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This thesis examines the human impact on the environment, especially on the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, and its treatment in the selected poetry of Niyi Osundare, Tanure Ojaide and Nnimmo Bassey, using the ecocentric and the anthropocentric theories from the domain of ecocriticism. The texts studied are The Eye of the Earth (1986) by Niyi Osundare, Waiting for the Hatching of a Cockerel (2008) and Delta Blues and Home Songs (1998) by Tanure Ojaide, and We thought it was Oil But It was Blood (2002) by Nnimmo Bassey. A total of fifty-three poems were analysed. Constituting this number are seventeen poems from Osundare‘s The Eye of the Earth, fifteen from Ojaide‘s Waiting for the Hatching of a Cockerel and eight from his Delta Blues and Home Songs, and thirteen from Bassey‘s We thought it was Oil But It was Blood. From this research, which adopted library method, it was discovered that much of the criticisms of the selected poems and indeed the poetry from the Niger Delta region have concentrated on the sociopolitical phenomena such as pre-colonialism, colonialism, independence struggle, corruption, exploitation of the masses, oppression and protest. The findings of this research are, one, the poets have presented the earth (environment) as being inherently valuable, possessing value beyond what humanity has ascribed to it, in terms of being beautiful and bountiful; two, humanity has displayed the anthropocentric attitude and as such has devastated the earth to the ultimate detriment of the earth, the flora and fauna as well as humanity; three, there is a wealth of literary techniques such as the invocation of the African muse, lyricism, chants, numerous sound devices and imagery employed by the poets, in the realization of the themes presented in the selected poems. Finally, from the whole research, the following conclusions were drawn: first, that the environment, which is inherently valuable, is generally being destroyed by human beings in their efforts to make life ―better‖; secondly, that the destruction of the earth is already affecting humans negatively; and three, that Niyi Osundare, Tanure Ojaide and Nnimmo Bassey are calling on mankind to eschew attitudes and activities that lead to the destruction of the environment. Therefore, this research submits that there is the need for humanity to treat the environment with utmost tenderness and affection, and to take from her what is absolutely necessary, and in a genial manner. It suggests that the theme of ecocentrism should be vigorously pursued in both literary creations and criticism by literary scholars.



Background to the Study

It will be pertinent to state, at the outset, the trajectory of this thesis: the examination of Tanure Ojaide‘s, Niyi Osundare‘s and Nnimmo Bassey‘s responses to the ecodegradation of Africa, and particularly the Niger-Delta region, in their poetry, with a view to establishing the consequence of such degradation upon the earth and mankind, as well as the re-orientation of the human mind, already corrupted by human culture which functions at counter purpose with nature, towards handling the environment with tenderness. Therefore, the critical canon adopted in the study is ecocriticism; and the texts for the study are The Eye of the Earth by Niyi Osundare, Waiting for the Hatching of a Cockerel and Delta Blues and Home Songs by Tanure Ojaide, and We thought it was Oil But It was Blood by Nnimmo Bassey. A total of fifty-three poems were examined. Constituting this number are seventeen poems from Osundare‘s The Eye of the Earth, fifteen from Ojaide‘s Waiting for the Hatching of a Cockerel and eight from his Delta Blues and Home

Songs, and thirteen from Bassey‘s We thought it was Oil But It was Blood.

The Niger Delta region has suffered so much violence since the discovery and exploitation of crude oil began in the region. This has been heightened since the declaration of the Ogoni Bills of Rights by Movement for the Survival of the Ogoni People (MOSOP), through which the Ogoni people demanded,

Among other things, political autonomy to participate in the affairs of the Republic as a distinct and separate unit (by whatever name called), provided that this autonomy guarantees political control of Ogoni affairs by Ogoni people; the right to control and use a fair proportion of Ogoni economic resources for Ogoni development; adequate representations, as of right, in all Nigerian national institutions, and the right to protect the Ogoni environment and ecology from further degradation (1).

This Bill served to raise awareness about the conditions of the people and the environment of the Niger Delta region. The awareness manifested in the increase level of protest and violence among the people of the Niger Delta region as a whole, not just that of Ogoni land. According to Shaibu Jibril Mohammed, “the chain of events that have followed the declaration of the Ogoni Bills of Rights since 1990 to date has two discernible issues about the contest for the control of oil resources in the Niger Delta with youth restiveness manifesting in violence, hostage taking, etc” (378). 

The violence talked about has been attested to by numerous kidnappings for ransom, acts of oil pipeline vandalism, protests and other forms of disturbances. According to Edirin Jeroh,

Nigeria has however recorded a relative high rate of violent crimes over the years. For instance, the Niger Delta region of Nigeria which produces over ninety percent of the nation’s oil has in recent times been plagued with series of kidnappings, oil pipeline vandalism, protest, riots, civil disturbances, armed robbery… (246).

This is because the area has witnessed neglect in terms of infrastructural development. Another reason is that the people living in the area have been deprived their means of livelihood due to the many oil spills and the destruction of the biodiversity. According to Augustus Atubi, “one of the most visible consequences of the numerous oil spills had been the loss of mangrove trees”, which was once “a habitat for the area’s biodiversity” (270).  The magnitude of the oil spills is so high, Atubi has stated, that “a total of 4,647 incidents resulted in the spill of approximately 2,369,470 barrels of oil into the environment, of this quantity, an estimated 1,820,410.5 barrels (77%) were lost to the environment” (270).  From this figure, it is obvious that survival for both human beings and the flora and fauna within the region will be almost impossible, at least in the long run. The situation is amplified by Atubi thus:

With particular reference to the fifty years operations of the oil industry in the Niger Delta, the exploration of oil has caused and continues to induce serious negative environmental impacts. The problem of oil spillage has a major devastating environmental effects associated with oil industry in the Niger Delta. The disaster refers to any uncontrolled well blown out pipeline rupture or storage tank failure which poses an imminent threat to the public health or welfare. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that over 4,000 oil spills discharging more than two million barrels of crude have occurred in the Niger Delta since 1960 (269).

With so much oil spillage and the biodiversity gone, the live of the people as well as the organism and the entire environment is negatively affected.  

 Oil spillage is not the only way through which the environment is being degraded. There is also gas flaring. This has not only resulted in air pollution, it has also led to increase global temperature. According to Nwajiuba, C.U. and R.U. Onyeneke, “an analysis of temperature records shows that the earth has warmed an average of 0.6oC over the past 100 years…” (34). This period largely lies within the time most of the oil exploration and gas flaring have been going on. The increase in temperature has brought other consequences such as low level of rainfall, as well as the rainfall not maintaining the known pattern and volume according to the seasons. According to Nwajiuba and Onyeneke, “precipitation has equally changed randomly in terms of pattern and volume. It is clear that these changes in volume will, in many parts of the world, affect socio-economic sectors like water resources, agriculture, human settlements, ecological systems, human health, and environment” (34).

 The high level of dangerous gasses released into the environment is another way the degradation of the environment has been caused. These gasses have greenhouse effect and have given rise to overall global-warming. According to Nwajiuba and Onyeneke, 

More than before, climate change issue has become more threatening to the sustainable development of many nations of the world. Mean global temperatures have been increasing in line with precipitation increases since around 1850, mainly due to the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (33).

 One thing is certain, human beings have affected the environment negatively in their efforts to live more comfortably. But that does not mean that human beings have not been affected as well. According to Kelly Bryan Ovie Ejumudo, 

Ordinarily, organizations as legal entities, interact with and exploit the environments for the accomplishment of their specific goals and those of the larger society. This interaction affects the ecosystem and the inhabitants, especially man. As a result, there are pressures from society, which make it incumbent on corporate organizations to be socially responsible by being responsive to the yearnings and expectations of their operating environment (204).

It is for this reason that the people of the Niger Delta react in protest against the activities of the oil exploration companies operating within the region.

African literary artists have done a great deal of work concerning Africans in their social, political and historical relationships both with Africans and with people of other races. This could be seen even with a casual, yet panoramic, view of the titles that have emerged from the continent of Africa, beginning with such writers as Oladua Equiano, Amos Tutuola, Chinua Achebe, Wole Soyinka and so on. It is true, according to Oyekan Owomoyela, that ―Africa has a long literary tradition‖ (NP), but one can say that this literature, until the 20th century, was largely not written down. It was essentially oral, and passed down from one generation to the next through oral means. However, this situation changed to the extent that African literature of the post-colonial era is mostly written, albeit in the language of the former colonial masters. This is accounted for by the colonial experience which lasted, according to Owomoyela, ―from the 16th century to the mid 20th century‖ (NP).  This oral nature of traditional African literature has

accounted for the presence of oral literature materials in the written literature from Africa.

African Literature has been mainly on culture and culture-related matters: protest, violence, economic injustice, political injustice, social injustice, exploitation, neglect of the people, et cetera. Consequently, the lachrymal, protest and revolutionary aesthetics have held the attention of the literary artists, critics and social commentators both within the Niger Delta region and Africa generally, as well as their sympathisers. But, all seem to be oblivious of the fact that man is simply a secondary sufferer of the actions of the multinational organisations and that man generally has wreaked the havoc in his efforts to make life more ―comfortable‖ for himself. Justifying the necessity of protest literature of the Niger Delta, a part of Africa, it may be necessary to cite Chinyere Nwahunanya in ―The Lachrymal Consciousness in the literature of the Niger Delta:‖ ―Let us reiterate that protest literature arises in societies where there are anomalies in the socio-political and economic structures put in place by the ruling class to drive their dominant ideology‖ (38). There has been so much imbalance in the life of the people of the Niger Delta in relation to the people of other regions. In addition to the anomalies in the total structures of the society generally, man has consistently despoiled and devastated the environment, and this is most grievous in the Niger Delta region.

It might be necessary to locate the Niger Delta region. This is the area covered by nine states spanning the south-south, mainly, the south-west and the south-east geo-political zones of Nigeria. According to G. G. Darah, ―the Niger Delta region is made up of six of Nigeria‘s 36 states, namely, Akwa-Ibom, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, and Rivers‖ (4). About this region, Isaac M. Udoh quotes Stock DVD-ROM to have said: ―the Niger Delta is one of the largest wetlands in the world and the largest in Africa, measuring an estimated 36,000 square kilometres‖ (110). However, for the purpose of this research, the Niger Delta region is taken to mean the entire area of land and forest inundated by the river Niger. It is an area which is very rich in natural resources. Whereas oil is not being exploited from the entire stretch of land, other forms of degradation take place, such as bush burning, over cultivation, over harvesting of timber and other natural resources, et cetera. This is the area which has been the sustenance of a people, a place which gives physical expression to their social, psychological and spiritual wellbeing. It is this kind of situation which, moves A. C. Emeribe to assert that,

…man‘s environment is that which gives him physical sustenance and affords him the opportunity for intellectual, and spiritual and social growth … the natural and the man-made, are essential for his wellbeing and enjoyment of basic human rights… (Qtd in Udoh, 110).

This is the kind of place and essence which has more-or-less been wrestled away from the people of the Niger Delta by the multinationals, the rulers and their associates via human activities. About this region and the activities going on in the region, Nwahunanya states that,

In the fifty or so odd years of oil prospecting and exploration in the Niger Delta, the human population and the flora and fauna indigenous to the region have been the direct recipients and victims of the negative consequences of oil extraction. There has been widespread scorching of the vegetation by gas flares, the subsequent disappearance of foliage and the overexposure of the soil cover to harsh weather conditions, death of aquatic life and a destabilization of the ecosystem (37).

Allwell A. Onukaogu and Ezechi Onyerionwu, agreeing with most other writers from the region and their sympathizers, have observed that, ―one also has to mention the numerous oil spills and their grave effects, especially on the environment‖ (50). The flora and fauna, in their totality, have suffered, and the suffering has been transferred unto man. This is the reason there have been lachrymal and revolutionary attitudes within the Niger Delta region since the days of Isaac Adaka Boro.

This (the Niger Delta region of Nigeria and Africa) is the area most hit by poverty and lack of infrastructural development. This is the reason the people have been mostly concerned with the issues of protest and revolution. The people live in the area where, until recently, there has not been good food, water, roads, hospitals, schools, and other basic amenities. The life of the people could be summed up as that of the mud fish which dwells in the swamp; only, the mud fish lives in its natural habitat and so could be described as rich. This is in addition to the poison they daily have to contend with in the form of carbon dioxide and other dangerous substances, and scorching heat among other discomforts and death-inducing materials and conditions. Therefore, Celestine Oyom Bassey states that,

The security of the Nigerian State must be defended: gas flaring, and oil spills, which combined with the deterioration of the soil that proved a poisonous cocktail for the Ogonis‘ livelihood are inconsequential and surface perturbations that the minority oil producing communities can live with (25).

 About the ecodegradation of the Niger Delta region, and the extent to which it goes to affect the people, Palms Chinaka observes that, ―The pollution impacts in these areas go as far as affecting the borderline communities during the energy production activities‖ (30). Chinaka goes on to quote Nnimmo Bassey, who viciously attacks the government, as stating that ―over 100 flare sites in the Niger Delta belch 400 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalents into the atmosphere annually‖ (30).

And he goes on to add the health implications of the environmental problems. To him,

The flaring of gas has the tendency of unleashing such diseases as cancer, asthma, bronchitis, blood disorders, etc. Subsequently, against the region‘s ecosystem, the people are forced to share their neighbourhood with such unfriendly phenomena as acid rain, global heat, deforestation, wildfires, contaminated toxic water, etc (30).

Nwahunanya adds his voice thus:

There have also been health issues resulting from gas flaring, some being the consequences of dietary shortfalls, and others the result of the emission of large amounts of methane and carbon dioxide, gases which have been confirmed to have high global warming and green-house effect potentials (37).

Environmental pollution and the resultant health issues are some of the problems of the world today, and particularly of the Niger Delta, about which Nwahunanya states that,

There are portrayals of the death of the land, dying rivers, polluted land and rivers, silted rivers, fast disappearing flora and fauna, land that has turned hostile to its inhabitants due to infertility, the general destruction of the ecosystem and the lowering of the equality of human life due to human greed (42).

The attitudes of the government and the multinationals only serve to heighten and hasten the violence. Chinaka has also captured this in his summation of their posture:

There is also the accusation that the oil multinationals in question would rather provide ―logistics‖ for the military men deployed to the area than compensate the people whose farmlands and rivers are polluted and devastated in the drilling process (29).

Because of the lack of care and interest in the welfare of the people and the environment, government has been indicted to the point of being accused of neglecting or setting aside court orders or judgements with respect to the plight of the flora and fauna of the Niger Delta. In the words of Nwahunanya,

In spite of the fact that there have been judicial orders for the stoppage of gas flaring in the Niger Delta (such as the November 1995 judgement by a Federal High Court sitting in Benin City, headed by Justice V. C. Nwokorie), gas flaring has continued unabated. The overall effects of the oil companies in this region are better imagined than experienced (38).

Consequent upon this situation, Onukaogu and Onyerionwu have asserted that,

Oil – in all of its capacities as a top global revenue earner; a strategic propellant of crisis situations (even of war proportions) and a supreme variable in the desperate international conversation on environmental degradation – has constituted a talking point so resonant and delicate (50).

The significance of oil in the world economy of today is the reason the capitalist world, and the world in general have refused to take a look at the consequences of the continued exploitation of the earth, the environment. Therefore when oil spills or the water is polluted, either the government does not see it or chooses not to care.

Attention is here focused more on oil, not because it is the only source of ecodegradation, (virtually all other actions of man are) but because the preponderance and the magnitude of the capacity of oil to pollute the environment is astronomical and beyond imagination.

Part of the reason for the protest demeanour, revolutionary ethos  and ―lachrymal consciousness‖ (37) in Niger Delta literature, as Nwahunanya describes it, are the environmental degradation, poverty, lack of care and infrastructural development and the attendant suffering, diseases and death on the people of the Niger Delta. This is in addition to the psychological dislocation of the people and their apparent reaction to their forceful separation from their land (their earth), a treasured part of the life of the African, and the nostalgic feeling engendered. This is how Nwahunanya puts it:

The lachrymal nature of Niger Delta literature is predicated first on a nostalgic remembrance of what the land was like before it became degraded and the apparent lack of concern of the authors of the spillage for the present predicament of the environment (41).

A good number of writers have raised their voices against this situation in what is called Nigerian Literature. One of such writers, who has aptly described and summed up the situation, is Chris Onyema. He writes that,

Since the discovery and commercial exploration of oil in the area in 1958 until date, the people of the Niger Delta, who are mainly fishermen and farmers, have been suffering from acts of bioterrorism, oil pollution of the lands and waters, gas flaring, hunger, diseases and poverty, as a result of the general destruction of their aquatic and terrestrial reserves. Poverty breeds prostitution, gas flaring breeds cancer and respiratory diseases, while lack of commensurate duty of care, by the

Nigerian state and the multinational oil companies, breed ―bunkering‖ and further oil spillage, militancy, unemployment and youth crises, arm proliferation and hostage-taking of foreign and local oil workers (189).

Onukaogu and Onyerionwu, commenting on the effects of the exploration of oil and the

responses to it in the literary and social circles, have cited Tanure Ojaide:

By the 1960s the rivers had been dredged to take in pontoons and even ships, to enter our backyard. Shell B. P. had started to feed the African Timber and Plywood company in Sapele. Streams and marshes dried up. Rubber trees were planted in a frenzy to make money and were soon tapped to death. The Oware fish that used to jump across culverts/roads were gone. There were no more fish in most of our waters. The heat from the blowout in Kokori and such places imperilled our lives and our means of sustenance (Quoted in Onukaogu and

Onyerionwu, 52).

Almost immediately, Onukaogu and Onyerionwu quotes Ojaide as stating that, ―now the environment is destroyed with gas being flared, the farms are not good, fishes are driven from the rivers, everything is polluted‖ [emphasis mine] (52).

When ―everything is polluted,‖ writers and writings will have no other choice than to respond proportionately to the state of pollution either by weeping or reminiscing over the glory of the ancestral or virginal groves. Therefore, Nigerian Literature and literary artists, especially the Niger Delta strand, have actively responded to the psycho-social and economic situation. For example, Chris Onyema aptly states that,

Nigerian Literature is a socially conscious act used as moniker for social, political and environmental witnessing. In discharging the burden of the writer as an ecological witness, novelists from the Niger Delta area of Nigeria evolve art, which, in the vocabulary of Glotfelty (2003:2) ―has one foot in literature and the other on land.‖ Land, conceptualized as a cohyponym of green in ecocritical discourse, becomes a quest to reconnect with supraordinate nature – equanimity of human, cultural, terrestrial and aquatic reserves – through creative ties even to the numinous. Currents in the Niger Delta environmental discourse implicate ecological crisis experiences and challenges that flow from the politics of oil exploration and its environmental impact assessment in the Nigerian sub-region


Consequent upon this, Onyema writes that,

Rather than deep indulgence in ―the praise-song school‖ of romantic green, Niger Delta writers praise nature as nostalgic memorialization that instills a psychological throwback to the eco-harmony that prevailed in the ―pre-crude‖ Delta, in order to give fillip to the degree of loss, devastation and suffering spilled by crude (oil) exploration. Here, we have ecological and psychological experiences worth telling and ecological or green ideals worth attaining; there, we have those who are paying for eco-devastation with their lives (190).

The main focus of this research is the demonstration from selected poems of Niyi Osundare, Tanure Ojaide and Nnimmo Bassey that the earth is inherently valuable; it is also an invitation to humanity to eschew any act that is capable of degrading and destroying the environment.  

The Life and Works of Niyi Osundare

Niyi Osundare was born in 1947 at Ikere-Ekiti, Ondo State. He holds a B.A. (Honours)

(English) from the University of Ibadan in Nigeria, M.A. from the University of Leeds in England, and PhD from York University, Toronto, Canada. Today, he is a professor. His areas of specialization are African literature, literature of the African diaspora, literary stylistics, sociolinguistics, and creative writing.

Osundare is a poet, dramatist, essayist, media columnist and critic. He has published many creative works. These include volumes of poetry, plays and essays. His poetry collections include Songs from the Marketplace , Village Voices, The Eye of the Earth (winner of a

Commonwealth Poetry Prize and the poetry prize of the Association of Nigerian Authors),

Moonsongs, Songs of the SeasonWaiting Laughters (winner of the Noma Award), Selected Poems, Midlife, Horses of Memory, The Word is an Egg, Pages from the Book of the Sun: New and Selected Poems, Early Birds, Not My Business AQA Anthology 2005 Onwards, and Tender Moments: Love Poems.

To Osundare‘s credit, there are these other works: The State Visit (play), Two Plays, books of essays, Thread in the Loom: Essays on African Literature and Culture, and The Emerging Perspectives on Niyi Osundare. He has also contributed a lot to literary reviews in the form of articles on literature, language, culture, and society. 

Osundare has carried out readings and performances of his works in many parts of the world, and his poems have been translated into many international languages, such as French, Dutch, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean. (Source: ―Niyi Osundare‖).

The Life and Works of Tanure Ojaide

Tanure Ojaide was born in 1948 at Igberhe village, Okpara in Delta state and he holds a

B.A. Honours (English), an M.A. (Creative Writing) and a PhD in English. He is a teacher of African literature, Pan-African/Black Literatures, Caribbean Literature, Non-Western and Postcolonial Literatures, and Folklore and Oral Literatures of Africa and the African Diaspora.

In his literary creativity, he is distinguished for a strong sense of criticism of the human society, especially in the practices of religion, imperialism and a myriad of other themes. He is a prolific writer in the genres of the novel, criticism, essay and poetry. He has a total of eighteen collections of poetry to his credit. These collections of poems include Children of Iroko & Other

Poems, Labyrinths of the Delta, The Eagle’s Vision, The Endless Song, Poems, The Fate of

Vultures, The Blood of Peace, Daydream of Ants, Delta Blues and Home Songs, Invoking the Warrior Spirit, When It No Longer Matters Where You Live, In the Kingdom of Songs, Invoking the Warrior Spirit: New and Selected Poems, I Want to Dance and Other Poems, In the House of Words, The Tale of the Harmattan, Waiting for the Hatching of a Cockerel and The Beauty I Have Seen: A Trilogy.

Ojaide has also published a memoir: Great Boys: An African Childhood. This was closely followed by his works of fiction: God’s Medicine Men and Other Stories, Sovereign Body (A Novel), The Activist (A Novel), The Debt-Collector and Other Stories, and Matters of the Moment.

Ojaide has equally contributed immensely to the domain of literary criticism. Some of his contributions here include The Poetry of Wole Soyinka; Poetic Imagination in Black Africa:

Essays on African Poetry; (With Joseph Obi) Culture, Society, and Politics in Modern African

Literature: Texts and Contexts; Poetry, Performance, and Art: The Udje Dance Songs of the Urhobo People; A Creative Writing Handbook for African Writers and Students; Ordering the

African Imagination: Essays on Culture and Literature; (With Rose Aziza) The Urhobo

Language Today; Theorizing African Oral Poetic Performance and Aesthetics: Udje Dance

Songs of the Urhobo People; and Dictionary of Literary Biography, vol. 360: Contemporary African Writers. He (With S. S. Ugheteni) edited Yono Urhobo: Obe Rerha

For all these, and others that could not be contained here for lack of space, Ojaide has won numerous honours, awards and scholarships. (Source: ―Biography‖, ―Tanure Ojaide‖)

The Life and Works of Nnimmo Bassey

Nnimmo Bassey was born on 11th June, 1958 in Akwa Ibom state. He is fluent in the

English and Ibibio languages. He is a graduate of architecture from University of Nigeria,

Nsukka (1981). Between 1982-1991, he was an architect in Physical Planning Division of the

Vice Chancellor‘s Office, University of Benin.

Bassey has been a champion of the struggle for the protection and survival of the earth and its environment, and he has held various key positions in the organizations he has helped to form. Some of these include, Chair of Friends of the Earth International (FoEI) (2008-present); Co-founder, Environmental Rights Action Nigeria (1993); Executive Director, Environmental

Rights Action (ERA) (1993-2014); Member, Board of Directors, Nigeria‘s Civil Liberties Organisation (1993-1999). He has also served in the executive of Association of Nigerian Authors as general secretary from 1993-1997.

Bassey has five collections of poetry to his credit: Patriots and Cockroaches, Poems on the Run, Intercepted, We Thought It Was Oil But It Was Blood and I Will Not Dance To Your Beat. Apart from poetry, he has also written some books and numerous essays on environmental issues. The books include Oil Watching in South America, Genetically Modified Organism: The African Challenge, Knee Deep in Crude, and To Cook A Continent: Destructive Extraction and Climate Change in Africa.

For his contributions to the welfare of the earth and the safeguarding of all lives, Bassey has won many awards. Some of them include Sophie Prize on behalf of Environmental Rights

Action, Oslo (1998), Time Magazine‘s Heroes of the Environment (2009) and Right Livelihood Award, Stockholm (2010). (Source: ―Nnimmo Bassey‖).

Statement of the Problem

People have over the years considered human beings as the most important among the things that exist on earth. They have also viewed the other elements as not having values beyond those ascribed to them by human beings. To humanity, the other elements are there for the service of mankind, and are only valuable to the extent to which they serve the interest of man. For this reason, humanity use and abuse the environment, not realising or minding that the earth suffers. Most of the criticisms of Niger Delta literature have concentrated on protest themes, even when they dwell on environmental pollution. The implication of this is that the analysis of the African environment in literature, especially poetry, has not received adequate attention from critics. The critics‘ attentions have always been paid to the plight of humanity. These are the problems which have affected humanity, the environment, literature and literary criticism. 

Also, it has been observed that the analysis of the African environment in literature, especially poetry, has not received adequate attention from Black African critics. American literary critics and their Australian counterparts have started ahead on this route, and have made quite an inroad into the study of the symbiotic relationship between literature and the environment; this is not losing sight of the contributions of their literary artists. But this cannot be said for Africans specifically, and critics from other parts of the world. At the creative level, African writers have produced a plethora of works. This is most true of Nigeria and the NigerDelta specifically. However, in the critical domain, only skeletal works have been done. William Slaymaker notes, for instance, that,

The African echo of global green approaches to literature and literary criticism has been faint….Black African writers take nature seriously in their creative and academic writing, but many have resisted or neglected the paradigms that inform much of global ecocriticism. The (siren?) call of the Green Wave resounding through much of the literary world has been answered weakly by black African writers and critics (132-133).

This thesis seeks, among other things, to identify those inherent qualities that the earth possesses, and to establish and examine the level of human degradation of the Niger-Delta environment and how this has been presented by the selected poets of the region in their poetry, and as such, create awareness about the effects of such degradation and abuses, both to the humans and the ―others‖ in existence and then suggest how possibly the anomaly could be remedied. This is to ensure that there is a redirection of man‘s attitude towards re-engineering the earth to make it more receptive to man in the future, than it is today. 

The selected poets have employed some elements of style in the creation of their poems.

Efforts shall be made to establish these elements, which among others include invocation of African muse, chants, personalisation of the earth, imagery reflective of the different moods and circumstances of the Niger Delta region, et cetera. 

Scope of the Study

This study is focused on the ecocriticism of the selected poetry of Niyi Osundare, Tanure Ojaide and Nnimmo Bassey, three of the Niger-Delta poets, who have paid considerable attention to the plight of the environment and her reaction against the degradation effected by man with the attendant hardship and havoc on man. Therefore, for analysis, the selection of poetry is based on seventeen poems from Niyi Osundare‘s The Eye of the Earth, fifteen from

Tanure Ojaide‘s Waiting for the Hatching of a Cockerel and eight from Delta Blues and Home Songs, and thirteen from Nnimmo Bassey‘s We Thought It Was Oil But It Was Blood. A total of fifty-three poems were examined. Two collections have been selected from the poetry of Tanure Ojaide, as against one each from the other two poets. This is to ascertain the level of consistency displayed by Ojaide, in relation to his professed concern in literary creations as being ecological issues, and as supported by critics of his works. More than the other poets, he is an avowed environmental poet. Niyi Osundare and Nnimmo Bassey have their different orientations, which are more of social themes such as corruption, oppression, social injustice, et cetera. Efforts have also been made to examine the literary devices and other techniques employed by the poets for the realisation of the themes of anthropocentrism and ecocentrism presented in their poems.

The scope of the study also covers the examination of the literary aesthetics achieved by means of the different devices employed by the poets in the presentation of the theme of ecocriticism in their poem, as well as the interrelationship between the devices and theme. Striking among the devices employed by the poets are invocation of African muses, chants, lyricism, different sound symbols, personalisation of the earth and imagery reflective of the different moods and circumstances presented in the poems.

Significance of the Study

The significance of the thesis is primarily in the exposure of the selected poetry of Niyi Osundare, Tanure Ojaide and Nnimmo Bassey to the world as it affects their involvement of the themes of ecological abuse and misuse. It is also important for having attempted to demonstrate the fact that the earth possesses inherent beauty and wealth. This has moved the study of the works of the selected poets forward, away from the protest domain, into the anthropocentric and ecocentric domains. This study also shows that poetry could be employed in the reinterpretation of the relationship between humans and nonhumans towards fashioning better coexistent models, which will, in the long-run, be in the best interest of the human sub-species. This research has exposed the literary devices employed by the poets in their creative effort. Some of these devices include invocation of the muse of Urhobo culture, invocation of the muse of rain, chant, repetition and refrain; imagery of destruction and degradation, fire and arson; pollution, death and dying, etcetera. These have been beautifully employed in the creation of the poems and the presentation of the themes. 

Finally, it is hoped that this study has also added to the corpus of literary analyses of the poetry of the selected poets and other literary writers in terms of the treatment of the themes of ecocentrism and anthropocentrism, as well as the techniques employed by the selected poets

Purpose of the Study

It is clear that African poetry has not fared well in the pursuit of ecocritical ideals, neither has poetry in both ecocentrism and anthropocentrism. The references to ecological themes, in the literature from the Niger Delta region generally, have been rather unconscious, and often as they affect human beings. African poetry has been predominantly concerned with issues of individualism, ethnicity, slavery, cultural identities, nationality, colonialism, post-colonialism and the attendant socio-economic problems. The environment has been largely neglected or abandoned. 

Therefore, the purpose of this research work includes, one, to propel African poetry (and literature) forward in the effort to make it significantly go green by denigrating anthropocentrism and espousing ecocentrism; two, it is also the purpose of this research to draw attention to the fact that if mankind can walk his way back to, and reintegrate with the environment, and care for her and not exploit her, humanity will be on the road to redefining itself and finding the natural harmony that ought to exist between man and other parts of nature, as well as among men; and three, it is the purpose of this study to demonstrate how literary devices have been employed to realise the themes of anthropocentrism and ecocentrism. The above is to be achieved beginning with the selected poems of Niyi Osundare, Tanure Ojaide and Nnimmo Bassey.

Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework adopted for this study is ecocriticism. It is one of the latest among the terminologies to enter into the annals of literary criticism, and about which Simon E.

Estok says, ―It is also very young‖ (1). It is a phenomenon which seeks to raise awareness about the interrelationship between literature and the environment, which Cheryll Glotfelty, in ―Introduction‖ has described as ―literary studies in an age of environmental crisis”(xv). What these translate into are that there are environmental problems, and that criticism in this mode examines the relationship between humans and the nonhumans with a view to ascertaining how best the coexistence of both could be optimally managed. According to Ann B. Dobie, ecocriticism made its first appearance as a canon of literary criticism in 1978 in the title of an essay: ―Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism‖ by William Rueckert (238). Ecocriticism is a term that has to do with the interrelationship between literature and nature, the use of literature to re-order the attitudes of man towards adjusting his way, so as to make him recognize the symbiotic affinity needed to forge a new and better relationship between man and

―other‖ aspects of nature.

Ecocriticism, as a literary term, was coined in the late 1970s. It is a term arrived at by a combination of the shortened form of ecology (eco) and criticism.  According to M. H. Abrams, ecology is ―the science that investigates the interrelations of all forms of plant and animal life with each other and with their physical habitat‖ (71). Abrams further states that,

Ecocriticism (or by an alternative name, environmental criticism) designates the critical writings which explore the relations between literature and the biological and physical environment, considered with an acute awareness of the devastation being wrought on that environment by human activities (7).

A fundamental issue arising from this is that there is already a segregationist tendency in the relationship between humans and nonhumans, a situation which ecocriticism seeks to nullify.   While elucidating on the nature and function of ecocritics and, by extension, ecocriticism in ―Ecocriticism,‖ Wikipedia observes that,

Ecocritics investigate such things as the underlying ecological values, what, precisely, is meant by the word nature, and whether the examination of “place” should be a distinctive category, much like class, gender or race. Ecocritics examine human perception of wilderness, and how it has changed throughout history and whether or not current environmental issues are accurately represented or even mentioned in popular culture and modern literature. Other disciplines, such as history, philosophy, ethics, and psychology, are also considered by ecocritics to be possible contributors to ecocriticism (NP).

Another term for ecocriticism, used by Jonathan Bate, is ―Global Warming Criticism‖. The term reflects a focus on the climate, and overtly eliminates the rest of ―the others‖ of the environment; and Kate Rigby adopting ―Global Warming Criticism‖ states that,

Informed not only by meteorology and ecology, but also by the new science of non-linear dynamic systems popularised as ‗Chaos Theory,‘ Global Warming Criticism presupposes a natural world which can no longer be thought of as passive, orderly and compliant, but which is rather volatile, unpredictable, and responsive to our interventions in ways that we can neither foresee nor control


Therefore, the environment has a voice, and a very loud voice at that; and it responds to humanity‘s violation of her terrain and sanctity. This calls for a moderate interference, as it is absolutely impossible to avoid collecting from the earth.

From the short history of ecocriticism, one can say that it is still evolving as a critical mode and as a school of literary criticism, but this does not mean that it has not acquired some definitions. Glotfelty in ―What is Ecocriticism‖ has defined ecocriticism as ―the study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment‖ (NP). Serpil Oppermann also corroborates this where he cites this same definition (1). Glotfelty, in ―Literature and Environment, the Long View: Thoughts from the Founders of ASLE‖, refers to membership of

The Association for the Study of Literature and Environment (ASLE) as those ―scholars, teachers, and writers who study the relationships among literature, culture, and the physical environment‖ (1). This immediately gives an idea of the direction of the flow of thought of ecocritics and ecocriticism, which involves the use of literature to further the education on the need to protect and improve the earth by man, as well as the need to allow the environment to enjoy her peace and comfort. The critical factor in the definition is ―relationship,‖ which entails the interplay between literature and the ecosystem. Men have been discovered to have grossly abused the ―others‖ in nature, and this has in turn led to the gross alteration of human nature.

According to Lawrence Buell, ecocriticism is ―the study of literature and environment from an interdisciplinary point of view where all sciences come together to analyse the environment and brainstorm possible solutions for the correction of the contemporary environmental situation‖ (Qtd in Dobie, 239). The cardinal contribution here is the inclusion of the sciences in the study. However, this definition, clear as it seems, does harbour some complexities. One would wonder how the sciences could be applied to the study of literature.

They, the sciences, could analyse and do analyse the environment; the result of such analysis could then show the literary artist and/or the critic the level of degradation of the human and natural habitation; arising from the above, the sensibility of the artist, the critic and the artistcritic would be sharpened, such that he/she could then theorise for humanity and so increase their awareness in terms of how to maintain, preserve or protect the environment. Therefore, ecocriticism, from this position, is an all embracing discipline involving and requiring the attention of all.

Building on Glotfelty‘s definition above, other scholars have added their own definitions to the growing volume on this nascent phenomenon. Buell, according to Dobie, added that ―any study of the relationship between literature and the physical environment‖ should be ―conducted in a spirit of commitment to environmentalist praxis‖ (Qtd in Dobie, 239). The key phrase here is ―commitment to environmentalist praxis.‖ This presupposes the need for emphasis on finding ways of ensuring that the environment is tended to enable her yield abundance and comfort to mankind in particular, and nature in general.

The fostering of harmonious coexistence between the human and the nonhuman components of nature is the primary target of ecocriticism. This is also captured by Lance Newman in his definition of the concept of ecocriticism. According to Lance Newman, ecocriticism is ―a movement based in University literature departments, but one that is ambitious to reach beyond them, in order to accomplish a most serious and important goal: transformation of human relations with nature‖ (Qtd in Daniel Gustav Anderson, 35).

Estok is cited by Dobie as extending Buell‘s ―comment by saying that ecocriticism ‗takes a stand by its commitment to the natural world as an important thing rather than simply as an object of thematic study and by its commitment to making connections‘‖ (Qtd in Dobie, 239). ―Connections,‖ as used here, pertains to the link between the humans and the nonhumans, that is, the other aspects of nature, which in all respects should be symbiotic and mutual. Continuing, Dobie cites Camilo Gomides, whom she claims recognizes the social purpose of ecocriticism. To her, Gomides speaks of ―motivating audiences to live within a limit that will be binding over generation” (239). This implies the reengineering of the awareness about the preservation, protection and the nurturing of the others of nature. Further, Dobie states that Estok,

Broadens ecocriticism to include the study of any theory that is committed to effecting change by analyzing the function – thematic, artistic, social, historical, ideological, theoretical, or otherwise – of the natural environment, or aspects of it, represented in documents (literary or other) that contribute to material practices in material world (239).

This relates to one of the most widely held views about ecocriticism: that it is an interdisciplinary subject. Summing up this section, it will be pertinent to cite Dobie again:

What all these perspectives on the field have in common is that they are interested in examining the relationship of literature and nature as a way to renew a reader‘s awareness of the nonhuman world and his or her responsibility to sustain it. Sharing the fundamental promise that all things are interrelated, they are actively concerned about the impact of human actions on the environment. According to

Glotfelty, consciousness raising is ecocriticism‘s most important task [emphasis mine] (239).

It is imperative to observe that ecocriticism is also known by many other names which include ecopoetics, environmental criticism, environmental literary criticism, literary ecology, green cultural studies and derogatorily, compost structuralism. It is also equally important to segment ecocriticism into two: Dark greens and Light greens, and to observe that the constant here is ―green‖; and that the variables are ―dark,‖ which applies to those who subscribe to an absolute return to nature and ―light,‖ which denotes those who are less zealous about their commitment to the adverse impact of mankind on the environment (Abrams, 71-76).

Gloftelty, according to Dobie, has delineated some patterns which ecocriticism has followed, thus,

Beginning with an interest in ―representations,‖ and examinations of how nature is depicted in literature, thereby raising public awareness of attitudes toward the natural world. Practitioners look at how stereotypes warp reality and note where nature is absent, simply ignored. Sometimes they narrow the focus to look carefully at a particular aspect of nature such as a geographical region or the wilderness or the mountains. An effort to rediscover and reconsider the genre of nature writing, which had fallen into neglect, constitutes the second phase. The attention that has been paid to this endeavour is apparent in the growing publication of anthologies of nature writing and works that have an ecological awareness. The third stage, the theoretical one, draws upon science, history, and philosophy to ask a wide range of questions about such topics as the consequences of anthropomorphism, the relationship of nature and culture, and more (242-243).

Oppermann, writing about Cheryll Glotfelty‘s and Harold Fromm‘s edited book The Ecocriticism Reader: Landmark in Literary Ecology, states that the book which ―is a collection of carefully selected essays… signals the emergence of a new type of literary criticism, now unanimously accepted as ecocriticism‖ (1). Oppermann further observes that, ―as the essays in this book indicate, ecocriticism aims to bring a transformation of literary studies by linking criticism and theory with the ecological issues at large‖ (1). The actual featureof ecocriticism, according to Oppermann, is that it ―lunges a call to literature to connect to the issues of today‘s environmental crises. In other words, ecocriticism is directly concerned with both nature (natural landscape) and the environment (landscape both natural and urban)‖ (1); to these must be added humans, and the human impact on the environment. It is in the realization of this that Oppermann asserts that,

Ecocriticism, then, attempts to find a common ground between the human and the nonhuman to show how they can coexist in various ways, because the environmental issues have become an integral part of our existence. This is one problem that ecocriticism addresses in its attempt to find a more environmentally conscious position in literary studies (2).

The phrase, ―a more environmentally conscious position,‖ stands as a flagpole among duties ascribed to ecocriticism, in the sense that this is the ultimate goal of the overall exercise. Men have overused and abused the nonhuman facet of the natural world, and this has resulted in serious adverse effect on all nature, including humans, a phenomenon that has been examined from the scientific, anthropological, sociological, et cetera, axes; yet, mankind continues to despoil the earth. Therefore, it has become imperative for ecocriticism to evoke this environmental consciousness with a view to heightening the awareness in man about the negative effect of his actions and inactions on the environment. This is an endeavour which places the premium of demand on academics all over the world.

There is a very important question which sums up the demand of ecocriticism on academics. The question which Glotfelty asked is, ―How then can we contribute to environmental restoration?‖ (Qtd in Oppermann, 2), and the question followed quickly at the foot of the observation: ―work as usual seems unconscionably frivolous. If we are not part of the solution, we are part of the problem‖ (2). Glotfelty, as presented by Oppermann, although speaking to professors of literature, is actually addressing all human beings, and as culprits, humanity must retrace its steps, be remorseful for its actions or inaction, and pay restitution to the earth and ensure her continued existence. However, Oppermann warns that the contribution, so spoken about, 

Should be well focused on the literary as well as on the ecological concepts, not privileging one over the other. The task of ecocriticism, then is to formulate a conceptual foundation for the study of interconnections between literature and the environment…. Within this framework, ecocritics are mainly concerned with how literature transmits certain values contributing to ecological thinking. They state that the environmental crisis is a question that cannot be overlooked in literary studies (2-3).

The assertion above is quite apt to this thesis: the examination of the implications of the relationship between poetry and the ecological state of the Niger-Delta Region. The purpose of this research is the raising of awareness of humanity to the effects of her actions and inactions on the nonhumans within the Niger Delta region. Although Oppermann warns that ―it is important to note that literature should not be used as a pretext for examining the ecological issues‖ (3), it must be observed that in its raising of consciousness, on environmental matters, ecocriticism should not only be aesthetic but also ethical, since it, in the words of Oppermann, ―inquires into the ways in which nature is marginalized, silenced, or pushed, in Manes‘ words ‗into a hazy, backdrop against which the rational human subject struts upon‘‖ (3). This attitude in literary criticism is what William Rueckert has referred to as ―literary ecology,‖ and which Oppermann has explained as ―… a projection of human ideas about human responsibility into the natural environment‖ (3).

At every inch of the way, one finds that man tends to separate himself from the nonhumans. This, as has been hinted on above, accounts for the misuse and abuse of the earth; but what most humans, till now, have failed to realize is the efficacy of Barry Commoner‘s First Law of Ecology, which is, ―everything is connected to everything else‖ (16) and which in turn, according to Oppermann, echoes the quantum physicists‘ definition of reality as ―an undivided wholeness‖ (7).  Therefore, according to Glotfelty in ―What is Ecocriticism:‖

Despite the broad scope of inquiry and disparate levels of sophistication, all ecological criticism shares the fundamental premise that human culture is connected to the physical world, affecting it and affected by it. Ecocriticism takes as its subject the interconnections between nature and culture (NP).

What these laws mean is that humans cannot and should not be separated from the nonhumans, as none can survive independent of the other. We are all the different parts of one organic whole, living in a chain of relationship, with one connected to the other in a vicious circle. Also, the human counterpart should not attempt an over depopulation or over exploitation of the nonhumans, as the consequence is that the resultant ill will always come round to befall humans:

―everything is connected to everything else‖ (Commoner, 16).

Another author who has looked at the context and concept of ecocriticism and its implication for the present and the future of mankind is Rigby. According to her, ―in 1756, the vicar of Selbourne planted four lime trees between his house and the butcher‘s yard opposite,to hide the sight of blood and filth‘ (151).This act by Gilbert White, the vicar, is a clear indication of the state of uneasiness about the slaughtering of animals for food. It is not only animals that are being killed, but other elements in the ecosystem. Therefore, Rigby states that, ―…the ecosystems sustaining all life on earth have become ever more critically endangered by our growing numbers and levels of consumption, ever more… live at an ever greater remove from the natural world, unmindful of their impact upon the earth‖ (151).

That the earth is endangered has been captured much earlier by some other disciplines, especially philosophy, the sciences and science related ones, but literature and literary criticism have been much slower in the portraiture devoted to this phenomenon. This feeling is also shared by Rigby when she states:

Literary critics and cultural theorists in particular have been notoriously slow to register those changes in thinking about the relationship of culture and society to the natural world which began to be articulated in neighbouring disciplines, above all philosophy, but also theology, politics and history, from the early 1970s (151).

Also Cheryll Glotfelty in ―Introduction‖ states that,

If your knowledge of the outside world were limited to what you could infer from the major publications of the literary profession, you would quickly discern that race, class and gender were the hot topics of the late twentieth century, but you would never know that the earth‘s life support systems were under stress. Indeed

you might never know that there was an earth at all (Qtd in Rigby, 151-152).

That there have been calls for the rescue of the earth is not in doubt, but these have only been very recently and in an isolated manner. Rigby also observes this when she states that,

―there were in fact some isolated calls for an ecologically oriented criticism during the 1970s.

However, it was not until the end of the twentieth century that the study of literature and the environment was finally recognized as ‗a subject on the rise‘‖ (152).

The term, ecocriticism, was first used by William Rueckert in 1978 as mentioned earlier.

However, as a critical vocabulary, according to Michael P. Branch, Glotfelty in 1989 ―not only revived the term, but also urged its adoption to refer to the diffused critical field that heretofore had been known as ‗the study of nature writing‘‖ (1). According to Branch, ―Since that meeting in 1989, the term ‗ecocriticism‘ has bloomed in usage, so that now one finds it appearing with some frequency in calls for papers, critical articles, and indeed academic job descriptions‖ (1).

This gave him (Branch) the impression that the ―acceptance of the term is imminent‖ (Branch, 1). Events of the recent past, as well as today, in the world, especially where environmental hazards are concerned, have made the acceptance of the term mandatory.

The study has assumed different names and forms, but in all, two very important features stand out in any discussion on ecocriticism: these are culture and nature, which over the period and under the different critical modes, have often conflicted, and each struggling for unwarranted supremacy. Therefore, there is the nature-culture conflict, where, whereas the ecocritics and the romantics are on the side of nature, the other critics are in alignment with culture. The argument of the culture-conscious critics, just as it is reflected in almost every document of human civilization, is that the other elements in the world are there for the sole use of man, or at least, mainly for the purpose of man‘s sustenance and satisfaction, and that it has been preordained from creation or the beginning of the world, depending on one‘s religious or philosophical leaning; but the nature argument is that humans and others are all part and parcel of the same world, and so, demand equal respect and attention. Thus, in negation to the culture argument,

Walter Benjamin ―observes that to the historical materialist, there is no document of civilization which is not at the same time a document of barbarism‖ (Qtd in Rigby, 153), and according to Rigby, ―most ecocritics would agree with this, but they would add that there is also no work of culture which is not simultaneously exploitative of nature‖ (153). The implication of this is that

ecocritics abhor the over-dependence on, and exploitation of nature.

Another reason culture is so domineering in the affairs of man is that human beings are immersed in culture which fashions their being (from the moment they are born) and their earliest perceptions of the ―others‖ in the environment; and as such, through culture they perceive and peruse nature and every other thing. Therefore, Rigby‘s assertions that ―culture constructs the prism through which we know nature‖ (153) becomes very apt. The implication, as set out just now, is that human beings tend to judge from their stand-point as impinged on their consciousness by their practices which connote their culture. But the truth is that one, nature is much more than culture presents it to be; and two, the idea and feeling that culture is superior to nature is erroneous. Thus, we can agree with Rigby that ―ecocriticism, then, remembers the earth by rendering an account of the indebtedness of culture to nature‖ (154). 

Another reason nature features most prominently, more than other concepts, in

ecocriticism is its origin. Ecocriticism sprang from the genre of literature called nature writing, in the United States. It is not surprising, therefore, that nature is always presented as a superior facet over culture, which hitherto, except for some occasions, for example, the Romantics, has been presented otherwise. Again, Rigby declares that,

It is important to note that in the US especially, ecocriticism to a considerable extent grew out of the study of that hitherto highly marginalised genre, nature writing. Among those who founded the Association for the Study of Literature and the Environment (ASLE) at the 1992 annual meeting of the Western Literature Association, several key players were scholars of nature writing, including ASLE‘s first President, Scott Slovic, and Cheryll Glotfelty, editor of the first ecocriticism reader and co-founder of The American Nature Writing Newsletter, which later became the ASLE Newsletter. Nature writing figures [sic] prominently in ASLE‘s official mission, ‗to promote the exchange of ideas and information pertaining to literature that considers the relationship between human beings and the natural world,‘ and to encourage ‗new nature writing, traditional

                                and     innovative    scholarly    approaches    to    environmental    literature,     and

interdisciplinary environmental research.‘ (158)

                 Another scholar who tries to identify the origin and business of ecocriticism is Jonathan

Bate. In his ―Culture and Environment: From Austen to Hardy,‖ Bate declares that,

Ecocriticism began in consciousness-raising; it has much to say about the specific histories and the mythical structures in which humankind‘s consciousness of environment has been and continues to be expressed.… Its ultimate value will be as a form of consciousness: it models an attentiveness, an attunement to words and to the world that acknowledges the intricate, inextricable networks linking culture and environment … (549).

This calls to mind Commoner‘s First Law of Ecology: ―everything is connected to everything else‖ (16). 

Lyn White Jr, an American historian, in 1967, according to Rigby, published an article, in the journal Science, entitled ―The Historical Root of our Ecological Crises.‖ The fact that this work appeared in a science journal lays credence to the fact of ecocritical problems being seen as problems emanating from the sciences, and the solution to which was also to be sought there; but today, it is obvious that science has not only been unable to provide an understanding of the problem, and as such cannot solve it, it has also been discovered that the problem is both

―cultural and social in origin‖ (154), as Rigby would say. Continuing, White, according to Rigby, argues that ―what people do about their ecology depends on what they think about themselves in relation to things around them. Human ecology is deeply conditioned by beliefs about our nature and destiny – that is by religion‖ (154). This could be seen in Western Christianity, as recorded in and interpreted from The Bible. The inadequacies of science in the effort to solve man‘s problems which have resulted from human‘s degradation and abuse of nature (the nonhumans), as well as efforts at solving these problems, is what ecocriticism has come to address.

Also, discussing Joseph Meeker‘s The Comedy of Survival, Rigby speaks of Meeker‘s condemnation of ―classical tragedy which, he [Meeker] contends, reinforces the anthropocentric assumption that nature exists for the benefit of  mankind, the belief that human morality transcends natural limitations, and humanism‘s insistence on the supreme importance of the individual‘ (155). But today, humanity knows better, that the nonhumans are not just meant for them to negatively subdue, but to tend affectionately.

The irresponsible attitude to the environment manifests in all human activities, even in agriculture, which ought to nurse the earth to produce sustenance for mankind, such that Rigby, discussing human violence on the earth, and examining the modern farming implement and

technique, states that,

Such a plough, equipped with a vertical knife to cut the line of the furrow, a horizontal share to slice under the sod, and a moldboard to ‗turn it over‘… appeared in northern Europe towards the end of the seventh century. Whereas the older wooden plough merely scratched the surface of soil, the new plough, which required eight oxen to pull it, attacked the land with such violence that cross plowing was not needed, and fields tended to be shaped in long strips [emphasis mine] (155).

The picture of violence presented here is horrific, and the diction is an apt one for the graphic description of human actions and activities against the earth – the foundation of all nature, including humans. Yet, the activities and the description of the seventh century is nothing compared to what is happening in today‘s world; it is no longer a case of ―attack‖ but that of a total annihilation, an obliteration of the earth, which in the long run will come round to man, and which is already affecting man in different ways; thus, to White and all ecocritics, in the words of Rigby, ―the natural world is no longer a passive recipient of human interventions and projections but an active participant in the formation and transformation of human culture and society‖(157). Consequently, ecocritics, according to Rigby, ―need to draw also on geography, ecology and other natural sciences‖ (157), to ensure that human wellbeing is well synchronized with the health of the earth: this is the optimal position for the world, a position which ecocriticism is pursuing with vigour.

The most respected and eminent Victorian scholar, John Ruskin, is said to have reacted against the maltreatment of nature. According to James Hopkin,

… holding this [Turner‘s] 1832 painting aloft in front of his students, Ruskin, a great champion of Turner‘s work, declared: ‗you, if you like, may go to Leicester to see what it is like now. I never shall. But I can make a pretty good guess.‘And with that, he picked up a paintbrush. On the glass, he dashed in a ‗be-au-ti-ful iron-bridge‘ over the original stepping stones, and a cluster of ugly houses in a field.  Then he painted the river an indigo colour to signify pollution from nearby factories. With a final flourish, he added great clouds of smoke across the sky, and announced: ‗The atmosphere is supplied – thus!‘ [emphasis mine] (1). The import of this is that the pollution and hazards as well as the devastation are as a result of the mechanics of ―modernization‖ as envisioned and perpetuated by human beings.

Environmental crises have been with man, as could be seen from the mythical Noah‘s flood, as recorded in the Christian Bible. Through the generations, since recorded history, man has been faced with flood, fire, hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes, landslides, earth tremors, volcanic eruptions, oil spills, gas poisoning, atomic poisoning, nuclear radiation, et cetera, but in recent times, the frequency at which these are occurring is outrageously high, and the magnitude of these natural disasters is alarmingly high, and is ever increasing almost by the hours. At this, one wonders why it has become so. The sciences and, particularly, environmental studies, have revealed that man is the cause of these. Man has enabled these by his attempts and efforts to over exploit nature, all in the bid to make life very and more ―comfortable‖ for himself. Therefore, while not ruling out the facts that some natural heavings could be observed in the environment, the great devastation thus observed today could be said to have been occasioned by man.

 The reason for this new trend in literary criticism is because of the numerous environmental hazards to man, resulting from environmental degradation. Man has dangerously abused the nonhumans in the planet earth, and he has started going beyond the earth to other planets in the name of science and discovery, and in the attempt to manipulate these planets for the ―benefit‖ of man. The consequence of this is the reaction of the earth and the other entities in the environment against man. Today, it is not scarce to hear of earthquakes, hole-in-the-ozone layer, global warming, gas poisoning, nuclear radiation, nuclear waste and hazards, flooding, oil spillage, the invasion of human habitations by other animals and birds, and such like mind and psychologically devastating phenomena, as well as the attendant deaths resulting from the hazards.

According to Rigby, Buell has delineated the characteristics of environmental literature to include:

  1. The nonhuman environment is present not merely as a framing device but as a presence that begins to suggest that human history is implicated in natural history.
  2. The human interest is not understood to be the only legitimate interest.
  3. Human accountability to the environment is part of the text‘s ethical


  • Some sense of the environment as a process rather than as a constant or a given is at least implicit in the text (159).

Therefore, the criticism of eco-literature must, among other things, seek to establish the presence of the four features identified above. In this realm, the goal of the ecocritics, which according to

Rigby, ―is concerned to develop a form of criticism that will ultimately lead us back to the world beyond the page‖ (159), will be achieved.

Ecocriticism, as an analytical category, cannot be said to be free of problems; thus, according to James Hopkin, ―today‘s burgeoning cultural studies school, with its insistent and self-referential intellectualism, has demoted nature to the status of a linguistic construct, merely another text to be discussed and dismissed, severed from the natural reality to which it refers‖ (1). This is in reaction of what Hopkin considers a linguistic jamboree, all in the name of ecocriticism as a philosophy. Consequently, Kate Soper, according to Hopkin, warns that, ―it is not language which has a hole in the ozone layer‖ (1). This is the crux of the Matter: ―hole in the ozone layer.‖ This is a flagpole of the adverse effect of human activities on the other parts of nature, as nature‘s reaction is immediately felt by man in the forms of excessive heat, skin problems, and death of humans as well as other entities. Ecocriticism has advanced the critical reactions to literary texts, and has been employed in revisiting earlier works and authors towards exposing the neglected aspects in the proclamations on them. The earlier works here refer to all those works from the classical to the modern period. Thus, according to Hopkin,

‗Turned to the romantic poets and their writings on nature to redress the balance of the culture-nature debate‘. Bate draws upon Wordsworth as an exemplar of ecocritical thinking for Wordsworth did not view nature in Enlightenment terms – as that which must be tamed, ordered and utilized – but as an area to be inhabited and reflected upon. By so doing, he hoped human beings might ‗see into the life of things‘, and reveal their place in a system of delicate relations between the human and the nonhuman worlds (Qtd in Bate, 1-2).

This relates ecocriticism to the field of literary criticism, a family to which it belongs.

Ecocriticism is pessimistic in its outlook and endeavour. This is because it, in nature, especially in its call to humans to tend nature with care, else it ―explodes‖ and with man shatter, sends a note of woe and alarm about the ―doomsday‖ about to dawn in human history. This is the time when, if nothing is done to reverse the trend of human livelihood and the direction of his activities, the human life support and the entire earth may cease to exist. The pessimistic note is only a strategy to gain attention, as well as establish a pattern towards creating awareness about the danger which the world is driving into. The end of this seemingly gloomy approach is optimism. 

This feeling is also shared by Rigby, where she comments on environmentalists and compares them to ―Gramscian Marxists‖. According to her,

Environmentalists, not unlike Gramscian Marxists, tend to be pessimists of the intellect and optimists of the heart. No matter how grim the statistics on the degradation of soil, air and water, on the loss of biodiversity, on global warming and the depletion of the ozone layer, on rising human population and consumption levels, we continue to wager on the possibility that the extraordinary beauty, diversity and fecundity of the earth can, in some measure, yet be saved, and that we might one day learn to live on this earth more equitably. Buoyed by this leap of faith, we continue to seek for sources of hope: places from which change for the better might be initiated (158).

Ecocriticism has come to build this hope and seek for ways of improving the earth and enhance the relationship between humans and the environment to ensure that the earth does not end in dissipation or an explosion.

Reasons could be adduced for the trend of human consumption, which are for economic production or relaxation. This trend is as a result of the culture developed by man for his

―benefit.‖ The real ―achievement‖ made by man is the continued despoliation of the earth, which will lead to a catastrophic end of the earth and all in it. Commenting on this situation, Rigby says, ―under the Modern Constitution, it has been all too easy to move between the consumption of nature as raw material for economic production during the working week, to the consumption of nature as sublime or beautiful on Sundays‖ (161). So, from whichever angle one looks at it, man continues to consume nature, and in a most callous manner.

The despoliation, which arises from the subjugation of the nonhuman residents on the earth, as well as the earth, over the years, has translated into the suppression of races, classes, and genders. This is one way in which Commoner‘s ―First Law of Ecology‖ (16) has been confirmed, that what affects one, of both logicality and necessity, must affect all. Therefore, it has become a social problem. About this, Rigby argues that,

The romantic affirmation of the ties binding human well-being to a flourishing natural environment finds its critical counterpart in the recognition that

‗ecological exploitation is always coordinate with social exploitation‘…. According to Rousseau, the progress of civilisation in the domination of nature had been achieved at the price of increased social inequality, alienation and military conflict (162).

Ecocriticism examines not only the social injustice of human‘s exploitation of the nonhumans, it also delves into the examination of the relationship between the stronger species of humans and the weaker ones, where it is not just a matter of oppression, but also the inability of the subdued to speak or to be heard even when they complain.  Here again, Rigby declares that,

Although, as we have seen, ecocriticism often incorporates questions of social justice, it nonetheless differs from other forms of political critique in one important respect: namely, as a form of advocacy for another, which is felt to be unable to speak for itself. If, as Gayatri Spivak (1988) has argued, the human subaltern cannot always be heard without the mediation of more privileged supporters, how much more so is this true of the subordinated nonhuman? This is not to say, however, that nature is entirely silent. Nor, despite all our best efforts at domination, is it truly subordinate (as we are forcefully reminded by every earthquake, volcanic eruption, passing comet, and the sheer unpredictability of the weather) (163-164).

The cases of environmental crises that are witnessed today are all reflections of the reactions of the environment to the human over-dependence and abuse on her. Therefore, humanity must heed the voices of the nonhumans so as to ensure that the earth and all creatures do not die.

Towards this end, in this research, poetry has been selected. The choice of poetry as a medium through which the earth could be saved or sustained is not out of place, since poetry provides the space and atmosphere in which language blends very well with the environment to the end that poetry gives a soul to the environment, and also, as it responds to nature, as the romantics would say. This function of poetry is corroborated by Rigby. While interspersing her views with Bate‘s opinions, Rigby states that,

Poetry, in this view, does not name things in order to make them available for use, but rather in order to disclose their being in language. Poetry thus becomes a

‗refuge for nature, for the letting be of Being‘. It does not necessarily do this by explicitly defending nature‘s ‗rights‘. The best ecopoetry, in Bate‘s view, is not overtly political, let alone propagandistic. Rather, poetry becomes ‗ecopoetic‘ simply (or not so simply) through its disclosure within the realm of logos of the earth as our oikos, or dwelling place. It is in this sense that poetry might be said to be ‗the place where we save the earth.‘ (165)

Saving the earth has become mandatory as it is gradually slipping through our hands and away from our feet. This again, and as has been stated all along, is as a result of the ecological dehydration occurring by the seconds. Therefore, Rigby‘s statement here is apt. According to


As our world becomes ever more ecologically impoverished and technologically manipulated, we need writers and artists who can draw our attention to the beauty, complexity and potential fragility of the earth, mediating the ‗voices‘ of nonhuman others, whose being and meaning we can never fully comprehend, and, perhaps, inviting us to join in their heteroglossic song. From this perspective, we need a practice of reading which, in recalling the absence rather than the presence of that which is named in the text, inspires us, in Yves Bonnefoy‘s words, to ‗lift our eyes from the page‘ (166).

Since the page only keeps the record of the occurrences on earth, and since the real actions take place in the physical world, humanity is therefore enjoined by Yves Bonnefoy that, ―It is not within the poet‘s scope to re-establish presence, but he or she can recall that presence is a possible experience, and he can stir up the need for it, keep open the path that leads to it‖ (Qtd in Rigby, 166). Hence, the poets under study and their poetry, are recalling the presence and also stirring up the need in the humans to realize that there is the need for them to peacefully coexist with the others in nature. This also synchronises with Rigby‘s observation:

 If the natural world around us is endangered, how can we read a poetic evocation of another‘s experience of it, without wanting to restore it as a possible locus of our own experience, since the poem itself cannot do so? Read in this way, ecopoetry may well become a factor in our efforts to ‗save the earth,‘ not only through our creative and critical writing, but perhaps in more directly political and practical ways as well (166).

Poetry is known to appeal to human emotion, reaching the inner recesses of the mind and the subconscious. This stance is adopted by William Wordsworth in his definition of poetry in ―Poetry is the Image of Man and Nature‖ as, ―the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings: it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquillity [emphasis mine] (250). As Charles Keplan has noted, poetry is ―the best agent for leading men to act virtuously. When men act virtuously, conflict is either prevented, or becomes easier to resolve‖ (Qtd in Nwahunanya, 40). Thus, poetry fits properly into the resolution of the environmental problems, since it could be employed in the dissemination of the awareness of the human impact on the nonhumans. This becomes most relevant if one realises, as Wordsworth in ―Emotion Recollected in Tranquillity‖ puts it:

Poetry is the breath and finer spirit of all knowledge; it is the impassioned expression which is in the countenance of all science. Emphatically may it be said of the poet, as Shakespeare hath said of man, ‗he looks before and after‘[Hamlet IV. iv. 37]. He is the rock of defence of human nature; an upholder and preserver, carrying everywhere with him relationship and love …, the poet binds together by passion and knowledge the vast empire of human society, as it is spread over the whole earth, and over all time (604).

Therefore, poetry can very well delve into the realms of the sciences and other fields, and also adequately discuss matters of environmental degradation, as well as the relationship among all.

The conscious call against this wave of problem in the world started in literature in the

1990s. This was pioneered by such scholars as William Slaymaker, Lawrence Buell, Simons C.

Estok, William Ruechert, Jonathan Bate, Laurie Ricou, Michael P. Branch, Thomas J. Lyon,

Glen Love, Ann Ronald, Scott Slovic, Cheryll Glotfelty, Rebecca Raglon, Mark Busby, Frank Bergon, David Robertson, David Copeland Morris, Don Scheeze, Nancy Cook and others. But in the sciences, the awareness has been there, especially since World War II. In literature, America, Canada and Australia have been in the lead in this call; but in Africa, evidence shows that people are only becoming aware of the impact of environmental degradation. This could be attested to by the fact that a conscious effort at the study of the environment in literary works, or the study of the earth as a suffering-wailing character is only beginning to germinate. One of the first major critical studies on literature dealing with the environment is the volume edited by Chinyere

Nwahunanya: From Boom to Doom: Protest and Conflict Resolution in the Literature of the Niger-Delta (2011). 

In the face of the high level of environmental degradation occasioned by the continuous despoliation of the earth by human beings, the lack of the knowledge of the inherent values of the earth and the attendant consequences of these on both humanity and the biosphere, the theory of ecocriticism has been adopted for the study, as no other theory can better aid the explication of the selected poems with a view to exposing the inherent qualities of the earth, and condemning the destruction of the environment by human beings.

Definition of Concepts

Two of the concepts in ecocriticism germane to this study are anthropocentricism and ecocentrism. It is necessary to explain them since they are central to the study. Also, it is important to explain the concepts of ―other(s)‖ and ecology as used in this research.


Anthropocentrism has to do with the human assumption of superiority over other parts of nature (the nonhumans). Abrams sees it as an orientation in ―the interest of human beings‖ (72). The advocation in the anthropocentric mode is the human opposition to the nonhumans, as well as human superiority over ―others‖ and his freedom. The hallmark of this, according to Abrams, is ―to exploit natural resources and animal species for their own purposes‖ (72). This idea is deeply rooted in The Bible, the sacred books or documents and teachings of other religions and Western philosophies, which have accorded man the dominant position in the scheme of things, with the exception of some of the religions of the Far East (the Orientals) which accord the animals some measure of equality with humans, at least in the spiritual realms. For example, in The Bible, God gave man ―dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth‖  [emphasis mine] (Genesis 1:26).  This message is emphasized in verses 28-30:

28And God blessed them [Adam and Eve], and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth. 29And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat. 30And to every beast of the earth, and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given every green herb for meat and it was so [emphasis mine].

A philosophy such as this, in the hands of humans who think only of their comfort, could produce nothing less than the destruction of the harmony that ought to exist between the humans and nonhumans, and also further the subjugation and exploitation of the nonhumans. Humanity seems to have lost sight of the injunction to ―replenish the earth‖ and have concentrated on the phrase ―subdue it‖.


Ecocentrism is a reaction to the conditions generated by the situation of anthropocentrism as demonstrated by human beings. It focuses on the presentation of the earth as being inherently beautiful and rich, and calls on humanity to see the environment as valuable, and so treat it with tenderness. Abrams states that ecocentrism is, ―the view that all living things and their earthly environment, no less than the human species, possess importance, value and even moral and political rights‖ (73). This is the root of ecocriticism and ecoliterature, which, as earlier observed, is a focus on the interrelationship between literature and the environment or the ecosystem.


This simply refers to all other creatures other than humans. It involves the nonhumans, ranging from the biggest in size to the smallest; the living and non-living things; the vegetations and non-vegetations; bacteria, viruses as well as elephants; all land dwelling beings as well as the land with all its minerals and nutrients; the waters and the water-dwelling creatures and the minerals therein, the air and everything in existence. It is these that ecoliterature tries to salvage.


According to Robert Leo Smith and Stuart L. Pimm, ecology is also called bioecology , bionomics , or  environmental biology; [the] ‗study of the relationships between organisms and their environment. Some of the most pressing problems in human affairs—expanding populations, food scarcities, environmental pollution including global warming, extinctions of plant and animal species, and all the attendant sociological and political problems – are to a great degree ecological.‘(NP)

 The word ecology is said to have been coined by the German zoologist, Ernst Haeckel, who, according to Smith and Pimm, ―applied the term oekologie to refer to the ‗relation of the animal both to its organic as well as its inorganic environment‘‖ (NP). It must be pointed out here that environment refers to all other organisms, the physical surrounding as well as the relationship both within and between individuals from other families. And it is the interaction among all these which has been described as ecosystems. This has also been altered by human activities by increasing the atmospheric carbon dioxide, which is also a greenhouse gas with all its attendant negative effects on man and all.


 This is a term used to refer to the whole biological constituents of the earth. According to Ecological Society of America, biodiversity refers to ―the range of variation found among microorganisms, plants, fungi, and animals. Also the richness of species of living organisms‖ [sic] (1). Similarly, Natasha de Vere has stated that ―biodiversity is the variety of life on earth and includes variation at all levels of biological organisation from genes to species to ecosystems. Genetic, organismal and ecological diversity are all elements of biodiversity with each including a number of components‖ (1). Biodiversity is essential to the totality of the earth.

According to Ecological Society, ―biodiversity is intrinsically valuable and is important for our emotional, psychological, and spiritual well-being. Some consider that it is an important human responsibility to be stewards for the rest of the world‘s living organisms‖ (1). It may be proper to add that it is not only valuable to humanity, but to the earth as a whole, and so the need to protect it becomes very important.


 The concept simply means to sustain. This carries the idea of not destroying whatsoever is involved, at least not to the extent of making it go into extinction. According to Tom Kuhlman and John Farrington, ―The concept of sustainability was originally coined in forestry, where it means never harvesting more than what the forest yields in new growth…. The concern with preserving natural resources for the future is perennial‖ (3437). What this means is that with the stock preserved, there will be provision for the future. This is the whole idea of sustainability. It therefore carries the idea of tending the biodiversity on earth. About this, Kuhlman and

Farrington have said that, ―traditional beliefs enjoined thinking in terms of stewardship and concern for future generations (3437). 


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