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“An African Thunderstorm” is a poem by David Rubadiri, it describes the true power of nature and the effect of a storm on people. Rubadiri begins the poem with the speaker describing the storm’s arrival, with clouds rushing from the west along a high wind. The clouds move with great intensity, causing chaos and upheaval in their path.
Along the poem more light is shed on the effect of the storm on the people in its path. The residents of the village are seen reacting to the approaching storm. The village is evidently defenceless to the force of the storm.
About The Poet
James David Rubadiri (born 19 July 1930 in Liuli) is a Malawian diplomat, academic and poet, playwright and author. Rubadiri is considered one of the most anthologized and well-known poets of Africa born after independence. Rubadiri studied at Budo Uganda King’s College from 1941-1950 and then at Makerere University, Kampala (1952-56), graduating with a BA in English Literature and History. He later studied literature at King’s College, Cambridge. He received a Diploma in Education from the University of Bristol.
Following the independence of Malawi in 1964, Rubadiri left the government of Malawi in 1965 when he resigned from President Hastings Banda. As an exile, he taught at Makerere University (1968-1975), but was forced into exile again during the Idi Amin years. Later, Rubadiri taught at the University of Nairobi, Kenya (1976-1984) and was also briefly with Okotp’Bitek at the University of Ibadan, Nigeria, at the invitation of Wole Soyinka. From 1975 to 1980, he was a member of the Executive Committee of the National Theater of Kenya. From 1984 to 1997, he taught at the University of Botswana (1984-1997), where he served as Dean of the Department of Language and Social Science Education.
The poem is written in four stanzas, and is divided into two parts. The poem has no rhyming scheme or rhythm. It is written in free verse. The short lines of the poem are coupled with enjambment. There is no prominent use of punctuations in this irregular poem (different length of stanzas).
From the west Clouds come hurrying with the wind Turning sharply Here and there Like a plague of locusts Whirling, Tossing up things on its tail Like a madman chasing nothing.
The poet opens with building an image about clouds from the west rushing with the hurried wind. Further, the poet tells that the clouds have no specific direction and move in erratic and unpredicted directions. Moving on, the poet parallels the wind to a plague of locusts, displaying its destructive power (Locusts are associated with famine and destruction). The disruptive and destructive nature of the wind is demonstrated once more. Things are ‘tossed up’ in its wake as it moves. Now the wind moves in a directionless way, like the aimless wandering of a maniac. Similar to how the wind is depicted as an impending disaster poised to wreak havoc upon all it encounters, a lunatic typically poses a threat to the people nearby owing to his lack of control and sanity.
Literally, in this stanza, the poet is trying to create images in our minds of the aftermath of the storm. Here the poet conveys his meaning connotatively from the first line, when he says “from the west side”. He talks about the coming of the whites and how they came with their many atrocities and their ammunition and of course many people going around the possible African societies, destroying, looking, looking for who to rule, looking for power, looking for the next one. The society, country or nation in general falls prey to their twisted actions and ways of life, subjecting them to torture and slavery.
Pregnant clouds Ride stately on its back, Gathering to perch on hills Like sinister dark wings; The wind whistles by And trees bend to let it pass.
The poet’s choice of the word “pregnant” to describe the clouds suggests that the clouds are carrying something – probably rain waiting to be released to the earth below. The clouds are said to ride “nobly” on the back of the wind, which shows how the wind carries the clouds with a kind of dignity. This can be related to how high above the ground the clouds are (sense of value) and how slowly the clouds move in the wind. Clouds are depicted gathering over the hills. Using the word “perch over” instead of “hover over” refers to birds in the clouds. Comparing clouds with “dark wings of evil” also associates them with birds, specifically crows (dark in colour). The clouds are also described as dark, indicating that their presence is threatening. These lines make the sound of the wind, but more importantly, it shows the power of the wind as it forces the trees to bend and bow before it.
This is where the colonial masters get glory when they come to take over another country with pride, ego, dominance and power. The poetic personality tells us that they will come very royally, but only to do evil deeds. People who see these strangers in their hometowns just watch closely and side by side, waiting to see what happens. Literally, this stanza is about a brave storm, but the destruction of everything is still its main goal.
In the village Screams of delighted children, Toss and turn In the din of the whirling wind, Women, Babies clinging on their backs Dart about In and out Madly; The wind whistles by Whilst trees bend to let it pass.
Here we can see that the fast, whistling wind and threatening clouds don’t quite scare the kids. They seem to be excited by the wind that blows everything in their path or the rain that comes. Saying that their cries are “tossed in the hum of the swirling wind,” the poet tells us that the children’s joyful cries are lost in the strong wind. This is in contrast to the happy cries of children. Instead of being excited, the babies cling to their mothers’ backs (probably scared) and the women move randomly in a kind of frenzy as the storm approaches.
This stanza is somewhat ironic because it talks about children happily playing, some of whom are holding their mother on their backs eagerly, energetically and really excited. They expected the storm to come as a very good deed for society. It can describe how they were before the white man came, or even how they still behaved when they saw the white man. What they saw was new and strange to them. It can be said that the children’s behaviour represents the innocence of a society that never saw its destruction or end fast approaching. This stanza also describes a happy society that is somewhat satisfied with what they have seen, they are excited and amazed, and they still do not know what the future holds.
Clothes wave like tattered flags Flying off To expose dangling breasts As jagged blinding flashes Rumble, tremble and crack Amidst the smell of fired smoke And the pelting march of the storm
We see a repetition of lines in stanza 2 to show again how the wind bends nature to its will as it blows. The clothes of the villagers flutter strongly in the strong wind so that they sway. Fly away from his body. It also draws attention to the condition of their clothing – the “ragged flags” – which suggest that their clothing is torn and ragged. The “pregnant clouds” now seem to unleash their terror on the earth below. This horror naturally includes lightning (a blinding flash), thunder (a rumble) and heavy rain (a march). We also get the option of lightning setting things on fire – “the smell of lit smoke”.
This stanza continues with more information about the reactions of the children next to the women. The previously happy society now begins to fear the approaching storm. This stanza deals with the storm and the expected chaos unfolding. The white man finally announced his true intentions, his reasons for coming; monitor, control and protect. Now the whole society was thrown into a state of hostility, the people who lived happily in peace and harmony, had just tasted the tip of the iceberg of the relatives of peace; colonialism and slavery. Like a thunderstorm, the white man’s arrival in Africa was imperceptible.