Compare and contrast ‘Not My Business’ by Niyi Osundare and ‘First They Came for the Jews’ by Pastor Neimoller. What are the poets’ attitudes to the societies in which they live? ‘Not My Business’ written by Niyi Osundare in the 1990s and ‘First They Came for the Jews’ written by Pastor Neimoller in 1946 are two political poems about shared responsibility. Both poems are set in countries that were cruelly affected by dictatorship. Both poems involve stories about victims of dictatorship followed by the narrator’s response towards them.
They express similar attitudes to the societies in which they live as they give a clear idea of the barbarism innocent people were subjected to and speak of the selfish attitudes of self-indulgent people, who choose to turn a blind eye towards what happens around them as long as they are not affected. Set in Nigeria, the poem ‘Not My Business’ is used by the poet to protest against and express his views about the cruel dictatorship that ruled his country under General Sani Abacha from 1993 to 1998.
This poem gives a clear idea of what the people were put through by General Sani Abacha, a usurper and a notorious dictator who took power by force. People suffered economic downturn, starvation and poverty while he was living a high life. During Abacha’s rule, writing poetry was strictly prohibited but frustrated at the situation in his home country, unwilling to back down and determined to make a difference, Osundare spoke out against the repressive regimes and regularly wrote poems for a Nigerian newspaper. Similarly, ‘First They Came for the Jews’, written by Pastor Neimoller is based around the holocaust.
In the early days, Neimoller was an anti-Communist who supported Hitler but as soon as Hitler decided on the supremacy of the state over religion, Neimoller was disillusioned and became the leading voice of a religious group who were opposed to Hitler. Consequently he was arrested and confined in concentration camps. When he was released, he carried on working as a clergyman while supporting many distraught German people after World War II. He later wrote this poem to speak of the pitiful situation in his home country. There are many similarities between the two poems.
Firstly, ‘First They Came for the Jews’ and ‘Not My business’, both involve the theme of dictatorship and injustice. It is made clear that the oppressors had unrestricted authority and were free to be openly barbaric as we can see throughout both poems that they did what they liked and tyrannized innocent people for no apparent reason. We know that people were denied of the freedom of speech, as we do not see any accounts of victims trying to defend themselves. We can imagine that anyone who expressed their views or even showed a mere suggestion of objection could have been put to death to silence them.
As a result of the situation they where put in and the fear of being subjected to extreme brutality or arguably because of their selfish attitudes, the observers stood aside watching as the dictators imposed their regime on others. Both poems aim to address this issue of the observer’s cold attitude and decision to ignore other people’s distress while emphasising the atrocity of the repressive regimes. Therefore, both poets have similar attitudes to the society that they live in because they put across the message that oppressors thrive when people are not united.
Both poets use effective poetic techniques to criticise people who choose to ignore injustice as long as it does not directly affect them at that point in time. They both stress that if people refuse to act up against injustice and opression, it will eventually affect their lives too. Hence both poems have the element of ‘what comes around goes around’, which is shown by having inconsiderate narrators who carry the persona of a selfish onlooker. They do not intervene in anything happening to anyone else and as a result of their actions both narrators face consequences, which we learn of in the fourth stanza of the poems.
Another similarity is that both poems have a sinister undertone as they talk about cruelty and oppression. In addition to this, we can see that the dictators used the police and military to impose their regime on others. These people who worked for the dictators are identified by the pronoun ‘they’, which makes them appear as outsiders and gives the impression that they are barbarous, merciless beings. Furthermore, repetition is used in both poems to convey the narrator’s attitude. Lastly, it is clear that the poets are filled with frustration and annoyance towards the situation in their countries and use their poems as weapons of opposing.
There are also some differences between the two poems. To start with, ‘Not My Business’ is more descriptive in terms of the lengthy accounts of what happened to the victims whereas ‘First They Came for the Jews’ is short and therefore kept close to the point. Osundare also uses individual names to make ‘Not My Business’ sound more intimate and personal while ‘First They Came for the Jews’ involves groups of people which shows that Neimoller is talking about the country as a whole whereas Osundare is more likely to be talking about his acquaintances or even his own family.
Secondly, ‘Not My Business’ reveals what happens to the victims but in ‘First They Came for the Jews’, Neimoller only mentions that they were taken away. As a result of this there is more obvious violence in ‘Not My Business’ making it sound extremely saddening. The different poetic devices and techniques used to express the aggression and emphasise the injustice make the poem appear more brutal whereas ‘First They Came for the Jews’ involves a dooming sense of uncertainty, leaving the reader wondering what happened to the victims.