In ‘Song of the Women of my Land’ Farouk uses repetition, figurative language, and moving lines of verse in order to speak on themes of perseverance, oppression, and the power of music. Through a caring and reverential tone, that is at times also frustrated and discouraged, the poet creates a contemplative mood in the text. It is the perfect setting in which a reader can consider the context, language, and conceptual intent and grow just as exasperated, and then hopeful, as the poet himself.
The poem begins with the poet utilizing similes and metaphors to speak on the way that time is able to chip away at memory and experiences. It has done its job on the “memory” of the women of his land, Sierra Leone, and now it is stripping away the “lyrics of the song” they used to sing. In the past, their individual experiences came together to form a unifying, uplifting tune that helped them fight back emotionally and mentally against the oppression and slavery they were enduring.
Time has taken its toll though, and the song is slowly being lost to the ages, just as these women were. Now, all that’s left is a tune that, through personification, is able to wander the “forlorn fields”. It searches out someone who might hear and appreciate it. Luckily, it appears that some do. It is there as inspiration for poets to write new songs based around its sound, just as Farouk wrote this one.
You can read the full poem here.
‘Song of the Women of my Land’ by Oumar Farouk is a forty-eight line poem that does not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. The lines are quite different lengths with the shorts containing one word and longest: twelve. Despite being no consistent patterns in the text, the poet does make use of rhyme selectively. For example, there are moments of half-rhyme scattered throughout the poem, and a few corresponding full, or perfect rhymes. The latter is seen most clearly through the use of repetition. Words like “lives,” “song” or “songs” and “land” appear numerous times in the text, creating the feeling of a perfect rhyme scheme. Or, there are other examples such as “gains” and “pain” in lines fourteen and fifteen.
Additionally, a reader can find instances of internal rhyme. These appear within the lines themselves, rather at the end of lines. For example, “commune” and “tune” in lines eighteen and twenty. As well as “long” and “song” in lines twenty-one and twenty-three.
Half-rhyme, also known as slant or partial rhyme, is seen through the repetition of assonance or consonance. This means that either a vowel or consonant sound is reused within one line or multiple lines of verse. For example, “sing” and “song” in line forty and “soil” and “soul” in line twenty-nine.
Farouk makes use of several poetic techniques in ‘Song of the Women of my Land’ these include alliteration, enjambment, simile, metaphor, and personification. The first, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. Examples include “forlorn fields” in line six and “vast void” in line nine.
A metaphor is a comparison between two unlike things that does not use “like” or “as” is also present in the text. When using this technique a poet is saying that one thing is another thing, they aren’t just similar. There are examples throughout the text, such as in lines eight and nine in which the mind and an exploration of it, is described as ploughing a landscape.
Similes are quite similar to metaphors expect that they are comparisons that do make use of “like” or “as”. The first two lines of the poem are a great example: “Like a sculptor chipping away at bits of wood, / Time chisels away bits of memory”. Personification is also present in the text. It occurs when a poet imbues a non-human creature or object with human characteristics. For example in line ten where “servitude” is described as actively cuffing one’s ankles as if human (a metaphor, this time for the entrapment of the soul).
Like a sculptor chipping away at bits of wood,
Time chisels away bits of their memory
in those days when a song beheld their lives;
when servitude cuffed the ankles of their soul,
In the first lines of ‘Song of the Women of my Land,’ the speaker begins by using a simile. It compares the way a sculptor carves to how time takes away bits and pieces of “their memory”. The “they” referenced in this line is immediately defined in the next as the poet makes use of the title of the poem. He says that “It,” meaning time, “strips away the lyrics of the song of the women of my / land”. This relates back to the initial metaphor. It expands on the idea that time is in some way affecting these women detrimentally.
Now, as time has done its work on them, all that’s left is “a fading tune echoing the song”. That song he mentions is a specific one. It connects to the past and to lives that were different than they are now. The song was sung “in forlorn fields / about their lives”. It told of their pasts and how they “ploughed the terrain of their landscape / for memories”.
The speaker is looking into the deep past to a time in which these women reflected on their own past. It was one that was not ruled by servitude as it was then. They searched their own minds and past for “lyrics lost in the vast void of time”. It was only through the song they were able to push away the feelings of dereliction and despair. Rather than mourning for these women in these lines, it appears the speaker is really mourning for the past. It is the “song” he misses the most, rather than the women or a prior state of being.
With a song, they sponged off their anguish,
to behold their collective pain,
leaving a dying song.
Like the woman who died long ago,
Continuing on into the next lines of ‘Song of the Women of my Land’, the speaker adds that in the past they used the song as a sponge to clear away the “anguish” and to together confront their communal “collective pain”. They were all suffering as one, and through their song, they could “give lyrics to the tunes their lives”. While the song was able to bolster their spirits and bring them together, it also showed them a way to “cheat the tyranny of time”. Music stretched from their lives into the past and out into the future.
But now, time has caught up with them and the song is dying.
Leaving the song to tell the story of their lives.
Today the tune roams the forlorn fields
left in the memory of my wind.
Now feeding the verses of poets, it echoes in
The twenty-third line is short, with only one word, “Dead!” The song is not just dying, it is now dead and lost to the past. Using another simile the speaker compares it to “the woman who died long ago”. The song was there in the past to chronicle the lives of these women, but now it’s gone. Therefore, so too are the stories of their past.
Things change in the next section of ‘Song of the Women of my Land’ though. The song has not quite been abandoned, it is out there somewhere. It “roams the forlorn fields” just as their souls once did looking for lyrics. The song seeks out a new audience, one that has not heard the “tale of the servitude / of the women of my land”. This seems to be its only purpose now, to share what was past and to make sure that the stories are not lost to future generations.
The poet makes use of repetition throughout these lines. He uses the words “sing,” “song,” “lives” and “story” over and over. The land, the souls, and the power of the song, albeit now drifting somewhat aimlessly, are at the centre of his mind. By repeating the words in this way he’s able to create the feeling of a rhyme scheme, even when a single consistent pattern is not present.
Wriggling in rhythms and melodies,
Hollering in distant tunes
where the song of their lives died.
The stuttering lips of my pen
In the next lines of ‘Song of the Women of my Land’ describes how the song is now a symbol of historical knowledge. It is able to feed the poets with information. It “echoes in” the melodies of other songs and lines of verse, just like this one the reader is interacting with now.
The phrase “forlorn fields” appears again in line thirty-six. It takes the reader to the place where “the song of their lives died”.
And the screeching voice of my rib
try to sing the song of the women of my land
stripped of lyrics like a scorned ghost.
The tune tuning the tenor of my verse
In the final lines of ‘Song of the Women of my Land,’ the speaker turns to his own personal writing practice. He addresses the fact that he’s one of the poets who have taken inspiration from the “song of the women of my land”. He depicts his pen through personification as “stuttering” and his “rib” as “screeching” as he tries to sing these songs. It’s difficult to achieve as he’s now so far “from the theatre of toil” where the song was left behind.
All that’s left now, he concludes, is the “tune”. The lyrics have been stripped away and the tune floats through the ether like “a scorned ghost”. The use of the word “scorned” here is interesting. It is connected to both the mood of the poem, which is at times clearly frustrated and exasperated, but to the tone as well. The poet comes at this particular piece of writing feeling passionate about the subject matter. This comes through in his word choice. As well as through the careful repetition of phrases and feelings that are intimately connected to the experiences of these women. But, his anger at the way history has begun to slip into the past, forgotten, is also present. A “scorned” ghost would be an angry one. It, like the song, would seek out a new person to torment or teach.
is all that remains of the song of the women of my land
Who laboured and died leaving a dying song.
The dirge of their lives!
The forty-fourth line of ‘Song of the Women of my Land’ is incredibly alliterative with the phrase “tune tuning the tenor”. Here, he is speaking on the way the tune has influenced him personally. It came into his mind and heart, reminding him of those who have “laboured and died”. All they’ve left behind is, as he stated before, “a dying song”.
He fears for the future and through this poem is hoping to stave off the possibility that the “dirge of their lives” is going to be forgotten. Now, a whole new generation of readers can hear the remnants of the women’s songs through his writing. They can know what he knows, and feel something of what the song brings into his heart.