our chosen writer has exposed a fundamental social problem which bedeviled African states and still dwells in them. For recommending solutions to this social problem the poet can be described as a social pathologist .Literature is a veritable tool for actualizing societal developments and global advancement in general. With literature, good governance and best practices can be achieved; since this will create rooms for transparency, accountability, youth empowerment, women liberation and eradication of barbaric traditions among other societal ills. Three things are responsible for everybody’s behaviour; desire, emotion and experience.
J. P. Clark believes that our lives begin to end the moment we become passive and/or silent about things that matter in our environment and society at large and this is this opinion we hold too. Human history is connected to natural history and man responsibility to the environment needs to form a part of every text’s ethical or cultural orientation. Our lives are not meaningful except they are situated in the cultural context of our environment. Hence, the study and understanding of culture in relation to the environment through literature will help us in solving the challenges of the 21 st century. Literature, whether as verbal or non-verbal is an effective tool for articulating societal developments and global advancement in general based on the numerous functions it performs.