Once Upon a Time By Gabriel Okara

Once Upon a Time By Gabriel Okara

NCERT Solutions For Class 12 English

Expression/Phrase Meaning

1. laugh with their hearts: laughter that is natural.
2. laugh with their teeth: the laughter that is artificial.
3. shake hands without their hearts: a handshake that does not show like dresses warmth but a routine formality.
4. shake hands with heart: a handshake that conveys feelings.
5. hands search my empty pockets: the relationship is measured in terms of how much money/ power one has.
6. feel at home: to feel comfortable.
7. there will be no thrice: one is no longer welcome if he/she visits someone very often.
8. learned to wear many faces: people can change their expressions to suit different occasions.
9. like a fixed portrait smile: a smile which remains fixed and does not change with personal feelings and moods.
10. I want to unlearn all these: I wish to forget modern trends and return muting things to a more natural style of living.
11. Cold eyes: emotionless eyes
12. Search: look for something indeed – something which does exist
13. Shut: closed
14. Conforming: normally acceptable
15. Portrait: picture
16. Good–riddance: a feeling of relief when an unwanted person leaves
17. Muting: expressionless/ not expressed
in speech
18. Fangs: poisonous teeth of a snake

Once Upon a Time Summary

In the poem “Once Upon a Time”, the poet expresses his nostalgic feeling for the past when the people were genuine and honest. The poet has addressed this poem to his son. He tells his son about people’s actions in the past and in the present, in olden times and in the modern world. He recalls a time when people had genuine feelings. They would laugh with the heart and have a genuine feeling for each other. But today, people often welcome each other in the modern and busy world without any warmth. With a smile or laugh, you greet each other and do not reach your eyes or warm your heart. When you say to a guest that you’re coming again, you don’t really mean it, you just say it to be cunning. The poet says that people are often interested in meeting people this day only if they are rich, powerful and successful or famous, and do not value or respect those who have no wealth or position.

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time

Have you ever said something nice to someone without really meaning it? Why do you believe that you have spoken? Was it because you’ve been too busy and have not thought about what you said? Was it because in this situation it was the right thing to say? We must learn behaviour accepted in society in order to be separate from society. We start to learn this as we grow up and comply with the situation we find ourselves in. We learn this behaviour to slowly disappear our natural behaviour, and in every different situation, we act in such a way that this situation is deemed appropriate.

The poet says that in the office he behaved quite differently than he did on a party or on the street. And none of the faces he puts on is his natural self or true face. He says he also learned to say things that he doesn’t really mean because in this situation they’re the right things to say. The poet also says that he too sometimes politely greets a person in this way, even though he may not be interested in meeting him or her. He also teaches them to be “glad to meet you.” The poet is said to have forgotten how to be a natural person like other adults in today’s world.

The poet has a profound desire to return to childhood innocence. With his own changed self, his unhappy. He believes his son can truly learn to express his feelings honestly with genuine laughter. He would like to learn how to behave naturally. It is because he laughs his lips and teeth and not his eyes and his heart that his misbehaving makes his laugh unpleasant. He wants his son to teach him how to smile as he used to in the past.

As children, our feelings are innocent, loving and honest. However, with time, our personality and behaviour are affected by many social and cultural factors. Often these experiences remove our honesty and innocence. In the same way, the old way of life was innocent like a child because in those days people were more honest and caring about each other than they are in the busy, modern-day world. We often don’t mean what we say when we meet people today. We just tell them nice stuff because we don’t want to look rude. The poet wishes that the modern world would once again become innocent and childlike. He again wants himself to be as natural, honest and innocent as he was when he was a child.

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time

As we grow up, we lose some of our childhood’s simplicity and truthfulness. Similarly, we have forgotten some simple and honest human feelings and relationships in our advanced, globalised world of email, social networking sites, and so on. We’ve distanced ourselves because we’re too busy, or because we don’t need to meet people to talk or see them. Instead, we have learned to interact with other people in a formal, polite and correct but meaningless manner. But this doesn’t mean we don’t have any hope of learning again how to be natural, simple and true. This is only possible if we look at children and let their innocence and honesty be an example to follow.

Questions of Once Upon a Time

Q. What frightens the poet when he sees his smile is the mirror? What is the poetic device used here?

Ans.When the poet sees his smile in the mirror, his false laugh frightens him because that shows him the teeth like the bare fangs of a snake that has no real sensation. It reminds him of a person whose laughter is like a snake falsely pleasant and therefore dangerous and deceitful. Simile has been used here. The poet uses this simile to show that he forgot to laugh with real pleasure and feeling. He doesn’t laugh with his eyes and heart when he laughs, but only by showing his teeth.

2. The poem is a satire on modern life. It mocks and ridicules some of the common behavioural patterns of modern man.
For example, “I have also learnt to say, “Goodbye” when I mean “Good-riddance”. This is a typical instance of double-talk- use of language that has more than one meaning and is intended to hide the truth. Can you pick out from the poem some more of such examples of double talk. Compare your list with your partner’s.

Ans. The poem is a satire on falsehood and the changing human behaviour in modern society. The poet expresses this by using contradictions and double-talk phrases such as people “laugh only with their teeth,” shake hands without hearts, “their left hands search my empty pockets.” By using phrases like “wear many faces” to show that people behave differently and have different attitudes in different situations and with different people instead of being one’s true self, the poet shows that people in modern society are like actors who change masks on the stage and act in a play. Their actions and feelings are not connected. In modern society, this is a serious problem, but the poet criticizes it in the true style of a satire.


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