“Once Upon a Time” by Gabriel Okara is an intimate conversation between a parent and his son about life. How does the poet deal with the challenges he has experienced in his life? In your answer, you should make close reference to:
← Language of the poem;
← Differences between appearances and reality;
← What the father has learnt about life.
Ensure that you give evidence from the poem to support your answers.
“Once Upon a Time” by Gabriel Okara is a poem based on the theme of places. It is an intimate conversation between a father and son about the truth about life. This poem has seven stanzas and their lengths are unequal. This poem has no ...view middle of the document...
The use of the phrase “but now” indicates a comparison between past and present. The “but” also adds to the conversational tone of the poem. The use of “they” once again represents the society in general i.e. without any specific reference to a specific person.
The next line, “and laugh with their eyes”, is a continuation of the previous line. The metaphor in this line, “laugh with their eyes”, suggests the sincerity of the smiles and that people were genuinely pleased. This is because when one truly smiles, it reaches the eyes, and this could be the reason why the poet chose to use the metaphor, “smile with their eyes”.
The next line, “but now they only laugh with their teeth”, is a contradictory metaphor to the previous line. The fact that the people smiled with their “teeth” could suggest that the smiles were false and were only façades. This means that the smile was only an appearance, not reality.
The enjambment in the next two lines, “while their ice-block-cold eyes/search behind my shadow”, increases the pace at which the poem is to be read. The metaphor, “ice-block-cold eyes” refers to the way the society, (indicated by the use of the collective third person, “their”), looks at the persona, i.e. they look at him with hatred/envy. The use of the first person belonging, “my” authenticates the poem. The phrase, “search behind my shadow”, could suggest that “they”, (i.e. society), look at him with material friendship and only see his material value and his negative traits.
The opening line of the next stanza, “there was a time indeed”, helps to further bring out the feeling of comparison between the present and the past. The use of the exclamation, “indeed”, suggests that the persona is trying to convince the reader about something deemed quite unbelievable. It also adds to the fairy tale like tone created by the title and opening line of the poem.
The next line of the stanza, “they used to shake hands with their hearts”, is a metaphor. The meaning of this metaphor is that people used to greet one another whole-heartedly and were genuinely pleased to meet one another. The sincerity is proven by the use of “hearts”.
The use of “but” in the next line continues the conversational tone of the poem. It also introduces the mournful tone, which is also detected in the poem. The use of “son” in the same line once more adds to the conversational nature of the poem. “That’s gone” shows the comparison between the past and the present. The persona is trying to explain to his son that all the politeness and genuine courtesy of the past is now gone.
The enjambment in the final three lines of the stanza, “Now they shake hands without hearts/while their left hands search/my empty pockets”, could simply be used to increase the pace at which the lines are to be read. It could also suggest that the persona is angry about the fact that people have changed into the cold, calculating type, rather than...