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Analysis of ''Vanity'' by Birago Diop

''Vanity'' by Birago Diop exposes the negative effects of embracing western culture[colonialism on Africans].
“vanity” portrays the foolishness of the living have failed to honour their dead ancestors.'' Vanity'' is a poem of lamentation, the poet laments that much of the problems bedeviling the African society stem from our disregard for African tradition and over-dependence on the Western culture. In the poem vanity, Birago Diop expresses his disapproval for Africans who have belittled the African tradition by cherishing and glorifying the alien cultural lifestyle. He didn't forget to mention that those who had downgraded their African root suffered it; leaving the signs of their punishment everywhere:
"Just as our ears were deaf
To their cries, to their wild appeals
They have left on the earth their cries
In the air, on the water, where they have traced their signs
For us blind deaf and unworthy Sons"

In the second stanza, the poet explains that people would mock them, no one would listen to them, no one would want to help them because they have neglected their roots

In the third stanza, the poet further  talks about the civil unrest and sufferings they go through in their lives.

In the fourth stanza, the poet  talks about another greater  punishment that awaits the people
''When our Dead comes with their Dead''
this means the ancestors[our dead] will punish the people[their dead symbolise punishment]

''when they have spoken to us in their clamsy voices-''-this means that the ancestors have spoken to us,they have warned us but we disregarded their pleas and warnings
'' just as our ears were deaf

To their cries, to their wild appeals

Just as our ears were deaf''
The forefathers have pleaded with them not to forsake them but they disobeyed, therefore the ancestors will not listen to their pleas
They would remember their warnings and regret not ever listening to “their clumsy voices”. Their forefathers had cautioned them against abandoning their culture and heritage for western civilization. African elders are full of wisdom and have seen the future ahead of the educated young ones who have jettisoned the African ways because the imperialist branded them primitive. So, they make “wild appeals”, but the educated elites turn deaf ears to “their cries”. The forefathers “have left on the earth their cries” even with warning signs everywhere, but the people are blind and deaf and could “see nothing” in the gradual extinction of their black heritage. Thus, they are referred to as “unworthy sons” for trading their rich cultural legacy and beliefs for western lifestyle.

The poets ends the poem by insinuating that the ancestors have the ability to punish the living

''and since we do not understand the dead
since we have never listen to their cries''

not being able to understand the dead here means we cannot decipher what they are capable of doing.

Author's Biography-Birago Diop (11 December 1906 - 25 November 1989)was a Senegalese poet and storyteller whose work restored general interest in African folktales and promoted him to one of the most outstanding African francophone writers.He was also a renowned veterinarian, diplomat and leading voice of the Négritude literary movement.


1. We have the theme of African cultural decadence. The message of the poet shows that Africans are no longer following the valuable paths of their ancestral living which happen to be the only way African culture can remain intact.

2. The theme of irreversibility: The title and the chosen words of the poet through his pessimist tone show that the deed is done and will never be undone.

He claimed that even his lamentation will go in vain because their "ears were deaf" and they were also "blind deaf and unworthy Sons".

3. The theme of death and punishment
4.The negative effects of colonialism

5. The vanity of life

6.The annihilation of African heritage
7. Disobedience


The poem is written in 30 lines with unequal stanzas. There is an elaborate use of rhetorical questions which are being repeated for emphasis sake. These rhetorical questions are mockery of the precarious situation the French Africans would face due to the rejection of their culture. In fact, the rhetorical questions and repetitions summarise the poet’s main preoccupation.

“Who then will hear our voices without laughter?”
“What eyes will watch our large mouths?”
“What heart will listen to our clamouring?”
“In the black depth of our plaintive throats?”
“Just as our ears were deaf”
“In the air, on the water, where they have traced their signs”

Poetic Devices/Figures of Speech

1. Rhetorical Question: This is most evident in the poem. The poet uses rhetorical questions to expresses his worry and emphasises his seriousness over the subject matter of the poem.
“Who then will hear our voices without laughter?” “Who then will hear us without laughter?” “What eyes will watch our large mouth?” “What heart will listen to our clamouring?” “What ear to our sobbing hearts?”.

2. Repetition: This is seen throughout the poem.

3. Sarcasm: This is mocking humour.
line 4 ''sad complaining voices of beggars'';

4. Simile: “What ear to our pitiful anger which grows in us like a tumor”.

5 Synedoche: “What hearts will listen to our clamouring?”

6. Personification:  In Vanity, the poet gives life to dead ancestors through the use of personification.

“When our Dead comes with their Dead, when they have spoken to us in their clumsy voices”.

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