Updated: Jun 7, 2021
An African Thunderstorm
David Rubadiri From the west Clouds come hurrying with the wind Turning sharply Here and there Like a plague of locusts Whirling, Tossing up things on its tail Like a madman chasing nothing. Pregnant clouds Ride stately on its back, Gathering to perch on hills Like sinister dark wings; The wind whistles by And trees bend to let it pass. In the village Screams of delighted children, Toss and turn In the din of the whirling wind, Women, Babies clinging on their backs Dart about In and out Madly; The wind whistles by Whilst trees bend to let it pass. Clothes wave like tattered flags Flying off To expose dangling breasts As jagged blinding flashes Rumble, tremble and crack Amidst the smell of fired smoke And the pelting march of the storm.
In the poem, we see the threat of an incoming thunderstorm to an African village. The power of this storm is emphasized with the statement that the wind forces the trees to bend as it whistles by. The theme of the poem is nature, or man vs nature, and the mood is one of impending doom and terror.
"Clouds come hurrying with the wind, Turning sharply, Here and there"
This shows that the clouds are moving with great speed and in erratic and unexpected patterns/directions.
"Like a plague of locusts"
The wind is compared to a plague of locusts here to show it as destructive. Locusts are associated with famine and destruction, most notably in the biblical story of Moses and Pharaoh of Egypt- where one of the ten plagues was a plague of locusts.
"Tossing up things on its tail"
Once again, the destructive, disruptive quality of the wind is shown. As it moves, it leaves things 'tossed up' in its wake.
"Like a madman chasing nothing"
The wind is now likened to a madman's unfocused wandering in its directionless movement. A madman usually poses a threat to the people around due to his lack of restraint and sanity, similar to how the wind is being painted as an impending doom ready to wreak havoc upon anything it encounters.
"Pregnant clouds ride stately on its back, "
The poet's choice of the word pregnant to describe the clouds shows that the clouds are carrying something- probably rain, waiting to be released upon the land below. The clouds are said to be riding 'stately' on the back of the wind, which shows how the wind carries the clouds in a sort of dignified manner. This could be related to how high above the ground the clouds are (a sense of dignity) and how slowly clouds move in the wind.
"Gathering to perch on hills, like sinister dark wings;"
The clouds are described as gathering over hills. The use of 'perch on' as opposed to 'hover over' relates the clouds to birds. Comparing the clouds to 'sinister dark wings' also relates them to birds, more specifically crows (in their dark colour). The clouds are described as sinister as well, showing that their presence is threatening.
"The wind whistles by, and trees bend to let it pass."
These lines give the sound the wind makes, but more importantly, it shows the power of the wind as it forces the trees to bow and bend before it.
"In the village, screams of delighted children toss and turn in the din of the whirling wind."
Here, we can see that the quick, whistling wind and the looming clouds don't have an effect of total fear on the children. They seem excited, either by the wind tossing up everything in its path, or by the rain to come. By saying that their screams 'toss and turn in the din of the whirling wind,' the poet relates that the children's delighted shouts are lost in the loud wind as it blows.
"Women, babies clinging on their backs, dart about, in and out, madly;"
This shows a contrast to the delighted screams of the children. Instead of being excited, babies latch on to the backs of their mothers (likely in fear), and the women move about erratically in a sort of madness as the storm approaches.
"The wind whistles by whilst trees bend to let it pass."
We see a repetition of the lines at the end of stanza 2, to once again show the wind bending nature to its will as it blows past.
"Clothes wave like tattered flags, flying off to expose dangling breasts"
The clothes of the people in the village wave violently in the powerful wind, to the point that they fly off of their bodies. This also brings attention to the state of their clothing- "tattered flags"- showing that their clothes are torn and tattered.
"As jagged blinding flashes rumble, tremble and crack amidst the smell of fired smoke and the pelting march of the storm."
The 'pregnant clouds' now seemingly release their terror upon the earth below. This terror obviously includes lightning (blinding flashes), thunder (rumble) and heavy rain (pelting march). We also get the possibility of lightning setting things aflame- "the smell of fired smoke."
Note: There is an alternative analysis of this poem that suggests the 'storm' is a metaphor for the European colonial masters 'from the west,' however, the poem is listed under nature in the World of Poetry, so it is assumed that the poem should be analyzed in terms of a commentary on nature.
Literary and Figurative Devices
"Clouds come hurrying with the wind" (line 2)
"The wind whistles by" (line 14)
"Toss and turn" (line 18)
"In the din of the whirling wind." (line 19)
"The wind whirls by" (line 25)
"Clouds come hurrying with the wind." (line 2)
The clouds are said to be 'hurrying,' which is a human action of quick movement.
"Pregnant clouds ride stately on its back, gathering to perch on hills" (lines 11-12)
The clouds are 'riding' on the back of the wind, which is really to convey how the clouds are being carried by the wind. The clouds also gather to 'perch' on hills. This is to show how the clouds, like birds, come to rest on top of the hill. The ascription of the clouds as 'pregnant' is also a human characteristic, to show the clouds carrying something to be released.
"Trees bend to let it pass." (line 15)
The trees 'bend' to allow the wind to pass by. This personification shows, of course, the power of the wind in its ability to force the trees to bow.
"Screams of delighted children toss and turn." (lines 17-18)
The screams of the children are said to toss and turn in the wind. This conveys the wind's speed in how it throws around the sounds as well.
"Like a plague of locusts" (line 6)
The wind is compared to a plague of locusts due to its destructive power.
"Like a madman chasing nothing" (line 9)
The wind is compared to a madman chasing nothing due to its seemingly erratic, aleatoric movements.
"Like dark sinister wings" (line 13)
The clouds are said to be like dark sinister wings to relate them to birds (as they perch on the hill) and convey a sense of evil.
"Clothes wave like tattered flags" (line 27)
The clothes are compared to tattered flags due to their torn appearances and how they flap and move in the powerful winds.