Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 3,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."


(A little background on the poem: it is written in the form of a canzone, a type of Italian or Provencal poetry that is usually set to music.  “Debtor’s Lane” is part of the series of four canzones that Okigbo wrote between 1957-1961. An Ogene is a traditional Igbo instrument.)


A & B: THIS is debtors’ lane, this is
the new haven, where wrinkled faces
watch the wall clock strike each hour
in a dry cellar.

A: NO heavenly transports now
of youthful passion
and the endless succession
of tempers and moods
in high societies;
no blasts no buffets
of a mad generation
nor the sonorous arguments
of the hollow brass
and the copious cups
of fraudulent misses
in brothels
of a mad generation.

A & B: HERE rather let us lie in a new haven,
drinking in the air that we breathe in
until it chokes us and we die.
Here rather let us lie with wrinkled faces
watching the wall clock strike each hour
in a dry cellar.

B: THERE was the tenement
in hangman’s lane
where repose was a dream
and a knock on the door
at dawn
hushed the tenant humped
beneath the bed:
was it the postman
or the bailiff with a writ?
And if the telephone rang
alas, if the telephone rang …
Was he to hang up his life
on a rack
and answer the final call?

A & B: HERE rather let us nest in a new haven
awaiting the tap tap tap on the door
that brings in light at dawn.
Here rather let us rest with wrinkled faces
watching the wall clock strike each hour
in a dry cellar.


Originally published in Black Orpheus, Number 11, 1962.

Image via

Tags: , , , ,

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply

Welcome to Brittle Paper, your go-to site for African writing and literary culture. We bring you all the latest news and juicy updates on publications, authors, events, prizes, and lifestyle. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@brittlepaper) and sign up for our "I love African Literature" newsletter.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."


Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Is Now on Twitter

adichie twitter

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who began personally using her Facebook page in 2016 and who joined Instagram in 2017, is now […]

At 81, Ngugi wa Thiong’o Announces 34th Book, a Gikuyu Philosophical Epic Novel, 13 Years After His Last

ngugi wa thiong'o - image by leonardo cendamo for leemage - graph

Thirteen years after his last novel Wizard of the Crow, Ngugi wa Thiong’o, who turned 81 on 5 January, has […]

Kabaka Magazine, Co-founded by Romeo Oriogun and Chibuihe Achimba, Is Set to Amplify Queer Voices in African Literature | Read Issue #1


In late 2016, the Nigerian poets Romeo Oriogun and Chibuihe Achimba began discussing the possibility of creating a platform for queer […]

Review | Ebenezer Obadare Takes On Jiving Pastors and Thieving Politicians in Pentecostal Republic | Ikhide Ikheloa

ebenezer obadare - pentecostal republic (1)

Often when one thinks of African writing, it is often about fiction. African fiction is widely celebrated globally, with the […]

Sefi Atta Talks History, Her New Novel, and Writing about the Lagos Elite: In Conversation with Toni Kan

Sefi Atta the bead collector toni kan

Sefi Atta’s latest novel, The Bead Collector, is historical fiction as well as an ideological treatise. But it is also, […]

Writing with Style | Tobi Alaaka

african books - bookshy

Oris Aigbokhaevbolo’s two-day workshop, Write with Style, is both an effort to create a learning space for a growing demographic […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.