Content Analysis of John Pepper Clark’s IBADAN

running splash of rust
and gold-flung and scattered
among seven hills like broken
china in the sun.

— J. P. Clark


John Pepper Clark-Bekedermo, known in the literary circle as J. P. Clark for short, was born on 6th April, 1935 in Okiagbodo, Warri Province, Western Region (his birthplace is now in the present day Delta State), Nigeria. He attended Government College, Ughelli and later proceeded to University College, Ibadan, then an affiliate of the University of London, where he bagged his B. A. (Honours) in English.

He was a distinguished poet and playwright with works like “A Reed in the Tide”, “Casualties”, “A Decade of Tongues”, “Song of a Goat”, “America, their America”, “The Raft”, “The Masquerade” to his name.

Some of his prominent poems include “Abiku” and “Casualties”. J. P. Clark passed on on 13 October, 2020 at the age of 83.


His poem, “Ibadan” is a descriptive five-line poem about the city of Ibadan. The lyrical poem describes Ibadan in terms of its expansive but uneven terrain; the disparities between the old and the new sections of the city, the poor and the rich in the city.

The poet begins his discourse with the one word, “Ibadan”, one that might provoke the question in a reader’s mind, ‘what about Ibadan?’

The referenced city was known for its military might during the pre-colonial period. Ibadan is the current capital of Oyo State and in fact, the largest city in the whole of West Africa. This ancient city constitutes roughly forty percent of the Oyo State’s population.

The second line of the poem runs a graphic description of Ibadan, its expansive landscape of old buildings with rusted roofs: “running … rust”, a lasting reflection of the city’s long history. The poet also pictures the chaotic and unplanned arrangement of these buildings.

The third line is contrastive of the second line. There is a graphic representation of new buildings, symbolised by “gold” which is in tandem with the glittering roofs of the new buildings. And like the old buildings, the new buildings are also not well arranged, they are jumbled, and “scattered”, lending credence to the unplanned arrangement of the city.

In the fourth line, the poet describes the uneven terrain of Ibadan, considering the fact that it is hilly, a city “among seven hills”. An implicit interpretation of this line could be the socio-economic imbalance between the people from “running splash of rust” section and people from “gold-flung” section. The last line of the poem seems to justify this presupposition.

Line five of the poem, a continuation of line four, “like broken/china in the sun”, speaks of the visibility and dominance of the glittering section over the old section. A broken china, to which it is compared, when exposed to the sun, only has its glassy part shinning while its inner layer is dull. The poet spells out the contrastive features of Ibadan, a descriptive process he initiated right from the second line of the poem.

A prominent technique used in the poem is enjambment, wherein a line runs into another. There is a good use of it in the quintet.

J. P. Clark’s “Ibadan” draws on the disparities between the old and the new sections of the city, the poor and the rich. The poem also touches on the disorderly and chaotic arrangement of the city using lexicons such as “splash” and “scattered”.

Hence, apart from the thematic focus on Ibadan, other discernible themes include the disparities between the poor and the rich, and the dynamism of human existence.

J. P. Clark’s “Ibadan” has influenced several works from other writers. One such work is Under the Brown Rusted Roofs by Abimbola Adunni Adelakun, a novel which focuses on the “rust”, the other side of the fringe explored in J. P. Clark’s “Ibadan”. Adelakun’s novel, which was shortlisted for the NLNG Prize for Literature, explores the everyday lives of the people living in these antique but strong buildings, and the dramatic happenings under the rusted roofs.

Under the Brown Rusted Roofs

Figures of Speech

  1. Simile: “like broken/china in the sun”
  2. Alliteration: “running … rust”

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