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A Stylistic Analysis of Christopher Okigbo Poems

A Stylistic Analysis of Christopher Okigbo Poems


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The concept of style is the manifestation of one’s personality. Every writer has a natural, linguistic and idiosyncratic way of expressing ideas that leads to the identification of style with man and his thought. The manipulation of words by a writer creates a distinct style through which he/she reaches out to the audience.

This research work focused on a stylistic analysis of selected socio-political poems of Christopher Okigbo. This aims at identifying Okigbo’s unique use of language. Stylometrics was used as a theoretical framework for the study. The findings in this are that Okigbo’s poems begin with some words in capitalisation which are foregrounded to the theme of the poems.

He makes use of elements like repetition, alliteration, rhyme, parallelism and so on which add musical colour and rhythm to his poems. It is also evident his poems are sometimes prophetic, ritualistic and often address socio-political issues from a universal perspective.

The work found out that each of the linguistic choices has an identifiable function that is performed in the poem. The study concludes that Christopher Okigbo’s poems are musical in nature and highly figurative in language use.




This chapter serves as general introduction and includes background to the study, the statement of the problem, as well as the scope and delimitation of the study. Also, included in chapter one are the aim and objectives of the study, significance of the study, limitations of the study as well as the research design and a definition of terms.


Language use by individuals differs from one person to the other. This is because of the differences in language ability. Stylistics is a borderline discipline between language and literature.  It  focuses  on  language  use  in  both  literary  and  non-literary  texts.

Stylistics is also concerned with the study of the language of literature or the study of the language habits of particular authors and their writing patterns. Therefore, it can be said to be the study of style. Style on its own has been defined differently be scholars.

According to Leech and Short (15), style is the cover of our feelings and it is the tool of the writer to transfer the message to readers. Leech further says “style proclaims the man” (11), that is, there is an intimate relationship between the choice of language and the author’s personality. Haynes defines it as “the study of style is the study of differences” (3).  This further drives home the point that our choice of diction differentiates us from others.

Language gives the reader a new perspective on familiar themes and allows us to look at them without the personal or social conditioning that we unconsciously associate with them (Widdowson 9). So, although the reader may still use the same exhausted words and vague terms like ‘love’, ‘heart’ and ‘soul’ to refer to human experience, to place these words in a new and refreshing context allows the poet the ability to represent humanity and communicate honestly. This, in part, is stylistics, and this, according to Widdowson, is the point of poetry (76).

Every writer’s works can have a great influence on fore coming literary works even though their purpose is the same. This is because writers do not have the same approach when it comes to language.

That is why one person’s style can be different from another. Thus, this work will focuses on “A Stylistic analysis of selected Christopher Okigbo’s socio-political poetry”. This aims at revealing what has made Okigbo so popular in the literary world despite his short life.

A Stylistic Analysis of Christopher Okigbo Poems


Stylistics is the study of style. It is the description and analysis of the variable forms of linguistic items in actual language use. This research project intends to carry out a stylistic investigation of selected Christopher Okigbo’s Socio-political Poems.

When two or more authors write on a particular topic, the style of writing differs from one author to the other authors thereby distinguishing one from the others. This can be achieved through choice, deviation, conformity and so on. Okigbo has a style that is peculiar to him and differentiates his work from those of other authors. His style reveals his feelings about the socio-political situation in Nigeria. This research paper seeks to find out what is peculiar to his language.

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The aim of this research is to carry out a stylistic analysis of some of Okigbo’s socio-political poems. The objective is to give better understanding of the poems, thereby maximising the enjoyment of the poems.

Moreover, another objective is to apply levels of linguistic analysis to these poems and by so doing show that linguistic knowledge is useful in analysis of poetry.


This research work will reveal the peculiarities that characterise the discourse of Christopher Okigbo. This hence brings out those features that differentiate his works from those of other authors such as Chinua Achebe, Ola Rotimi, Amos Tutuola and so on.

Moreover, this work is significant as it will guide those who will work on similar research topics. It is expected that this work will serve as a reference material for students and give insight into related areas that can be explored using other primary texts by different authors.

The study of language variation and language use is relevant for the teaching and learning of languages, and for developing the learner’s communicative ability. This work will therefore contribute to teaching and learning of English language. It is also significant because it is mandatory for the award of Bachelor of Arts (B.A Hons.) in English language.


Christopher Okigbo is a prolific writer and has written many works about different ideas in the society with different purposes. This study is concerned with only his socio-political poems.

The focus of this work is on the levels of Linguistic analysis: Phonological level, Graphological level, lexical repetition and Lexico-semantic level in his selected poems which are: “Thunder can Break”, ‘‘Come Thunder’’, “Hurrah for Thunder” and “Elegy for Slit-drum” in his collections of poems titled Labyrinths and Path of Thunder.


It is basically a textual analysis of some of Christopher Okigbo’s socio-political poetry. No field work will be required as it will be library research and the collection and analysis of data generated from the primary texts as well as secondary sources.

In this stylistic analysis lexical repetition, lexico-semantic, phonological, syntactic and graphological features will be the center of our concern. These features from the selected poems will enable the researcher to link the style to the author and show the stylistic effect of these features.


One common problem experienced by most researchers when carrying out a stylistic analysis is that formal structures of any text tend to be too many and complex.

Any detailed study in this field, therefore, produces a mass of data, in such areas as lexis, grammar, foregrounding, cohesion and context. This becomes cumbersome to the researcher. We have tried to overcome this challenge by concentrating on those structures considered to be more prominent in the poems.

Also, the field of stylistic is enormous and it tends to be difficult to limit the area of operation of this field. There are several concepts and techniques which one has the freedom to use and so it becomes a problem to a particular method to conduct the research analysis. In the light of this, this work focuses on lexical repetition, lexico-semantic, phonological, syntactic and graphological features.

Another limitation is the time limit for which this work is to be carried. This research is to be completed within an academic session which is challenging due to the fact that it will be done alongside other academic activities such as attending lectures, reading for continuous assessment and preparing for examination. We overcome this challenge by drawing a work timetable specifying what to be done of every point in time for efficient time management. 




This chapter is review of related literature. It includes conceptual clarification which covers the concepts of stylistics, style and origin of stylistics. Also included are review of critical works on Okigbo and the theoretical framework on which the study is based.


Stylistics is a branch of linguistics which investigates the entire system of expressive resources available in a particular language. It is a relatively new linguistic discipline. The word “stylistics” was firstly attested in the Oxford English Dictionary only in 1882, meaning the science of literary style, the study of stylistic features.

However, the first reflections on style can be dated back to the ancient times. Ancient rhetoric and poetics, which are considered to be the predecessors of stylistics, treated style as a specific mode of expression, the proper adornment of thought. The orator or poet was expected to follow the norms of artful arrangement of words, to use model sentences and prescribed kinds of figures in order to achieve particular expressiveness. After the ancient period the normative approach dominated in style investigations.

According to Freeman (1), stylistics is a sub-discipline that began during the second half of 20th century. Simpson (52) put it that “the development of stylistics has begun from the classical period”. Historically speaking, the study of style can be traced back to the literary scholarships of the Greeks and Romans in the fifth century BC in which rhetoric was the dominant art.

This discipline was a set of rules and strategies which enable rhetors and orators ‘to speak well’; in other words to use language that is fully decorated with all the figures and tropes to bring about changes in the feelings and opinions of the audience. That is, it is the way one could be persuasive to audience, influential in political life or effective in churches.

As it was meant for the purpose of impressing or affecting others emotionally, this linguistic activity has acquired a rhetorical signification and so, undoubtedly, is viewed as rhetorical stylistics. The search for effect upon the hearers may be recognised as the practical function of language or what Jakobson (354) has termed later on as the ‘conative function’, as the emphasis was to arouse certain attitudes and feelings on the audience.

In 1909 the Swiss linguist Charles Bally published his Traité de stylistique française (French stylistics”) where he rejected the established normative approach to style and developed а linguistic stylistics. According to Bally the subject of stylistics is everything emotional and expressive in language and in speech.

As a separate linguistic discipline stylistics began to form only in the 20-30s of the 20th century. In modern linguistics the term stylistics is employed in a variety of senses. But in general stylistics is defined as a branch of linguistics which studies the principles and effect of choice and usage of different language elements for rendering thought and emotion under different conditions of communication.


Different claims have been made with regard to the definition of stylistics. Davy and Crystal (79) point out that stylistics is the part of applied linguistics which presents scientific study of style by applying linguistic principles and theories. Stylistics however mainly concerns with the literary variety, mainly writing.

Stylistics as we understand it today, deals with the application of linguistic knowledge to text. Charles Bally in this regard believes that “Stylistics studies the elements of a language organized from the point of view of their affective content; that is, the expression of emotion by language as well as the effect of language on the emotions” (Taylor 23).

Galperin (63) says that stylistics has to do with the structure of mutual language which is used in communication. Occasionally, the term style is used in literary criticism and it is defined according to one’s own field of study. Widdowson’s (3) opines that style is the study of literary texts from linguistic perspective. He puts forward his view that the connection between literary criticism and linguistics is style.

The main idea of stylistics is that of style. We speak of style in different fields such as architecture, painting, clothes, behaviour, work and so on. Thus, style in its most general sense is a specific characteristic of human activity arising as a result of choice within the accepted norms of a definite mode or manner of conducting this activity. Style is indicative of the actor‘s social role, of the social group to which he belongs or strives to belong, as well as of his individual features and psychological state (Maltzev 5).

Style is seen as a mark of character. Arthur Schopenhauer‘s definition of style as “the physiognomy of the mind” suggests that a writer‘s style bears the mark of his personality. The Count de Buffon’s Discours sur le style, says in his famous epigram, “Le style est l’homme mкme” (Style is the man himself).

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S. Chatman defines style as a product of individual choices and patterns of choices among linguistic possibilities (Galperin 12). Style may be also defined as a set of characteristics by which we distinguish one author from another or members of one subclass from members of other subclasses, all of which are members of the same general class (Galperin 12).

Oloruntoba Oju (127) believes that style is almost synonymous with variety. In other words, style refers in a simple way to the manner of expression which differs according to the various contexts. Style in this regard may be reckoned with in terms of the sociolinguistic concepts that produce the variation.

For instance, styles may differ according to place (Western or African), time (Old English, new English, and Classical Poetry etc.), individuality (the style of Shakespeare, style of Niyi Osundare) and modality (written, spoken, complex, poetic, informal, formal etc.).

Lawal (6) however, describes style as an aspect of language that deals with choices of diction, phrases, sentences and linguistic materials that are consistent and harmonious with the subject matter.

He adds that it involves the narrative technique of a writer in terms of choice and distribution of words and character. Lawal (6) also adds that it may be reckoned in terms of the sociolinguistic contexts and it may also be reckoned or analysed on linguistic, semantic and even semiotic terms.

Therefore one can say that style denotes the collective characteristics of writing, diction or any artistic expression and the way of presenting things, depending upon the general outlook proper to a person, a literary school, a trend, a period or a genre.


There are several features of linguistic description that need to be understood for our study to be more rewarding. These are as follows:


This refers to the reoccurrence of lexical items in a work. Lexical repetition changes in relation to writing, topic, cultural background, and development of writing ability. As  a  form  of  lexical  repetition,  words  may  be  repeated;  synonyms  or  near-synonyms may be used. At times, poets repeat some lexical items,  near-synonymy  may  be  used,  for  instance,  to  foreground  the  intended  message.

As the principal means of explicitly marking cohesion in a text, lexical repetition offers insight into how texts are structured and the balance of old and new information. Lexical repetition may serve as a means to make a literary text more realistic to everyday situations.

 Hoey asserts that “Simple lexical repetition occurs when a lexical item that has already occurred in a text is repeated with no greater alteration than is entirely explicable in terms of a closed grammatical paradigm” (53).


Graphology means the arrangement of words based on their meanings.  It is the systematic formation, structure and punctuation in the sentence.

In the words of Alabi (170), a graphological discussion of style among other features entails the foregrounding of quotation marks, ellipses periods, hyphens, contracted forms, special structures, the full stop, the colon, the comma, the semicolon, the question mark, the dash, lower case letters, gothic and bold prints, capitalization, small print, spacing, italics etc. Features to be discussed under this are:


Punctuation is a system of signs and symbols which shows the reader how a sentence is constructed and how it should be read. This is used to create sense, clarity and stress in sentences. Punctuation are marks used to structure and organise a text.


A paragraph is a group of closely related sentences that develop a central idea. In other words, it can be regarded as a collection of related sentences dealing with a single topic. Usually, a paragraph is made up of a topic sentence followed by supporting sentences. Learning to write good paragraphs will help you as a writer stay on track during your drafting and revision stages.

Archaic words

Alabi (166) says ‘This is used to show level of education or social accomplishment. They are attention focusing’.


Contraction refers to a shortened form of a word or group of words, with the omitted letters often replaced in written English by an apostrophe.

Rhetorical Question

Rhetoric is the art of effective speech or writing. Thus rhetorical question is a literary device in which a question is made to suggest its own answer without demanding a direct reply from the reader or listener.

Mr. Harrison

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