By Chinua Achebe

In the greyness
and drizzle of one despondent
dawn unstirred by harbingers
of sunbreak a vulture
perching high on broken
bones of a dead tree
nestled close to his
mate his smooth
bashed-in head, a pebble
on a stem rooted in
a dump of gross
feathers, inclined affectionately
to hers. Yesterday they picked
the eyes of a swollen
corpse in a water-logged
trench and ate the
things in its bowel. Full
gorged they chose their roost
keeping the hollowed remnant
in easy range of cold
telescopic eyes…

indeed how love in other
ways so particular
will pick a corner
in that charnel-house
tidy it and coil up there, perhaps
even fall asleep – her face
turned to the wall!

…Thus the Commandant at Belsen
Camp going home for
the day with fumes of
human roast clinging
rebelliously to his hairy
nostrils will stop
at the wayside sweet-shop
and pick up a chocolate
for his tender offspring
waiting at home for Daddy’s

Praise bounteous
providence if you will
that grants even an ogre
a tiny glow-worm
tenderness encapsulated
in icy caverns of a cruel
heart or else despair
for in the very germ
of that kindred love is
lodged the perpetuity
of evil.

 Summary of Vultures

  • Popularity of “Vultures”: “Vultures” by Chinua Achebe, a Nigerian poet, is a beautiful piece of poetry. The poem first appeared in 1971 in Collected Poems. The poem obliquely presents the stark reality of colonialism and its impacts on the locals. The beauty of the poem, however, lies in its metaphor of vulture that feeds on dead bodies and still loves each other amid the ruins.
  • “Vultures” As a Representative of Colonial Mindset and its Predatory Tactics: Chinua Achebe presents a vulture sitting on a dead tree looking despondently in the rain with greyness in the atmosphere. It is sitting close to another vulture, showing love with each other having bald heads as if pebbles in the grass. Yesterday, they had had their fill with a swollen-eyed corpse. They gulped everything. Now they are waiting for the next onslaught of hunger to be ready to eat up the rest. Yet, they are showing love with each other among the dead bodies, sitting in the charnel house and taking rest. Similarly, the Commandant at Belson also treats his subjects cruelly and predates on them. Yet, when he leaves his duty and goes home, he brings chocolates for his offspring, showing tenderness of his heart. Leaving it to the readers to draw the conclusion, Achebe says that God must be praised for showing love and tenderness residing in the hearts of predators such as ogre as well as showing evil in some the hearts of some “kindred love.”
  • Major Themes in “Vultures”: Predation, love and barbarism are three major thematic strands of this poem. Achebe has beautifully presented the predatory rapacity of colonialism through the Commandment at Belson, equating him with the vultures enjoying their feast at the charnel house. Yet, Achebe says that both show the other side of their barbarism that is love. When vultures have their full, they show love for each other and when the commandment is tired of cruelty over his subjects, he shows love and tenderness for his children. The poem, then, asks the readers to praise the Lord that he has put love in hate and hate in love in almost all his creatures.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “Vultures”

literary devices beautify poetically or prose writing to make the text readable. The analysis of these devices in the poem as given below shows this fact.

  1. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line such as the sound of /o/ in “and drizzle of one despondent”, /a/ in “dawn unstirred by harbingers” and the sound of /e/ in “feathers, inclined affectionately.”
  2. Alliteration: It is the use of successive consonant sounds in the initials of the successive words such as /h/ in “his hairy” and /th/ in “thus the.”
  3. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line such as the sound of /d/ and /r/ in “dawn unstirred by harbingers”, /l/ and /s/ in “rebelliously to his hairy / nostrils will stop,” and the sound of /g/ and /n/ in “that grants even an ogre.”
  4. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example;

for in the very germ
of that kindred love is
lodged the perpetuity
of evil.

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. The poem shows the use of imagery such as “will pick a corner”, “tidy it and coil up there, perhaps” and “at the wayside sweet-shop.”
  2. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between the objects that are different. The poem shows the use of metaphors of vulture or ogre to show rapacity and predation.
  3. Personification: The poem shows the use of love as a personification as if it has life and emotions of its own.
  4. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. The poem shows the use of symbols of night such vulture, dead tree, dump, and charnel house to show predation and rapacity of colonialism.

 Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in “Vultures”

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is the analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction and Tone: The poem shows very simple but comparative diction with a serious and sardonic tone.
  2. Free Verse: The poem does not follow any metrical pattern or rhyme scheme. Therefore, it is a free verse poem.
  3. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are four stanzas with each having a different number of verses.

Quotes to be Used

These lines from “Vultures” are relevant to quote when praising the Lord for his blessings.

Praise bounteous
providence if you will
that grants even an ogre
a tiny glow-worm
tenderness encapsulated
in icy caverns of a cruel