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This research studies the poetry of Christopher Okigbo as collected in the book Labyrinths. It aims at doing a text based explanation of the collection so that any understanding made of the poems in the collection point to the text and not outside of it. Paul Ricoeur’s theory of depth semantics is adopted in reading the poems as this is concerned with the study of literary works as objects in themselves projecting a world of their own, what Ricoeur calls ‘the world of the text.’


Title Page
Table of Contents

Chapter One: Introduction
1.1       Background of the Study
1.2       Statement of Problem
1.3       Aims and Objectives
1.4       Significance
1.5       Scope
1.6       Limitations

Chapter Two: Literature Review
2.1       Autobiographical Criticism
2.2       Structuralist Criticism
2.3       Sociological Criticism
2.3       “Traditional Criticism”

Chapter Three: Methodology and Theoretical Framework
3.1       Methodology
3.2       Theoretical Framework
3.2.1    Depth Semantics and the World of the Text
3.3       Text Explanation
3.4       Text Interpretation

Chapter Four: Explanation: the Poetry of Labyrinths
4.1       Labyrinths as Pastoral Elegy
4.2       Poetry of Sorrow
4.3       The Invocation
4.4       Agony Over a Vanished Past
4.5       Preference of a Natural Environment

Chapter Five: Interpretation and the World of the Text
5.1       Labyrinths and the Unattainable
5.1.1    Spiritual Completeness
5.1.2    Creative Completeness
5.1.3    Social Fairness

Chapter Six: Summary and Conclusion
6.1       Introduction
6.2       Summary
6.3       Conclusion
Works Cited


1.1 Background of Study

Although Christopher Okigbo’s Labyrinths has been widely acclaimed, it is still considered difficult. This is with good reason. Its being is language, a sort of language that is not the same as that the everyday language user has a mastery of, even though it takes off from the same; the language which we shall call with Michel Foucault ‘a particular language whose peculiar mode of being is literary’ (The Order of Things 326). This language is by nature symbolic, often requiring more than merely considering the literal meaning of words. Evidently, this task of reading beyond the literal meaning of words proves to be, for many readers of Labyrinths, a difficult if not impossible task. This perhaps accounts for the almost general fear of the text so that few students of literature want to undertake an examination of it. It is not overstating the fact to say that there is a legendary fear of Labyrinths and indeed poetry among students of literature. An enquiry into the nature of this language and how it sets Labyrinths apart as poetry is therefore not only appropriate but necessary.
Studies abound on Christopher Okigbo’s Labyrinths, as is expected of any book of such worth. Most of such studies however, have centred on function ―what Labyrinths is about, what it aims at achieving sociologically, what themes particular poems in the collection unravel, what messages they send across by means of those themes. Investigation into meaning in Labyrinths often tends to want to reach the mind of the poet and draw out what he means to say, or has carefully concealed in a figurative language. This in fact, seems to have been the general trend of criticism, especially in Africa. Hence, Udenta O. Udenta writes: ‘one way of introducing our subject is to ask the all necessary (italics added)

question: what do modern African poets write about?’ His answer:

Modern African poets as the purveyors of this socio-aesthetic consciousness, thus write about those things which are meaningful to the African, both as a private individual and as a member of a social community: his passions and his desires, his great aspirations and social affirmations, the character and structure of the polity, freedom, justice and social change (Art, Ideology and Social Commitment in African Poetry (A Discourse, ix).

Obviously, this is poetry with a purpose, an aim, and a sociological one. Udenta’s words sum up much of what is available to us, by way of criticism, in the study of Labyrinths. Our study toes a different path. It aims at finding meaning in the poems under consideration of course, but this meaning, instead of representing what might be in the mind of the poet at the moment of writing or what the poet aims to send out as a message to an ailing society, is realized in what we shall call with Benveniste meaning at ‘the instance of discourse’ (qtd. in Ricoeur 71). Paul Ricoeur has explained this to mean that it is ‘always in a particular utterance…that the sedimented history of assembled meanings can be recovered in a new semantic aim,’ (The Rule of Metaphor 353) a ‘semantic aim’ here being the meaning that seeks to emerge from a given poetic utterance. In other words, meaning in the literary work is not ‘behind the text, as a hidden intention would be, but in front of it, as that which the work unfolds, discovers, reveals’ (Hermeneutics and the Human Sciences

143). According to Ricoeur, we understand ‘in front of the text’ when we ‘expose ourselves to the text and receive from it an enlarged self’ (142). That it, when we, instead of.....

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