We are the natives of the street holed-up under bridges we are necessary we are part of your existence major fragments of the globe as the day chameleons to night you slump in the warmth of your beds and the heat of loved ones we also embrace the cozy cardboard beds laid on stinks as the night injects us with cold breeze and endurance. We sleep and dream And have conferences with the indigenes of the elusive world when it's day, in bundle we pack our belongings and move on with our days standing, kneeling and bending to beg for alms just for the day necessary part of your society translators of our dreams carriers of our burdens Angels, we open gates of your blessings we are the lack that take your lack We are homeless, not hopeless This makes us rile at hereafter when death opens the gate to the second phase. — Sola Owonibi
Sola Owonibi is a Nigerian poet, playwright and university lecturer. He is an alumnus of Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife.
In “Homeless, not Hopeless”, Sola Owonibi brings to fore a circle of beggars, the lowest rung of the society, often ignored, however a necessary ingredient in the broth called human society. When noticed, they are regarded as eyesores and impediments to a flawless, perfect society. However, they are as important as everyone else in the society.
The poet also demonstrates the ubiquity of hope among the high and the low, the strong and the weak; emphasising the strong cord of hope that keeps every human being alive.
Divided into four discernible stanzas, the poem adopts the first person plural pronoun “we” and its objective and accusative variants to suggest a mass of people and the inclusivity of the speaker — that he is one of the beggars.
There is also the adoption of “you” and “your” to signify the fortunate few to justify the “we” versus “you” argument the poem is tilted towards, the wretched versus rich, suggesting a social imbalance in the distribution of wealth and the importance of money as the sine qua non for good and comfortable living.
The poem also touches on the position of “the natives of the street” as a “necessary part” of the “society” and “the major fragments of the human existence”. These homeless people constitute an alarming percentage of the world’s population.
More than once, the poem emphasises the importance of these people to the existence of humanity: “we are necessary/we are part of our existence” and “necessary part of our society”. Rich men amass wealth from the existence of the destitute. The rich also measure their wealth and blessings through the penury of the less privileged.
“Homeless, not Hopeless” opens with the assertion of a speaker that they are “the natives of the street/holed-up under bridges”. The people the speaker introduces with the inclusive “we” literally live on the streets; are homeless; and find shelter under bridges.
The poem then instantiates vivid descriptions of the precarious living conditions of “the natives of the street”, put in contrast with people with homes.
At night, the homeless people sleep on rather ironic “cozy cardboard beds” while the fortunate ones enjoy the “warmth” of their “beds”.
In their sleep, the homeless dream of windows of better living conditions closed to them in the physical world; they dream of having “conferences with/the indigenes of the elusive world”, a world of bountiful opportunities that has always eluded them.
The poem draws a graphical presentation of the pathetic situation of these indigents during the daytime. They go about their day with their belongings “in bundle”, “standing, kneeling and bending/to beg for alms”.
The poem then explores the conventional understanding of the purposes beggars serve in a society that sees them as eyesores.
In Nigeria where the poet comes from and perhaps elsewhere in the world, it is believed that when a troubled man gives alms to a beggar, the said beggar, by that act of transfer, shoulders the giver’s troubles and woes. In the same vein, one who gives out to a beggar is bound to have his generosity repaid in folds. His generosity would open “gates” of his “blessings”. That is why Yorubas are found of saying “òkè ni ọwọ́ afúni ń gbé”, a watered-down translation of which is “givers never lack”.
Taking the foregoing paragraph into account, it is least surprising that the poetic persona claims they are the “translators” of people’s “dreams” and “carriers” of people’s “blessings”; that they are “angels” who “open gates” of people’s “blessings”; and that they are “the lack” that strip people of “their lack”.
The poetic persona then makes an assertion, one that would go on to influence the title and atmosphere of the poem: “we are homeless, not hopeless”. This declaration shows the unrelenting spirit of the homeless, their optimism, and expectations of better living conditions.
In the last three lines of the poem, the poetic persona infers that only death can deny them their aspirations, neutralise their hopes of a luxurious life while here on earth. He expresses how they “rile at hereafter” when death snuffs out their dreams of accomplishments on earth.
One of the prominent themes in the poem is homelessness, the pathetic situation of beggars, referred to within the context of the poem as “natives of the street”. The poem projects their poor livelihood and insecurities, contrasting in bits their miserable experiences with those of the rich.
The poem also dwells on the theme of hope. Their dreams of luxurious life are fueled and kept alive by the hope that everything would turn out well one day; that the wheel of fate would spin in their favour someday.
“Homeless, not Hopeless” also explores the symbolic significance of beggars in the society. The poem delineates the spiritual representation of beggars.
Figures of Speech
(1) Repetition: “we” and “you” and their variants are repeated severally in the poem on word level to emphasize the two categories of people mentioned in the poem, the have nots and the haves.
(2) Paradox: “we are the lack/that take your lack”
(3) Irony: “cozy cardboard beds”
(4) Parallelism: There are just about two categories of parallelism in the poem.
“We | are | the natives of the street”
“We | are | part of our existence”
“necessary part | of | your existence”
“translators | of | our dreams”
“carriers | of | burden”
(5) Personification: “when death opens the gate” — death is treated as if it were corporeal and can open a door.
(6) Metaphor: “as the day chameleons to night” — the shifty attribute of a chameleon colour-wise is used in describing the transition of day into night.
“Angels, we open gates” — the beggars are compared to angels on a metaphysical plane, capable of opening the gates of blessings.