Ambush Analyzed: Subject Matter, Themes and Poetic Devices

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Hello. We are about to do a thorough analysis of the poem, Ambush.

Ambush is a poem written by Gbemisola Adeoti, a Nigerian poet.

This analysis of the poem Ambush is expected to enable any student of African Literature, and African Poetry for that matter, to get a clear understanding of the subject matter of Ambush, its themes and literary devices.

Without much ado, let’s have a quick look at the subject matter of the poem Ambush by the Nigerian poet, Gbemisola Adeoti.

The poem, Ambush is basically about what the persona considers to be the numerous obstacles to individual and social progress in a society endowed with awesome human and natural resources.

These problems are a direct result of the objectionable actions and inactions of the political class in Nigeria.

Each of the four stanzas of Ambush is devoted to exposing one particular aspect of the above subject matter of the poem.

Ambush: Stanza One

In stanza one of the poem, Ambush, the poet begins it all by comparing his country to “a giant whale”. The land has built a terrifying capacity for shattering the dreams of its people.

Like the whale, Nigeria has become a beast of prey. It swallows its own, together with their potentials and aspirations, never sparing any one of its citizens.

“The land is a giant whale

that swallows the sinker

with hook, line and bait

aborting dreams of a good catch”

Stanza one ends with the poet comparing the widespread lack of achievement or underachievement in his native land to what happened to the biblical Peter before Christ Jesus came to his rescue.

“fishers turn home at dusk

blue Peter on empty ship

all Peters with petered out desires.”

Thus, much as the people are hardworking, innovative and resourceful, the unfriendly political and economic environment makes it almost impossible for them to realize their life dreams.

Each day, they come back home from their endeavours extremely exhausted but with very little to show for their efforts.

Ambush: Stanza Two

The second stanza of the poem Ambush focuses on the reign of terror and lack of security in the society.

The land, controlled by the rich and powerful is compared to “a saber-toothed tiger” that instills the fear of God in ordinary citizens.

Anybody, young or old, who dare challenge the status quo or make any attempt to improve their circumstances, is promptly suppressed. The heavy-handed might of the corrupt state security apparatus is, indeed, like a ferocious tiger waiting in ambush to clamp down on dissent and revolution.

Rather than be an enabler, the land and its leadership have become a stumbling block to personal and national development.

“While infants shudder home

the grizzled ones snatch their gut

from bayonets of tribulation

halting venturous walk at dusk.”

Ambush: Stanza Three

The third stanza of Gbemisola Adeoti’s poem, Ambush, is made up of only three, and yet powerful lines.

Stanza three of Ambush continues with the description of the pervading atmosphere of insecurity and fear that characterizes the previous stanzas, especially stanza two.

Just that this time, the comparison shifts from the giant whale in the sea and the saber-toothed tiger on the land to a giant hawk in the sky.

There is fear, there is despondency and there are obstacles everywhere in the Nigerian society.

Just as the powerful giant hawk hovers and hoots in space, announcing approaching disaster for its victims down below, so does the land hold only a promise of aborted dreams, insecurity, poverty, disease and squalor for its people.

Ambush: Stanza Four

This last stanza of the poem, Ambush sounds more like a concluding statement from the persona. Thus says the poet in stanza four of the poem, Ambush:

In brief, the country, the land and its leadership have become the people’s enemy rather than their partner in the quest for a better standard of living.

The state has not only failed in its sacred duty to create the kind of environment that will enable every Nigerian to work and realize their dreams. In fact, it has actively done everything, placing obstacles everywhere and lying in ambush ready to prevent the ambitious ordinary Nigerian to blossom and prosper.

“The land lies patiently ahead

awaiting in ambush

those who point away from a direction

where nothing happens toward the shore of possibilities”

Themes in the Poem, Ambush

It is now time for me to give you the important themes in Ambush.

  • The themes of failed political leadership and unfulfilled dreams

Gbemisola Adeoti, the Nigerian poet, laments in his poem, Ambush, over the denial of opportunities to his fellow countrymen and women by greedy, corrupt and incompetent political leaders.

The persona’s preoccupation in the poem Ambush is about the fact that the ordinary sons and daughters of the land have been deprived of their birthright. Their cherished dreams and hopes have been hijacked and crushed on the rock of greed and sheer incompetence by a ruthless political class.

It is the successes of individuals that ultimately translate into national development. Unfortunately, the sceptre of failed governance hanging over the land makes this impossible.

To the poet, the land has remained a sleeping giant, unable to harvest the fruits of its full potential, simply because the people have so far been denied the opportunities needed to achieve their personal goals.

The persona laments over the fact that whichever way the people turn, no matter the dreams they harbour in their hearts, and whatever efforts they make, there is always an obstacle waiting to put fear and the spirit of self-doubt in them. They face danger and resistance on land, in water and in the air.

It is this pervading atmosphere of hopelessness that the three animals, the giant whale in the sea, the saber-toothed tiger on the land and the giant hawk in the sky represent.

The poet attributes the people’s lack of progress to the fact that a small group of people have been able to monopolize power. They abuse it to enrich themselves at the expense of the ordinary  citizen.

These inept politicians have worked to turn the land against its people.

They have spread their evil tentacles everywhere, turning their compatriots into frightened aliens unable to fulfill their dreams in their own country.

The Theme of Fear and Terror

The poem Ambush evokes an atmosphere of fear and terror.

The tone is depressing much of the time and the mood is mostly gloomy.

Nowhere seems to be safe for the aspirations of the people to take root and thrive. The entire land has become one vast, dangerous snare. The actions of the political class have produced conditions which can only be compared to the violent tendencies of animals of prey.

These negative conditions are widespread. They are waiting to swoop down, ambush, swallow and devour any positive move aimed at personal or national improvement.

So, against this backdrop of intimidation and insecurity, the people live in fear. Their dreams stand very little chance of materializing.

The Themes of Revolution, Social Change and Hope

Despite the fact that much of the tone of the persona in the poem Ambush is pessimistic, we can still find traces or references to change and hope for the future.

In the fourth stanza, in particular, the poet lets go of despair and alludes to the possibility of a positive change amid the overwhelming socio-political problems confronting the nation:

“those who point away from a direction

where nothing happens toward the shore of possibilities”

To the poet, Nigeria, and for that matter the rest of the African continent is blessed with so much potential that it should not be allowed to remain a place “where nothing happens”.

In spite of his depressing tone, there still lingers in the poet a sense of hope.

Nigeria and Africa have what it takes to move “toward the shore of possibilities”. But those who would lead this social revolution and point the way to a new land of opportunities must be prepared to endure persecution and possible violent repression from the powers that be.

This is the only hope left for a land that is in desperate need of political, economic and social redemption.

Poetic Devices in Ambush: Diction and Imagery

Two key literary techniques the poet employs to develop his themes in the poem Ambush are diction and imagery.

Diction and Imagery

Diction in poetry refers to the poet’s careful selection of words and expressions to convey his message to his audience. A poet normally relies on certain carefully-selected expressions to evoke images that help his audience to grasp the ideas expressed in the poem.

Here come some of the important words and expressions that are used to effectively develop the thematic issues in Gbemisola Adeoti’s poem, Ambush.

Words and expressions in Ambush that evoke images relating to the  theme of unfulfilled dreams

  • Swallow
  • Shattering dreams
  • Empty ships
  • Petered out desires
  • Halting
  • Nothing happens

Words and expressions in Ambush  that depict the theme of fear and terror

  • Giant whale
  • Saber-toothed tiger
  • Shudder
  • Bayonets of tribulation
  • Dusk
  • Giant hawk
  • Unceasing disaster
  • Ambush

Words and expressions in Ambush that depict the themes of hope and social change

  • Patiently
  • Ahead
  • Point away
  • possibilities

Figures of Speech and Other Literary Devices

Apart from diction, figures of speech are also an important tool in the hands of the poet.


In the poem, Ambush, metaphor is extensively used to treat the themes of failed governance and unfulfilled dreams, fear and terror, and hope for a brighter future through social revolution.

Here are some examples of metaphor in Ambush:

  • Ambush:

The title of the poem is itself a metaphor for the methods used by the political leadership to undermine the hopes and aspirations of a whole nation.

The dreams of a whole society have been “ambushed” by the unpatriotic activities of a few.

  • The land is a giant whale
  • The land is a saber-toothed tiger
  • The land is a giant hawk

In the above three metaphors, the persona directly compares the country to animals of prey – whale, tiger and hawk. The descriptive words giant and saber-toothed evoke in the reader visual images of terror.

They point to the hostile environment that the political class has succeeded in creating for the very people they are supposed to serve and protect.

The rich resources of the motherland have been plundered and mismanaged. The potential of its human capital has been stifled. The land has become synonymous with danger, insecurity, lack of opportunities and shattered dreams.

  • Aborting dreams of a good catch

The imagery of violence used in “aborting dreams” ties in well with the sense of fear and terror we are made to experience in the next stanza as we come face to face with the menacing image of  the saber-toothed tiger.

  • “Good catch” is fishing imagery.

It refers to the great desires and hopes that have so far been dashed. This lack of personal and national achievement continues to create a feeling of despondency within the general populace.

  • Shore of possibilities

This metaphor evokes a more positive image. It contrasts sharply with much of what we find in the previous stanzas of the poem. It highlights the poet’s lingering hope for the brighter future that has eluded the country due to bad leadership.

The poet seems to suggest that all hope is not lost yet. The country still stands a good chance to effect the necessary changes that will enable it to attain its lofty dreams.

Allusion and Pun

“blue Peter on empty ships

All Peters with petered out desires”

The poet here is alluding to the biblical story of Jesus’ call of the twelve disciples.

Just as Peter, the hardworking fisherman, returns empty-handed after toiling all day at sea, so has the society the poet describes  to us has nothing  significant to show many years after attaining political independence.

The play on words, also known as pun, in “all Peters with petered out desires” goes to portray the society as a place of elusive dreams.

Situational Irony

The poet has cleverly constructed Ambush around another literary device known as irony.

The land is supposed to be the mother, the provider and protector of its children. But as we have observed, the corrupt and uncaring political class has created a situation where the land has rather turned on its own, terrorizing them, devouring them, denying them of what rightfully belongs to them and making life unbearable for them.


Here come a couple of instances of repetition in the poem, Ambush.

  • The land

The repetitive use of “the land” depicts the reflective mood of the persona. He appears to be in deep thought, brooding over what might have gone wrong with his native land.

This repetition also emphasizes the poet’s deep love and attachment to his motherland despite its current difficulties. This is a patriot whose undying love for his country cannot be questioned.

  • Giant

The obstacles are huge.

However, the poet might as well be saying that, like any other giant, the problems facing the nation can be overcome with the right leadership and the right methods.

Could Gbemisola Adeoti in any way be alluding to the biblical David and Goliath story? Your guess is as good as mine.

Alliteration and Onomatopoeia

  • Petered with petered out dreams
  •  hawk … hovers and hoots in space

The poet in Ambush makes use of these two sound devices to evoke images of emptiness, danger and fear.

Run-on Lines

Run-on lines in poetry refer to a succession of lines that are not separated by any punctuation marks.

In the first stanza of the poem, Ambush, for example, the fast-paced movement of the lines is due to the absence of punctuation marks in many places where they could have been.

“The land is a giant whale

that swallows the sinker

with hook, line and bait

aborting dreams of a good catch”

These run-on lines help to create a tone of not only fright but of urgency as well.

The poet is urging his countrymen and women to quickly appreciate the danger that is engulfing the land so as to take urgent steps to reverse the trend.

4 Trial Test Questions for Practice

  • Comment on the appropriateness of the title of the poem, Ambush.
  • What aspects of the poem make Ambush a poem of lamentation and despair?
  • Would you consider Ambush as a poem of hope?
  • Consider Ambush as a realistic poem.

Thank you.

Ralph is a professional blogger. He spends his day working as an online entrepreneur and e-learning strategist. As a digital publishing trainer/consultant, he has developed exceptional skills in SEO-content writing. He writes extensively on lifelong learning and personal development issues. Ralph is the CEO of RN Digital Media Ent - a digital publishing & content marketing services platform he founded in 2017.

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