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Tuesday, August 25, 2020

ENGLISH - Poem - WESTERN CIVILIZATION


WESTERN CIVILIZATION
By Agostinho Neto

About the Author

António Agostinho Neto (17 September 1922 – 10 September 1979) was an Angolan politician and poet. He served as the 1st President of Angola (1975–1979), having led the Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in the war for independence (1961–1974). 
Until his death, he led the MPLA in the civil war (1975–2002). Known also for his literary activities, he is considered Angola's preeminent poet. His birthday is celebrated as National Heroes' Day, a public holiday in Angola.

Agostinho Neto


WESTERN CIVILIZATION
Augostinho Neto (Angola)

(Translated from Portuguese by Margret Dickinson)

Sheets of tin nailed to posts
driven in the ground
make up the house
Some rags complete
the intimate landscape.
The sun slanting through cracks
welcomes the owner
After twelve hours of slave
labour.
breaking rock
shifting rock
breaking rock
shifting rock
fair weather
wet weather
breaking rock
shifting rock
Old age comes early
a mat on dark nights
is enough when he dies
gratefully
of hunger.

INTRODUCTION

This is an ironical poem by the 1st President of Angola Agostinho Neto (1922-1979) which was Translated from Portuguese ("Civilização ocidental"), by Margret Dickinson into English translation called "Western civilization". It constitutes a good example of that so-called civilization and Christianity brought to Angola (and other parts of Africa) by the Portuguese colonizers. The depiction presented in the poem contrasts satirically to its title because what was thought to be civilization is actually (un)civilization. The title suggests something like cultural development, an achievement of high standards of culture and of social development but he conditions depicted in the poem, however, suggest quite the opposite.

THEMES

COLONIAL TORTURE AND OPPRESSION
The poet describes the endless hard work performed by the Angolans: The repetition “breaking rock/shifting rock," used three times in this stanza, is very successful in transmitting the intensity and never-ending hard work performed by the worker. The worker becomes a slave precisely because he never stops working; he works continuously without even being interrupted by harsh weather conditions; he works "in the sun" and "in the rain". The poet uses short lines with strong accents and highly repetitious phrases to suggest the sheer monotony of the labour’s life. He says:
After twelve hours of slave
labour.
breaking rock
shifting rock
breaking rock
shifting rock
fair weather
wet weather

POVERTY
The poem opens by describing the “house” this worker uses as his shelter in a way that engages the reader to wonder whether it is worthy being called a house. It is made up of sheets of tin that are nailed to the posts and on the floor are rags on which he sleeps. The word “house” is postponed until the very end of the third line, so that it comes as a kind of shock to think that people actually live in such conditions and consider this kind of habitation a home.
The poem ends by explaining and illustrating when, how and under what circumstances this slave worker dies: For even though the worker works very hard all his life, he ends up without the most basic necessities: no proper bed, no food and no light, and thus is grateful to die. Death represents freedom from a life of slave work; it represents the end of his physical and psychological oppression and immeasurable pain. So the worker dies because of poverty as he could not afford to buy food despite the hard work rendered to colonial masters. He says:
Old age comes early
a mat on dark nights
is enough when he dies
gratefully
of hunger

EXPLOITATION
Like other Africans, the Angolans were subjected to intensive exploitation by their colonial masters the Portuguese. Despite the fact that the worker has worked all his life “shifting rock/breaking rock” he has not been able to enjoy the fruits of his slave labour. His living condition has remained extremely poor as his so-called “house” is made up of tins nailed to posts and it has lots of cracks that allow the sun to slant through. The sunshine welcomes the owner of the slum who comes back from laboring. The title seems to suggest that the people who live “civilized” life in western countries benefited materially from the exploitation of the kind of people the poem describes.  He says:
After twelve hours of slave
labour.
breaking rock
shifting rock
breaking rock
shifting rock
fair weather
wet weather

HYPOCRISY
The poem's title is in fact highly ironic: it is used by the poet to make the reader reflect about the true nature of Western civilization, see its many uncivilized sites and make him/her question the motives behind the colonial regime. The colonialists came to Africa claiming that one of their motives was to spread civilization to Africa. It is this hypocrisy that Agostinho Neto is addressing in this poem. The so called western civilization in reality turns out to be a complete (un)civilization.
For example, in this poem, the houses of Angolans are described as "Tins nailed to posts (stakes) that are driven in the earth whose intimate landscape" is "completed by rags". And these "houses" are full of "cracks" through which the sun enters just to welcome its "inhabitant," who is tired from "twelve hours of slave labour". Can this be called civilization? Hypocrisy!

DISILLUSION
The poet is disappointed by the so called “western civilization”. When the colonialists came to Africa pretending to spread Christianity and bring civilization to Africans, many had hopes of seeing a civilized Africa from civilized Europeans. When they had taken control of the colonies, it was proved otherwise, that the Europeans were much more uncivilized than Africans because they imposed harsh treatments with lack of humanity, to the extent that they were not worthy a name “civilized world”. Showing the level of disillusion Africans had, the poet says that the worker was even grateful to die of hunger than to survive under such circumstances.
a mat on dark nights
is enough when he dies
gratefully
of hunger
The word “hunger” may be both literal and symbolic. The worker has been literally hungry for food, but perhaps he has also been hungry for a better life as well.

GUIDING QUESTIONS
Ø  What is the poem about?
The poem is about the nature of Western civilisation brought to Africa which ironically turns out to be injustice, torture, exploitation and creation of poverty to Africans. The labourer in the poem lives a poor life working hard for the colonialists and finally dies of hunger.
Ø  What is the type of the poem?
It is a modern poem of Lyric type as it expresses strong feelings of the poet towards the hypocritical nature of Western Civilization.
Ø  What is the tone and mood of the poem?
The tone is ironical and satirical. What the title suggests is contrary to the situations described in the poem. This creates a hatred, angry and sad mood in the readers towards the colonialists.
Ø  Who is the persona and how do you know?
The persona is an observer who is possibly one of the freedom fighters trying to conscientize his fellow oppressed on the hypocritical nature of Western civilization. This is revealed from the way he describes the sufferings the labourer goes through.
Ø  Comment on structure of the poem?
The poem is made up of six stanzas but of great variation in the number of verses and the length of the lines.
o   Stanza one has three lines and it describes the kind of the habitation this labourer calls a home.
o   Stanza two has two lines describing the contents inside the house; only rags that he uses as a bed.
o   Stanza three has two lines; showing the labour coming back after a long toiling labour.
o   Stanza four has ten short lines The poet uses short lines with strong accents and highly repetitious phrases to suggest the sheer monotony of the labour’s life
o   Stanza five has only one line but with a strong depiction that the labourer actually grew old before his age as a result of intensive labour.
o   Stanza six has four lines illustrating when, how and under what circumstances this slave worker dies.
Ø  Comment on the language use
The language used is simple to understand but some words are used ironically and metaphorically. The poem also includes some figures of speech.
FIGURES OF SPEECH
 Personification
o   The sun slanting through cracks welcomes the owner. (the sun cannot welcome the owner)
Irony
ü  Western civilization- the title is highly ironical because what the reader expects to see as civilisation turns out to be (un)civilisation.
ü  Intimate landscape -The word intimate means privacy or close relationship which provides comfort of some kind. The descriptions of intimate landscape made up of rags cannot provide that comfort.
ü  Dying gratefully of hunger- this phrase is also used ironically as someone cannot be thankful to die of hunger.
Parallelism.
There is a repetition of these phrases to show the monotony and intensity of the labour.
breaking rock
shifting rock
breaking rock
shifting rock
fair weather
wet weather
breaking rock
shifting rock
Symbolism
Fair weather symbolises good seasons (sunny days)
Wet weather symbolises bad seasons (rainy days)
Hunger symbolises lack of food or lack of good life.
Slave labour symbolises exploitation and torture rendered to Africans by colonialists.
Alliteration
Wet weather
The sun slanting through cracks
Consonance
Some rags complete the intimate landscape
Ø  What are the messages do you learn from the poem?
ü  Exploitation by European nations is responsible for poverty in African continent. We should fight against exploitative systems in our governments.
ü  Western civilisation is hypocritical. We should discard hypocrisy in our societies.
ü  African leaders should create hopes for those they lead.
Ø  Is the poem relevant today?
The poem is still relevant today because;
ü  Most African leaders and governments are doing exactly what their colonial predecessors were doing.
ü  There are many people who live in slums as the one described in the poem and call them houses.
ü  There are many people who are dying of hunger due to poverty.
ü  Exploitation of workers by employers is still a way of life in many institutions.
ü  Hypocrisy among the ruling class is common. They tell the citizens that they are working to bring development (civilization) but they end up doing just the contrary.


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