Analysis of "Hunt of the Stone"

Hal Horton '93 (English 32, 1989)

In his poem, "Hunt of the Stone," Wole Soyinka relates a lightning-ritual performed by the priests of the Yoruba god Shango in order to comment on all religions. The priests in the poem are driven to find the thunderstone, symbolic of the divine essence of the universe; as long as they search with their ritualistic magic, they will never uncover it. The poem's narrator, a counterpart of the author, sees the thunderstone in its fall; the "awesome rhapsody of light" blinds him but makes him serene in his oneness with the universe. The failed ritual indicates the author's view that the theme that religions fail to bring their followers to peace with the universe.

The thunderstone in its falling has burned a deep hole, a "clean ascetic silo" through an "unholy" garbage heap, creating a "primeval shrine." Soyinka uses the image of the shuttle, referring to both the caged bird and the loom-shuttle, in describing the universe as a "tapestry of cycles." Tapestries classically symbolize the universe (as with the weaving Fates of Greek Mythology), in that many single strands come together into one whole. In the same way, the tapestry of natural cycles embodied by the thunderstone represents all of the universe brought to its essence.

This thunderstone, a manifestation of the divine, attracts men as the magnetic poles attract lodestones; the priests of Shango search for the thunderstone, but "they know not why." The priests resemble ants in their blind search for the stone, casting spells about the dwelling of the hermit, where the stone, "the slumbering centre of the universe," has made its "Visitation," but the search is hopeless. Here Soyinka expresses his opinion on religion; as they tend their incense lantern fires, the priests "hover, full of evil rites" that symbolically create the larger fires of hell.

A single spectator witnesses the fall; the fact that the "agent" watches through a spyhole, like Soyinka's cell hole that looked out onto the hanging yard, indicates that the spectator represents the author himself. The stone has made the spectator mute and blind for his audacity in watching, but has also brought him knowledge; he sees through the priests' religion and awaits his destiny, "peaceful in passage of the looms."

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