Counterpoint in Print: Okot P’Bitek’s Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol

  • Rosemary Gray
Part of the Analecta Husserliana book series (ANHU, volume 61)


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.


Oral Tradition Musical Score Guinea Fowl Word Magic Chord Progression 
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  1. Acholonu, Catherine O., 1991. “From Rhetoric to Occultism”, in Eldred Jones, ed., African Literature Today, New Jersey: Africa World Press.Google Scholar
  2. Caxton, John, cited by Malcolm Yorke, 1988. The Spirit of Place: Nine Neo-Romantic Artists and their Times, London: Constable.Google Scholar
  3. Finnegan, Ruth, 1976. Oral Literature in Africa, Nairobi: OUR.Google Scholar
  4. Jahn, Janheinz, n.d. A History of Neo-African Literature, London: Faber.Google Scholar
  5. Langbaum, Robert, 1974. Poetry of Experience, Harmondsworth: Penguin.Google Scholar
  6. Mbiti, John, 1980. African Religions and Philosophy, London: Heinemann.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2000

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rosemary Gray
    • 1
  1. 1.University of PretoriaSouth Africa

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