Welcome! Our literature lessons continues, do have a great moment studying with us!

Lesson Note

Subject: Literature In English
Topic: Summary Analysis of the poem “Piano And Drum” by Gabriel Okara.
Lesson Objectives: This lesson is aimed at helping learners understand the poem Piano And Drum”. So by the end of the lesson, the learners should be able to:

  • In few sentences sa the author is;
  • Identify and write about setting of the poem;
  • Discuss the forms and meter of the poem;
  • Identify and discuss the themes in the in the poem;
  • Identify poetic devices used in the poem;
  • Recite the poem “ piano and drums“.

Lesson Summary Aids: see reference materials below content.

Lesson Summary / Discussion

The very first time I heard of the poem piano and drums, I actually thought it was mere sound until I got a copy and read. After digesting the content, the expression of the poem deeply opened my mind and focused my thinking to African setting. And as an African, I could feel the pain of the poet having lost my identity to the western colonization in the name of civilization. This whole thing reminds me of an adage which says “you don’t know the value of what you have until you have lose it”. That is exactly the situation we Africans have found ourselves today. Though it is a good thing we are doing everything possible to retract our long footsteps but we can’t be sure until we get it back completely.

Below is an analysis of the poem Piano and Drums. Do have a wonderful time studying with is..

Meet The Poet

Gabriel Okara is one of the prominent African poets. He was born in 1921 and raised to be an Ijaw man at Bumadi village in Niger Delta, Nigeria. His full name is known as Gabriel Imomotimi Gbaingbain Okara.

As an African renowned poet, he is noted to be someone who fathoms African culture right from the onset. He is cognizant of the ways at which Africans are biding with their cultural orientation. In such case, he exerts an African musical instrument, drum that is peculiar to their primitive culture to make a stand for Africans and their culture in his poetic presentation. The drum is actually a symbol plied by the poet in order to make delineation for Africans.

Ordinarily, there are some other things or items that can still be stated as the Yoruba entity is taken as a case study to represent the whole Africa since Yoruba is one among enormous entities in the continent.

Primarily, drum is known as an instrument that its users sometimes use to carry on communication because drum as it is has its own language that can only be understood by learned individuals. Logically, drum normally is a musical instrument that provides beats to music. It provides rhythm to music and makes dancers perform to the tune.

Notwithstanding, drum is an instrument of communication that has its own language. Wole Soyinka and D. O Fagunwa in “The Forest of a Thousand Daemons” page seven say “like the sonorous proverb do we drum agidigbo (drum), it is the wise who dance to it, and the learned who understand its language.” This ratifies that the drum has its own language and the language can only be understood by people who had experience of how drum sounds.

Take for instance in some years dated back, there would be a set of drummers that would come to the king palace early in the morning to wake the king up with the drum. Once the drum sounded, the king would understand what his drummers were trying to orate with the drumming. That is drum at the stage of performing communication function.

Likewise among the drummers themselves, they used to communicate with one another with their drums especially when they did not want common people to get an earful of what they were telling one another let alone apprehending it. Yoruba used to say that “no one knows what drum is saying exactly like the drummer”. This is given confirmation that drum as an item of African culture has a language that can be interpreted only by learned.

This is what Africans had been addicted with before the arrival of the western people who introduced their culture that included instrument among which piano was one. No one in Africa had piano until white men barged into Africa. That is why the poem personae employs the piano to represent western culture and used drum to assume the role of African culture. The effect of European cultures can be seen among African ways of life that include speaking, dressing and others. This is the apprehension of the poet Gabriel Okara as depicted in the poem “Piano and Drum”.

Therefore in the poem, the poet conducts comparison and contrast between the drum and piano that indirectly indicates comparison between African culture and western culture. He is showing how he is feeling about both cultures. That is to say, whatever he says about piano is indirectly referring to European culture brought to Africa. In other words, whatever he says about the drum is indirectly attributing to culture of Africans. He actually uses both to present conflict that exists between the two worlds.


One effect of Africa’s contact with Western European culture is that the cultural identity of the African has been seriously compromised. The apparent inability of the now-decolonized African to reconcile those cultural values and norms of his authentic African past with the new, foreign modes of life continues to form the subject matter of the works of many post-independence African writers.

Gabriel Okara is one such African writer.

In his poem, Piano and Drums, Gabriel Okara uses symbols, diction and imagery to effectively demonstrate the African’s sense of loss of his cultural identity.

Just as it is the case with much of post-colonial African poetry, the persona in Gabriel Okara’s Piano and Drums is caught between two fundamentally different ways of life – African and European.

The immediate effect is that the African finds himself in a cultural dilemma. Should he follow the new foreign culture and abandon his own or is there a way for him to create a form of synergy between the two?

This is the new African’s dilemma. He is in a state of confusion and has been struggling ever since to rediscover himself.

Subject Matter of Piano and Drums

Piano and drums expresses the feelings and thoughts of a man belonging to and living in a primitive society in contrast to that of the western society. The poet being an African himself, and having studied in a western society, the poem reflect the confusion in his emotions as well as the loss of self identity. the title of the poem itself piano and drums displays a sense of the similarity and contrast as the instruments are so unalike in terms of sophistication. Throughout the entire poem, the poet incorporate the instruments to further Express, true music, how the speaker is feeling. By using well-structured stanzas and poetic devices such as imagery, symbolism, sensory detail, personification, diction etc, okara is able to immerse the readers into the difficulties of cultural conflict and the confusion of a person in the midst of the two contrasting societies.
The poem is divided into four stanzas. The first two stanzas represent the “drum” culture;
The second two stanzas show the “piano” culture.

Piano and Drums: Stanza One

In the first stanza of Piano and Drums, the persona speaks of finding himself at dawn deep inside an African jungle. He is specifically at a riverside. The sounds he begins to hear in this natural setting are authentic African rhythms coming from traditional African drums.

I hear jungle drums telegraphing

the mysitic rhythm, urgent, raw

like bleeding flesh, speaking of

primal youth and the beginning

These sounds remind him of the original way of life of the African before the Europeans brought their culture to the continent.

The persona also sees wild animals that inhabit the virgin forests of Africa:

I see the panther ready to pounce

The leopard snarling about to leap

And the hunters crouch with spears poised.

Piano and Drums: Stanza Two

The subject matter of stanza two of the poem, Piano and Drums,is a direct consequence of the persona’s experience just narrated in the first stanza. The persona’s encounter with the original natural environment of his homeland has had a somewhat magical effect on him.

He is transported way back to his roots. The freshness and simplicity of this now-forgotten African past is vividly portrayed in these lines.

at once I’m walking simple

paths with no innovations,

rugged, fashioned with the naked

warmth of hurrying feet and

groping hearts

in green leaves and wild flowers pulsing

Here then is a long-gone African past. It is an African past untainted by any form of foreign influence. It is marked by purity and innocence. We can hear very loudly the persona’s longing for the return of this pre-colonial period.

Piano and Drums: Stanza Three

Therefore, it is with dismay that the poet realizes that his experience as described in stanza two is nothing more than a dream. In stanza three of Piano and Drums, the persona returns to the reality of the present time.

This is a period when the original African way of life has undergone radical transformation. This is not very pleasing to the persona. The present period is buffeted by European influences.

Then I hear a wailing piano

solo speaking of complex ways

in tear-furrowed concerto;

of far away lands

and new horizons with

coaxing diminuendo, counterpoint

crescendo …

These foreign influences are, at the very least, confusing and disconcerting at the same time.

Piano and Drums: Stanza Four

Unlike the first three stanzas, the fourth stanza of Gabriel Okara’s poem, Piano and Drums, is relatively short. Four lines in all. But it is a set of four powerful lines that aptly summarizes the present situation in which the African finds himself.

In fact, this fourth stanza of Piano and Drums ends the poem on a pessimistic note.

We can see that the persona is caught between the desire to go back to his original African roots and the trappings of the new modern way of life with all its innovations. Thus, he is left “wandering”, not knowing exactly what to do or the best choice to make.

And I lost in the morning mist

of an age at a riverside keep

wandering in the mystic rhythm

of jungle drums and the concerto.

The persona speaks to us about his sense of loss. He is clearly being pulled on both sides; in two different directions – the lingering overtones of his glorious African past and the influences of a new foreign culture. He is clearly in a state of dilemma.

So the poem Piano and Drums ends on an inconclusive note. The cultural confusion of the present reality of Africa has not been resolved.

Important Themes in Piano and Drums

The following is a comprehensive list of the themes worth considering in Gabriel Okara’s Piano and Drums

  • Piano and Drums treats the theme of the unending clash or conflict between African culture and European culture. This is the inevitable outcome of European contact and colonization of Africa for more than five centuries.
  • The poem Piano and Drums also deliberates on the African’s loss of his original identity following his contact with foreign European way of life.
  • Piano and drums treats the issue of modernity versus old ways of life.
  • Another important theme in Piano and Drums is the need to preserve the positive aspects of African culture.
  • The theme of the effects of western culture on African traditions is another way to look at the ideas expressed in Piano and Drums.

Let’s now turn our attention to the poet’s use of poetic devices to highlight the various themes in Piano and Drums.

Poetic Devices in Piano and Drums

  • Diction and Imagery

Diction and imagery always move together. They are like two opposite sides of the same coin. One cannot function without the other.

In Piano and Drums, the poet employs specific words and expressions to evoke images that go to highlight the central theme of the clash between African tradition and European culture.

Just take a look at some important expressions that are used in the poem.

Imagery relating to the original African setting and its cultural heritage

This is effectively portrayed in the following expressions

  • Riverside – visual imagery of the African natural environment
  • Jungle, green leaves, wild flowers – Visual imagery of the African natural vegetation
  • Mystic rhythm – Auditory imagery of the African cultural heritage
  • Raw, naked warmth, rugged – Visual and gustatory and tactile imagery of the purity and innocence of the uncorrupted pre-colonial African way of life
  • Primal youth, beginning, suckling, simple paths, no innovations, – This ties in with the predominant image of the original, uncontaminated African culture before the contact with Western culture.
  • Panther, leopard – These combine to further evoke visual images of original African natural environment before the introduction of Western technology – What the poet refers to as “innovations”.
  • Hunter, spears – occupational imagery evoking memories of the pre-colonial African way of life
  • Pounce, snarling, leap, crouch, poise, ripples, turns torrent, walking, hurrying, groping, pulsing – these verbs are deliberately chosen to depict the vitality of the African past. The visual and auditory imagery in these action words go to emphasize the persona’s deep sense of attachment to his African roots.

All the above instances of diction and imagery have largely succeeded in highlighting the poet’s attitude to his cultural heritage. His attitude is one of deep attachment and nostalgia – a yearning for the return of the heyday of African traditional way of life.

Imagery relating to foreign European culture

Let’s now take a look at the poet’s use of diction and imagery to depict the introduction of Western civilization on the continent of Africa and its corrupting effect on the original African way of life.

  • Far away lands, new horizons
  • Wailing, tear-furrowed concerto – auditory imagery of a disruptive foreign culture
  • Complex ways, coaxing diminuendo, counterpoint crescendo – It depicts the difficulty the persona faces as he tries to understand and assimilate the new way of life.

Other poetic devices and figures of speech in Piano and Drums


Gabriel Okara has employed two musical instruments as symbols of each of the cultures that he portrays in Piano and Drums.

This is not surprising at all since music and dance are universally considered as an integral part of a people’s cultural heritage.

  • Piano

This represents foreign or European culture. Piano is a symbol of modernity and technological innovation.

  • Drums

This stands for traditional African cultural practices. The use of the drum as a musical instrument in many cultures dates back to a period long before the piano was invented.


  • Raw like bleeding flesh – the freshness and vitality of the African natural environment and its way of life are emphasized in this comparison


  • The naked warmth of hurrying feet

In this powerful metaphor, we find the same positive aspects of Africa and its traditional way of life that the poet is at pains to portray throughout Piano and Drums.

Here are instances of the use of metaphor in Piano and Drums that evoke images of the state of cultural dilemma the persona now finds himself. As we have observed, this dilemma follows Africa’s encounter with a completely strange culture.

  • Lost in the labyrinth of its complexities – the persona’s sense of loss and confusion is powerfully evoked in this metaphor.
  • …It ends in the middle

Of a phrase at a daggerpoint

This is a continuation of the image of the sense of confusion and loss referred to early on.

Run-on lines

The fast-paced run-on lines in the first two stanzas of the poemPiano and Drums go to emphasize the persona’s idea of a very lively natural African environment before the continent’s contact with the Western world.


  • Lost
  • Mystic rhythm
  • concerto

The poet’s repetition of “lost”, “mystic rhythm” and “concerto” goes to depict his deep sense of confusion having to deal with what appears to be two diametrically opposed ways of life at the same time.

The repetitive use of the first person singular pronoun “I” shows that not only does the poet consider the situation to be a public one. He also considers it to be a deeply personal issue.


  • …Turns torrent

Topples the years …

The imaginary found here is one more pointer to the vitality of the African past.


From the poem, it can be scrutinized that there are only four stanzas with 29 lines or verses in the poem. The first two stanzas have 16 lines together that make full description of the drum as the poet perceives it. In that, feature and peculiarities of African culture is portrayed. Whilst the other two stanzas with 13 lines describe piano and show how the poet personae perceives the culture of colonial masters. That shows the complexity and technicality of the culture.

The tone and mood atmosphere of the poem seems to be sad and displays that there is regret in the poet’s mind as a result of negligent side that Africans have turned to their culture.

Done studying?

Our previous lessons might interest you!

Summary Analysis Of Crossing The Bar By Alfred Tennyson

Summary Analysis Of The Pulley By George Herbert

Summary and complete study guide of lonely days by Bayo Adebowale

Summary Analysis Of The School Boy By William Blake

Summary and Analysis of Ambush by Gbemisola Adeoti

Summary and study guide on faceless by Amma Darko

Harvest of Corruption by Frank Ogbeche: A complete study guide

Othello by Shakespeare: plot summary, setting, themes,devices, characters and roles.

Summary Analysis of The Panic Of Growing Older by Lenrie Peters

Summary Analysis of The Native Son by Richard Wright

The Blood of A Stranger: summary and complete study guide


Summary And Analysis Of The Poem Vanity By Birago Diop.

Literary Terms Used In Prose

Introduction to Literature: definition, Genres, importance: Complete study guide.

WAEC syllabus for Literature in English 2020/2021

“Okara, Gabriel 1921–|Encyclopedia.com”. http://www.encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 25 January 2020.

the-piano-and-the-drums” litionaryblog.wordpress.com/2017/12/19/. Retrieved 25 June 2020.