Home / Articles / A detailed analysis of one of my favourite jamb recommended poem , #Vanity by Birago Diop

A detailed analysis of one of my favourite jamb recommended poem , #Vanity by Birago Diop

Allow me hold your hand and let’s enjoy this beautifully written poem together!

Let us start by reading the poem aloud…


If we tell, gently, gently

All that we shall one day have to tell,

Who then will hear our voices without laughter,

Sad complaining voices of beggars

Who indeed will hear them without laughter?


If we cry roughly of our torments

 Ever increasing from the start of things

What eyes will watch our large mouths

Shaped by the laughter of big children

What eyes will watch our large mouth?


What hearts will listen to our clamoring?

What ear to our pitiful anger

Which grows in us like a tumor

In the black depth of our plaintive throats?


When our Dead comes with their Dead

 When they have spoken to us in their clumsy voices;

Just as our ears were deaf

To their cries, to their wild appeals

Just as our ears were deaf


They have left on the earth their cries,

In the air, on the water,

where they have traced their signs for us blind deaf and unworthy Sons

Who see nothing of what they have made

 In the air, on the water, where they have traced their signs


And since we did not understand the dead

Since we have never listened to their cries

 If we weep, gently, gently

 If we cry roughly to our torments

What heart will listen to our clamoring,

What ear to our sobbing hearts?



Hmmmm… I know you got a little confused towards the end but do not worry! Let me quickly give you an overview.

The poem is one of Lamentation. The poet is utterly disappointed at our negligence of our culture and foretells the imminent doom that awaits the people . He imagines the two generation of old and new, meeting in the spirit world and the forefather’s would remember their warnings to the younger generation and then would deafen their ears to all pleads because it would be too late then. The poem ends in an imagery of of frustration, hopelessness and sorrow that awaits the new generation. They would cry but no one would listen (you can imagine such a situation! So listen to Birago and never leave the advisory bosom of our ancestors!)

Literary Appreciation

The poem ‘vanity’ was written in response to French colonization of Senegal. Birago Diop was among  the pioneers of the negritude literary movement so it was only natural his writings depict total abandon of western culture and a U-Turn to culture. The French system of colonization was  Assimilation in which the Frenchmen wanted to turn Africans into total French men. Most of African educated elites felt threatened, as they saw their people adopt this foreign cultures and leave their birth cultures.

In stanza one the poet assumes an inevitable future, he says who would here our voices ‘without laughter’ if we oneday tell the story that we shall have to tell. He likens the future complainants(including him, realize he uses the word ‘our’) who would tell their stories to ‘beggars’ and not just any beggar but he ironically uses the word  ‘sad complaining beggars’.  This depicts his anger and also depicts the fact that then we would be seen as beggars, begging to get back the culture we lost, but we cannot be taken seriously then rather laughed at.  Imagine the face of a sibling, who had stubbornly disposed of his clothes to wear that of your neighbor, you can imagine your parents anger right? Now imagine when he begins to ask for that same cloth after many years! What would even your neighbor think?!

In stanza two, the poets continues to predict the future, he imagines us crying from our ‘ever increasing/torment’ and again he asks who would even have time to listen to your ‘large mouths’ weep because of the laughter of ‘big children’

He continues to describe our non-soothed tears in Stanza three, this time he does that in the most scary/horrific way. he asks what ‘heart’ or ‘ear’ would listen to our  ‘pitiful anger’ that now grows like a tumor ‘in the black depth of our plaintive throats’  Ouch!!  Hmm Birago is saying that if you do not turn back to the ways of your ancestors, when the time comes, you would cry so hard that you would have soar throat which would develop into a big tumor. He even uses the word ‘black’ to show the depth of darkness we would be in then.

In the fourth stanza and five , ghen ghen he imagines a time when the weeping generation would die to meet the fore-fathers. he says we are ‘unworthy sons’ who have been deaf to our ancestor’s ‘cries’ and ‘wild appeals’.  Our ancestors spoke in ‘clumsy voices’. They warned us by leaving their cries ‘In the air, on the water’ despite all the ‘signs’ they ‘traced’ for us even though we were ‘unworthy’ and not just ‘unworthy’, ‘blind’ and ‘deaf’. We did not heed their advice.

The poem ends in a sixth stanza saying that since we never listened to our ancestors , we would cry ‘roughy’ but ‘what ears’ would have time to listen.


  1. Theme of despair
  2. Theme of Hopelessness
  3. Theme of fear
  4. Theme of Disobedience
  5. Theme of Cultural pride
  6. Theme of Death

Socio-Political Relevance

The poem is a clarion call for African to embrace their dying culture. The colonial masters are gone, so there is no excuse to continue to abandon your roots.


It is a poem of 30 lines and 6 stanza and it is written in free verse.



  1. Rhetorical question ; Visibly there was a lot of Rhetorical questions used here. Every question in this poem was more like a statement that did not need an answer. So any sentence in the poem that ends in a question mark is a rhetorical question (go back to the poem and search lovelies)
  2. Repetition; Where a word or phrase or sentence is repeated in the poem. We have ‘Gently’ , ‘without laughter’ ‘what eyes would watch our large mouth’ (go back to the poem and find the rest!)
  3. Alliteration; Repetition of consonants at the beginning of two or more words immediately succeeding, or at a short interval. let me give u and example before you find the rest! We have; ‘What will watch’ (What eyes will watch)
  4. Personification;  Dead ancestors(The poet gives human qualities to the dead)
  5. Imagery; Imagery was used through out the poem to help our imaginations; we have ‘Vanity’ which depicts the Life of doom the younger generation is living, ‘In the black depth of our plaintive throats?’ and so on
  6. Simile; Direct comparison using ‘like’ and ‘as’ ‘Which grows in us like a tumor’
  7. Metaphor;  Indirect comparison of two things; when you are saying one word is another; example ‘Plaintive throats’ Beggars (the poet calls the young generation beggars)

Note ; Literature is a form of expression, The way I appreciate it, may not be the way you do. It is subjective! although note that while appreciating literature, it should not be too far from what the author/poet is trying to say!

It was so much fun learning with you. Feel free to ask questions at the comment section

Source – AmakaNotes.com

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