Summary & Theme of the poem – A government driver on his retirement
This is a poem where its persona started in a celebratory tone having completed his mandatory thirty-five years of services in the employ of the government as a driver or (its variant in other sectors), and now duly rewarded. The twist of fate is his decision to celebrate his freedom from civil servitude, enjoy the goodness of the car gift, and have a total rest at home in retirement but all these aspirations fell flat as everything turned his tragic end.
Here, the irony of life is this retired driver who out of his unbridled joy in celebrating his retirement ends up killing himself at the time when he should have had every cause to celebrate, relax, enjoy his pension and his gift car but then, these supposed sources of joy worked against him by ‘zooming’ him to his untimely death viz.:
i. Instead of retirement, he retired his life;
iii. Instead of celebrating, we mourn him;
iv. Instead of ease of movement with the car gift, the car sends him to death;
v. Instead of resting his worries, he got laid to rest;
vi. Instead of home-coming, he returns to heaven.
In this sense, the heavy dose of incongruities (contradictions) of what was expected and that which actually happened makes the poem a good example of a Situational irony that he was able to manage his duties but couldn’t manage one free day of his retirement to his benefit.
This poem has a universal appeal as it applies everywhere in the world. It equally has a lot of themes and sub-themes that are noteworthy but just a few are analyzed below.
1. The danger of drink and drive culture:
It’s a common knowledge that most drivers world over drink and drive. So this poem supports the dictum: ‘when you drink, don’t drive, or drink responsibly’. But in this poem, the persona is already known for ‘battling his boozy throat’ still threw caution to the winds and got himself killed while celebrating his life.
2. The inevitability of death/meaninglessness of life:
In ‘Things fall-apart’ by Achebe, the Agbara says, ‘He’s a god that kills a man when life is sweetest for him’. And going by this, we see a celebration of freedom from civil servitude turned into shocking mourning. This suggests that life is transient as death always lurks around, even more, when life is sweetest; so it’s retirement from work as well from life. It succinctly suggests the absurdity of life.
3. Reward for loyalty: though a compulsive drinker, yet the retiree-driver never allowed his drunkenness to interfere with his work. The moral lesson here is ‘caution’ in the sense that one can still rein in his frailties or excesses as we observed in this story in order to give one’s best which at the end could be very rewarding.
4. The joy of Fulfillment: Thirty-five years of stressful day by day work has been accomplished and not just that, it has also been rewarded. Generally speaking, every civil servant in government job always looks forward to seeing this day which requires celebrating but then with restraints to live out life in retirement.
SETTING/TONE/STRUCTURE AND DICTION
The setting is in a post-colonial Africa or elsewhere where people take up government jobs. The persona is a driver in the government service. He sets the narrative in celebratory tone as he has fulfilled his life’s ambition, thus invites his friends and well-wishers to come and celebrate with him but thereafter, he never lived out his life in retirement as was anticipated. The poem is structured into thirty-three (33) lines with seven (7) stanzas of irregular lengths without rhymes. It’s narrative in nature as it’s a story told by three personas viz. the *first persona, the *second persona and the *driver himself.
The Diction is simple and spiced up with slangs and clinches.
Viz, ‘…booze and zoom myself”
‘…joy till no more joy to joy’…booze boozed his vision, …battle with his bottle booze; undented (for untainted).
FIGURE OF SPEECH
The poet employed many figures of speech that make the poem so easy to follow even to a hater of poetry.
Words like ‘joy’, ‘come friends’, ‘new car’, ‘booze’, ‘thirty-five’, ‘home’ – are all repeated for emphasis and musicality.
The retired driver’s death is mildly stated. Instead of ‘he crashed his car and died on the spot’, the poet states ‘he boomed his brand new car and it sent him home/Home to rest in peace’.
Play on word as *‘joy till no more joy to joy’; * booze boozed his vision; *battling with his booze; *celebrating the celebration… etc.
Here ‘wheels’ tells us he’s a driver who drives government vehicles.
‘undented is a misused word for ‘untainted’ – even though they sound similar.
Here a verb is applied to two nouns …*booze his vision and clear judgment.
‘…. as he pummeled his boozy throat.’
Others are invasion, alliteration, assonance, enjambment etc.
A Literary Handbook on Poems
for 2021-2025 WASSCE/NECO
By LAWSON U. IWUCHUKWU