By Prisca Sam-Duru
‘Night Rain’, a narrative poem of 47 lines without stanzas, remains one of the most beautiful works among John Pepper Clark’s literary creations. The poem reflects on the impact of nature on humans. In the case described by the author, the poetic persona narrates his ordeal and that of his family during a night downpour.
The poet represents his environment which depicts the Niger-Delta region of Nigeria from where he hailed through a night rain that usually disrupts the family’s peaceful sleep.
The first and second lines; ‘What time of night it is I do not know’, clearly indicate the narrator’s inability to tell what time the rain wreaked havoc but is sure it’s dark.
John Pepper Clark’s poems are usually diverse in subject matter, and to ensure that they are aesthetically enriched, the poet often uses symbols and images that are characteristically local.
In the poem in review, he employs the description of a rainstorm in his village to mirror the people’s poor standard of living as well as how they often bow to the force of nature.
‘Night Rain’ is set in a distinctive, simple village in the Niger Delta. The home depicted is a modest one in a traditional society where natural occurrences such as the cock crow tells the time of the day.
To clearly paint the picture of the situation on ground, the narrator compares his experiences with that of a fish caught with the aid of a chemical substance: “Like some fish/Doped out of the deep /I have bobbed up belly-wise from stream of sleep”
The poem can be divided into two parts. The first part documents the hardship brought about by the rain, while the second part which is about the last six lines offers encouragement and hope that all will be fine in due time. The tone of ‘Night Rain’ is therefore both emotional and optimistic.
There are also two themes in the poem which covers first, the ruggedness of life in the village which is represented with images of sheaves, wooden bowls, earthenware, mats, etc, and then, man’s helplessness in the face of natural occurrences or disaster. These two major themes are evident in how the rainstorm deprived the poetic persona’s family of their humble home.
With poetic devices such as run-on lines, suggesting the duration of the rain; alliteration and onomatopoeia which provide appropriate sound effects, the poet gives the poem its rhythm and essence.
In addition, the alliterations – ‘I have bobbed up belly-wise/From stream of sleep /And no cock crow’, and/ Onomatopoeias/‘Great water drops are dribbling’,/‘It is drumming hard here’ etc., are used to depict the intensity of the rain.
Although the poet uses figurative language and imagery to present the descriptive narrative, the language of the poem is simple. His attempt to depict continuous downpour is seen in the affix- ‘ing’ used several times. Such words as drumming, dribbling, droning and deploying also create a mental picture of not just the density of the rain, but also, its devastating effect on the poor people.
Interestingly, the poet recognises the motherly role of women in the family and society. He demonstrates this in lines 22 to 27:
Mother is busy now deploying /About our room-let and floor Although it is so dark,/I know her practiced step as /She moves her bins, bags, and vats/Out of the run of water’.
These lines tell readers of however ready the narrator’s mother is to battle the menace of the torrential rain. ‘I know her practiced step’, buttresses the fact that this particular night downpour is not the first and so the mother is used to the task of rescuing her belongings whenever nature strikes.
The images created in ‘Night Rain’ clearly represent the situation of the poor in Nigeria. A country endowed with rich human and natural resources, but sadly, houses an overwhelming number of poor people in the world which earned her the poverty capital of the world.
Worse of all is that the region in which the community portrayed in ‘Night Rain’ is located, is the bedrock of the country’s economy. It is unimaginable that this region is to date, mired in abject poverty and environmental degradation as vividly expressed by the poet.