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This research is a syntactic analysis of the various and different grammatical units and ranks that flourish the poetry of Wole Soyinka as they compare with those inherent in Joe Ushie’s.  Through a systematic parsing and linguistic plus literary interpretation of Soyinka’s and Ushie’s different syntactic structures using the Hallidayan concept of categories in Systemic Functional Grammar (SFG), the paper demonstrates the efficacy of analytical approach in the vitiation of the contemporary generalized charges of Soyinka’s (and poetry generally) obscurity and inaccessibility in relation to other modern poets, for example, Ushie as studied in this paper.  It proves that beyond the syntactic blend of the much talked about polysyllabic and arcane phraseology of Soyinka lie other factors that, over the years, have remained academically insignificant to scholars.  In carrying out this research, 10 poems of Soyinka from Poems of Black Africa, A Selection of African Poetry and West African Verse, and ten 10 poems of Ushie from two of his collections – Eclipse in Rwanda and A Reign of Locust – have been selected, the examination of which reveals that the sublime nature and language of poetry is natural of this genre and is accessible if approached with the right tools and from the right perspective.  Using Holliday’s Systemic Functional Grammar (SFG) in the analysis of this work, it can be established that Soyinka’s alleged arcane and mythopoeic diction by his students can, like other poets’, be accessed. In doing this, the paper seeks to exorcise from students the fear of poetry generally and seemingly difficult poets, like Soyinka, in particular.



1.1       Background to the Study

In spite of the indispensability of poetry study and reading in literary enterprise – poetry being an integral part, one of the genres, of literature – a great many students still lead a decline in the value and interest placed on poetry.  And although some educated few delve into poetry (usually as the last resort), they do so with a calculated evasion of the morphosyntactic constituents of its language – a situation that is not unconnected with the very complex nature of poetry itself.

The justification of this complexity is captured in the words of Housman (1933, p. 15) thus:

The mysterious grandeur would be less grand if it were less mysterious; if the embryo ideas which are all that it contains should endue form and outline, and suggestion condense itself into thought… There is a conception of poetry not fulfilled by pure language and liquid versification ….

It is these complexities – which add lustre to this genre – that birth the mythopoeic diction and its accompanying arcane syntax for which poets, for example, Soyinka in comparison with Ushie, as studied in this research, are known, and that gave birth to and constitutes the nub of this study.

            But this paper, although is not unconcerned with the form of poetry, is primarily given to the contents – the semantics –of the syntax of poetry hence, it, in a bid to dig out the meaning embedded in the structures of selected poems for this study expended itself to revealing the inherent beauty of poetry. This is because, to a large extent, form and contents, in the final analysis, would blend.  According to Osoba (2001, p. 190), ‘what exists between the duo – ‘form’ and ‘content’ – is not ‘an artificial wall but a dialectical relationship in which the former informs the later and the later elucidates the former. ‘Form’ as conceived here, it must be noted, is concerned with the style or shape or structure of the identifiable groups.

            In extracting these meanings, we will delve a bit into some stylistic approaches to meaning – monism, dualism and pluralism – with particular interest in the last two, dualism and pluralism. These two, as opposed to monism (which depends on the view that for a given text there is ideally only one correct interpretation, irrespective of the change in style), share something in common, that a text can mean and function in different ways than one.  For the dualists, it is believed that a change in the use of language influences the meaning.  In other words, a change in linguistic calibration, leads to a change in meaning realization, so that when a particular utterance is expressed in different ways different impressions are got, which impressions further breed different meanings of the same utterance.  It is in view of this that Halliday (1985) divides language use into ideational, textual and interpersonal, which among other things, constitute the concerns of pluralism.  All this that we are considering is interestingly accounted for in the syntax of the language.

            Therefore, syntax (especially of the poetry of Soyinka and Ushie), which is the core concern of this research is, according to Chomsky (1957, p.11) defined as ‘the study of the principles and processes by which sentences are constructed in particular languages.’ And Stockwell (1977, p.1) cited in Ufot (2009, p.304), posits that it is ‘the study of various aspects of how sentences are formed and how they are understood in particular languages.’ We can deduce from these definitions that components are brought together to form structures in languages not haphazardly but by following observable rules.  This is little wonder then that Dever (1978, p.10) describes syntax as ‘the way in which we arrange words like building blocks to construct sentences that express our ideas.’

            From the foregoing, therefore, it can be said that the study of the syntax of a language of a text presupposes the study of the combinatorial rules that govern the formation of linguistic structures of that text.  The linguistic structures that will be used in the syntactic analysis in this study will be drawn from 10selected poems each of Soyinka and Ushie.  This study will focus on how the structures in these poems are different from those of every-day conversation; how this ‘defamiliarizes’ the reader with the text and how meaning can still be made from the structures with recourse to plus application of the theory of Systemic Functional Grammar (SFG) propounded by Michael Alexander Kirkwood Halliday.  In doing this, the relationship between syntax and other levels of language study will be shown, because this relationship is necessary in deciphering the message of a poem. In line with this, Udofot (1999, p. 14) says‘… no level of grammatical analysis is an island unto itself but rather … interaction between morphology and other levels; phonology, syntax and semantics.’  

1.2       Statement of the Problem

            Several researches have been carried out on both Soyinka and Ushie in their use of language from various angles. Few have been done, however, in the area of syntax in their poetry. And almost all students at all levels – and even teachers alike – have over the years complained of the difficultly of the language of poetry generally and that of Soyinka in particular – a situation highly attributable to the deliberate distortion of the syntax of the language of expression.  In relation to this, Ufot (2006) avers:

Soyinka’s varied experience including his educational background … international travels and pro-democracy activism have imbued in him a remarkable predilection for arcane and mythopoeic diction as well as generally hermetic language for which he has often been panned by critics and writers alike.

This linguistic extravagance and sophistication has, among other things, created a semantic hiatus between students plus general readers and Soyinka’s poetry, hence, this study will prove an invaluable contribution to scholarship as it seeks to subject Soyinka and Ushie’s language use to syntactic analysis.  The purpose of this syntactic parsing is to nip the problem of meaning in their poetry in the bud from the different categories of linguistic analysis – word, phrase, clause and sentence – using the SFG model.

1.3       Objectives of the Study

            The aim of this research is to parse syntactically some structures drawn from the poetry of Wole Soyinka and Joe ushie to show how these poets, in their structures adhere to or deviate from the combinatorial rules in English syntax.

            The objectives of this study are to, among others:

1.         group into different syntactic structures the utterances and/or expressions in the poetry of Soyinka and Ushie;

2.         subject the identified structures to a systematic parsing and linguistic plus literary interpretation;

3.         investigate and show how each of the poets employed those different syntactic units;

4.         through a comparative analysis show the disparity and the similarity between Wole Soyinka and Joe Ushie in their poetry.

1.4       Significance of the Study

Many a student does not like poetry because he/she does not usually readily understand it, albeit he/she enjoys its form.  This problem of semantic hiatus may be largely due to impatience and lack of diligence. Since meaning is usually compressed in poetry using sublime language, it takes to understand it, hence, the need for ‘thorough effort’ more than that involved in reading and understanding novels or drama.  For this a great many are frustrated.  Because poetry is unique and grand, it must be approached differently; every word is significant – is a contributor to the network of meaning conveyed in the poem – and must be considered in its (poetry) study.

Against this backdrop, therefore, this study is significant as it seeks to provide a model for readers through the subjection of inherent linguistic structures in the selected poems and their constituents to a systematic and syntactic parsing, with the general aim of elucidating the poems.  The study will prove useful to students of English as it will serve as a linguistic window through which they will access the poet and his/her language. It will be of interest to all users of the English language and lovers of poetry as well as encourage further researches in syntax as a field having been found useful in poetry explication.

1.5       Research Methodology

            In this study, we will, following the random sampling method, isolate the different syntactic categories – the word groups, the clause and sentences.  Our choice of this method is given the fact that not all groups, clauses and sentences in the texts can be selected and analyzed.  This conforms to the view of Adejare (1992, p.14) cited in Afuananya (2008, p.4) that:

… in any text, the linguistic structures conveying the message projected at the different levels would be evenly distributed throughout the text and thus enable the analyst to select the proper examples from the data.

We will use the Systemic Functional Grammar (SFG) model to see how each of the poets studied handled those different syntactic units.  How the poets adhered to or deviated from the structures of these groups will be revealed. The primary source of data collection for this research will be the selected poems of the two poets – 10 poems of Soyinka from Poems of Black Africa, A Selection of African Poetry and West African Verse; and 10 poems of Ushie from Eclipse in Rwanda and A Reign of Locust.  Information will also be sought for and obtained from the library, journal articles, research projects and text books.

1.6       Scope/Delimitation of the Study

            This study will be exclusively syntactic, and analysis will be conducted through the following syntactic levels; groups, clauses and sentences. We will in the analysis show how the constituents of each of the levels mentioned combine towards the elucidation of the texts under consideration.

1.7       Theoretical Framework

Systemic Functional Grammar (SFG) is one of the approaches to linguistics usually associated with Michael Alexander Kirkwood Halliday.  The theory analyses grammar on the basis of components of the language as well as the functions that such a language performs, hence, according to Ufot (2009, p. 17) ‘…a two-pronged approach to the analysis of English.’ Put simply, the theory, in terms of components, describes language on the basis of the relationships among the various units of the different ranks, and from the perspective of functions, views language as a system of meaning – creating choices. (cf. Ufot 2009).

            According to Halliday and his associates, this theory specifies three levels, four categories and three scales for the description of the operation of language. Prasad, (2008) goes further to expatiate upon the levels, the categories and the scales.  According to him (ibid.), the levels describe a language on the levels of form, substance and context, where substance refers to the material of language both spoken – a phonic substance manifesting itself as audible noises – and written – a graphic substance manifesting itself as written symbols.  Form studies language analysis on the basis of lexis and grammar, while the context may be described as the nonlinguistic and the linguistic contexts.

Nonlinguistic in the sense that it is concerned with the relation of form to the relevant aspects of the situation in which language operates.  And linguistic, because it relates form to linguistic features other than those of the items in focus.

            The other specification of this theory is the categories.  According to the systemic linguists, the grammar of English consists of five categories on the rank scale as follows:

·         Sentence

·         Clause

·         Group

·         Word

·         Morpheme, (Ufot, 2009).

It must be noted that these five, according to Prasad (2008), are seen as the unit which itself is an aspect of the category, alongside structure, class and system; and these constitute the basic framework of the theory on which this research is anchored.  We now discuss them in detail below.

1.7.1    Unit

As had been hinted upon earlier, this category of language contains five units that carry grammatical patterns in the English language. The units– sentence, clause, group, word and morpheme –are built up one inside the other.  What this implies, according to Ufot (2009, p.18), is that, ‘…each category functions as element of structure in the category directly above it so that one or more morphemes make up a word, words make up a group, groups make up a clause, and one or more clauses make up a sentence.’ This way of looking at the arrangement from down (smallest) to up (biggest) is, in systemic grammar, called syntax; and as morphology when the arrangement is downwards from the sentence to the morpheme, where ‘ each category comprehends as its structural elements, the category directly below it,’ (ibid. p. 18).  Thus, according to Halliday cited in Prasad (ibid. p. 106),

The relation among units, then, is that going from top(largest) to bottom (smallest), each consists of one, or of more than one, of the units next below (next smaller).

Each of those units, according to Lamidi, (2008, p. 17) ‘… has a peculiar structure that enables us to pattern it according to its units.’ Below are presented some examples to illustrate this point:


 (1).Un- (prefix) + faith (root) + -ful (suffix) = unfaithful

(2). Coin (root) + - s (inflectional suffix)= coins.


         Love, lecture, kind, woman, etc.


          (1). A beautiful house;

          (2). have gone;

          (3). in the room;

          (4). by night;

          (5). so humble, etc.


 (1). When Taremi left;

          (2). that broke her heart;

         (3).whom you brought, etc.


 (1). I will succeed.

 (2). Cyril has published an anthology.

 (3). Magdalene speaks Oron.

1.7.2    Structure

Structure accounts for the nature of the patterns that the units carry.  It deals with the arrangement of elements in order.  In terms of group structure, MHQ is, for example, the structure of the nominal word group (NG), where M is modifier and refers to word(s) that occur(s) before the head of a group; and H is the head of the group and refers to the key word --- the obligatory element --- for that group.  The keyword of an NG is usually a noun; for adjectival group (AdjG), an adjective, etc.  Lastly, Q represents qualifier and refers to a word, word group or a sentence that occurs after the head word.  According to Prasad, the structural element may be represented thus:

Modifier + Headword + Qualifier


Premodifier + Headword + post modifier



For the sentence structure, the form is usually SPCA, where:


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