Wole Soyinka is one of the most prominent Nigerian postcolonial writers who influenced many readers of his time. ‘ Civilian and Soldier’ narrates the adverse effects of the civil war in Nigeria that happened between 1967 to 1970. The poet himself witnessed the atrocities against the civilians by the soldiers. This poem is written as a conversation made by the soul of a deceased civilian to the soldier who killed him.
The poem outlines the tension of the soldier who is forced to act according to the instructions of higher authorities. The writer is not adversely judging the soldier, the speaker presents the dilemma of every soldier who acts as the puppet of the authorities. The poet presents the internal rift between obedience and righteousness that happens in every soldier’s mind.
In the first stanza, the poet presents the departed soul of the civilian who questions the soldier who shot at him. The soul asks the soldier why he couldn’t realize that the speaker was a civilian who had the same rights as the soldier. The soul complains that the soldier treated him like an enemy. He questions the responsibilities of the soldier, he asks what was his primary responsibility, is to kill or to protect.
But by the end of the first stanza, the soul concludes that it’s not the soldier who killed him rather the ruling authorities did it. The readers feel the empathetic attitude of the soul towards the soldier who killed him.
In the second stanza, the soul shows how innocent that soldier was by elaborating on the harsh training the soldier underwent during his training. In the final stanza, the soul confirms his reconciliation with the killer. He affirms that one day the soldier will have to die, and his soul might meet the speaker’s soul, and the speaker assures that he will welcome the soldier’s soul with meat, bread, and wine. He will never treat him like an enemy but would welcome him as an intimate friend. By the end of this poem, the poet still raises his apprehensions about the murders that shadow every civil war.
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Read the poem below
My apparition rose from the fall of lead,
Declared, ‘I am a civilian.’ It only served
To aggravate your fright. For how could I
Have risen, a being of this world, in that hour
Of impartial death! And I thought also: nor is
Your quarrel of this world.
You stood still
For both eternities, and oh I heard the lesson
Of your traing sessions, cautioning –
Scorch earth behind you, do not leave
A dubious neutral to the rear. Reiteration
Of my civilian quandary, burrowing earth
From the lead festival of your more eager friends
Worked the worse on your confusion, and when
You brought the gun to bear on me, and death
Twitched me gently in the eye, your plight
And all of you came clear to me.
I hope some day
Intent upon my trade of living, to be checked
In stride by your apparition in a trench,
Signalling, I am a soldier. No hesitation then
But I shall shoot you clean and fair
With meat and bread, a gourd of wine
A bunch of breasts from either arm, and that
Lone question – do you friend, even now, know
What it is all about?