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Stylistics of Poetry


There is no doubt that J.P. Clark-Bekederemo is one of the leading lights of Nigeria’s

first generation of writers. This thesis springs from his historicity, the quantity and

quality of his literary procreations and the prodigious critical attention and acclaim these

works have attracted across the globe. However, unlike other Nigerian writers such as

Soyinka and Osundare, there is an acrite dearth of critical works on the language of the

poet. Eyoh’s (1997) J.P. Clark’s Poetry: A Study in Stylistic Criticism remains the only

full-scale linguistic investigation of the writer’s poetry. The critical fact is that this work

is limited by its triadic focus on the phonostylistic, lexical and paralinguistic affective

aspects of the poet’s idiolect.

There is no doubt that language is very crucial to literary procreation and

discourse. Todorov (1977) highlights this view when he defined literature as a verbal

work of art. The implication is that, to fully grasp the meaning and aesthetics of a literary

text (or any text for that matter), there must be recourse to language at all levels of

linguistic description, because it is the singular medium of its expression. Dada (2004)


A literary work contains a lot of codes and information that must be decoded in

order to fully grasp the meaning of the work; it has sound patterns, semantic

relations and syntactic organization. All these must be taken into account when

reading a literary text.

The present study, therefore seeks to fill the gap left by Eyoh’s (1997) work in the area of

lexis and grammar, by investigating the role deictic words play in encoding the meaning

Yeibo: Deictics and Stylistic Function in J.P. Clark-Bekederemo’s Poetry 2

and aesthetics of the texts. Dever (1998) posits that, in creating any text, literary or nonliterary,

we must combine words to express complex ideas or relationships in sentences

Lyons (1977:249) echoes a similar viewpoint when he averred that “… the function of

language tends to be reflected in its grammatical and lexical structure…” Against this

background, the study demonstrates that lexico-grammatical patterning in a text is as

crucial as any other level of linguistic description in encoding the message and aesthetics

of literary discourse.

2. Theoretical Foundation/Literature Review

Stylistics is the branch of linguistics that focuses on style, particularly in works of

literature. Cluett and Kampeas (1979) refer to it as the judgment of “the tangible

manifestation of style”. According to Allan et al. (1988), the concept

…. studies the characteristics of situationally distinctive use of language and tries

to establish principles capable of accounting for particular choices made by

individuals and social groups in their use of language.

From the foregoing preliminary statements, we can see the water tight relationship

between style and stylistics. It is the workshop of stylistics; the soil on which stylistics is

sown. Hence, Babajide (2000) observes that where there is no style, there is no stylistics.

What then is style? Basically, it refers to the way we do things – dress, talk, pray, dance,

walk, etc. in a linguistic sense, the concept infers the specific manner a particular speaker

or writer expresses himself. Leech and Short (1981) see it as “the way language is used in

a literary text, with the aim of relating it to its artistic (or aesthetic) functions” (p.14-15).

According to Tomori (1977), “there is a style in everything we say; so style cannot be

isolated from language itself; but it is a distinctive aspect of language” (p. 53).

Through the ages, different scholars have come out with various theories to

explicate the concept of language and its use, particularly in literary circles. This fact

underscores the critical place of language in human existence, as it constitutes the

bedrock of human socialization and civilization. The Russian formalism of the 1920s and

the structuralist school of the 1960s postulate the existence of a special “poetic

language”, as distinct from “ordinary” or “scientific” language. Wellek and Warren

(1963) also distinguishes a poetic use of language, in the sense that, it is non-referential,

non-practical, non-casual, etc. This implies that “poetic language” is unique as a result of

its conscious use of linguistic and imagistic devices to foreground aspects of meaning.

Another fundamental aspect of the language of poetry is its deviant character. The

language of poetry inherently and overtly deviates from linguistic conventions or norms,

at all levels of its use i.e. semantic, phonological, lexical, syntactic, etc, because poets

enjoy what has been referred to as poetic license. Hence Widdowson (1984) contends

that, “it is common to find instances of language use which cannot be accounted for by

grammatical rules,” in poetry (p.162). According to Crystal (1987), it is this deviant and

abnormal feature of the language of poetry that stylistics focuses on. Chomsky’s (1957)

Transformational Generative Grammar (TGG), is also germane to the present discourse,

3 Yeibo: Deictics and Stylistic Function in J.P. Clark-Bekederemo’s Poetry

as it postulates the disparity and relations between deep and surface structures. The

relevant point in Chomsky’s TGG is that the meaning of surface linguistic constructs like

poetry is retrievable only in the deep structure. This point also underscores the fact that

meaning in poetry texts is multi-layered and multi-faceted.

However, since the primary concern of the present study is on the functional

aspect of language, we shall adopt M.A.K. Halliday’s Systemic Functional Grammar

(SFG), as our analytical model, in the sense that it focuses not only on the structure of

language, but also on the properties of discourse and its functions in specific social and

cultural situations. Specifically, the study adopts Halliday’s three meta-functions of

language viz.: ideational, interpersonal, and textual for the textual analysis. The

ideational metafunction focuses on the subject matter or field of discourse, while the

interpersonal meta-function refers to the tenor of discourse i.e. the social relationship that

exists among participants in a given discourse situation, which has the potentials to

influence or shape language use. The textual meta-function is particularly relevant to our

study, as it focuses on the internal organization and communicative nature of a text. The

pre-occupation of this study is to show how deictic words are organized with contextual

considerations in J.P. Clark-Bekederemo’s poetry, to foreground aspects of meaning and

aesthetics in the texts.

Thus, our adoption of Halliday’s Systemic Functional Grammar for textual

analysis, is necessitated by its sociological and functional appeal. According to Opara

(2005), Halliday’s claim in this theory is that language structure reflects the social uses to

which language is put. In other words, we agree with Osakwe (1995) that “the language

of the poet mirrors the function and purpose of a poem – like any other linguistic text

which is also dependent upon major situational factors” (p. XIV). The critical point is that

the linguistic-stylistic approach that we have used in the study enables us to examine and

characterize the structural and functional aspects of a writer’s idiolect. Ayemoni (2004)

posits that the approach offers three major benefits. Firstly, the analyst will be aware of

the structural pattern of language permeating a text, to enable him identify the prominent

or foregrounded stylistic features of the text. It also enables the analyst to be consciously

aware of the kind of social variations, which the inherent linguistic features are identified

with. Finally, the approach also enables the analyst to know the technique of putting

down these features systematically in order to reveal the internal patterning of texts.

3. The Concepts of Deictics and Stylistic Function.

Deictic elements (also called shifters), which are particular words whose referential

meaning shifts with every new speaker or occasion of use are very critical in the analysis

of referential items in stylistics and pragmatics. Generally, pronouns function as deictic

words, i.e. personal pronouns such as I, me, you, she, he, it, and pronouns that refer to

places and times such as here, there, now, then, respectively. Deixis that indicate the

position or environment of the speaker in relation to spatial location such as locative

adverbs (i.e. here, there) and demonstratives (this/that) are called “spatial deixis”, while

temporal adverbs such as now, then, which place a speech event in a specific or

Yeibo: Deictics and Stylistic Function in J.P. Clark-Bekederemo’s Poetry 4

approximate time frame, are referred to as “temporal deixis”. Personal pronouns such as

I, me, you, she, it, etc., are called “person deixis”.

Deictic words are important in stylistic and pragmatic analysis of texts as a result of their

absolute dependence on context, for their explication or interpretation. The situational

context from which the reference is made constitutes the “point of view” that must be

understood to interpret the statement (Wikipedia online Encyclopedia, 2009) Wikipedia

(Ibid) illustrates this point inter alia:

If Tom is speaking and he says “I”, he refers to himself,

but if Tom is hearing Betty say “I”, then the Origo is

with Betty and the reference is to Betty.

In most languages, deictics function in two ways. These are termed proximal and distal

deictic references. The first refers to things and places that are closer to the speaker; the

other refers to things and places that are far from the speaker and/or closer to the hearer.

Thus, the English language, for instance, has pairs such as this/that, and here/there. Some

other languages have a three-way deictic system viz.: proximal, medial and distal i.e. near

the speaker; near the hearer; far from both. Romance languages generally function in

three ways.

Stylistic function, on the other hand, is an aspect of language function. According

to Alo (1998), language function can be explained in two ways. Firstly, it refers to the

specific use to which a writer or speaker puts the language (i.e. description, explanation,

argument, persuasion, humour, etc.). Secondly, in stylistic description it refers to the

communicative value or role of specific language categories (i.e. sentence, clause, word

group, collocations, word and morpheme), in given social situations. Language function,

therefore, implies varieties of language that are defined according to use. Halliday (1978)

labeled language as a “social semiotic” in the sense that it evolves in a context and the

environment in which people deploy language to serve communicative needs can shape

its form and meaning. The analysis of the texts would demonstrate that J.P. Clark-

Bekederemo’s poetry under study is dense with deictic words which not only preserve

and project the expressive beauty of the works, but also help to capture intentions more

vividly and produce desired meanings and effect on the audience or readers.

4. Brief Biography of the Poet

Born December 6, 1933 in Kiagbodo in the Ijaw area of present-day Delta State of

Nigeria, to Ijaw and Urhobo parents (His father was Ijaw and mother Urhobo), Johnson

Pepper Clark-Bekederemo had his primary school at Okrika (1940-1948) and Jeremi

(1948), before proceeding to Government College, Ughelli, for his secondary education

(1948-1953). He attended the University of Ibadan between 1955 and 1960. At Ibadan,

together with a handful of other writers, he played a prominent role in establishing

Nigeria and the continent of Africa as one of the major centres of Literature in English in

the twentieth century. Of his Ibadan years, Wren (1984) remarks that Clark-Bekederemo

5 Yeibo: Deictics and Stylistic Function in J.P. Clark-Bekederemo’s Poetry

“showed the most precocious talent that West African literary history had yet seen.” The

poet has worked as an information officer, journalist, and University professor. Apart

from his poetry, Clark-Bekederemo is also a frontline African dramatist and scholar. He

has also written a novel (travelogue) America, their America (1964), which is an account

of his sojourn in America as a Parvin fellow at Princeton University (1962-63).

5. Contextual Issues in the Poetry

That language and context are two inseparable phenomena is a fact that has been long

standing and established (see Leech, 1983:13). Morley (1985: 4) points out that, “context

serves to itemize those aspects of the situation which have a bearing on the form used”.

The critical point in that, context is an important aspect of language use. As we shall

demonstrate in the analysis of the texts, the true meaning of a text can be thought of as a

relationship between its linguistic elements and whatever contextual evidence is available

for clarifying it. In J.P. Clark-Bekederemo’s poetry, certain variables constitute the

context of situation. These include: genre type, background experiences of the poet,

socio-political realities, and subject-matter.

6. Textual Analysis

The analysis in this section is based on poems purposively selected from A Decade of

Tongues (1981, contains poems written between 1958 and 1968), State of the Union

(1985), Mandela and other poems (1988), A Lot from Paradise (1999), Of Sleep and Old

Age (2003) and Once Again A Child (2004), in order to strike a temporal balance between

the writer’s early, later and latest poetry.

The critical point is that, in J.P. Clark-Bekederemo’s poetry, the use of the

personal pronouns ‘I’ me’; the locative adverbs ‘here’, there/elsewhere’; and the temporal

adverbs ‘now and ‘then, is a significant discourse strategy. These deixis run through the

entire texts and help the poet to relate his propositions to specific persons, places and

times, respectively, which is absolutely relevant for their understanding and

interpretation. In other words, they help the poet to relive his experiences and register his

visions within specific spatial or temporal frameworks. We shall now discus each of these

aspects of deixis in the following sections, to show their stylistic and pragmatic

significance in the texts under study.

6.1 Person Deixis

In the words of Cornish (1986:1), a pronominal involves the avoidance of redundancy or

repetition by the use of a semantically attenuated expression in place of a full lexical

expression initially used. In English grammar, there are three levels of pronominalization

viz: first person pronoun (singular: I, me; plural: we, us); second person pronoun

(singular and plural: you); and third person pronominal (singular: she, he it; plural: they,

them). The reference of a pronominal could be inclusive (as in we and us) or exclusive

(as in he, she, it, they, and them). Brown and Yule (1983:214) point out that pronominals

are used to refer to already given entities but their presence in texts brings about cohesive

relationships. One stylistic feature of the poems under study is the preponderance of

Yeibo: Deictics and Stylistic Function in J.P. Clark-Bekederemo’s Poetry 6

inclusive pronominal expressions in the writer’s latest poetry (i.e. 1999-date). Over 90%

of the 29 poems in A Lot from Paradise, 44 in Once Again a Child and 58 in Of Sleep

and Old Age contain or are dense with such pronouns as ‘I’, ‘we’, ‘me’, ‘us’ and

adjectives such as ‘our’. This stylo-statistics clearly indicates that these collections or

volumes are biographical materials other than volumes containing texts of creation.

Hence Osofisan (2011:260-261) observes that Clark-Bekederemo’s “new poetry” is a rich

assemblage of the spirits and sounds of his native kiagbodo, “… evoking now

autobiographical details, now the family’s general genealogy, and now some significant

but forgotten fragments of history …” We shall now draw specimens of features from the

texts in tabular form, to illustrate these views for further clarification (all underlinings


Exponent of Specimen texts Source

i. I find the photograph of an old man. “A Photograph” (Of Sleep and Old Age)

ii. Sleep for me is now the active state… “A Time to Sleep” (Of Sleep…)

iii. How can I string out… “Untold Story” (Of Sleep…)

iv. My grandmother, konomo, into whose

arms I was delivered

“My Grandmother konomo” (Once Again a


v. When my mother woke us up…….. “The Mainly Rite” (Once Again a Child)

vi. My father took the tough line. “A Night Act in the Day” (Once Again …..)

vii. A woman of my own blood “A Night Act in the Day” (Once Again …..)

vii. We were playing in an outer courtyard….. “A Witch’s Touch” (Once Again….)

ix. For three days and three nights, we stood

in turns around your bed.

“Two Loves” (A Lot from paradise)

x. You who gave me a lot from paradise. “Land of the Gods” (A Lot from Paradise)

xi. You wondered who I was within my house on the

lonely cliff across our river.

“Icon in the Library” (A Lot from Pradise)

As we can glean from the table above, the repetitive use of the pronouns ‘I’, ‘me’ and

‘my’ particularly foregrounds this aspect of meaning, as it continually draws our attention

to the autobiographical character of these poems, as the pronominal referent centres on

the poet. The implication of this strategy is that the poems give a more or less personal

story of J.P. Clark-Bekederemo, thus fulfilling his pledge in “A pledge” (Once Again a

Child), to write “a poem of every matter of interest” he could “salvage” from the stream

of his life. Based on this strategy, it can be further said that Bekederemo’s latest poetry is

a documentation of his life. The strategy makes these poems overtly experiential and


6.2 Spatial or Locative Deixis

As we have earlier mentioned, locative adverbs such as ‘here’ and ‘there’ are

predominant deictic forms found in J.P. Clark-Bekederemo’s poetry. Specifically, they

help to locate the distinction, even dichotomy, between the land of the living and the land

of the dead; between Africa/Nigeria and the Western world; or between specific towns,

tribes and cities, in Nigeria and the outside world. These deictic words essentially help

the poet to differentiate or contrast his propositions about these specific locations which

7 Yeibo: Deictics and Stylistic Function in J.P. Clark-Bekederemo’s Poetry

constitute the core of his poetry. The significant point here is that, the subject,

phenomenon or place the author is writing about or commenting on, determines whether

he uses ‘here’ or ‘there’. In other words, the closer or nearer the subject, phenomenon or

place, to the author, he uses ‘here’ (i.e. proximal), while the farther the subject,

phenomenon or place from the author, he uses ‘there’ (i.e. distal). Proximity, in this

sense, could be determined either by the poet’s physical position or mental or imaginative

position. The latter implies that the poet could imagine himself to be in a specific place

and write from that perspective. As we have mentioned earlier, it is this inherent

variability in usage, or meaning, in response to situational or contextual constraints, that

etches the importance of deixis in stylistic and pragmatic analysis.

In “The Company of the Dead” (A Lot from Paradise), for instance, the deictic

locative adverb “here” refers to the land of the living, while “there” refers to the home of

the dead i.e. the world beyond. In this poem, J.P. Clark-Bekederemo wonders aloud about

the great number of his friends and relatives that have died, suggesting that, if there is,

indeed, life after death, there would be more of his friends and relatives in the world

beyond than he has alive. For clarity and easy reference, the entire nine-line poem is

presented below:

I think of all those who are gone,

Between relatives and friends

Across the world, at a dead loss

To their own, and none ever

Known to have come back for all

That held them here, and I smile

Somewhat to myself it couldn’t

Be greater company than there

If indeed there is such a state. (Emphasis mine) (p. 229).

The critical stylistic point here is that, the locative adverbs “here” and “there”, enable the

poet to locate and contrast his thoughts and conjectures concerning life and death. This

pattern of signification is also found in “The Court Beyond” (A Lot from Paradise),

where the poet wonders how his father was faring in the world beyond, after holding

court and being the supreme overlord of his compound on earth:

Where are you holding court now, old man?

The chair you adorned here in a square, sprang

Fourteen generations out of the soil

As the tree of your birth…

Now that you have entered there with the one

You called prime Minister of your court … (p. 226)

(Emphasis mine)

Yeibo: Deictics and Stylistic Function in J.P. Clark-Bekederemo’s Poetry 8

For a similar use of the locative adverbs ‘here’ and ‘there’ (i.e. to contrast the physical

world and the world beyond, see also “Debris of Day” (of Sleep and Old Age), “Rain in a

Basket” (Of Sleep and Age) “A Time to Sleep” (Of Sleep and Old Age), A Hymn for a

Friend in His Losses” (State of the Union), “Herons at Funama” (State of the Union), “A

Song for Harlem” (A Lot From Paradise).

Another strategic stylistic use of the deixis ‘here’ and ‘there’ in the texts, has to do

with a contrast between Nigeria and the rest of the world, particularly the western world.

In other words, J.P. Clark-Bekederemo uses these locative adverbs to express his views,

thoughts and propositions about contrastive socio cultural events and experiences in these

places. In “Here Nothing Works” (State of the Union), for instance, Clark-Bekederemo

highlights the substandard infrastructure and services provided in Nigeria, in contrast to

the perfect functionality of these same infrastructure and services “elsewhere”, apparently

the western world or advanced countries. Specifically, the poet laments the worrisome

contrast in the standard and quality of water supply, telephone services, the motorway,

airways, etc, and wonders whether there is something inherent in our nature or times that

prevents these things from functioning in our soil.

In “The Patriarchs at the Return to Civilian Rule” (State of the Union), the deictic

word “here” also refers to Nigeria, in contrast to “other lands”. In this poem, Clark-

Bekederemo laments the return of first republic politicians such as Zik, Awo, Waziri,

Aminu Kano, etc. to the political trenches during the second republic, instead of giving

way to a new breed of politicians to pilot the political destiny of the nation, like what

obtained elsewhere. In this situation, we find that the contrast highlighted by the locative

adverbials “here” and “there”, enables the poet to expose the general infrastructural

inadequacy and moral decadence of Nigerians which have remained perennial clogs in

the wheel of progress of this nation. In fact, Clark-Bekederemo insists that this is the

reality of our being. The poet’s attitude to all of this is overtly that of worry and

frustration. For a similar use of the deictic words “here” and “there”, see also

“Handshake” (State of the Union), “A Time to Sleep” (Of Sleep and Old Age),”Debris of

Days” (Of Sleep and Old Age), “Rain in a basket” (Of Sleep and Old Age), etc.

In Bombay” (Casualties), Clark-Bekederemo uses the deictic locative adverb“

here” for this Indian city: “Here nothing seems new: the rising /Estate is cancelled out by

septic slums…” (emphasis mine). This confirms our earlier view that, the poet uses

“here” for subjects, places or phenomena that are closer to him, depending on the context.

The use of the deixis “here” in this context, tells us that the poet visited the city and wrote

the poem on the spot. It is a product of the poet’s physical experience and assessment of

the highs and lows of this Indian city. Obviously, “Here nothing seems new” is a

comparison with what obtains in Lagos in the poet’s native country where the glow of

Victoria Island or Ikoyi is “cancelled out” by the “Septic slums” of Ajegunle and

erstwhile Maroko.

The poem “Last Rights in Ijebu” (State of the Union) also confirms our earlier

view that the proximal “here” is used by the poet to relate actual experiences in specific

places he has visited. This poem refers to the customary burial rites (or rights?) accorded

the old in Ijebu, where sons-in-law play prominent roles. Clark-Bekederemo confesses

9 Yeibo: Deictics and Stylistic Function in J.P. Clark-Bekederemo’s Poetry

that: “I had no idea, until I did the rite…” (p.157). Of course, the poet’s wife Ebunola, is

from Ijebu in South Western Nigeria. See also “A Song of New England”, for a similar

use of the proximal locative adverb “here”.

In “Land of the Gods” (A Lot from Paradise), Clark-Bekederemo uses the distal

“there” to refer to his native Kiagbodo Community. Two possible explanations are

applicable here: The first is that the poet could have written the poem from a distant

physical or geographical location from home i.e. Lagos. Secondly, he could have decided

to imaginatively or mentally distance himself from the setting of the poem. This

suggestion becomes plausible when we find that in “The Order of the Dead” (Mandela

and other Poems), the poet refers to the same kiagbodo, his ancestral home, as “here”

“… in a land/where the dead without blemish/Are buried in their homestead…”, in

contrast with “the dead in other lands” (p.204, emphasis mine).

6.3 Temporal Deixis

In J.P. Clark-Bekederemo’s poetry, the temporal adverbs “now” and “then” help the poet

to situate the event and issues highlighted in the poems within specific time frames or

periods. This is very strategic to the cumulative meaning of his texts because, whether a

poet documents events, reflects on or recalls his experience, or comments on sociocultural

or political phenomena, poetry derives more relevance, concreteness and social

appeal if specific time boundaries are clearly delineated. Specifically, in J.P. Clark-

Bekederemo’s poetry, the temporal deixis “now” and “then”, are used to highlight

present/past, old age/youth and life/death, respectively. A careful study of these

contrasting temporal phenomena shows that the essential or core issues that the poet

explores in his poetry, revolve around them.

In “The Traffic Now and Then” (Of Sleep and Old Age), for instance, the poet’s

use of the temporal deictic words “now” and “then” is very strategic. As the title of the

poem depicts, the poet is able to capture and contrast the past pastimes of youths in the

Niger Delta (i.e. then), to what obtains now. Using the river as the centre of activity and

oil as the economic commodity around which the activities revolve, the poet tells us that,

in the past (i.e. then) “when oil in the land was of another kind” (i.e. palm oil), on

sighting a big stern-wheeler boat in the river, youths

“…With no sense of wrong

…Rushed to the beaches

And swam out to the ships,

…Offering a hand

It was lively fair and traffic. (p. 31)

In contrast, the poet writes that, in the present times (i.e. now),

Youths, now with guns, go for tankers

Today taking away before our eyes,

The new oil of a sinking delta. (Emphasis mine) (p. 31).

Yeibo: Deictics and Stylistic Function in J.P. Clark-Bekederemo’s Poetry 10

No doubt, the temporal deixis “now” and “then” here, help the poet in contrasting the

peaceful disposition of youths in the past, to the violent and daring disposition that youths

in the Niger Delta exhibit today.

In “I Wake to the Touch” (A Decade of Tongues), the poet uses the deictic word

“now” to contrast what happened the previous night in a dream, and what happened the

next morning. Specifically, he recalls his sight of “a snake/slithering in the field,

livid/where the grass is parched…” in a dream “last night”, and the fear and anxiety that

this experience evoked in the morning. By using the temporal deictic “now”, the poet is

able not only to demarcate the two events but also show the emotional and psychological

chain that links both.

Also in “Aburi and After” (Casualties), the poet uses the deixis “now” and “then”

to situate his doubts about General Gowon’s firmness and capacity to withstand pressure

or contain crisis, before the Aburi accord was struck in Ghana in 1967:

I thought for a long time

They were winging jack Gowon’s hand

Wringing his hand for use of a rule

Too broken then in the sand

To flog a fly. (Emphasis mine)

But his doubts vanished after Aburi, with the implacable posture of the government:

“And a keeper now at attention” (Emphasis mine). See also “Niger Delta Burning” (Of

Sleep and Old Age), “A Dying Breed” (Of Sleep and Old Age), “Return of the Heroes”

(State of the Union), for a similar use of the temporal deixis “now” and “then”.

“One Country” (State of the Union) is another poem where temporal deixis is used

by the poet to effectively situate his comments. In this poem, J.P. Clark-Bekederemo

highlights the contradictions within the Nigerian nation where proceeds of oil wealth

from the Niger Delta, are used to transform “waste regions” into “garden cities”

upcountry while the Niger Delta, the source of the wealth, remains barren and

undeveloped. The poet contrasts what happens then in the historical past when Niger

Deltans “kept the stranger at bay”, to “now” when the people are only anxious over their

economic and political rights which majority tribes unjustly seized, in the name of one


In “The Plague” (State of the Union), the poet laments the upsurge of armed

robbery in the country, ten years after the civil war. The use of the deictic word “now”

relates the present times to the civil war and suggests that it is as perilous and

unpredictable as the Nigeria civil war era. See also “Concerning My Command by

General Olusegun Obasanjo and other Accounts of the Nigerian Civil War” (State of the

Union), “Birthday at Wesleyan, Middletown, cf.” (State of the Union), “The Coming of

Age” (State of the Union), etc., for a similar use of these deixis.

In Clark-Bekederemo’s poetry, the temporal deictic words “now” and “then” are

also used to contrast life and death. These are very serious and fundamental timesensitive

human phenomena and J.P. Clark-Bekederemo uses these deixis to effectively

11 Yeibo: Deictics and Stylistic Function in J.P. Clark-Bekederemo’s Poetry

delineate the different periods and raise vital socio-cultural and moral questions. For

instance, in “Family Meeting for the Disposal of the Wreck” (State of the Union), the

poet questions the rationale for holding extended family meetings and levying each

member of the family, to bury the dead, when the deceased was not taken care of when

he was critically ill. This poem highlights the petulant neglect of the living and the

bloated sense of obligation for the dead that characterize the social life of Africans. The

repetition of the temporal deictic word “now” in both stanzas (i.e. the poem is made of

two stanzas) of the poem, is, itself, a significant discourse strategy which foregrounds the

needless and misplaced care for the dead which is the subject matter of discourse. See

also “My Father’s House” (Of Sleep and Old Age), “The Last of the Wives” (of Sleep and

Old Age), “Homecoming” (Mandela and Other Poems), etc, for a similar use of the

deixis “now” and “then”.

In the two-stanza poem “Dressing the Dead” (Mandela and Other Poems), this

same discourse strategy is adopted by the poet. The temporal deictic word “now” is

repeated three (3) times, to foreground the preoccupation of the text (i.e. death) and

contrast it with life. For clarity and easy reference, we present the entire first stanza and

the relevant lines of the second stanza of the poem inter alia:

All indigo now as the dye in his veins,

He looked no different from the friend

His wife had often had to help

Out of his clothes, when flush with the gift

Of an additional day, he came home

At dawn, barely made it to bed,

And promptly asked for coffee. Only now,

He had to be helped into his best,

After receiving a good cold bath…

And now they were interlaced in white

Across his chest perfectly at rest,

Hands that, at a simple touch, could tell

A mother why her child cried all night (p. 185,

Emphasis mine).

We find a similar mode of signification in the one-stanza poem “A Passing at New Year”

(Mandela and other Poems). In fact, the one-stanza structure of the poem reflects its

mono-thematic nature (i.e. the theme of life and death). The critical point is that, in this

poem, there is a clear demarcation between life and death with the deixis “now” and

“then”. The unfeeling and helpless state of death is conveyed in the line:

Now the white sheet he objected to

When he came out of a day-long coma

Was spread fully over his face (p. 193, emphasis mine).

Yeibo: Deictics and Stylistic Function in J.P. Clark-Bekederemo’s Poetry 12

This state clearly contrasts with the fact that, when the subject of the poem was alive, or

came to be after the “day-long” coma, he could react with anger and disgust:

Then he would get up,

He swore, and go home, regardless of cost

Before they got him. (p. 193; Emphasis mine)

See also “A Royal Welcome” (Mandela and Other poems), “The Court Beyond” (A Lot

from Paradise), etc.

In J.P. Clark-Bekederemo’s poetry, the deictic temporal adverb “now” also

indicates the distinction between youth and its attendant energy and activity, and old age

with its associated inertia and general sense of foreboding and anxiety that death is just

around the corner. For instance, in “The Last Wish” (Mandela and Other Poems), the

poet uses “now” to indicate the period of old age, in contrast with the period of youth or

adolescence. It is actually a prayer for a peaceful death, and purveys the anxiety over the

shape or colour of the end, associated with old age. Here is the entire four-line poem:

Now that where I am going

Is nearer than where I began,

May I be like the emerging child,

If the arrival is into light (p. 203).

It is no coincidence that the deployment of the deictic temporal adverbs “now” and

“then” to perform the discourse function of delineating the contrast between youth and

old age, is predominant in J.P. Clark-Bekederemo’s of Sleep and Old Age. This is clearly

as a result of the preoccupation of the text i.e. a reflective and contrastive journey through

his youth and old age. “Of Things Past” (Of Sleep and Old Age) clearly captures this


Old age truly is the time

To look back at events in the past,

Not to retrieve anything for some archive,

But I find, out of fear, the old try all

They can to fill the void

They see clearly in front. (p. 33).

For instance, in “A Woman Special to Me” (Of Sleep and Old Age), the poet ruminates

over how a step mother who was a bride then, had saved him from a merciless beating

from his father who wrongly thought that he had absconded from school. The crucial

point here is that, the poet contrasts the reticent disposition of the woman in her old age,

as against her active and vocal disposition in her youth (i.e. when she was a bride), “Now

13 Yeibo: Deictics and Stylistic Function in J.P. Clark-Bekederemo’s Poetry

I too am old” (P.5). The implication here is that, age enables him to see this contrast


In “A Time to Sleep” (Of Sleep and Old Age), Clark-Bekederemo observes that, at

old age, sleep “… is now the active state,/As I have nothing more here I care to do” (p.

8). Here the poet confesses that, when he is asleep as an old man, images and scenes

crowd his mind “… sharper than all/I see in day time, if I stay awake” (p.8). In “A Gift of

Age” (Of Sleep and Old Age), the poet also highlights the same attribute of old age:

Now that I sit back

In the shadow of myself

I can see dizzy before me

The black hole down which my days

Disappeared… (emphasizes mine)

For the relationship between old age, sleep and death, see also the title poem “Of Sleep

and Old Age” (p. 26).

In “Rain in a Basket”, (Of Sleep and Old Age), Clark-Bekederemo makes the point

that, age endows on man a deeper understanding and mastery over life itself, and his

environment. This is a universally accepted truism because, through experiences over the

years, man by his very nature, becomes more philosophical and contemplative. This

attribute of old age is conveyed by the poet, with the deictic temporal adverb “now”:

… now I am awake

To the fact that this thing we call

Life belongs to none of us here (p. 17; emphasis mine)

Hence, the poet remarks that, at old age, it has dawned on him that life is highly

unpredictable. According to the poet, now, he has known that no one can predetermine

how he would live or end, as life itself is by chance and God’s grace.

In “Time and Tide” (Of Sleep and Old Age), Clark-Bekederemo also highlights the

contrast between youth and old age, in terms of energy and vitality and general weakness

and strains associated with the two age groups/brackets, respectively, by deploying the

deictic temporal adverbs “now” and “then”. On his youthful age, the poet writes:

Then I could drive from one border

Through several custom-posts,

And at the end of the day, still take a tour of night clubs

To Resume the beat at break

Of day (p. 20 emphasis mine)

This was certainly Clark-Bekederemo’s “season of surge” In contrast, with the coming of

old age or his “season of dust”, for instance, the poet admits:

Yeibo: Deictics and Stylistic Function in J.P. Clark-Bekederemo’s Poetry 14

Now, Just to be driven

On poufs across town creates

For me such a stress, it brings on

A cold, that puts me back some

Weeks in bed, if not for months. (p. 20 emphasis mine)

Note also the repetition of the deixis “now” in the second stanza, which performs the

discourse or textual function of emphasizing or etching the contrast between old age and


Also, in “To be or Not To be” (OF Sleep and Old Age), Clark-Bekederemo

confesses that, “This life I lead I now find a load” (p.32). This assertion is obviously

related to the strains and stresses associated with old age. However, the poet is still

anxious and actually fears the end. This reality also enables us to pry into the

psychological make-up of the old. Specifically, we now know that the fear of death is

inherent in humans and cuts across all ages- whether young or old. No one actually

contemplates “letting go”, however stark the odds.

7. Conclusion

In the foregoing discourse, we have shown the stylistic value of deictics in the poetry of

J.P. Clark-Bekederemo. Specifically, we have shown that deictic words run through the

entire texts and that the poet deploys these lexico-grammatical patterns of language use to

relate his propositions to specific persons, time and place which not only makes the texts

experiential and realistic, but also enhances their understanding and interpretation.

15 Yeibo: Deictics and Stylistic Function in J.P. Clark-Bekederemo’s Poetry


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