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Vultures by Chinua Achebe
Poet & Context
Born in Nigeria in 1930 where his father worked for Church Missionary Society.
After uni studied broadcasting at BBC then worked in Lagos for Nigerian Broadcasting
One of the most admired African novelists who write in English.
His novels trace Africa's transition from traditional to modern ways, and he writes with a
mission, believing that any good work of art should be purposeful - an idea stemming from
oral tradition of African storytelling. He is interested in speech and his novels present a wide
range of language, from English spoken by the Ibo to formal English. He also writes poetry
He married in 1961 and has four children.
He became an honorary professor at the University of Nigeria in 1985.
Ideas and Emotions
Looks at the love between two vultures who are actually unpleasant birds, and the love of a
concentration camp commandant for his son
Questions whether this is a blessing that they still have some love, or if it should be mourned
that they can only show love to their families
Structure & Rhythm
Free verse, with lines of different lengths.
The lines are short, so we read the poem slowly and appreciate its full horrors.
Divided into four sections, each marked by an indented line rather than a new stanza,
perhaps emphasising the logical flow of ideas.
The title is deceptive, as while the poem begins with the vultures, we realise they are a
symbol of evil and their main purpose is to introduce us to the theme of the poem.
The description of the vultures in the past tense, but the Belsen Commandant is described in
the present tense, perhaps to remind us that evil is all around us now, and in past.
The concentration camp Commandant cannot escape the evil deeds he has performed - 'the
fumes of human roast [cling] rebelliously to his hairy nostrils'. The word 'roast' connotes to
food, so it is doubly repulsive that he then buys 'chocolate' for his 'tender' child.
Achebe leaves the poem with hope because love can exist in even the most evil creatures,
or with despair as despite that love, they still commit evil.
Opening lines are dark with alliteration of "d", which creates a heavy and despairing
Vultures described with metaphors of horror and death
Personification of love, as a woman finding a place to sleep, questioning why she chooses
the vultures, which are places of death. But she has her "face turned to the wall" suggesting
she is choosing to ignore the horrors.
Use of word "Daddy" suggests innocent childhood affection. In the line "Daddy's return" it is
as if the man is a different person from the camp to his home
Clichéd images of ogres and cruel hearts, suggesting there has always been love and evil in
The "germ" of love cannot grow as it is in "the perpetuity/of evil", so is not nurtured