4.2 East African Poetry & Drama: Do you understand the ways of the world poem by Richard Mabala?

Chapter 4

East African Written Poetry: A Stylo-thematic

4.2 Discuss the ways of the world poem by Richard Mabala all the while locating features of style and their functions.

The Ways of the World by Richard Mabala

In the previous poem, we have seen the poetic persona, a son, who is proud to carry on his father’s dream in pursuit of freedom and happiness; a son who sees his life as a continuation of his dead father’s life hence sees no reason to mourn his father’s death. By contrast, the son in Richard Mabala’s poem, The Ways of the World is ashamed of his father and what he is doing to young girls. The poem starts by the speaker spotting a youthful well-shaped lass at the bus stop. He describes her as a sexy beautiful youngster who he deliberately decides not to stalk because she is but a secondary school student. But when he goes to a bar the same evening, he is shocked to find the same school girl, but now in a casual outfit (which again exposes her sexy shape so provocatively). What is more shocking is that she is getting cosy with the speakers own father. There is an irony here. The speaker had deliberately refused to seduce the girl out of his respect to her status as a school girl. This essentially means that the speaker perceived the girl as an under age. However his own father who is much older, elderly and probably married is making advances at this school girl. The speaker storms out of the bar in silent revolt to this social injustice.

What follows in stanza three is even shocking but to be expected. The speaker meets this girl once more at the bus stop. The young lady, who probably is not mature enough to know how to protect herself against unsafe sex, is now heavy with an unwanted and illegitimate pregnancy. Her beauty is all gone and her once inviting shape is now disgusting.


The poet structures this poem into three stanzas, each stanza representing an incident in which the speaker sees the schoolgirl. There is a logical progression of events. In stanza one, the girl is looking attractive and ripe, stanza two a shameless man takes advantage of this ripe and gorgeous figure and the last stanza is the product of the  advantage the man took of the girl in the second stanza. The whole poem is a cry of the moral rot and decadence witnessed in the society where fathers are sexually abusing their daughters.  The persona is a man who is enchanted by the physical features of the girl but is forced not to pursue her because she is in a school uniform. However when he sees the same girl in casual wear and with another man, he feels jealous until when he sees who that man is. The covetous feeling turns into sorrow because his own father has beaten him in the quest for the girl. When he meets the girl again, she is a pitiable sight having lost all her sensual and provocative demeanour. He feels disgusted and utters a holier-than-thou sentence;

Oh! What are we doing to our daughters?

To me this sentence fits not just his father but also him (the persona) because had he been the first to meet the girl in the bar before his father did, chances are that he would have done exactly what the father did i.e. woo the girl and probably make her pregnant. So, line 47 in my opinion is a self-reproach to all elderly men, who lure young girls into bed for sexual adventure. The persona and his father are representatives of such men. This is bad not just because it introduces the young girl to premarital sex but it is risky at this age of incurable sexually transmitted diseases and infections.

You will therefore realize that the feelings of the persona change in each stanza according to the conditions of the instances in that stanza.




1.      Does the language the persona uses to describe the school girl, tell you that he is interested in her? Select specific words or phrases and explain them.

2.      Analyse the use of imagery and how it helps you understand the theme of teenage pregnancy in the poem.






Compare the main theme in this poem and the main theme in Everett Standa’s poem, The Pregnant School Girl? Do you think these two poems fall in the same category which we call, social tragic poems?




A leopard Leaves in a Muu Tree by Jonathan Kariara

In the previous poem, we have seen how elderly men behave badly and sin before God and against school girls. In this poem, we see how elderly men mess with their fellow elderly men’s wives. This is one poem that carries heavy euphemism since it touches on taboo areas and is a frank admission of failure in sexual matters. You will agree with me that not so many people will admit having failed to sexually satisfy their spouses. However the speaker is bold enough to admit that his ‘upright post at the gate has fallen’ (his manhood cannot rise to the occasion)




Euphemism: A word that is used in the place of another word that may cause discomfort or embarrassment to a reader. Euphemism is used in order to make a harsh, gross, vulgar, taboo, crass or sensous word more palatable to a reader.



The Muu tree in this poem is seen as an agent of evil for it harbours the offending man (leopard) who has undesirable characteristics. The leopard is portrayed as opportunistic for it takes advantage of another man’s sickness (sword rusting in the scabbard) to sexually exploit his wives. This exploitation leads to the wives giving birth to speckled and mottled lambs (not pure breed). It is even made worse when the leopard turns on these lambs and eats them. It means that the offending elder brother (line 18) to the persona, sleeps with the persona’s wives and turns around and also sleeps with the children born out of this union. This is pure incest that cannot be condoned. Thus we can understand why the speaker wants to cut down the Muu tree (the dwelling place of his brother) and scare away the leopard, the incestuous man who sleeps with his own children. He is a social outcast and I think the persona is right in wishing to send him away.



The poetic devices employed in this poem are symbolism, imagery, euphemism and repetition.





What does the repetition of the phrase, ‘I am besieged’ mean to you? Of what significance does it have in telling you the situation and fears of the persona?




When a man cannot rise to the occasion and has several wives, what should the wives do? Respond referring to the poem and giving or drawing examples from the society you live in.


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