The Mystic Drum Poem Summary, Notes And Line By Line Analysis In English By Gabriel Imomotimi Okara


The Nigerian poet and novelist Gabriel Okara has incorporated imagery of his native Nigerian delta into his poems, and his writing fuses the lexicon of his native Ijaw language with English concepts. Both in terms of form and subject, “The Mystic Drum” is an African poem. Okara returns to his roots in history, religion, culture, and folklore since he is an African.

The poem conveys the intricacies of the African experience through pictures, symbols, rhythm, and tone. This poem in a way supports the modernist maxim, “A poem should not mean, but be.”

About the poet

Gabriel Imomotimi Okara was born on April 24 and passed away on March 25 of this year. He was a poet and novelist from Nigeria, and he was born in Bumoundi in Yenagoa, Bayels State. The Voice (1964), his early experimental book, and his prize-winning poetry, which appeared in The Fisherman’s Invocation (1978) and The Dreamer.

His Vision made him the first Modernist poet of Anglophone Africa (2005). Okara, known as “the Nigerian Negritudist,” relied on African ideas, religion, mythology, and imagery in both his poetry and prose.

Stanza 1

The mystic drum in my inside
and fishes danced in the rivers
and men and women danced on land
to the rhythm of my drum

The drum typically represents the spiritual pulse of traditional African life in African poetry. According to the poet, at first, men and women danced on the land, and fish danced in the rivers while the drum pounded inside of him. 

Stanza 2

But standing behind a tree
with leaves around her waist
she only smiled with a shake of her head

However, there was a stranger standing behind the tree, grinning indifferently at the depth of their cultural heritage. This could be a sign of admiration or acceptance. 

Stanza 3

Still my drum continued to beat,
rippling the air with quickened
tempo compelling the quick
and the dead to dance and sing
with their shadows -

The drum, however, persisted in beating, quickening its pace and sending ripples through the air, inspiring the dead to dance and sing alongside their shadows. Other factors pale in comparison to the ancestors’ greatness. The mystic drum is so potent that it can revive even the dead. The pounding of the drum symbolizes the longing for a harmonious Nigeria.

Stanza 4

But standing behind a tree
with leaves around her waist
she only smiled with a shake of her head.

Still, the stranger kept grinning distantly at the people. The term “outsider” is a representation of Western imperialism, which has denigrated anything Eastern, non-Western, alien, and hence “incomprehensible for their own good” as “The Other.”

Stanza 5

Then the drum beat with the rhythm
of the things of the ground
and invoked the eye of the sky
the sun and the moon and the river gods -
and the trees bean to dance,
the fishes turned men
and men turned fishes
and things stopped to grow -

The mystic drum calls upon the sun, moon, river gods, and trees to start dancing because African culture is so in one with nature. As a result of fish turning into men and men turning into fish, the gap between people and nature, the animal world and human world, and the hydrosphere and lithosphere are ultimately closed. 

Stanza 6

But standing behind a tree
with leaves around her waist
she only smiled with a shake of her head.

The poet repeats this stanza, and as she gazes at this magnificent landscape, “a weird culture,” represented by a strange woman, smiles and shakes her head. This act may be one of admiration or acceptance.

Stanza 7

 And then the mystic drum
in my inside stopped to beat -
and men became men,
fishes became fishes
and trees, the sun and the moon
found their places, and the dead
went to the ground and things began to grow.

The mystic drum eventually ceased beating, and men turned into men and fish turned into fish. Thanks to Western Scientific Imperialism, life has since become mechanical, rational, and dry. Everything has a place.

Stanza 8 & 9

And behind the tree she stood
with roots sprouting from her
feet and leaves growing on her head
and smoke issuing from her nose
and her lips parted in her smile
turned cavity belching darkness.

Then, then I packed my mystic drum
and turned away; never to beat so loud any more.

On the woman, leaves began to sprout; she began to flourish on the soil. Her roots gradually sunk into the ground. Her lips opened in a smile as smoke emitted from them, spreading a sort of parched logic. The word “smoke” also alludes to the moral haze brought on by industrialization and environmental pollution.

In the end, the speaker was completely cut off from the soul of his civilization and left in “belching darkness,” so he packed off the mystic drum and stopped beating it. The “belching gloom” is a reference to the hollowness and futility of the forced existence.