Once Upon a Time By Gabriel Okara

11 Mar

Gabriel Okara’s Once Upon A Time is a comment on society through a monologue from a father to a son which bemoans the loss of innocence in the transition from child to adult and a desire to revert back to that blissful childhood.

The father addresses his son telling him how he remembers that once people used to be open and expressive with their emotions with laughter that reached their eyes, but now they are aloof and distant with fake smiles. Overt displays of emotion are considered to be suspicious and looked down upon. He reiterates that there was a time when relationships were based on mutual respect and cordiality. Now, however, people form friendships and relationships for personal benefits only, leading to a cold world without any depth of feeling. The father laments how hospitability has vanished as people only say the expected welcoming phrases without meaning them and shy away from allowing anyone from getting too close, distancing themselves whenever someone threatens to break down the walls they have hidden themselves behind.
In the fourth stanza the father admits to his son that he too has adapted and learned to live amidst such false people. He has had to fit in and now he too has the ability to put on various facades, he behaves exactly how he is supposed to in different scenarios with all their niceties which are necessary for each situation. Moreover the father has learned to fake emotions and build relationships without any sincerity or depth of feeling. He has learned how to say expected phrases without any meaning behind them and fake emotions.
But in the seventh stanza, we find out that he does not want to be like this. He wants to revert back to the time when he was a child like his son; when he was an innocent person. He wants to forget all these stifling things which are dampening his emotions and are slowly strangling the life out of him. He is disgusted with himself as he himself now resembles what he detested most in society and he cannot look himself in the eye without witnessing the same hypocrisy which he had been scathing earlier. So in the last stanza the father pleads with the child to teach him how to express his emotions and return back to a time when he was young and carefree and naïve, and not aware of what apathy was required from him for him to survive.

The poem consists of seven stanzas with no definite rhyming scheme which emphasizes the fact that it is a monologue from a father to his son. The tone throughout is nostalgic as the father remembers what things used to be like once when he was a child. There is an undertone of bitterness throughout the poem whenever the father talks about how things have changed and how the world has progressively become more and more decadent.

Okara uses blunt metaphors to describe how the ‘ice block cold eyes’ of people now lack emotion, emphasising the harsh intrusiveness of such eyes scrutinizing the poet, looking for ways to exploit their ‘friendship.’ He has learned to pretend to feel whatever is expected of him at different events, using a simile to describe how he changes the masks he puts on like the dresses he is expected to wear on said events, each with their expected plethora of facial expressions and tones. He wears smiles like a portrait wears a smile, fixed and uncomfortable with no real meaning behind it. He detests looking at himself in the mirror for all he sees when he smiles is his teeth bared like a snake’s bare fangs, revolting and dripping with poison.
The repetition of the title both at the beginning and the ending of the poem suggests a sort of fairy tale like tone to the poem which raises the question of whether the past that the poet is remembering so fondly ever did exist, or if the lost time that he so desperately wants to return to is just something that he has thought up in his mind as a defence mechanism that once upon a time things were really not all that bad.

There is some very strong language used in the poem. The poet calls all the things that he has had to learn ‘muting things’ that stifle the emotion inside of him, not allowing him release. It seems to him that his voice has been taken and that he is slowly being suffocated. He wants to forget all these things, to ‘unlearn’ them and return back to a more innocent time.

Once Upon a Time is a comment on the hypocritical society that we live in today in which we are wary of emotion, distrustful of affection and guarded of laughter. Logical reasoning take precedence over emotions and relationships are formed with prudent aims in mind instead of affection and geniality. It is a false façade that everyone hides behind and as a reason we are alone and isolated despite being surrounded by people on all sides. There is a price on relationships, and an end date as soon as the purpose behind it is over. There is no place nor desire for empathy in the world of today.

The innocence of children is also a major theme in this poem as it is this state that the poet wants to go back to. It is his childhood that he remembers throughout the poem, the time when things seemed so much more real and sincere. Or maybe it is only that the poet is remembering his childhood through the eyes of a child, when he was too young to understand how people behave. Perhaps there was no such time when life was perfect, perhaps it is only a misconception induced by nostalgia but the poet does not care.

All he wants is to go back to when he could be free.


Posted by on March 11, 2015 in Uncategorized


4 responses to “Once Upon a Time By Gabriel Okara

  1. Sad Person

    March 11, 2015 at 11:48 pm

    This just broke my head! It is amazing! Please do more analysis like these, the world needs more awesomeness like yours to grace it. You just made my miserably sad existence a little better. Thank you.

    • Vindya

      September 30, 2015 at 12:59 am

      Same here .. Exactly.!!


    October 24, 2015 at 6:43 pm


  3. emmaxxx

    January 26, 2016 at 6:50 pm

    this is great!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: