Civilian and Soldier Summary, Analysis, and Themes



Poet's Introduction; Wole Soyinka, Civilian, and Soldier

One of the most prominent post-colonial literary figures, Wole Soyinka, a Nigerian poet, novelist, and playwright, was awarded Nobel Prize in literature. Some of his famous works included poems from Prison, A Shuttle in the Crypt, The Lion and The Jewel, The Trials of Brother Jero, Death and the King's Horseman, and A Dance of the Forests.

'Civilian and Soldier' was written in reaction to escalating violence in Nigeria, which later gained the shape of a three-year-long civil war that lasted from 1967 to 1970. The poem examines a soldier's predicament when attempting to shoot a civilian. The narrator, a civilian, observes the soldier's cruelty willingness or, unwillingness to carry out his superiors' orders and murder the civilian.


The poem depicted the civil war by depicting atrocities and murders of civilians, which were also revealed by the soldier's distress. Although the soldiers sympathize with their actions, they had no choice but to follow instructions from their commanders, where no one knew the origins.


First Stanza

My apparition rose from the fall of lead,

Declared, 'I am a civilian.' It only served

To aggravate your fright. For how could I

Have risen, a being of this world, in that hour

Of impartial death! And I thought also: nor is

Your quarrel of this world.


This is the introduction of the poem where the dead man is himself speaking. He says that his apparition has soul when he was just about to die because of the fire in the bullet of the soldier at that time and his soul got up and started to address the soldier by saying “I am a civilian and I am the part of the same country from where you belong too. And this thing according to the soul, the soldier got even more frightened and he tried to hit him with his bullet as much as possible. Here the soul asked a question; what was the reason that the soul came forward in order to realize that he was a civilian and was not a soldier to combat.

And the civilian was supposed to be defended and protected by the ordinary man. But this is common in the contemporary world where a soldier hits his own civilian because of the order of high authority which leads to internal as well as external instability. The soul is kind here and he understands that it’s not the fault of the soldier but the authority. We observe here that the soul is very much kind and soft attitude but the attitude of the soldier is harsh. As a result, a comparison between the soldier and civilian has been drawn.

Second stanza

You stood still

For both eternities, and oh I heard the lesson

Of your training sessions, cautioning -

Scorch earth behind you, do not leave

A dubious neutral to the rear. Reiteration

Of my civilian quandary, burrowing earth

From the lead festival of your more eager friends

Worked the worse on your confusion, and when

You brought the gun to bear on me, and death

Twitched me gently in the eye, your plight

And all of you came clear to me.


The soul continues to say and try to understand why the soldier has killed him. The soul says that he understands that the training of the soldier makes him very cautious and he needs to take care of everything to stop any kind of danger and aggression. When the soul retreated the soldier has no right to kill the civilian but the training affects him too much. In the same way, many things keep on happening although the soldier and civilian should have been confronting each other it leads to fighting and they become enemies of each other. As a result, the soldier hits the civilian and the soul still does not consider him responsible for that rather it’s his training that makes him brutal and oppressor. He did not blame the soldier. The higher authority’s order and commandment compel him to kill the soul otherwise the soldier is also part of civilian society.


 Third Stanza

I hope someday

Intent upon my trade of living, to be checked

In stride by your apparition in a trench,

Signaling, I am a soldier. No hesitation then

But I shall shoot you clean and fair

With meat and bread, a gourd of wine

A bunch of breasts from either arm or that

Lone question - do you friend, even now, know

What it is all about?


The soul continues with the same tone and here something different has been portrayed. So the civilian says one day is going to come and the soldier will be killed and his soul will also get up in the same way with the same words. He says I m a soldier. He would not kill the soldier as he killed him instead he tried to feed him well by giving him bread and wine. The soul ultimately raises a question that why it is happening, the killing.



Major themes in the poem Civilian and Soldier are as under.

Soldier’s dilemma and Brutality

Teaching and training of the soldier

Civilian’s sacrifice

Division of humanity


Colonial imprinting


Representation of the contemporary society

The poem is interpreted by MSM YAQOOB, the CEO and Founder at this platform. 

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