Air Raid

Chinua Achebe

‘Air Raid’ by Chinua Achebe is a poem that provides a glimpse into the Nigerian/Biafran Civil War using symbolism and dark humor.

Chinua Achebe

Nationality: African

Chinua Achebe was a Nigerian novelist and poet.

His masterpiece is the novel Things Fall Apart.

Key Poem Information

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Central Message: War infiltrates every aspect of life.

Themes: Death, War

Speaker: A civilian in a warzone.

Emotions Evoked: Hopelessness

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 20th Century

Achebe brilliantly uses humour to unsettle the reader by conflating the normal with the bizarre.

‘Air Raid’ by Chinua Achebe is a very short poem portraying the Nigerian Civil War from a civilian’s perspective. It relies on simple but potent language to paint the gory picture of a war-torn nation. The use of symbolism and dark humor are the poem’s highlights.

Air Raid by Chinua Achebe


‘Air Raid’ by Chinua Achebe relates the events of the Nigerian Civil War from a civilian’s point of view.

‘Air Raid’ has a rapid-fire opening. The poem immediately takes us to the war setting, where aircraft are literally reigning death on civilians. It doesn’t mellow out in the second stanza. In fact, the poem brings us closer to the war using a mundane scenario of friends about to greet each other before one of them is sliced in half. Regardless, ‘Air Raid’ attempts to dissolve tension at its end by including dark humor. As the speaker says, the dead friend has other worries now than his friendly greeting.

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

It comes so quickly


from evil forests of Soviet technology

The first stanza of ‘Air Raid’ is heavy with symbolism. Through their narration, the persona brings readers close to the war. They point out the speed of the aircraft’s arrival, portraying the suddenness with which death often descends on its victims during such times.

The third line uses simple but symbolic language to express the persona’s distaste for the devices of war. He says they come from the “evil forest”, a place known in Nigeria to be where malignant spirits live and evil things/people are abandoned. Contrary to its actual meaning, this evil forest becomes an abode for “Soviet technology” in the poem.

The phrase lends credit to the fact that the “bird” in line 2 is, in fact, an aircraft. Line 3 also hints at the persona’s possible distaste for the Western nations, from which this warcraft came.

Stanza Two

A man crossing the road

to greet a friend


has other worries now than a friendly handshake

at noon.

The last stanza brings readers even closer to the war with a mundane but tragic event. It again underscores the suddenness of death during war. By using the example of two random friends crossing the road to greet each other, only for one to be sliced in half, the speaker instills the thought that such an end could come to anyone. This thought makes the final stanza haunting as well as potent. Regardless, the poet persona tries to mellow out the poem by injecting dark humor in the last few lines.


‘Air Raid’ comprises two stanzas, the first stanza having three lines, the second having seven. The poem is written in free verse. Like most of Achebe’s poems, it also heavily employs enjambment.

Literary Devices

  • Imagery: One can argue visual imagery to be the dominant device in the poem. The poet persona purposely uses potent diction to paint the picture of war.
  • Symbolism: The phrase “evil forests of Soviet technology” is symbolic in nature. The persona uses a term infamously known in his nation to express his distaste for the applications of technology which is, in their case, war.
  • Metaphor: An instance of metaphor lies in stanza 1 line 2. The persona calls the aircraft used for war the “bird of death”.
  • Black Humour: The humour in stanza 2 lines 4-7 takes a dark tone.


What is the tone and mood of ‘Air Raid?’

The tone and mood of the poem, overall, is bitter. Even when the speaker makes a joke, his disdain can’t help but show.

Where was ‘Air Raid’ first published?

‘Air Raid’ was first published in Beware Soul Brother and Other Poems (1971). About a third of the poems in this collection relate to events of the Nigerian Civil War.

What are the themes of ‘Air Raid?

War is the central theme in this poem. Other themes like death and bitterness are tied in as effects of war.

Who is the speaker in ‘Air Raid?

The speaker/poet persona in ‘Air Raid’ is an observer who also happens to be a civilian. They relate the events of the poem to readers as they watch them unfold.

What real-life event inspired the poem?

The Nigerian/Biafran Civil War (1967-1970) inspired the poem. However, Achebe draws direct inspiration from the incidents that took place mid-war (between 1968 and 1969). After General Emeka Ojukwu declared eastern Nigeria a new state, the Republic of Biafra, federal aircraft took to shelling Biafran towns, killing civilians in their numbers.

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Poetry+ Review Corner

Air Raid

Enhance your understanding of the poem's key elements with our exclusive review and critical analysis. Join Poetry+ to unlock this valuable content.
Chinua Achebe (poems)

Chinua Achebe

Achebe's poem showcases his preoccupation with his native Nigeria and, like much of his work, contains a satirical edge.
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20th Century

The poem has a specific historical context, as it takes place during the Nigerian Civil War which took place between 1967-1970. Much of Achebe's writing is set in Nigeria at various points during the twentieth century and the changing nation is one of his most recurrent themes.
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Broadly regarded as one of Nigeria and Africa's greatest ever writers, Achebe's poem is, unsurprisingly, concerned with his native country, as so much of his work was. This poem should be regarded among the best poems written by African poets and celebrated for its powerful message. It depicts war in a way that is highly meaningful and emotional.
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The poem depicts death using humour, perhaps implying that the narrator has become desensitized to the sight of death.
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Achebe's poem reinforces the uncanny nature of war, as it uproots ordinary life and makes normal existence impossible so long as it continues.
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The black humour imbued within the poem speaks to a degree of hopelessness and resignation. The narrator does not appear to believe that anything will ever change.
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The chaotic nature of war is demonstrated through the juxtaposition of the mundane act of shaking someone's hand and the extreme violence of war. The conflict has seemingly decimated the normal rules of society, leaving only chaos behind.
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Danger appears to surround the narrator, so much so that they no longer notice it or fear it as much as the reader might expect.
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Hard Times

In spite of the evident danger and difficulties, the poem's tone is surprisingly humorous, as though suggesting that people have grown used to such conditions and no longer consider them to be hard.
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Free Verse

Written in one short stanza, Achebe's use of free verse ensures the poem's chaotic subject matter is reflected in the unpredictability of its meter. This is something that's common to his verse and that gives it his characteristic style.
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Anastasia Ifinedo Poetry Expert
Anastasia Ifinedo is an officially published poet. You can find her poems in the anthologies, "Mrs Latimer Had A Fat Cat" by Cozy Cat Press and "The Little is Much" by Earnest Writes Community, among others. A former poet for the Invincible Quill Magazine and a reviewer of poems on several writing platforms, she has helped—and continues to help—many poets like her hone their craft.

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