REFUGEE MOTHER AND CHILD (A Poem) by Chinua Achebe

No Madonna and Child could touch
that picture of a mother’s tenderness
for a son she soon would have to forget.
The air was heavy with odours

of diarrhoea of unwashed children
with washed-out ribs and dried-up
bottoms struggling in laboured
steps behind blown empty bellies. Most


mothers there had long ceased
to care but not this one; she held
a ghost smile between her teeth
and in her eyes the ghost of a mother’s
pride as she combed the rust-coloured
hair left on his skull and then –

singing in her eyes – began carefully
to part it… In another life this
would have been a little daily
act of no consequence before his
breakfast and school; now she

did it like putting flowers
on a tiny grave.


Chinua Achebe (1930 – 2013) is one of Nigeria and Africa’s most recognised and decorated writers. He is more renown for his novels and essays. He came to limelight as a poet with the publication of her book, Beware Soul Brother and other poems (1971), published in America as Christmas in Biafra and other poems (1971). The volume was joint-winner of the Commonwealth Poetry Prize in 1972. Chinua Achebe continues to be an inspiration to several people around the world.



Some all-rounded writer with the wits to turn anything and everything to words with inspiration... cheering to glory and on...

14 thoughts on “REFUGEE MOTHER AND CHILD (A Poem) by Chinua Achebe

    1. Quite so. I have read this a lot of times and yes, it makes so much sense. Paints so many pictures… Thanks for commenting Ephraim. Means much.


  1. “…children with washed-out ribs and dried-up bottoms stuggling in laboured steps behind blown empty bellies.” This piece by Achebe captures the pain and human story of Biafra and all wars in general. The haunting experiences of the most vulnerable victims of war (women and children)…painted so vividly, tugs at the heartstrings.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Reading the poem brings strong images that leave me close to tears. Simple and yet so deeply painful.
      I thank you for the comment… and for making me read it once more Lady Juliet…

      Well done on WWN… You inspire.


  2. i remember the first time reading it in my high school days, since then iv refered to ot whenever i feel like life is unfair anf sudenly count my blessings… a very thought provoking poem, i love it with every fibre in me.


    1. Hi Teboho, I agree. This is a deep poem, quite deep. Deeply sad. I can easily understand what you are saying. There’s no time I read this poem that it does not speak to me. Thanks for commenting and making me get to this poem once more…you can’t say what that means to me. Thank you.


  3. poet, narrator, novelist, story teller, really a giant in the use of rhetoric, Achebe has sketched the conditions of colonized….indeed it is mournful…


    1. Indeed, Achebe’s loss is most mournful. Fortunately, there are those who he has inspired to take over. ..and they are doing their best.
      Thanks Stash for stopping by…


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