COVID-19: The Poet’s Perspectives

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By Bayo Aka.

Literature usually means works of poetry, prose and /or play, often imaginative or real. It mirrors man’s world and focuses on matters current to societal engagement or on the front burner. Sometimes, literature or poetry goes beyond being the society’s mirror but acts as visionary or prophetic lamps as seen in one or two poems that record societal happenings.

About a hundred years ago the world experienced what was known as the 1918 Spanish flu. Otherwise known as 1918 flu pandemic, it was an unusually deadly influenza pandemic that lasted from January 1918 to December 1920. Records said about 500 million people were infected while death toll was 17 million to 50 million.

On the other hand, Coronavirus is an ongoing pandemic ravaging the entire world. Tagged COVID-19 from Coronavirus disease 2019, it broke out in Wuhan, China in December, 2019. As of April, 2020, about 1.62 million people spread over the entire globe have been infected from which 97,200 deaths have been recorded. The death toll and economic effects globally are obviously ongoing.

Based on the two events above, there are two poems to be considered. Simply titled This is timeless and written by an anonymous poet, it was first written in 1869 and reprinted in 1919 during the Spanish flu pandemic. It has been in circulation again since this monster started.

The 25- line poem is not written in stanzas and in simple dictum. It describes all that happened during the Spanish flu pandemic which one could say are almost being replicated now. When the happenings now are critically considered with the title given to the poem as of the time it was penned, one could say that the title is apt. As it was then, is now and so it may be in another century (2120) to come.”And people stayed at home”.

Then, while staying at home, “they read books, listened to the radio” or to the authorities for more information on the pandemic. Not like today where celebrities, Nigerians refused to stay at home, refused to listen or abide by recommended measures that may not help the spread of the pandemic. Rather, parties are being thrown, social distancing order was not adhered to. It was like the days of Noah. He called them to enter the ark but they won’t listen to him. They were busy buying and selling as well as going to ceremonies until it was too late.

In the poem, This is timeless, the people also “rested, exercised, made art, and played” to while away time while observing the stay at home order.

They didn’t idle away but “learned new ways of living and listened deeply” for more information about the Spanish flu. The people believed what they heard from the authorities not like now that many think COVID-19 is a ruse.

Many misinformations have been churned out, all in the name to say it is not true. It is unfortunate that some learned and even religious people help to preach that it is not real, all for selfish interest. And one or two members of the clergy really came out to show their love for tithes: don’t come to church but send your tithes online.

During that time, they didn’t underrate the efficacy of prayer. Importantly, they developed “a new way of thinking”, connoting that they abandoned their previous way of thinking. A new technology came on board. They accepted the vaccine and drugs developed to tackle the flu. Not as in Nigeria where we see the Chinese imported Doctors as carriers of the disease. The people of that time changed from how they used to do things before to a new way of doing things. It is suggestive here to say they changed from their sinful way of life to holy way of life – and they were “healed” of their infirmity.

The cheering news in the poem is that when the sinners have departed the world: “And in the absence of people who lived in ignorant ways dangerous, meaningless and heartless, the earth also began to heal.”

With the lines above, the one year pandemic came to an end. This is an indication that there is light at the end of the tunnel as regards the present pandemic ravaging the entire world.

The last part of the poem which reports the end of the flu says: “When it was over, the remaining of human species grieved for the dead but they made new choices, dreamed of new visions, created new ways of living.” There is therefore hope that when COVID-19 is over, the world will rejoice.

Similarly in his poem titled Lock-down and lock in, Justice Alaba Omolaye-Ajileye describes period as a season of anomie and apprehension, saying it signifies the coming of the end of the world – a Christian point of view. The poem is penned on Sunday 5, 2020.

The poet says the killer disease, Coronavirus, is unfriendly with both the rich and the poor. It is not only the rich man’s sickness as believed by some. It kills everyone.

He described paradoxically the markets and streets which are supposed to be crowded at ordinarily time are now empty courtesy of COVID-19 while homes  that are supposed to be emptied during working hours are now crowded. What an irony.

But there are non conformists despite the sit at home order. In a picturesque form, Ajileye describes how people are forced to stay at home “confined and incarcerated yet not in custody”. One dare says that this is to help minimize the spread of the disease. His choice of words here is alliterative and diction taken from his profession, judiciary. One notices the vivid use of contrast in stanza 3 of the poem.

Despite the whole scenario is unpleasant, the poet sees hope for the human race. Using a hymn which revolves Christians who overcome because of they follow Christ consistently. In all disaster, they follow Christ and overcome.

Emphatically, Ajileye ends the poem with ray of hope that COVID- 19 shall be defeated.

There is no doubt that the poet is a prophet as seen in the two poems above where in the poet says the pandemic will be defeated.

Read the poem here: Lock-down and Lock-up

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