Mango Seedling Poem by Chinua Achebe Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


Though Chinua Achebe’s poem “Mango Seedling” seems to be about a mango seed starting to emerge as a tree, it is about getting the readers to open their eyes and see the truth of what is happening in Africa. Achebe wants to shed light on the beautiful African culture which the people are ignorant of. The title acts as a metaphor of wanting to see Africa blossom like a beautiful mango tree. This serves as a further extended metaphor in the poem’s allusion to modern-day Africa. Man genuinely requires battle eternally since the state of degradation has advanced to such a considerable extent. It accurately depicts a modern, populated, uncaring metropolis where humanity only has a fleeting opportunity to appreciate the small wonders of creation.

About the poet

Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian author, is regarded as the father of modern African literature. One of his most influential novels “Things Fall Apart” has been translated into thousands of different languages. He usually explores the themes of colonialism, clash of cultures and the gradual loss of identity. Achebe played a crucial role in establishing the African literary tradition and gave a voice to the marginal communities. 


The poem is broken into 4 stanzas and in total it is made up of 38 lines. The setting of the poem is urban and the stanzas are of unequal length. Apart from that, the poem further acts as a mild elegy to the memory of Christopher Okigbo, a Nigerian poet. 

Summary and Analysis

Stanza 1

Through glass window pane

Up a modern office block

I saw, two floors below, on wide-jutting

Concrete canopy a mango seedling newly sprouted

Purple, two-leafed, standing on its burst

Black yolk. It waved brightly to sun and wind

Between rains—daily regaling itself

On seed-yams, prodigally.


In the first stanza, the poet establishes the speaker and the mango seedling as two entirely opposite entities. Since the setting is of the urban day-to-day world, there is a complete lack of space. The only separation can be seen through a glass window sheet two storeys beneath a “wide-jutting concrete canopy.” Even though the place is proclaimed barren, the mango seedling has grown. The poem continues talking about how the seedling has no soil to support itself but it hasn’t withered away and died. It cheerfully waves to “sun and wind.” The poet claims that a mango sapling may be seen on the upper level of that specific edifice via the glass windowpane. He then indicates that the mango seedling has been held by an immovable shadow and is adhered to it. 


The stanza talks about the exact location of the mango seedling as noted by the speaker. It is mentioned that it is not growing in a favorable environment. The only glimmer of ray comes when the speaker mentions how sun and wind help in the process of the photosynthesis, keeping the plant alive. However, the hope dampens when the poet mentions rain does not reach the mango seedling, which is quite an issue as without rain the plant won’t grow. Achebe wants the readers to view how bravely the seedling is trying to survive even during such difficult times. One doesn’t know when the hardships will end but one needs to endure them without giving up. Achebe highlights the African community, who have withstood one calamity after the other and still hasn’t given up. There’s power to their strength and to their identity. 

Stanza 2

How long the happy waving

From precipice of rainswept sarcophagus?

How long the feast on remnant flour

At pot bottom?

   Perhaps like the widow

Of infinite faith it stood in wait

For the holy man of the forest, shaggy-haired

Powered for eternal replenishment.

Or else it hoped for Old Tortoise’s miraculous feast

On one ever recurring dot of cocoyam

Set in a large bowl of green vegetables—

   These days beyond fable, beyond faith?

   Then I saw it

Poised in courageous impartiality

Between the primordial quarrel of Earth

And Sky striving bravely to sink roots

Into objectivity, mid-air in stone.


In this stanza, the poet poses a question asking for how long do the readers think the mango seedling can survive in such a dire condition. It is quite unlikely that the plant will survive, let alone grow, in a position where it gets no rain and is shut around the corporate modern world. Neither can the plant consume anything as rain is important for photosynthesis. The cause of its survival is diminishing with time and it saddens the speaker. The poet voices out that this mango seedling is waiting for an individual to arrive and restore it on the screen. According to the poet, this mango bud believes that the individual would emerge from the thicket and have scruffy hair. The mango seedling would have the ability to develop steadily more favorably as a result of this presence. The poet further claims that due to a dispute involving the two diametrically opposed powers of their nature, it is now unthinkable for the mango seedling to survive. The fleshy mango sapling is looking for moisture to survive because the sky is not raining. The poet claims that although the sky wishes to protect the mango seedling, its continued existence is now unattainable because the land has become so dehydrated that no food is available to it.


The poet compares the floor where the sapling is standing with the coffin of ancient times. It serves as an omen which might mark the death of the seedling. Such harsh conditions are perilous to the tiny seedling. Similarly, the Africans face the darkest of times under attack and their condition appears as bleak as the seedling. The arrival of a man with a shaggy beard is the speaker’s way of regaining hope that some means of survival will come. He is hoping that one day they will be free from the clutches of colonialism and sing and dance as they regain their true identities once again. 

Stanza 3

I thought the rain, prime mover

To this enterprise, someday would rise in power

And deliver its ward in delirious waterfall

Toward earth below. But every rainy day

Little playful floods assembled on the slab,

Danced, parted round its feet,

United again, and passed.


In this stanza, the speaker addresses the rain as the “prime mower.” He prays for rain to fall heavily one day so that each and every corner of the Earth would rejoice in getting wet under the rain. However, expectations meet reality when the speaker laments the condition of the mango seedling to be worsening. Even if the rain falls, it’s only the tiny drops of water that make their way towards the sapling and does next to no improvement. 


The speaker refers to the rain in this line as the “prime mower.” In order for everyone on Earth to enjoy getting drenched in the rain, he prays for it to rain severely one day. When the speaker laments that the mango seedling’s condition is getting worse, expectations are met with reality. Even if it rains, only a few microscopic drops of water will reach the sapling, making little to no difference. 

Stanza 4

It went from purple to sickly green

Before it died,

   Today I see it still—

Dry, wire-thin in sun and dust of the dry months—

Headstone on tiny debris of passionate courage.


The mango seedling’s hue shifts from purple to a sickly green before it passes away, according to the poet, during a situation when there are fewer nutrients, and it has little possibility of thriving. The speaker goes on to remark that on the particular day he began to compose this poem, nothing had transpired for those living in his neighborhood and parallels their present standing to that of the mango seed.


In the concluding stanza, the poet pitifully shows the woebegone state of the African community. The toils and troubles of the people still haven’t come to an end. Even in the present day, the speaker laments the loss of identity and culture of the African people. Africans undergo great struggle while adjusting to a new culture but amidst all hardships they remain hopeful and united. By taking the image of a mango seedling the poet has shown the struggle for life. The entire journey starts from establishing one’s roots which act as an identity for them. By holding on to their roots, which can also denote their culture and environment, one is expected to grow and blossom just like a mango tree does.