Ghana Calls is an outstanding poem not only among Ghanaians but also among people who support and believe in the idea of liberation. The literary work was composed by William Du Bois as a dedication to one of the pan-Africanists who later became the president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah. As the poem is untitled, the work is generally an invitation to the ‘sleeping’ part of the world to ‘awaken’. Being raised in the American society, it is probable that Du Bois’ initial thinking represented the average American understanding of Africa during that time. The poet’s mockery of the West’s ways of life and invitation to the awakening shows that he was attached to Accra in a special way than he was to America. To critically analyze the poem of Ghana Calls, it is important to explain the message in each stanza and identify the main themes, and poetic devices for the poem to be ascertained.
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Summary and Explanation of the Poem
The poem Ghana Calls starts with the poet introducing his childhood memoir. The first stanza explains the early childhood account of the author’s life. According to him, the people with whom he grew together, were dissimilar in his background to him and could trace their roots from Scotland, England, royal France, and the Emerald Isle (Du Bois). In the second verse, the author continues to divulge his boyhood history. He categorically states that he had brown hair which was odd in another land and that is why he uses the term ‘alien’ (Du Bois). Du Bois goes further to indicate he was despised based on his skin and hair by some of the people who interacted with him. He writes, “Few tried to say, some dropped a wonderful word or stray” (Du Bois 9). In essence, the poet is using their early life experiences in the foreign land to clearly show the discrimination that engulfed his life as a young boy.
Having formed the suffering picture in the minds of his audience, the poet introduces his dream, from the third stanza onwards. As he explains the vision was formed by hints and the slurs which he had experienced in the foreign land (Du Bois). Illustratively, the author visualizes a picture of what nothing appeared, and as a result, trembling in terror (Du Bois). In the dream, the writer finds himself screaming as a result of the dream’s visualizations. Whether intentional or not, the creator of the poem does not disclose all the details of the dreamt but instead gives a clue.
From the fifth verse, the composer then provides a clear detail of his dream. The poet visualizes a land springing from hell, and he describes it as not only unhappy but also obliterated and seamed. Additionally, the land is covered with ashes, streaming with blood, and there lie horror, the shriek of death as well as the agony of hurt (Du Bois). When he wakes up the writer admits that it was hard to forget about the ghost of slavery and the great distress which he had encountered in the vision. The poet’s dream about the land which he does not name, and brings him sorrow and fear, shows that he had a specific attachment to the land in his dream.
The audience is again taken to the normal cycles of the poet’s life in the seventh verse. For instance, the poet continues to live, work, grow and hope, plan and wander just as any human being does (Du Bois). He also speaks about witnessing poverty, a dreadful disease, war, plague, and even death as he grew to old age (Du Bois). With all these, the doubt about the veracity of his earlier dream about Africa is rekindled. The author was comparing the kind of life he witnessed in the foreign land to that in the dream and this stirred doubt about his dream about Africa.
The eighth and ninth stanzas accurately depict the poet’s journey around different places in the world. Du Bois’ journey around the world was informed by the visitation of one person whom he describes as a ‘seer’. As a result, Du Bois goes to three different places: Moscow, Peking, and Accra (Du Bois). Different places inculcated some teachings in the author as he illustrates. With Moscow, he learned of wisdom and in Peking, he learned of the benefits of hard work. It is while in Accra that he gives a detailed explanation of how the visit helped him understand the doubt he had in his earlier dream about Africa. From the analyses of the eighth and ninth verses, it is unerring to note that the journeys across the three places in the world shaped Du Bois thinking of others’ opinions about Africa.
Accra’s visit by Du Bois is a milestone in the transformation of his earlier thinking concerning the dream about Africa as evident in the tenth stanza of Ghana Calls. From their experience in Accra, Du Bois recalls his dream and he realizes that Africa had not come from hell as the dream had insinuated. Through the eleventh to fourteenth verses, the composer creates a beautiful picture of Accra through his colorful descriptions of what he saw. He talks of “earth of crimson, green and gold” (Du Bois 60). Moreover, he is fascinated by traditional customs and dances through drums and songs. The practices such as pouring libation by priests and dancing to their gods are highlighted by the poet to show the importance of such practices in the development of African religion (Du Bois). By vividly describing the experiences he had in Accra, the poet shows the audience that he was able to learn more in Accra compared to other destinations he had been to.
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The poem takes a new twist in the last stanzas from the fifteenth verse to the twenty-second one. In these verses, the poet tries to be sermonic in his approach while basing his teaching on the lessons of the Accra visit. Most strikingly, he says that Ghana does not derive its power from the color or its vegetation but from its joy of life and selfless role of giving (Du Bois). He further stresses the importance of having strong socialism and communism, as the expansion of schools, clinics, and road networks. Du Bois calls on the Western powers to learn from the young nation of Ghana. Also, Du Bois rebukes the atrocities of the Whiteman against the Blacks, such as slavery, killing of the Reds, and even arming the wealthy to continue plundering the economy. In advancing his argument about Africa’s importance, Du Bois uses the irony of “black is bright”. The last eight verses of Ghana Calls show the ideals that the poet advocated for and his call to others to learn from Accra.
Compared to any artist in the field of poetry, Du Bois tries to raise some thematic concerns through the poem Ghana Calls. Change, as an idea, is brought out in the poem and more specifically, mental liberation is highlighted. At first, Du Bois dreams of an Africa which has a lot of suffering and agony (Du Bois). Later on, after the visitation of Accra, he changes his thinking and that is why he calls on the West to awaken to the reality that Africa was not what they had thought it was before. Du Bois’ calls came after realizing that Africa was beautiful as he writes “earth of crimson green and gold, roaring with color, drums and song” (Lemming 57). Therefore, the most prevalent theme in Ghana Calls is the transformation that the poet is calling for.
Also, the theme of African traditional culture is explicitly emphasized in Ghana Calls. When he visited Accra, Dubois vividly describes the nature of Africa and notes that “earth of crimson, green and gold /roaring with color, drums, and songs” (Du Bois). From the statement, it is evident that Du Bois might have welcomed some traditional music through the songs. In addition, the poet also mentions that “the gold-crowned priests with duty done/ pour high libations to the sun and danced to gods” (Du Bois 69-70). This traditional practice of the priests towards the African gods also forms part of their rich culture. Arguably, the extensive African traditional culture is among the things that endeared the poet to Accra.
The poet has also raised the matter of oppression in his poem Ghana Calls. Precisely, Du Bois spoke of the slavery of the Blacks in America. He calls the oppressive American habits as being ‘dark’ (Du Bois). In satirizing the evil conduct of the whites who were maltreating the Blacks, Du Bois says that they even armed the rich to loot the dead. Besides, Du Bois describes their poor West as stinking and staggering in their dung (Du Bois). He means that the evil acts that the West is propagating are the same as those that are impeding their cultural growth. Accordingly, the composer of Ghana Calls is touching on the evils in society in an elaborate manner.
Poetic Devices Used by the Composer
Rhyme is an important poetic device that exists in almost all poetic works. There exist two types of rhymes that are usually used in any poetic work: internal and end rhymes (Beller and Tanzer 87). In Ghana Calls, Du Bois has chosen to use the end rhymes. Words such as ‘France’ and ‘chance’ are a pair of rhyming words that the poet uses in the first stanza. Analytically, Du Bois has chosen these particular words to draw the attention of his audience to this particular poem.
The other example of a poetic device that can be seen in any poem is the alliteration. By definition, alliteration means the repetition of the same sounds at the beginning of words that follow each other in a poem’s line (Illes 6). For example, the poet uses words such as ‘wonderful’ and ‘word’ closely together in the third line of the second stanza of his poem. Poetically, the ‘w’ sound is repeatedly used in the line to create rhythm.
Among the many poetic devices that the writer has used, personification is one of them. As a style, personification involves assigning qualities to non-human characters in a poem (Kusch 39). Du Bois has given trees the ability to dance as depicted in the last line of the twelfth stanza. Similarly, he has granted foliage the ability to sing as shown in the last line of the twelfth stanza. This kind of personification makes it easy to dramatize the lines when it comes to staging performance.
In summary, the evaluative analysis of Ghana Calls lies in the explanation of the message in the verses, identification of important thematic concerns, and the poetic devices that the author has employed. In the first two stanzas, Du Bois gives an account of his childhood life based on personal experiences. Through the succeeding verses, the composer gives his reaction to the dream he had: fear and shudder. The audience is then treated to a description of the full dream that the poet saw in the fifth and sixth verses of the poem. Later on, the writer’s dream is changed when he visits Accra in Africa. It is then that the doubt he had in his dreams about Africa as land from hell did fully materialize and he was awakened to the reality that Africa was indeed beautiful. However, the author has used several poetic devices and themes to pass his message. He has used devices such as rhymes, alliteration, and personification. Thematically, the concerns raised include transformation, traditional culture, and oppression.
Beller, Martin, and Donna Tanzer. Unlocking the Poem: A Guide to Discovering Meaning through Understanding and Analysis. David Nazarian, 2016.
Du Bois, William. “Ghana Calls.” Poetry Foundation, Poetry Foundation, 1985.
Illes, Helen. Writing Poetry – Simplified: Everything You Need to Know. 3rd ed., Linellen Press, 2019.
Kusch, Celena. Literary Analysis: The Basics. Routledge Publishers, 2016.
Leming, Laura. “Chapter 5: ‘Ghana Calls’ to UD.” Myth and Reality: Reflections on Our Travels through West Africa, 2019, pp. 53-59.