Counterpoint in Print: Okot P’Bitek’s Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol
Whether or not Okot p’Bitek’s two long poems, Song of Lawino (1966) and Song of Ocol (1967), were influenced by his admiration for and early imitation of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s better known narrative poem, Song of Hiawatha,1 these poems are not modelled on any Western conception of a long poem. They cannot be described as epic; they are not ballads; nor are they private meditations of a poet. In conception and mode of composition, this East African poetry belongs to the oral tradition and so is closer to a musical score than to print on a page. This kind of poetry is written to be performed and, as such, it shares an affinity with the poetry of experience in the Nietzschean sense of “a poem which originates in song and passes temporarily through drama in order to articulate the song and refer us back to the song for meaning” (Robert Langbaum, 1974:228). Okot’s poems can therefore better be described as “counterpoint in print”, their counterpointing method embracing both form and expression.
KeywordsOral Tradition Musical Score Guinea Fowl Word Magic Chord Progression
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