Poetry by the late Harry Garuba, from Shadow and Dream

The JRB presents an excerpt from the new reissue of the late Harry Garuba’s poetry collection, Shadow and Dream.

Shadow and Dream: Alive in Poetry
Harry O Garuba
Langaa RPCIG, 2023


Shadow and Dream

a band of worshippers insolently intone
incantations beneath the tattered shawl of leaves

a little bird flaps its wings in the thin air
drenched in the full colour of sunset

a leaf stirs with the light wings of a meteor
and drops silently into my childhood nest of laughter

and I recall, through frayed amber edges of a blurred past
the memory of the strange quiet of an evening

an evening in the tale of elders
I recall a dream of wings and the horizon.

Love Quartet


I sought you among these barren rocks
I sought your footprints in the sands
I sought your face among desert mirages
Among the clashing images of a decadent age

Like the wind in endless search I called
At waterless wells and dry fountains
Seeking the nest of your voice
Among the song-stores of estranged poets
And you came to me one blustery morning
When laughter exploded in the cheeks of children
And I saw your face in the rippling mirrors of the sea
You came to me with a grasshopper smell of fresh grass

The misty morning drips drowsy dew on your eyes
This dark-faced woman of my dream.


My Peasant Queen of Springs
You rose with the sun
Rinsed your eyelids with pure dewdrop
And threw off the enchanted veil of dawn

A smile is threading the thin spread of your lips
In white sputum—a smile beyond the lure of wine
Dancing patches of light filtered through palmfronds
Foretell our local lore of sunrise

And I who beheld your body naked as dawn
Before the stream with the scars of the past
Only I saw your unclad beauty
And felt your struggle against the sorrow of Seasons
Your beauty that never graced the backs of postcards
Your sorrow which could not bear the smear of print.


Miracle Woman, I’ll sing your legend
In the homestead where hunger peers in the
face of toothless wisdom
In the streets where famished children longingly wait
Weary with hope for the blessing of rain

Miracle woman, I’ll sing your legend
When the wind teases the leaves with wet dreams
When petals open expectant for rain
And granaries are filled beyond fruited dreams

The wind does not terrify the leaves
It only soothes the irritant eyelid itch
Your name is beyond the leer of robbers
And your peasant beauty beyond the curse of detractors

Miracle woman, I’ll sing your legend
Till it kindles joy-kilns in the hearts of beggars.


Listen to the murmur of these waves
Riding the humps of the sea to these sands
The salty sigh of the tired mistresses of the sea
The white sweetness of the love in the coconut’s heart
The mermaids were pulsating at the edge of the sea
Lending coral breath to the surf-washed pebbles
My voice was the thunder that scratched your doorstep
On a distant night seeking its fleeing echoes

That night when I slipped the wind of earth
Between your thighs in a joyous cascade of rain­flakes
When the seeds are dancing in the womb of the gourd
And the wine is fermenting in the gourd of your Womb
I’ll await the birth of flowers on skeins of leaf
and this will be the moment of our love.


The wine we shared that night
Did not grow out of our heads
But out of the earth we trod
The wine we shared that night
Did not ferment in our souls
But out of the earth we trod
Between the kernel and the wine
In the ancient womb of earth
Has grown our brimful dream.

No songs tonight, my love

There are no songs, my love, no songs tonight
The moon has hidden its leprous face behind the trees
And the night threatens with darkness the last farmer’s footfall

Evil birds are twitching, witches are wandering
And the owl with cold glassy eyes is hooting

There are no songs, my love, no songs tonight
The fire you see is not the lambent home hearth
Only the flame points of death seeking bullets
No songs my love: darkness and death, holding hands
Have come to steal the peace of sleep.

I want to dance out of my skin

out of your curious history
I take these phases of love and betrayal
I read them in fissures on my palm
They are braided into lines of anguish
in my stained memory.
(For Moremi)

You flushed the flurry of day
And the uncertain eagerness of night
With your moonlight presence

Like the wind you moved beneath the creepers
Exploring the secret of green leaves
Emerging, you lingered with your scars of love

Royal, your sadness is like a grain planted
In a night of blood, a night of love,
Your sadness is the betrayal of the Gods

Yet I want to dance in the blood
of your flesh, in the throbbing
pulse of your betrayed blood

In this time of betrayal of tribe and kin
I want to dance in your eyes of rain
Cleansed for the warrior’s task
The rain is beating the rhythm of a leper’s song
A god’s kinsman is in a rage tonight hence

I can dance ecstatic before your presence
Like a tree on a windy day.
O! I want to dance out of my skin.


  • Born in 1958 in Akure, Nigeria, Harry O Garuba, poet, literary critic, and distinguished professor, was the nominal leader of the Thursday Group, an influential gathering of poets that emerged from the Poetry Club, University of Ibadan, during the nineteen-eighties and nineties. The poets, who were also fondly called the Thursday People, imposed stringent standards upon themselves in mastering their craft. Garuba and the rest of the group believed poetry as an art form was meant to be lived and experienced in its entire range even if it entailed transcending the boundaries of sensibility, convention and nationality. Garuba eventually became a respected professor of literature and Africa studies at the University of Cape Town, where he died in 2020.


Publisher information

Harry Garuba’s Shadow and Dream, a slim yet highly influential collection which immediately gained a cult following, has continued to elicit the awe of poets and lovers of literature within the Nigerian literary scene. 

First published in 1982 when Garuba was still in his early twenties, it demonstrates an uncommon maturity, vision and understated confidence that have rarely been encountered ever since its initial release. 

With the publication of this edition together with a new Foreword and Introduction, Garuba’s landmark work moves from cult status to canonical validation.

Photo: Victor Dlamini

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