I am going to compare and contrast two poems that have a common theme of people’s assumptions and racial stereotypes. The two poems are ‘On Judgement Day’ by Sipho Sepamla and ‘”Telephone Conversation”‘ by Wole Soyinka. The poet of ‘On Judgement Day’, Sipho Sepamla, was born in 1932 and died in 2007 on January 9th at 75 years old. He was a contemporary poet, who focused on South African lives, and novelist. Sipho lived most of his life in Soweto. He studied teaching which later led to him publishing a first volume of poetry, ‘Hurry up to it!’ in 1975. He was active in the Black Consciousness movement and published a second poetry book ‘The Soweto I Love’ it was banned by the Apartheid regime.
He was also a founder of the Federated Union of Black Artists. The poet of ‘”Telephone Conversation”‘, Wole Soyinka, is a Nigerian writer, poet and playwright. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986, the first African to be so honoured. In 1994, he was designated United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) Goodwill Ambassador for the promotion of African culture, human rights, freedom of expression, media and communication. The poem was later published in a book, ‘The Literary/Political Philosophy of Wole Soyinka’ by Yemi D. Ogunyemi. The poem is about a telephone conversation which he had with his London landlady in 1962; this is also the year the poem was created.
The two poems focus on the same basic theme of racial stereotypes and people’s assumptions of black people. ‘On Judgement Day’ focused more on people’s assumptions about what kind of jobs black people should have and what kind of people they should be, so therefore racial stereotypes, this is shown very much in the first stanza and is a recurring theme that is brought up all through the poem.
An example of this, from stanza 1 is the line ‘black people are born singers, black people are born runners, black people are peace-loving’, which is very presumptuous about black people suggesting they are all the same. ‘”Telephone Conversation”‘ is based mainly on the theme of racial discrimination, for that reason it then links with racial stereotypes as the woman in the poem is being racist because of what she assumes black people are like. An example from this poem of this theme is ‘”I am African” Silence.’ She does not know what to say because of her preconceived idea of black people.
The two poems are very different in the way they are read; ‘”Telephone Conversation”‘ is quite funny in the way that in can be interpreted, with Wole Soyinka using wit and sarcasm to get his point across, it still has a very strong message but is said in a much less serious way. For example when the woman on the phone asks if he is dark or light, he replies by saying “You mean–like plain or milk chocolate?”, which can be understood in a very condescending context to the woman, he is making fun of her and of how she judges people. It makes light of the situation even though he is most likely very fed up and upset about the way people are towards him. ‘On Judgement Day’ is much more formal, serious and can be inferred as quite solemn; even its title is more serious in what it refers to.
Also the poem is written in a more poetic way and isn’t so obvious in the message it is trying to convey, you have to read more into what he is saying. For example the line “and have writhed with the pain of humiliation”, in the 3rd stanza, not only has the meaning that they have had shame because of apartheid or slavery but also because of their lack of freedom. Another difference in the two poems is the structure of them; ‘On Judgement Day’ has a very formal structure that contains many gaps to give the reader a chance to pause and time to think about what’s being said and to respond.
Only once was the formality broken when the poet says ‘my foot’, which inputs a comment. ‘”Telephone Conversation”‘ has a very informal structure with sentences following onto the next line and only being broken by commas and speech being in all capitals. The tone in which the two poems are presented is quite different, as ‘On Judgement Day’ is not very complex and although some of the context can be quite cryptic and you really have to read into it, it is still simply structured. Whereas in ‘”Telephone Conversation”‘ it comes across through the vocabulary that she is much less educated than him as his vocabulary is more complex and proper.
In my opinion, I prefer ‘”Telephone Conversation”‘ as I think how Wole Soyinka talks back to the woman in a sarcastic and witty tone is funny, yet also gets the point across of not judging people before you know them, in a very good and different way. Furthermore, I like how she is judging him because she has the false stereotype of black people to be unintelligent, whereas in fact in this poem she is the one who is less educated as this is shown when he uses a more complex vocabulary and she becomes confused and doesn’t understand. The two poems make me feel quite angry towards people of that time for being so judgemental and racist towards the Afrikaans and for making them feel like they weren’t of part of their own country, but at the same time they make you feel sorry for people, that they were so uneducated of different races and cultures that they closed their mind to other people.