Full summary of “A Government Driver on His Retirement” by Onu Kingsley Chibuike, Theme and poetic devices

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Many years on wheels
In faithful service to his fatherland
Today retires he home
And a celebration he holds

Many years has he pummeled his boozy throat
In obedience to duty rules and regulations
Today, he’ll go home a freeman
Eligible for his country’s services

“Come friends, rejoice with me
I shall booze and zoom myself home
Away from duty rules
Come celebrate my freedom”
“Early to duty tomorrow holds not,
Thirty-five years of faithful services
I’ll booze to sleep away my sufferings

More joy to send him home
A brand new car in his name
An appreciative symbol
For undented thirty years of service to fatherland

“Come friends, and rejoice more,
Joy till no more joy to joy
Today frees and makes me a king
My patience rewarded.”

And so, he boozed and boozed
Celebrating the celebration of his retirement
From faithful service to fatherland
He battled with his bottle booze
On his way home on wheels,
Booze boozed his vision and clear judgment
He boomed his brand new car
And it sent him home
Home to rest in peace.

— Chibuike Onu

 

Background

The incursion of colonialism brings along with it a major shift in the means of livelihood of many Africans. There was a general shift from farming and other agricultural activities to paid employment, especially in the civil service. Many Africans were employed as drivers and clerks for the white man Even after independence, this situation continued. The excitement with which many people rusher to civil service jobs is greeted with a lot of disappointment as it was discovered that the jobs were not as lucrative as they were assumed to be. The general servitude usually associated with the life of civil service, especially as it concerns the low ranking officers like drivers and cooks accounts for a
different perception some hold about such jobs. The highly regulated life of people in the civil service is one of the major reasons many employees look forward to their retirement with some sense of excitement. Onu Kingsley Chibuike’s poem is a commentary on the drudgery of the everyday life of the average Nigerian civil servant. While some civil servants in Nigeria may be accused of forgery of birth certificate to extend their stay in the office, the poetic persona in this particular poem welcomes his retirement from the civil service with celebrations, a mark of freedom from the daily toil of duty. The poet appears to take a different perception of the civil service from an organization that is filled with many redundant staff members to a place of true service and faithfulness to the nation, The poetic persona is said to have rendered many years of meritorious services to his fatherland.
The other important aspect that forms the background to this poem is the drink-and-drive attitude of many Nigerian road users. While one can easily identify with this celebration, the disastrous end of the poetic persona highlights a major cause of road crashes, not only in Nigeria where the writer is from but, also, in many parts of the world. Onu, therefore, gives this poem a universal appeal by using these seemingly unrelated circumstances to beam a light on the narrow gap between celebration and calamity.

 Setting

The poem is evidently set in a post-colonial African country, most probably Nigeria, where government becomes a major source of employment. The poor or non-existent facilities to check drunk drivers in Nigeria and many African countries also accounts for the frequent car crashes on the roads. However, with the universal appeal of this poem, this poem can really be located anywhere. This is because in many parts of the world, retirement from public service is usually a thing of joy, especially when such service ends meritoriously.

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 Subject Matter/Summary

The poem reflects on the totality of the life of a government driver who has put in many years of service to his country and retires without a blemish. The other part of the poem is linked to the disastrous end of the government driver who dies driving as a result of high consumption of alcohol. The poet weaves the incident of celebration into this unfortunate disaster to emphasize the danger of drink-and-drive culture.

Lines 1-4

These lines clearly introduce the poetic persona as a driver who has devoted a lot of years to the service of his fatherland, and now holds a celebration as he retires this very day.

Lines 5-8

In this stanza, the narrator explains that throughout the persona’s service to his nation he has restrained himself from drinking in obedience to the rules and regulations of the service. Today is, however, going to be different because he is now a free man.

Lines 9-16

The persona calls on friends and associates to come and celebrate with him, as today marks his freedom. He doesn’t need to wake up very early again to go to work, after 35 years of faithful service. He declares that he will drink enough so that he will sleep and forget his suffering. Today is, indeed, a day that he has long awaited

Lines 17-20

The persona is also given a brand new car as a way of appreciating his dutiful and unblemished years of service.

Lines 21-24

In these lines, the poetic persona again beckons on friends and well-wishers to rejoice with him as today marks his day of reward and freedom because he is now a king in his private kingdom

Lines 25-28

The persona now begins to drink in celebration of his long years in service.

Lines 29-33

As the persona drives home in his brand new car on the very day of his retirement already drunk, he cannot see very clearly. As a result of his poor vision, he crashes his new car and dies instantly.

1. The danger of drink-and-drive culture

One of the dominant thematic preoccupations of the poem is the danger inherent in driving when drunk. While many cultures and societies use alcoholic drinks to celebrate periods of achievement, bereavement and festivities, alcohol consumption is also a very dangerous thing that sends people to their early graves, especially when behind wheels. The poet uses the story of the government driver to make the point very clearly. The day the government driver is retiring appears to be one of the happiest moments of his life. In stanza three, for instance he beckons on his friends and well-wishers, ‘come friends, rejoice with me?. This open invitation suggests an unmitigated show of joy and happiness that his day of freedom has come. He thinks that the only way of celebrating his freedom, or any
event for that matter, is through excessive consumption of alcohol. In his unrestrained excitement, he jumps into his new car to drive home after being thoroughly drunk. Unfortunately, this brings about his untimely end. Through this poetic reflection, it is obvious that alcohol makes people have poor vision while driving, thus making them have wrong judgment, as the poem states in lines 29-30, On his way on wheels,/Booze boozed his vision and clear judgment.’ It is obvious that driving requires high concentration, while a wrong sense of judgment while driving can lead to a calamitous end. Therefore, alcohol consumption when driving is very dangerous.

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2. Reward for meritorious service

Another important theme in this poem is that there is reward for a meritorious service. Despite the persona’s grudges about the drudgery of civil service, he remains disciplined till the day of his retirement, as the persona notes in the second stanza that many years has he pummeled his boozy throat/In obedience to duty rules and regulations. The poetic persona restricts himself to the demands of his job. He shuns the temptations of personal pleasure, subjects himself to a thorough self-discipline, thereby focusing strictly on his official duties and working faithfully in service to his fatherland for thirty-five years. As a result of his outstanding performance in his place of work, he is rewarded with a brand new car as ‘an appreciative symbol’ (line 19). The poet, therefore, brings to the fore the need
for diligence in service, with eloquent evidence that such hard work hardly goes unnoticed, not even if one is a driver.

3. The joy of retirement from public service

The poem also underscores the joy and sense of fulfilment that comes with one’s retirement from active service. The civil service structure gives the poetic persona a feeling of servitude, hence he sees the day of his retirement as a day of liberation. According the poem, ‘Today, he’ll go home a freeman’ (L. 7). He has endured the highly regulated life in the civil service for a long time and is now ready to celebrate his freedom. He will no longer be subjected to very strict rules and regulations once he retires. He would not need to wake up very early to work, he will have his own time to himself and will manage his time as it suits his convenience. It is as a result of this excitement to celebrate his liberation from the drudgery of civil service that the persona invites friends and well-wishers to come and celebrate
with him.

Structure

The poem has thirty-three lines, divided into seven stanzas of irregular lengths. The poem is narrative in nature and can be broken down into three major parts. The first stanza introduces the poetic persona as a government driver of so many years who is set to celebrate his retirement. The second stanza gives the background of the persona as someone who keeps the rules and regulations of the establishment where he works. The third stanza gradually introduces us to the significance of and the high expectations for the celebration of his retirement. This is sustained in stanzas four and five. The last two stanzas give account of the catastrophic turn of events as the persona dies in a fatal automobile accident due to his drunkenness.

Language and Style

The language of the poem is very simple and accessible. The poet uses a narrative style to give a detailed account of the persona’s life. He also makes use of some slangy expressions like booze and boozy repeatedly.

Mood/Tone

The beginning of the poem presents a very happy mood, filled with excitement and fulfilment. The persona feels much fulfilled after spending thirty-five years in public service. He is very excited about this celebration and this runs from the first stanza to the fifth stanza. The last two stanzas are, however, filled with the mood of pity and shock. The reader is very shocked at the sudden turn of death, from point of merriment to that of disastrous end of the persona’s life.

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Imagery

The imagery in this poem is simple and vivid. It makes the thematic preoccupation very direct and understandable. The very first line, for instance, gives the picture of the persona’s profession with “many years on wheel’. ‘Boozy throat’ in line five gives an image of taste or what is often referred to as gustatory image, which gives us the picture of the persona’s strong appetite for alcohol. In line thirty- one, we see another image, ‘he boomed his brand new car’. This image is used to vividly describe the disastrous end of the persona and his new car.

  1. Metaphor: pummeled his boozy throat’ (2. 5)
  2. Inversion: ‘Today retires he home’ (1. 3) ‘
    . celebration he holds’ (1. 4)
  3. Repetition: “booze’ is repeated in lines 10, 15, 26, 28, and 30, *father land’ (lines 2 and 20) *duty rules’
    (lines 6 and 11), ‘faithful service’ (lines 14 and 27), Joy till no more joy to joy* (line 22). The repetition
    of these expressions, in addition to emphasizing the ideas and message inherent in them, also adds to
    the rhythmical quality of the poem.
    Alliteration:
    . faithful service to his fatherland’ (1. 2),
    … he home’ (I. 3),
    .. he holds’ (1. 4),
    ‘rules and regulations’ (I. 6),
    ‘…him home’ (I. 17) battled with his bottle booze’ (I. 28), “way home on
    wheels’ (1. 29), ‘boomed his brand’. These expressions clearly add to the musicality of the poem.
  4. Onomatopoeia: The poet uses some words that suggest their meanings. Words like “boozy’ (1. 5),
    ‘booze’ (1. 10), ‘zoom’ (1. 10), ‘boomed’ (2. 31). While the words enhance the sound quality of the poem,
    some of them also help to place the narrative in its appropriate context. For instance, the word “booze’
    reflects the social context of drinking.
  5. Synaesthesia: ‘undented thirty-five years’ (I. 20)
  6. Assonance: .. duty rules’ (1.6), ‘booze and zoom’ (L. 10)
  7. Personification: *today frees and makes me a king’ (1. 23)
  8. Euphemism: “And it sent him home’ (I. 32), ‘Home to rest in peace’ (1. 33)
    Irony: One of the most explicit poetic devices employed in this poem is irony. It is very ironic that
    the persona’s hope and aspiration to live a free man is dashed on the very day he is celebrating this
    liberation. It is even more ironic when the persona is responsible for his own death. Moments of
    celebration have brought him a disastrous end. This is a very good example of situational irony. He has
    worked and laboured under restricting conditions successfully for a whole thirty-five years but cannot
    manage a day of his freedom.

 

Refences : BK’s Summary Literature for student

Comprehensive Literature text for SSCE

Exam Focus

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