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Vulture: Summary

"Vultures" is a poem by Chinua Achebe. The poem “Vultures” speaks broadly about life and humanity, using the specific example that evil beings like vultures and the commandant in the Belsen camp are alike, both fighting for survival and happiness. The vulture,“perching high on broken bone of a dead tree” is fighting for survival by feeding off dead animals. In the same way, the commandant tries to survive by killing innocent people. However, they both have some good in them; the vulture loves the other vulture and the commandant loves his baby.

In the first stanza a very dull and lifeless atmosphere is created. The poet describes the,“…greyness and drizzle of one despondent dawn” and how the vultures“ picked the eyes of a swollen corpse in a water-logged trench”. They eat disgusting food in order to survive. 

In stanza two, the poet starts to contemplate how love can exist in such an evil infested place, and how love is not affected by evil as seen in the line of the poem“her face turned to the wall!”.

Stanza three begins with an ellipsis to link the vultures with the commandant of Belsen. After a day of burning human bodies, the unattractive commandant with hairy nostrils still manages to show his love for his baby. “Tender offspring” makes the children looks as if they are human bodies ready to be burnt. 

The poem finishes with the last stanza wrapping up the whole poem. It says in a contemplative tone and asks if we should thank God for the tiny speck of good we find in evil or should we feel despair for the evil that will stay forever.

The poem is roughly divided into four sections. The first of these observes two vultures as they scavenge for food amongst human remains before resting up with each other as mates. The second section shows the rebellious nature of love and how love always will be present. The third section follows the Commandant of Belsen as he buys sweets for his beloved offspring. Both of these support the observations in the final section which ruminates on how even in the most evil person, love can take shape, whereas in every love there is the smallest speck of evil.

The underlying philosophical question of the poem is: "Should we rejoice at the presence of good in the least likely of places, or despair at the fact that it is the very presence of this good that allows for the perpetuity of evil?"

An alternative explanation is that love of kindred (kin, kind) is inextricably linked with hatred of non-kin (unkind).

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