Once Upon a Time by Gabriel Okara Poem Short Summary

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“Once upon a time” is a poem written by Gabriel Okara, a Nigerian poet. The Title is an interesting choice because, before a line of the poem is read, it links the poem to childish stories, fairy tales, that finish in a “happily ever after”, but there is always an obstacle, or you may call it a “bad guy”. Okara starts of the poem with “Once upon a time” which shows how far it is into the past but it has not been forgotten. The poem starts off as being portrayed as a negative tirade.

Okara uses the metaphor “laugh with their hearts” to represent the honesty that they had in the past because the heart would represent love and this showed that they clearly enjoyed laughing and it was an important factor in their past. The quotation “laugh with their eyes;” has the same effect of showing that they were soft and felt emotion. The fact that it is an end-stopped line emphasises the change in the paragraph from the past to the present.

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The next line, “laugh with their teeth” resembles the contrast of the past with the present by Okara using soft and fragile organs to represent happiness in the past by the fact that people were not afraid to let others make them feel happy so let themselves appear vulnerable and no one would take advantage but strong bones to represent the present and how no one can trust anyone and people would jump at the opportunity to use someone how is vulnerable. The Repetition of “laugh” emphasises how important it was in the past and how much it was need in the present.

There was sibilance present in the metaphor “Search behind my Shadow” to indicate the suspicion and the fact that people would search everywhere shows the importance of the “laugh”. These points made strongly give the poem an appearance of a tirade, whereas the use of an epithet “son” shows he is talking to someone and give some hope at the start that it may change to a plea. In the second stanza Okara continues missing the past and complaining about the present which gives off an image of the poem to be a tirade. He uses “indeed” which makes his story seem more truthful.

The emphatic position of “Now” at the beginning of the line emphasise the contrast between the past described by Okara and his present. An example of enjambment would be “the left hand search my empty pocket”. This creates a pause between the two actions, shaking his hand and the stealing. This stanza also helps create an unpleasant image of the poem as a tirade. The third stanza is very similar to the first two with only techniques to support the idea that the poem is a tirade. The end-stopped line “for then I find the doors shut on me. represents a physical image of the doors shutting. The exclamation mark outside the speech marks, “’Feel at home’! ’Come again’”, shows the sarcasm the author thought was present. The simile “faces like dresses” shows that specificity of the faces, it would suggest that they are made for special occasions, like a dress. The list – “homeface, office face…” – makes the reader questions whether the author is a real person because he puts on so many disguises. The quotation “conforming smiles” suggests that although he has a smile for each face, he disassociates himself from the identities.

When the author writes “I have learned…” he admits in one line that he has learned to play the game. This is interesting because “learning” is an inescapable process; it also suggests that he may be disappointed with himself for becoming the person he is. The fifth stanza starts with “And” which hints to the reader that many things are yet to be spoken off. The quotation “laugh with my teeth” shows the dramatic change he has achieved because of the change from the second person pronoun at the beginning of the poem to the first person pronoun.

The guttural alliteration “good bye… good riddance… glad to meet you” changes the tome to show him change completely from a victim to “one of them”. The plosive “being bored” emphasises how rude he has become. From the beginning of the poem until the next stanza the poem has been a negative tirade for there was nothing suggesting he would be looking for any help to change. This stanza is a turning point in the poem, this is emphasised by it staring with “But”. From this stanza the poem in transformed from a tirade to a positive plea from the author.

This can be seen through the repetition of “I want”, which shows how unfulfilled his life is because he wants so many things. The end-stopped line “thing. ” Shows how important he believes his last wish is. The simile used in the last line, which is end-stopped, “my teeth like a snake’s bare fangs! ” shows how embarrassed he is with the person he has changed into and strengthens the desire he has shown to become who he was earlier in the stanza, “I want to be what I used to be…”. Because the quotation “I was like you” was need to be mentioned shows how vastly he has changed.

The fact that the author, Okara, is asking his son to teach him how to become what he was, “show me how I used to laugh”, shows how desperate he is to change. This is also strengthened by the repetition of “show me”. The last to stanzas really show that this poem is a positive plea rather than a negative tirade because he is desperate to change. The desperateness of his desire to change is also emphasised by the fact that he wrote 5 stanzas to build up the demoralising description of what sort of a person he thinks he is to then beg in the last two stanzas for help to change back.

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Once Upon a Time by Gabriel Okara Poem Short Summary. (2016, Dec 25). Retrieved from


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