An African Elegy Summary and Analysis: Ben Okri

Read our detailed study guide on the poem “An African Elegy” by Ben Okri. Our study guide covers An African Elegy summary, themes, and analysis.

An African Elegy Poem by Ben Okri:

We are the miracles that God made
To taste the bitter fruit of Time.
We are precious.
And one day our suffering
Will turn into the wonders of the earth.

There are things that burn me now
Which turn golden when I am happy.
Do you see the mystery of our pain?
That we bear poverty
And are able to sing and dream sweet things

And that we never curse the air when it is warm
Or the fruit when it tastes so good
Or the lights that bounce gently on the waters?
We bless things even in our pain.
We bless them in silence.

That is why our music is so sweet.
It makes the air remember.
There are secret miracles at work
That only Time will bring forth.
I too have heard the dead singing.

And they tell me that
This life is good
They tell me to live it gently
With fire, and always with hope.
There is wonder here

And there is surprise
In everything the unseen moves.
The ocean is full of songs.
The sky is not an enemy.
Destiny is our friend.

An African Elegy Introduction:

An African Elegy, published in 1992, is one of the grand poem of Ben Okri. It is about the sufferings of African individuals. The component of expectation is additionally present in this poem. This poem accentuates that the great can be found in the terrible. The setting of the poem is Nigeria. It is composed in third person narrative. It comprises of 29 lines. It has five stanzas and every stanza comprises of five lines. Epitaph is normally composed because of a passing. It has no rhyme conspire. It is composed in three phases… distress, distress and acclaim. The poem is composed in straightforward dialect. The writer has used western scholarly strategies however the components of African culture are likewise present in the poem.

An African Elegy Summary:

Stanza 1


We are the supernatural occurrences that God made

To taste the severe product of Time.

We are valuable.

Furthermore, one day our anguish

Will transform into the miracles of the earth

In this stanza, the poet says that God made people with the goal that they can confront great and awful occasions. He uses the pronoun “We” to delineate his African culture. ‘We’ is additionally used for the general population of Africa. He says that we are guiltless individuals whose sufferings will one day change our lives for something great. The poet has utilized expressive highlights like symbolism and embodiment in this stanza. There is symbolism when the artist says “To taste the bitter fruit of Time “, severe in this announcement implies something awful and the natural product implies something sweet. The time could mean life. He states to his kin that as time/life pass by them, they will confront some extremely awful and miserable occasions and great upbeat time. He additionally utilized the method of exemplification. He says “And one day our suffering, will turn into the wonders of the earth.”. The artist contrasts the sufferings of his kin and the marvels of earth. Contrasting enduring with the marvels of earth and furthermore giving miracle of earth a human nature of bliss is embodiment.

Stanza 2


There are things that consume me now

Which turn brilliant when I am cheerful.

Do you see the secret of our agony?

That we bear destitution

And can sing and dream sweet things

In this stanza, the poet says that there are hardships that we as a whole need to confront however regardless of how hard they are; if and when we figure out how to defeat them we will rest easy. There is dependably a riddle to the torment we encounter as people yet as people we now and again can’t answer the puzzles to our torment. We may not all tolerate neediness but rather we bear distinctive weights. Despite the fact that we have every one of these elements weighing on us regardless, we have a considerable measure to be grateful for and we can have the sweet longs for what’s to come.

The writer has used distinctive abstract strategies like symbolism and illustration. The writer says “There are things that burn me now “. Burning is related with sentiments and is an offensive inclination. It implies the storyteller is encountering an extreme time in his life. In the following line the artist likewise utilize shading symbolism when he says “Which turn golden when I am happy “. Golden is related with worth and significant. It implies the story tellers agony will be worth after his hardships. In the following lines as the writer says “That we bear poverty “. The word, bear, stands out in the line since it sounds cruel. Bear intends to help or to convey the heaviness of something. The storyteller is conveying the heaviness of destitution. In the following line the writer likewise utilized symbolism when he says “And are able to sing and dream sweet things.” The picture being depicted is of individuals having sweet dreams and singing sweet melodies. They are singing since they are appreciative forever.

Stanza 3


Also, that we never revile the air when it is warm

Or the organic product when it tastes so great

Or the lights that bob delicately on the waters?

We favor things even in our torment.

We favor them peacefully.

In this stanza, the writer says that the general population of Africa don’t underestimate things throughout everyday life. They appreciate every one of the things they have. They never at any point revile the negative elements which hurt them. They accept their sufferings as jolt which inspires them to be grateful in each kind of circumstance. Their sufferings are favoring to them since sufferings purge them. In this stanza warm air is the image of sufferings and tangible symbolism and quiet is the image of their commitment since they quietly look for opportunity. The words in forward line, “Favor” and “pain” are appeared differently in relation to each other. It demonstrates their commitment towards their conviction that they would get free from their sufferings and torments one day.

Stanza 4

That is the reason our music is so sweet.

It influences the air to recall.

There are mystery marvels at work

That exclusive Time will deliver.

I too have heard the dead singing.

In this stanza the writer is discussing the products of their sufferings. He says that their murmurs of torment will demonstrate productive one day. There are components of expectation that they would get remunerate. The writer is discussing supernatural occurrences. He needs to state that at each minute something is going on in Africa and this event isn’t useless. There is legendary symbolism in this poem. The writer says “There are secret miracles at work “. Miracles typically associated with God and additionally to powerful components. This line demonstrates that Africans are of high repute to God. These lines likewise depict how Africans trust that time brings them mystery supernatural occurrences. The artist likewise utilized the system of representation. The writer says “I too have heard dead singing.” In this line the dead is the image of perished Africans. It implies that the perished African progenitors have carried on with a decent life in spite of terrible states of living in Africa. These lines depict that life is great.

Stanza 5


What’s more, they reveal to me that

This life is great

They instruct me to live it tenderly

With flame, and dependably with trust.

There is ponder here

In these lines the writer is discussing his predecessors. He says that the dead are addressing him, instructing him to be appreciative and confident on the grounds that he is as yet living and has control in what bearing his life will go; this isn’t the end for him. The second line of the stanza is amusing. The writer says “This life is good”. He discusses the agony and enduring individuals experience in their lives and it is unexpected how he says this life is great in light of the fact that actually life ought not to be great on the off chance that somebody is enduring. The poet needs to state that the general population of Africa should live joyfully, in spite of the circumstance and there is continually something for them to anticipate later on. The tone of this stanza is fulfilling, well disposed, confident and hopeful.

Stanza 6


Also, there is astonish

In everything the concealed moves.

The sea is brimming with tunes.

The sky isn’t a foe.

Predetermination is our companion.

In this stanza the writer says that they are loaded with trust that their sufferings are not consistently enduring. They will arrive at an end one day. He used symbolism and illustration to clarify his perspective as he says In everything the unseen moves. The ocean is full of songs. The sky is not an enemy”. In these lines the words concealed moves, sea and sky are utilized allegorically. The concealed moves allude to the shrouded supernatural occurrences at work that Okri says in the fourth stanza. The sea is an allegory for the world. Tunes is an illustration forever whether human or not. The sky is additionally an allegory. It alludes to the future; there are unlimited potential outcomes of what lies past the obscure much like the sky. Predetermination is likewise utilized as analogy. The writer says that we can pick our fates a similar way we pick our companions. We probably won’t comprehend what our fate is or with regards to us yet when it does we will know whether to give up or finish. The writer likewise utilized scriptural mention in the line; “the sky isn’t our enemy”. The sky can allude to God and paradise. At the point when awful things are transpiring we ought not to reprimand God or to make him our foe.

An African Elegy Themes:


The speaker is saying that even though we may not understand the reason for suffering and death, we should be hopeful that this mystery, like many other of life’s mysteries, will one day be revealed to us; the only thing we can do now is appreciate life, with all its inherent mysteries. When describing this aspect of life in the penultimate stanza and the first two lines of the last stanza, he says “There is wonder here. / And there is surprise / In everything the unseen moves.” Ultimately, this poem seems to be an assertion in God’s overall plan for humankind, despite the fact that we may not fully understand that plan. 6 Rather than fear that plan, the speaker believes that “Destiny is our friend” and that we should embrace it.

An African Elegy Analysis:

  • Okri has made use of a structure where each stanza is of equal five line length, giving the form regularity and a district pattern.
  • There are a variety of line lengths within each stanza; the short lines are somewhat isolated from the enclosing lines, and for this reason they tend to ‘stand out’ for being short.
  • The line breaks add an additional dimension to the interpretation of the poem as this promotes multiple interpretations.
  • The poet’s diction reflects his interest in African mysticism. He uses words that have religious overtones, such as ‘miracles’ (lines 1 and 18), ‘mystery’ (line 8) and ‘bless’ (line 14 and 15). He implies that all Africans are able to bear poverty and hardship because they ‘are the miracles that God made’ (line 1).
  • The first stanza implies that we the beloved humans of the earth struggle in the hands of obstacles in life which we must overcome. Time is also a huge factor in this because we don’t know when the time will come for our death.
  • The second stanza implies that even suffering with poverty and pain, the poor appreciate God and work with what they got, while others who have everything desire more and do not appreciate what they have. Everything that one has at the time is given by God and should be appreciated.
  • The third stanza implies that although the poet is suffering, he refuses to complain. Even though they are in pain and facing a hardship yet they refuse to flaunt their suffering for sympathy.
  • The word time in the fourth stanza is capitalized because the poet is emphasizing the life is a journey and no one knows when it will end.
  • In fifth stanza, the poet conveys the message that although he may not understand the purpose behind his suffering and death yet he should be hopeful of the mystery. Like many secrets of life will eventually be revealed.