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enguin African Library 

Modern Poetry 


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dited by Gdraid Moo 

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Ramsey & Muspratt, Cambridge 

Gerald Moore was born in 
London in 1924 and read 
English at Cambridge. He 
began to be interested in 
African writing during three 
years he spent as an extra- 
mural tutor in Nigeria. From 
1956 to i960 he was the first 
director of extra-mural 
studies at Hong Kong 
University and visited China, 
Siam, Cambodia, and Malaya. 
Since i960 he has been 
director of extra-mural 
studies at Makerere College 
in Uganda. He is a member 
of the Black Orpheus 
committee and his first book; 
Seven African Writers, 
was published in 1962. 

Ulli Beier was born in 
Germany in 1922 and studied 
literature in England. Since 
1950 he has been living in 
Nigeria, where he is a 
lecturer in the department of 
extra-mural studies at 
University College, Ibadan. 
He is editor of the literary 
magazine. Black Orpheus, and 
in 1 96 1 helped to found 
Mbari, a club for Ibadan 
writers and artists, which is 
already having an influence 
on African cultural life. He 
is also joint-editor of ' Mbari 
PubUcations'. Among his 
books are Yoruba Poetry 
(i959)> ^^^ i^ Nigeria i960 
(i960), and West African Mud 
Sculpture (1962). 

Cover design by Massimo Vignelli 


.■■^T-.;-.-^— ^-^>^.. ■■■■■■-.:■ ^■if;-,jpii-,1li-,arV"*-'^''™ 

Ramsey & Muspratt, Cambridge 

Gerald Moore was born in 
London in 1924 and read 
English at Cambridge. He 
began to be interested in 
African writing during three 
years he spent as an extra- 
mural tutor in Nigeria. From 
1956 to i960 he was the first 
director of extra-mural 
studies at Hong Kong 
University and visited China, 
Siam, Cambodia, and Malaya. 
Since i960 he has been 
director of extra-mural 
studies at Makerere College 
in Uganda. He is a member 
of the Black Orpheus 
committee and his first book; 
Seven African Writers, 
was published in 1962. 

UUi Beier was born in 
Germany in 1922 and studied 
literature in England. Since 
1950 he has been living in 
Nigeria, where he is a 
lecturer in the department of 
extra-mural studies at 
University College, Ibadan. 
He is editor of the literary 
magazine. Black Orpheus j and 
in 1 96 1 helped to found 
Mbari, a club for Ibadan 
writers and artists, which is 
already having an influence 
on African cultural life. He 
is also joint-editor of ' Mbari 
PubHcations*. Among his 
books are Yoruba Poetry 
(i959)j ^^t in Nigeria i960 
(i960), and West African Mud 
Sculpture (1962). 

Cover design by Massimo Vigneili 


Edited by Ronald Segal 

Modem Poetry from Africa 



Modern Poetry from Africa 


Penguin Books 


Penguin Books Ltd, Hannondsworth, Middlesex 
U.S.A. : Pengviin Books Inc., 3300 Clipper Mill Road. Baltimore 11 Md 
AUSTRALIA: Penguin Books Pty Ltd, 762 Whitehorse Road, 
Mitcham, Victoria 

This selection first published 1963 

This selection copyright © Gerald Moore and Ulh Beier, 1963 

Made and printed in Great Britain 
by Cox and Wyman Ltd, 
London, Fakenham, and Reading 

Set in Monotype Plantin 

This book is S0I4 subject to the condition that it shall not, 
by way of trade, be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise disposed 
of without the publisher's consent, in any form of binding or 
cover other than that in which it is published 







Jean-Joseph Rahearivelo Four poems from Traduits 


(2) *What invisible rat' 

(3) 'The hide of the 


black cow' 


(4) 'She whose eyes' 


(17) *The black glassmaker' 




Flavien Ranaivo 

Song of a Young Girl 


Song of a Common Lover 



Leopold Sedar Senghor 

' In Memoriam 


Night of Sine 


Luxembourg 1939 




Paris in the Snow 




The Dead 


Prayer to Masks 




All Day Long 


In what Tempestuous Night 




Leopold Sedar Senghor New York 51 

You Held the Black Face 54 

I will Pronounce your Name 54 

Be not Amazed 55 

David Diop 

Birago Diop 

Listen Comrades 

Your Presence 

The Renegade 


The Vultures 

To a Black Dancer 

Nigger Tramp 









Lenrie Peters 



We have Come Home 




Kwesi Brew 

A Plea for Mercy 
The Search 

Ellis Ayitey Komey The Change 

G, Awoonor-Williams 



Songs of Sorrow 78 

Song of War 80 

The Sea Eats the Land at Home 8 1 


John Pepper Clark 

Olokun 85 

Night Rain 86 

The Imprisonment of Obatala 87 


John Pepper Clark 



For Granny (from Hospital) 




Fulani Cattle 


Cry of Birth 




Gabriel Okara 

The Snowflakes Sail Gently 



Piano and Drums 


Were I to Choose 


The Mystic Drum 




Spirit of the Wind 


One Night at Victoria Beach 


Frank Aig-Imoukhuede One Wife for One Man 

Michael Echeruo 
Christopher Okigbo 


Love Apart 

Eight poems from Heavens- 

Eyes Watch the Stars 
Water Maid 
Passion Flower 
Four poems from Limits 
Siren {& the mortar is not 
yet dry. . . .) 
(i) * Suddenly becoming 

(2) ' For he was a shrub 
among the poplars' 
(3)* Banks of reed.' 










Christopher Okigho 
Wole Soyinka 

(4) *An image insists' 

Telephone Conversation 

Death in the Dawn 



I Think it Rains 





Tchicaya U TanCsi Brush-fire 

Dance to the Amulets 

StiU Life 

A Mat to Weave 


Antoine-Roger Bolamha Portrait 

A Fistful of News 


Aguinaldo Fonseca Tavern by the Sea 


Aldo do Espirito Santo Where are the Men Seized in 

this Wind of Madness? 









Agostinho Neto 

Farewell at the Moment of 



Antonio Jacinto 




Mazisi Kunene 

To the Proud 


The Echoes 




As Long as I Live 



Bloke Modisane 




David Ruhadiri 

An African Thunderstorm 



John Mbiti 

New York Skyscrapers 


Joseph Kariuki 

Come Away, my Love 



Jose Craveirinha 

The Seed is in Me 


Three Dimensions 


Noemia de Sousa 



Valente Malangatana 

To the Anxious Mother 




Sources of the Poems 


Notes on the Authors 


Index of First lines 




For permission to republish the poems in this anthology 
acknowledgement is made to the following: 

For Awoonor- Williams to Ikyeame^ Accra; for Antoine- 
Roger Bolamba to Presence Africaine, Paris i for Kwesi Brew to 
Ikyeame; for John Clark to Black Orpheus; for Jose Craveirinha 
to Pierre-Jean Oswald, Paris; for Birago Diop to Presence 
Africaine; for David Diop to Presence Africaine and Black 
Orpheus; for Aguinaldo Fonseca to Pierre- Jean Oswald; for 
Antonio Jacinto to Pierre- Jean Oswald; for Ellis Ayitey Komey 
to Black Orpheus; for Valente Malangatana to Black Orpheus; 
for Agostinho Neto to Pierre- Jean Oswald; for Gabriel Okara 
to Black Orpheus; for Jean- Joseph Rabearivelo and Flavien 
Ranaivo to Presses Universitaires de France; for Aldo do 
Espirito Santo to Pierre- Jean Oswald; for Leopold Sedar 
Senghor to Editions du Seuil, Paris, and Black Orpheus; for 
Noemia de Sousa to Pierre- Jean Oswald; for Wole Soyinka to 
Encounter and Black Orpheus; for Tchicaya U Tam'si to 


Lewis Nkosi, the South African journalist^ wrote 
recently in the Observer, * Black consciousness really begins 
with the shock of discovery that one is not only black but 
is also non-white,^ The resonance of this remark extends in 
many directions and will find its peculiar echoes in many 
situations. The black South African makes this discovery 
through being utterly rejected by a hostile white-domin- 
ated society. But his particular pHght^ tragic enough in 
itselfj is not of much significance so far as the origin of 
the following poems is concerned. The discovery may^ 
however, be made in utterly different circumstances. The 
French African made it precisely because of his acceptance 
- on certain terms - by a metropolitan white society. This 
society was quite prepared to forgive him his colour just 
so long as he would clothe it decently in the culture, 
religion, and manners of a Western civilization. The 
effect of this approach was to force upon him a reappraisal 
of what it meant to be a non-white in such a situation. Had 
his colour really no more significance than this? Was he 
not, after all, rather a black man existing in his own rich 
if ruined world than a non-white entering on sufferance 
into another? 

Thus the effect of the policy of assimilation was to turn 
the attention of the assimiU back upon the one factor 
which the colonizer wanted him to forget - his blackness. 
Smothered by the paternal embrace of metropolitan 
culture, he escaped from it to examine his own with fresh 
eyes and new understanding. ^ 



This gesture, simultaneously one of rejection and asser- 
tion, was Negritude. In the words of Aime Cesaire, 
'Blackness is not absence, but refusal.' The fact that the 
gesture itself was often made from the genial surroundings 
of a Paris cafe, that it was often an affair of the intellect and 
emotions rather than of manners or ways of life, does not 
alter its cardinal importance in the development of modern 
African poetry. The gesture of Negritude embraces a good 
deal of the poetry in this book, notably that of Senghor, 
David Diop, Birago Diop, and the Congolese poets 
U Tam'si and Bolamba. Without some understanding of 
it, at least in its historical importance, it is impossible 
to see any shape in the poetic events of the continent 
over the past twenty years. 

The two poets of Madagascar included here, though en- 
thusiastically embraced by Senghor in his exciting Antholo- 
gie de la nouvelle poesie negre et malgache (1948), do not 
belong entirely in the company of their French African 
contemporaries. Madagascar was the last part of the 
African world (with which it is now generally classed) to 
fall under French rule, yet it was the first in which France 
practised her cultural policy of assimilation with even 
lirhited effectiveness. The island was not fully occupied by 
French troops until 1896, and one of the first acts of the 
strongly anti-clerical metropolitan government was to 
close down hundreds of mission schools which had already 
sprung up there. Soon, however, this policy was reversed 
and France began producing a small Malagasy elite which 
could assist in the administration of the country. By the 
1920s Madagascar had produced a poet of genius who 
wrote and thought in French, Jean- Joseph Rabearivelo. 
This tragic and brilliant figure, with his passionate love of 
French literature, was so effectively assimile that he com- 
mitted suicide in 1937 when the local officials persistently 
blocked his efforts to go to France. His poetry is imdoubt- 
edly influenced by the symbolists; there are echoes of 



Laforgue's Pierrotesque tone in What invisible rati and 
perhaps of Rimbaud in Cactus, Yet his poetry is very 
strongly itself. The brilliant intensity of its imagery, like 
Leconte de Lisle' s, may be the feature which most marks 
him as a child of the tropics. Rabearivelo never hectors 
the reader in the modern didactic manner, but instead 
leads him confidently into his own visionary world. His 
ability to sustain, elaborate, and explore a single image 
throughout an entire poem, as in Cactus or The black 
glassmaker, distinguishes him from the more engages poets 
of French Africa. Furthermore, at the time when Rabeari- 
velo was writing, Madagascar did not regard itself as part 
of the African world, a world of which it was only dimly 

In Flavien Ranaivo, a more recent poet, Madagascar 
asserts its own poetic traditions more vigorously. The 
slangy insolent tone of his verse reveals an authentic 
inspiration from the popular vernacular songs of the island. 
So7tg of a Young Girl combines very successfully this 
lounging gait with a delightful impudence of language, 
while Song of a Common Lover employs the line-by-Hne 
ingenuity of the riddling ballad. 

Madagascar has a third established poet in Jacques 
Rabemananjara. He has played a valiant part in his coun- 
try's liberation, and suffered imprisonment for many years 
after the savage suppression of the 1947 revolt. He is not 
represented here because his rhetorical, rather long-winded 
poetry does not translate well into English and is difficult 
to quote shortly with proper effect. Much more clearly 
than the other two, he belongs to the Negritude tradition, 
and in the company of other poet-poHticians like Senghor, 
Damas, Cesaire, and Keita Fodeba. 

Senegal is the only part of the African mainland which 
really witnessed assimilation in practice. Elsewhere it was 
not even attempted until after 1946 and was abandoned 
altogether as official policy some ten years later. Leopold 



Sedar Senghor was one of the very few Senegalese to find 
his way to a French university before the war. Bom in 1906 
of a Serere family in the little Portuguese settlement of 
Joal, he came to Paris in 1928 and soon after met the two 
men with whom he was to be associated as an apostle of 
Negritude, Aime Cesaire of Martinique and Leon Damas 
of French Guinea. It was Damas who first found a voice 
for the group of Negro 'exiles' in Paris in his bitter, stac- 
cato volume Pigments^ issued by G.L.M. in 1937 and later 
destroyed by the French police: 

. . . my hatred thrived on the margin of culture 
the margin of theories the margin of idle talk 
with which they stuffed me since birth 
even though all in me aspired to be Negro 
while they ransack my Africa.* 

But it was Cesaire who two years later coined the word 
Nigritude and established himself as the chief poet and 
inspiration of the movement with his great poem Cahier 
d'un retour au pays nataL This poem was soon afterwards 
hailed by Andre Breton as a surrealist masterpiece; but in 
his ambitious survey of neo-African culture, Muntu 
(Faber, 1961), the German scholar Janheinz Jahn has 
argued that Cesaire's purpose was far more rational and 
deliberate than a mere 'dive into the imconscious'. When 
he arranges certain words in an apparently surrealist 
paradox he does so in order to break their conventional 
association and make them anew. Thus he writes of the 
imprisoned hero Toussaint L'Ouverture, dying in the 
Jura mountains amid the snows of the Northern winter: 

What I am 

is a man alone imprisoned in 


is a man alone who defies 

the white cries of white death 

(toussaint, toussaint 

* From Pigments by L. G, Damas (G.L.M., PariSj I937)> translation by Ulli 



is a man who fascin- 
ates the white hawk of white death 
is a man alone in the ster- 
ile sea of white sand 
is an old darky braced against 
the waters of the sky* 

Against Jahn it could be argued that, although Cesaire's 
ideology embraces Negritude, his technique is unmistak- 
ably surrealist^ and to describe it as peculiarly negro is 
a piece of critical obscurantism. It is true that Senghor, 
who also began to write at this time, occasionally uses 
language in a rather similar way; but he does so with a 
characteristic rhetorical amplitude which woos the reader 
instead of shocking him. 

Perhaps I was the light which slept upon your 

forms fluid as a statue 
The green Ught which gilded youj which made 

you the Sim of my splendid nightf 

In Senghor's poetry all the familiar themes of Negritude 
appear one by one; the pervasive presence of the dead and 
their protective guiding influence upon the living (In 
Memoriam^ Night of Sine); the devastation of ancient 
Africa and its culture by white Europe {Paris in the Snozv); 
the harsh rigidity of the modern West and its desperate 
need for the complementing qualities of Africa (Nezv 
York); the warm triumphant beauty of African woman 
{You Held the Black Face), But a poem Uke Luxembourg 
J 9 39 shows another facet of Senghor, his profound love 
and understanding of what is great and enduring in 
Western achievement, his need to live in both cultures, to 
be what he himself calls *a cultural mulatto*. 

Many of these themes recur in the slender, exquisite 

* From Cahier d'un retour aupays natal by Aime C&aire (Presence Africaine, 
Paris, 1956), pp. 45-6. ^ 

t From D'autres chants (published in ^thiopiquest Boitions du Seuil, Paris, 



verses of Birago Diop, a contemporary of Senghor's who has 
spent far more of his life in Africa^ working as a govern- 
ment official. But in the angry, stabbing lines of David 
Diopj killed in an air crash at the age of thirty-three, there 
is no room for gentle nostalgia or forgiveness. His poems 
move inexorably towards a triumphant affirmation. He 
does not hope for better things, he commands them by the 
power of the word, just as Agostinho Neto does from the 
coffee-fields of Angola. 

In the Congolese poets U Tam'si and Bolamba the 
influence of Cesaire is much more direct. Instead of the 
sonorous monotony of Senghor, they offer a series of 
intense, enigmatic images related to each other by associa- 
tion rather than by any perceptible string of meaning. 
Naturally such a technique is only occasionally successful. 
Yet, at their best, they both produce some memorable 
images, like U Tam'si's : 

My race remembers 

The taste of bronze drunk hot. 

With the poets of English-speaking Africa we move to 
an entirely different world, one which knows little of 
Negritude, and generally dislikes what it knows. The dis- 
missive comment of Mphahlele ('To us in the multi-racial 
communities . . . Negritude is just so much intellectual 
talk, a cult') can be matched by the Nigerian Wole 
Soyinka, who ridicules the idea of a Tiger having to pro- 
claim his tigritude. This attitude is a trifle imfair, but its 
origins are not difficult to find. To begin with, the taste 
for Uterary ^ movements ' is much more Gallic than Anglo- 
Saxon, and there can be httle doubt that the intellectual 
attitudes of the colonial powers have affected their respec- 
tive former subjects profoundly. Again, Britain never 
pursued a policy of cultural assimilation but, character- 
istically, had no cultural policy at all. Consequently, there 
was far less to react against, emotionally and intellectually, 



than in French Africa. But correspondingly, it was con- 
siderably longer before a generation of West Africans 
grew up who felt able to write English with real confidence 
and fluency. At a time when Senghor and others were 
already publishing in Parisian literary reviews, Nigeria 
and Ghana had nothing to show but a few verses strongly 
influenced by missionary hymns and slogans, reflecting 
an attitude which would make any Negritude poet see red: 

My simple fathers 

In childlike faith believed all things; 

It cost them much 

And their offspring lost a lot; 

They questioned not the Ues of magic 

And fetish seemed to have some logic* 

So wrote the Nigerian Denis Osadebey only about a dozen 
years ago. Similar sentiments are still occasionally to be 
found in Nigerian poetry, which shows how thoroughly 
the job of Jesimilation, at least, was accomplished. Here a 
Nigerian student, writing only two or three years ago, 
reflects smugly how his ancestors gibbered with super- 
stitious terror at the mere sight of a sunrise: 

What in ancestral days was fear 
In me is grandeur; 
What in ages gone was dread. 
In me is splendourf 

Other pioneer poets of English-speaking Africa were 
Dei-Anang of Ghana and H. Carey Thomas of Liberia. 
These writers show rather more respect for indigenous 
culture, but their handling of the theme is somewhat super- 
ficial. Thus Carey Thomas points the opposite moral from 
Osadebey in equally flat language: 

Be v/arned: 

That palefaced strangers 

* Six lines from Denis Osadebey, quoted by Ulli Beier iaBIack Orpheus, No. lo 
t Four lines by J. D. Ekwere, quoted from Nigerian Student Verse (Ibadan, 



With unhallowed feet 

Profane this heritage our fathers gave.* 

Recently poetry of this recognizably * pioneer' type has 
begun to appear in East Africa also. The young Kikuyu 
poet Joe Mutiga writes of the desecration of holy ground 
by the plantation of new crops : 

Our customs are dug up. 

And put aside, like the grass 

On which the dancer trod. 

And foreign crops implanted; 

And we pass by, eyes on the ground. 

Submitting to the foreign as ours.f 

Poets like these have performed a useful function by re- 
establishing poetry, as an occupation for educated men, 
and their verses are often of great political and sociological 
interest; but their failure to penetrate the rich traditions 
either of English or of vernacular poetry afflicts their work 
with a total lack of style. An anthology of these poems 
would be an important and moving document in the 
history of African nationalism. In this anthology they are 
not included because they cannot be classified as 'modern', 
in the sense that they do not represent a fresh exploration 
of language. 

It was not until about five years ago that a new genera- 
tion of poets began to show themselves, notably in Nigeria. 
With the exception of Gabriel Okara, all these young poets 
studied at University College, Ibadan. Hence they were 
able to acquire a literary culture without suffering the 
sense of alienation and exile which afflicted the black 
writers gathered in Paris twenty and thirty years ago. 
Having grown up and been educated in a purely African 
environment, their work is extraordinarily free from slo- 
gans or stereotypes. They are eclectic in their choice of 

* Four lines from H. Carey Thomas, quoted by UUi Beier in Black Orpheus^ 
No. I. 

t From To the Ceremonial Mugumbo by Joe Mutigaj quoted from Transitiorii 
3 (Kampala, 1962). 



influences, which range from Dylan Thomas, Pound, and 
Hopkins to Shakespeare and even Aeschylus; yet out of 
these, each has compounded a strongly individual voice. 
Wole Soyinka, for instance, who studied at Ibadan before 
moving to Britain, is the only African poet to date who 
deploys a gift for Ught, sophisticated irony {Telephone 
Conversation^ My Next-door Neighbour). Okara is an 
introspective, withdrawn poet, whose best work has great 
beauty and resonance. Poems like One Night at Victoria 
Beach and The Snowflakes Sail Gently Down are among 
the finest things yet to come out of Nigeria. Frank Aig- 
Imoukhuede has demonstrated the humorous possibilities 
of pidgin. Does it, perhaps, also have possibilities for 

Jahn has argued in Muntu that the genius of African 
poetry is collective: 

In African poetry . . . the expression is always in the service 
of the content; it is never a question of expressing oneself, but 
of expressing something . . . Nor is the African poet ever con- 
cerned with his inner nature, with his individuality.* 

Like so many pronouncements on African poetry, this 
does not seem especially true, except to the extent that it 
is true of all good poetry - do not all poets speak for 
mankind? A poem like John Pepper Clark's Night Rain 
tingles in every line with the sense of individual experience 
in a particular time and place. In general, these young 
poets do not seem at all intent upon expressing the collec- 
tive African soul, nor do they clamour in every line about 
being black and proud of it. The maturity and confidence 
of their writing is one of its most encouraging aspects. 

It is interesting to see the use which has been made of 
vernacular poetry by two of these English-speaking poets, 
George Awoonor- Williams of Ghana and Mazisi Kunene 
of South Africa. Both have understood and assimilated the 
cryptic, rather oracular quality of n^uch vernacular 

* Muntu, p. 148. 



imagery. This has given both freshness and weight to their 
language. Bothj incidentally, come from areas where a 
great deal of fine vernacular poetry has been collected, 
Eweland and Zululand. 

Much of the poetry from Portuguese Africa is little 
more than a cry of sheer agony and loss. These territories 
are still politically and socially in a condition from which 
most of Africa emerged many years ago. The tiny group of 
assimilados (about 5,000 in Angola, after over 400 years of 
coastal occupation) provides the principal target of govern- 
ment repression. Dr Agostinho Neto, for instance, was 
imprisoned in Portugal for over two years until his recent 
escape. Yet, if few of these poets can write of anything 
but their immediate dilemma, their work is testimony 
enough to the imquenchable spirit of their humanity. An 
exception is Valente Malangatana who, alone among the 
poets in this collection, is also a painter of distinction. 
Like the Haitian painter-poet Max Pinchinat, his imagery 
has great immediacy and presence, a presence which is 
more than visual: 

and I all fresh, fresh 

breathed gentiy, wrapped in my napkins. 

His two poems seem to us among the most beautiful and 
rewarding in the whole volimie. 

Few writers on African poetry can resist the temptation 
to pontificate. It is interesting to see to what extent these 
generalizations can be squared with the reality of modern 
African writing as represented here. For a starting-point 
let us take a statement like this, of Senghor's : 

Monotony of tone, that is what distinguishes poetry from prose, 
it is the seal of Negritude, the incantation which opens the way 
to essential things, the Forces of the Cosmos.* 

In point of fact, it is only in Senghor's own work that a 
monotony of this kind is exhibited, and there it is only 
tolerable because of the splendour of his musical effects: 

* ^thiopi'queSi p. 120. 


Que j'ecoute, dans la case enfumee que visite un 

reflet d'ames propices 
Ma tete sur ton sein chaud comme un dang au sortir 

du feu et fumant 
Que je respire Todeur de nos Morts, que je recueille 

et redise leur voix vivantej que j'appreuve a 
Vivre avant de descendre, au dela du plongeur, dans 

les hautes profondeurs du sommeil.* 

David Diop exhibits a certain monotony of content, but his 
movement is too fierce and swift to permit any monotony 
of style. Could it be that Senghor was merely vindicating 
his own sonority? 

Again, Jahn takes Jean-Paul Sartre to task for having 
argued in UOrphee noir that Negro poetry is *the true 
revolutionary poetry of our time '5 and that Negritude is 
the voice of a particular historical moment, when the black 
race has given tongue to its revolt against white rule. 
Against this Jahn argues, somewhat primly, that neo- 
African poetry is not revolutionary at all, but a return to 
authentic tradition, and that Negritude, far from being the 
voice of a particular historical moment, is the style in 
which all African poetry must henceforth be written : 

Once for all it took the stain from Africa; it demonstrated that 
poetry and literature were not only possible in the African 
manner and out of an African attitude of mind, but that only 
such poetry zvas legitimate [editors' italics].! 

Yet already it begins to look as though Sartre was right. In 
the last few years there have been signs that the wellspring 
of Negritude is running dry. The great period was in 
the forties and early fifties, and since then Cesaire, Damas, 
and Senghor have all been notably unproductive. Birago 
Diop has published only one slim volume of verse in 
twenty years. David Diop was killed after writing only a 
handful of poems and before it was possible to say in what 
direction his style might have moved. A^eanwhile the 

* From Nutt de Sine (French text), 
t Muntu, p. 207. 



centre of poetic activity seems to have shifted from Sene- 
gal-Paris to Nigeria, where the last five years have seen a 
remarkable upsurge. And, as already pointed out, these 
yoimg poets 'of EngHsh expression' are not merely indif- 
ferent to, but actually hostile towards, the concept of 

The answer may be that Negritude has served its pur- 
pose in giving neo-African poets a bridgehead and a point 
of departure. But as Africa moves into independence, the 
conflicts of the core of Negritude become more and more 
apparent. It is no coincidence that the word itself was 
coined by a West Indian, or that he should also have 
written the most extended poetic exposition of it. The 
situation of the black West Indian was always essentially 
different from that of the continental African, and has 
become increasingly so as Africa itself has passed back 
into African hands. The black man in Haiti, Cuba, Puerto 
Rico, Martinique, or Jamaica grew up in a permanent 
state of exile. He had no name, no tolerated religion, and 
scarcely any distinct culture of his own, yet until recently 
he could not expect any position of power or influence in 
the new mixed societies which had been built upon his 
labours. Without even knowing, in the vast majority of 
cases, from which part of Africa his ancestors came, he 
was obliged to build up a romantic, idealized vision of 
'Guinea', a kind of heaven to which aU good Negroes go 
when they die: 

It's the long road to Guinea 
Death takes you there.* 

His dilemma has been perfectly expressed by the Cuban 
poet Nicolas Guillen, who finds nothing except his colour 
to distinguish him from those who reject him and who is 
therefore obUged to investigate the meaning of that colour 

* From Guinea by Jacques Rovimain, quoted from The Poetry of the Negro 
(New Yorkj I949). 




. . . All my skin (I should have said so) 

all my skin - does it really come 

from that Spanish marble statue? And my 

fearful voice 
the harsh cry from my gorge? And all my bones 
do they come from there? ... 
Are you quite sure? 

Is there nothing else, only that which you wrote 
that which you sealed 
with a sign of wrath. . . . 
Do you not see these drums in my eyes? 
Do you not see these drums hammering out 
two dry tears? 

Have I not got an ancestor of night 
with a large black mark 
(blacker than the skin) 
a large mark 
written with a whip? 
Have I got not an ancestor 
from MandingOj the Congo, Dahomey?* 

One reaction to this dilemma v^as to plimge into a glorifica- 
tion of sensuality -blood, drums, rhythmic ecstasy -such as 
we find in a poem like Rumba by Jose Tallet: 

The climax of passion, the dancers are trembling 

and ecstasy presses Jos6 to the ground. 

The Bongo is thundering and in a mad whirl 

the daemon has broken Tomasa's limbs. 

Piqm-tiqui-pan, piqui-tiqui-pan! 

Piqui-tiqui-pan, piqui-tiqui-pan! 

The blackish Tomasa now falls to the ground 

and down also falls Che Encamaci6n. 

there tliey are rolling, convulsing, and twitchingj 

with whirling drum and raging Bong6 

the rumba now fades with con-con-co-mab6! 

And pa-ca, pa-ca, pa-ca, pa-cal 

Pam! Pam! Pamlf J 

* Akanji's translation of The Name in Black Orpheus, No. 7. 
t Akanji's translation of Rurnha in Black Orpheus^ No. 7. 



It was these attitudes of alienation and protest which gave 
rise to the Uterary movement of Negrismo in Cuba during 
the late twenties, and to a similar movement in Haiti at 
about the same time. And these same Caribbean move- 
ments are the direct ancestors of Negritude. 

It is interesting that Senghor's great anthology of 1948, 
the chef d^ceuvre of Negritude, should contain the work of 
only three poets from continental Africa, and those three 
all from Senegal. For it was in Senegal that a handful of 
African intellectuals were treated to the full rigours of 
assimilations and later to those of exile - albeit a voluntary 
exile in Paris. Naturally, the passionate chords of Cesaire 
found an echo in their hearts. Naturally, too, they found 
less echo in the hearts of poets brought up and educated in 
the bosom of a functioning African society which, even at 
the fuU tide of coloniaUsm, never truly resembled the 
Caribbean situation. 

This is what makes it so dangerous for critics to try and 
establish a literary orthodoxy, in the manner of Jahn in 
Muntu : 

Whether the work of an author whatever his colour, belongs to 
Western or African culture, depends on whether we find in it 
those criteria of African culture which we have set forth in the 
preceding chapters.* 

Thus Jahn estabUshes himself as the keeper of the narrow 
gate which leads to the African Parnassus. Fortunately, as 
the following pages show, African poetry is already too 
rich and various to follow one path only. 

Probably the nearest thing to an acceptable generaliza- 
tion about African poetry has been made by Senghor: 

The word here is more than the image, it is the analagous 

image, without even the help of metaphor or comparison. It 

is enough to name the thing, and the sense appears beneath the 


* MuntUi p. 195. 

t ithiopiquesj p. I08. 



This process is essentially one of verbal magic : the poet- 
magus makes by naming. It undoubtedly lies at the root 
of all poetry, but it is probably closer to the surface of the 
poet's mind in Africa than elsewhere because of the recent 
arrival of literacy in the area, and because he inhabits a 
society where a vast body of traditional ritual, dance, song, 
poetry, and story is still aHve. In a recent article on Ife, 
WiUiam Fagg and Frank Willett have argued that, because 
he worked in perishable -materials, the African carver was 
forced continually to renew his commimion with the gods, 
to *make' them afresh. A parallel attitude is expressed by 
Senghor, who is happiest when his poetry is sung to 
music in the traditional style and so passes into the main- 
stream of tradition. In discussing poetic diction he writes : 

A poem is like a passage of jazz^ where the execution is just as 
important as the text. ... I still think that the poem is not com- 
plete until it is sung, words and music together.* 

And in Congo he expresses contempt for the 'permanence* 
of ink, as compared with the true permanence of rhythmic 
recreation : 

Oho! Congo oho! to beat out your great name on the 

waters on the rivers on all memory 
May I move the voice of the kdras Koyate. The scribe's 

ink has no memory, f 

In compiling this anthology, we have imposed certain 
limitations upon ourselves. We have confined ourselves to 
black writers and to texts originally composed in one or 
other of the European languages spoken in Africa. The 
first restriction is a matter of definition - African. A collec- 
tion of this title might logically include the work of all good 
poets resident in Africa or of African background, whether 
black, coloured, Indian, or white. This would imply the 
inclusion of such well-anthologized poets as Roy Camp- 
bell, William Plomer, and Guy Butler, as well as the 

* Ethiopiques, pp. 121 and I23. 

t From Congo, published in JEthioptques. 



various Africaans writers. It seemed to us that such a 
collection would lack the more particular significance to be 
found in an anthology of poetry by black Africans, who at 
least share the experience of a historic awakening and have 
not hitherto been assembled for study in a convenient 
form. The second limitation is a matter of feasibility. 
There is poetry awaiting collection in hundreds of African 
vernaculars. But how is one to make a critical selection 
without being fully familiar with all the vernaculars con- 
cerned? How much of this poetry could be legitimately 
regarded as 'modern'? And how, having made a selection, 
could adequate translations be secured? The present 
dominance of European languages in African creative 
writing may be temporary, but there is no denying its 
existence or the strength of the factors making towards it. 

Our concept of the modern is perhaps more difficult to 
define. In part it is simply a matter of quality; hence the 
exclusion of the rather tractarian verse of the West 
African pioneers. In part it is a matter of the poets' aware- 
ness of the modern idiom in European and American 
poetry. It is this awareness that enables them to use their 
respective languages without distracting archaism and in 
a way that appeals instantly to the contemporary ear. 

The most important limitation we imposed was the 
attempt to set a high standard and to include only those 
poems which have other claims to attention than the mere 
fact of having been written by Africans. The cause of 
literature has been poorly served already by imcritical 
selection. We thought it indefensible to include bad poems 
for the sake of keeping everyone happy. Furthermore, 
anthologies based on a sense of duty rather than of pleasure 
are always unreadable. 

The result of this policy is that some countries, such as 
Senegal and Nigeria, are well represented, while others do 
not appear at all. This is an interesting fact in itself; part 
of the function of an anthology of this kind is to bring out 
creative strength where it exists. We believe that the 



balance of selection here, apparently so weighted towards 
West Africa, represents the actual situation of African 
poetry at the moment. An anthology compiled five years 
hence may be able to announce a new pattern. 

Finally, we should like to thank all those poets who have 
allowed us to reprint their published works and to look 
over their impublished manuscripts. Their generosity has 
made this anthology possible. Special thanks are also due 
to Alan Ryder, who translated all the Portuguese texts, 
except Neto*s Farewell at the Moment of Parting, trans- 
lated by the editors, and the two poems by Malangatana 
translated by Dorothy Guedes and Philippa Rumsey. 
Thanks are also due to Arnold von Bradshaw for his trans- 
lation of Senghor's New York. All the other translations 
are the work of the editors. We hope that this collection 
will convince even the most sceptical that African poetry 
not only exists, but is among the most original and exciting 
now being written anywhere in the world. 





Jean- Joseph Rabearivelo 

Four poems from Traduits de la nuit 

2 What invisible rat 

come from the walls of night 

gnaws at the milky cake of the moon? 

Tomorrow morning, 

when it has gone, 

there will be bleeding marks of teeth. 

Tomorrow morning 

those who have dnmk all night 

and those who have abandoned their cards, 

blinking at the moon 

will stammer out: 

'Whose is that sixpence 

that rolls over the green table?' 

* Ah! * one of them will add, 

*our friend has lost everything 

and killed himself! ' 

And all will snigger 

and, staggering, will fall. 

The moon will no longer be there: 

the rat will have carried her into his hole. 

The hide of the black cow is stretched, 
stretched but not set to dry, 
stretched in the sevenfold shadow. 

B 33 


But who has killed the black cow, 

dead without having lowed^ dead without having roared, 

dead without having once been chased 

over that prairie flowered with stars? 

She who calves in the far half of the sky. 

Stretched is the hide 

on the sounding-box of the wind 

that is sculptured by the spirits of sleep. 

And the drum is ready 

when the new-born calf, 

her horns crowned with spear grass 


and grazes the grass of the hills. 

It reverberates there 

and its incantations will become dreams 

until the moment when the black cow Hves again, 

white and pink 

before a river of light. 


whose eyes are prisms of sleep 

and whose lids are heavy with dreams, 

she whose feet are planted in the sea 

and whose shiny hands appear 

fuU of corals and blocks of shining salt. 

She will put them in little heaps beside a misty gulf 
and sell them to naked sailors 
whose tongues have been cut out, 
until the rain begins to fall. 



Then she will disappear 

and we shall only see 

her hair spread by the wind 

like a bunch of seaweed unravelling, 

and perhaps some tasteless grains of salt. 


The black glassmaker 

whose coimtless eyeballs none has ever seen, 

whose shoulders none has overlooked, 

that slave all clothed in pearls of glass, 

who is strong as Atlas 

and who carries the seven skies on his head, 

one would think that the vast river of clouds might carry 

him away, 
the river in which his loincloth is already wet. 

A thousand particles of glass 
fall from his hands 
but rebound towards his brow 
shattered by the mountains 
where the winds are born. 

Arid you are witness of his daily suffering 

and of his endless task; 

you watch his thunder-riddled agony 

until the battlements of the East re-echo 

the conches of the sea - 

but you pity him no more 

and do not even remember that his sufferings begin again 

each time the sun capsizes. 




{from Presque-songes) 

That multitude of moulded hands 

holding out flowers to the azure sky 

that multitude of fingerless hands 

imshaken by the wind 

they say that a hidden source 

wells from their untainted palms 

they say that this inner source 

refreshes thousands of cattle 

and numberless tribes, wandering tribes 

in the frontiers of the South. 

Fingerless hands, springing from a source. 
Moulded hands, crowning the sky. 

Here, when the flanks of the City were still as green 

as moonbeams glancing from the forests, 

when they still left bare the hills of larive 

crouching like bulls upthrust, 

it was upon rocks too steep even for goats 

that they hid, to protect their sources, 

these lepers sprouting flowers. 

Enter the cave from which they came 

if you seek the origin of the sickness which ravages them - 

origin more shrouded than the evening 

and further than the dawn - 

but you will know no more than I. 

The blood of the earth, the sweat of the stone, 

and the sperm of the wind, 

which flow together in these palms 

have melted their fingers 

and replaced them with golden flowers. 



Flavien Ranaivo 

Song of a Young Girl 

tlie young man who lives down there 
beside the threshing floor for rice; 
like two banana-roots 
on either side the village ditch, 
we gaze on each other, 
we are lovers, 
but he won't marry me. 

his mistress I saw two days since at the wash house 
coming down the path against the wind. 
She was proud; 

was it because she wore a lamba thick 
and studded with coral 
or because they are newly bedded? 
However it isn't the storm 
that will flatten the delicate reed, 
nor the great sudden shower 
at the passage of a cloud 
that will startle out of his wits 
the blue bull. 
I am amazed; 
the big sterile rock 
survived the rain of the flood , 
and it's the fire that crackles 
the bad grains of maize. 



Such this famous smoker 

who took tobacco 

when there was no more hemp to burn. 

A foot of hemp? 

- Sprung in Andringitra^ 
spent in Ankaratraj 

no more than cinders to us. 
False flattery 
stimulates love a little 
but the blade has two edges; 
why change what is natural? 

- If I have made you sad 

look at yourself in the water of repentance, 

you will decipher there a word I have left. 

Good-bye^ whirling puzzle, 

I give you my blessing: 

wrestle with the crocodile, 

here are your victuals and three water-lily flowers 

for the way is long. 

Song of a Common Lover 

Don't love me, my sweet, 

like your shadow i 

for shadows fade at evening 

and I want to keep you 

right up to cockcrow; 

nor like pepper 

which makes the belly hot 

for then I couldn't take you 

when I'm hungry; 

nor like a pillow 

for we'd be together in the hours of sleep 

but scarcely meet by day; 

nor like rice 

for once swallowed you think no more of it ; 



nor like soft speeches 

for they quickly vanish; 

nor like honey^ 

sweet indeed but too common. 

Love me like a beautiful dream, 

your life in the night, 

my hope in the day; 

like a piece of money, 

ever with me on earth, 

and for the great journey 

a faithful comrade; 

like a calabash, 

intact, for drawing water; 

in pieces, bridges for my guitar. 



Leopold Sedar Senghor 

In Memoriam 

It is Sunday. 

I fear the crowd of my brothers with stony faces. 

From my tower of glass filled with pain, the nagging An- 

I gaze at roofs and hills in the fog 

In the silence - the chimneys are grave and bare. 

At their feet sleep my dead, all my dreams are dust 

All my dreams, the Uberal blood spills ail along the streets, 
mixing with the blood of the butcheries. 

And now, from this observatory as from a suburb 

I watch my dreams float vaguely through the streets, lie at 
the hills' feet 

Like the guides of my race on the banks of Gambia or 

Now of the Seine, at the feet of these hills. 

Let me think of my dead ! 

Yesterday it was Toussaint, the solemn anniversary of the 

And no remembrance in any cemetery. 

Ah, dead ones who have always refused to die, who have 
known how to fight death 

By Seine or Sine, and in my fragile veins pushed the in- 
vincible blood. 

Protect my dreams as you have made your sons, wanderers 
on delicate feet. 

Oh Dead, protect the roofs of Paris in the Sunday fog 



The roofs which guard my dead 

That from the perilous safety of my tower I may descend 

to the streets 
To join my brothers with blue eyes 
With hard hands. 

Night of Sine 

Woman, rest on my brow your balsam hands, your hands 

gentler than fur. 
The tall palmtrees swinging in the nightwind 
Hardly rustle. Not even cradlesongs. 
The rhythmic silence rocks us. 
Listen to its song, listen to the beating of our dark blood, 

To the beating of the dark pulse of Africa in the mist of 

lost villages. 
Now the tired moon sinks towards its bed of slack 

Now the peals of laughter even fall asleep, and the bards 

Dandle their heads like children on the backs of their 

Now the feet of the dancers grow heavy and heavy grows 

the tongue of the singers. 
This is the hour of the stars and of the night that dreams 
And reclines on this hill of clouds, draped in her long 

gown of milk. 
The roofs of the houses gleam gently. What are they telling 

so confidently to the stars? 
Inside the hearth is extinguished in the intimacy of bitter 

and sweet scents. 
Woman, light the lamp of clear oil, and let the children in 

bed talk about their ancestors, like their parents. 
Listen to the voice of the ancients of Elissa. Like we, 




They did not want to die, lest their seminal flood be lost in 
the sand. 

Let me listen in the smoky hut for the shadowy visit of 
propitious souls. 

My head on your breast glowing, like a kuskus ball smok- 
ing out of the fire. 

Let me breathe the smell of our dead, let me contemplate 
and repeat their living voice, let me learn 

To live before I sink, deeper than the diver, into the lofty 
depth of sleep. 

Luxembourg 1939 

This morning at the Luxembourg, this autumn at the 

Luxembourg, as I Hved and reUved my youth 
No loafers, no water, no boats upon the water, no children, 

no flowers. 
Ah! the September flowers and the sunburnt cries of chil- 
dren who defied the coming winter. 
Only two old boys trying to play tennis. 
This autumn morning without children - the children's 

theatre is shut ! 
This Luxembourg where I cannot trace my youth, those 

years fresh as the lawns. 
My dreams defeated, my comrades despairing, can it be 

Behold them falling like leaves with the leaves, withered 

and wounded trampled to death the colour of blood 
To be shovelled into what common grave? . 
I do not know this Luxembourg, these soldiers mounting 

They have put guns to protect the whispering retreat of 

They have cut trenches under the bench where I first learnt 

the soft flowering of lips. 
That notice again! Ah yes, dangerous youth! 



I watch the leaves fall into the shelters, into the ditches, 

into the trenches 
Where the blood of a generation flows 
Europe is burying the yeast of nations and the hope of 

newer races. 


I must hide him in my innermost veins 

The Ancestor whose stormy hide is shot with lightning and 

My animal protector, I must hide him 
That I may not break the barriers of scandal: 
He is my faithful blood that demands fidelity 
Protecting my naked pride against 
Myself and the scorn of luckier races. 

Paris in the Snow 

Lord, you visited Paris on the day of your birth 

Because it had become paltry and bad. 

You purified it with incorruptible cold, 

The white death. 

This morning even the factory funnels hoisted in harmony 

The white flags. 

'Peace to all men of good will.' 

Lord, you have offered the divided world, divided Europe, 

The snow of peace. 

And the rebels fired their fourteen hundred cannons 

Against the mountains of your peace. 

Lord, I have accepted your white cold that burns worse 

than salt. 
And now my heart melts like snow in the sun. 
And I forget 



The white hands that loaded the guns that destroyed the 

The hands that whipped the slaves and that whipped you 
The dusty hands that slapped you, the white powdered 

hands that slapped me 
The sure hands that pushed me into soHtude and hatred 
The v/hite hands that felled the high forest that dominated 

That felled the Sara, erect and firm in the heart of Africa, 

beautiful like the first men that were created by your 

brown hands. 
They felled the virgin forest to turn into railway sleepers. 
They felled Africa's forest in order to save civilization that 

was lacking in men. 
Lord, I can still not abandon this last hate, I know it, the 

hatred of diplomats who show their long teeth 
And who will barter with black flesh tomorrow. 
My heart, oh lord, has melted like the snow on the roofs of 

In the sun of your Goodness, 
It is kind to my enemies, my brothers with the snowless 

white hands. 
Also because of the hands of dew that lie on my burning 

cheeks at night. 


The spring has svv^ept the ice from all my frozen rivers 
My young sap trembles at the first caresses along the 

tender bark. 
But see how in the midst of July I am blinder than the 

Arctic winter! 
My wings beat and break against the barriers of heaven 
No ray pierces the deaf vault of my bitterness. 
What sign is there to find? What key to strike? 
And how can god be reached by hurling javelins? 



Royal Summer of the distant South, you will come too 

late, in a hateful September! 
In what book can I find the thrill of your reverberation? 
And on the pages of what book, on what impossible lips 

taste your delirious love? 

The impatient fit leaves me. Oh! the dull beat of the rain 

on the leaves ! 
Just play me your 'Solitude', Duke, till I cry myself to 


The Dead 

They are lying out there beside the captured roads, all 

along the roads of disaster 
Elegant poplars, statues of sombre gods draped in their 

long cloaks of gold, 
Senegalese prisoners darkly stretched on the soil of France. 

In vain they have cut off your laughter, in vain the darker 

flower of your flesh. 
You are the flower in its first beauty amid a naked absence 

of flowers 
Black flower with its grave smile, diamond of immemorial 

You are the slime and plasma of the green spring of the 

Of the first couple you are the flesh, the ripe belly the 

You are the sacred increase of the bright gardens of 


And the invincible forest, victorious over fire and thimder- 

The great song of your blood will vanquish machines and 

Your throbbing speech evasions and lies. 



No hate in your soul void of hatred, no cunning in your 

soul void of cunning. 
O Black Martyrs immortal race, let me speak the words of 


Prayer to Masks 

Masks ! Oh Masks ! 

Black mask, red mask, you black and white masks. 
Rectangular masks through whom the spirit breathes, 
I greet you in silence ! 
And you too, my pantherheaded ancestor. 
You guard this place, that is closed to any feminine laugh- 
ter, to any mortal smile. 
You purify the air of eternity, here where I breathe the air 

of my fathers. 
Masks of maskless faces, free from dimples and wrinkles. 
You have composed this image, this my face that bends 

over the altar of white paper. 
In the name of your image, listen to me! 
Now while the Africa of despotism is dying - it is the agony 

of a pitiable princess 
Just like Europe to whom she is connected through the 

Now turn your immobile eyes towards your children who 

have been called 
And who sacrifice their lives like the poor man his last 

So that hereafter we may cry 'here' at the rebirth of the 

world being the leaven that the white flour needs. 
For who else would teach rhythm to the world that has 

died of machines and cannons? 
For who else should ejaculate the cry of joy, that arouses 

the dead and the wise in a new dawn? 
Say, who else could return the memory of life to men with 

a torn hope? 



They call us cotton heads, and coffee men, and oily men. 
They call us men of death. 

But we are the men of the dance whose feet only gain 
power when they beat the hard soil. 


I dream in the intimate semi-darkness of an afternoon. 
I am visited by the fatigues of the day. 
The deceased of the year, the souvenirs of the decade. 
Like the procession of the dead in the village on the horizon 

of the shallow sea. 
It is the same sun bedewed with illusions. 
The same sky unnerved by hidden presences. 
The same sky feared by those Vv^ho have a reckoning with 

the dead. 
And suddenly my dead draw near to me. . , . 

All Day Long 

All day long, over the long straight rails 

Like an inflexible will over the endless sands 

Across parched Cayor and Baol where the baobabs twist 

their arms in torment 
All day long, all along the line 
Past the same little stations, past black girls jostling like 

birds at the gates of schools 
All day long, sorely rattled by the iron train and dusty and 

Behold me seeking to forget Europe in the pastoral heart 

of Sine! 



In what Tempestuous Night 

What dark tempestuous night has been hiding your face? 

And what claps of thunder frighten you from the bed 

When the fragile wails of my breast tremble? 

I shudder with cold, trapped in the dew of the clearing. 

Oi I am lost in the treacherous paths of the forest. 

Are these creepers or snakes that entangle my feet? 

I sUp into the mudhole of fear and my cry is suffocated in a 
watery rattle. 

But when shall I hear your voice again, happy luminous 

When shall I recognize myself again in the laughing mirror 
of eyes, that are large like windows? 

And what sacrifice will pacify the white mask of the god- 

Perhaps the blood of chickens or goats, or the worthless 
blood in my veins? 

Or the prelude of my song, the ablution of my pride? 

Give me propitious words. 

New York 

{for jazz orchestra : trumpet solo) 


New York! At first I was confused by your beauty, by 

those great golden long-legged girls. 
So shy at first before your blue metallic eyes, your frosted 

So shy. And the anguish in the depths of skyscraper streets 
Lifting eyes hawkhooded to the sun's eclipse. 
Sulphurous your Hght and Uvid the towers with heads that 

thunderbolt the sky 
The skyscrapers which defy the storms with muscles of 

steel and stone-glazed hide. 
But two weeks on the bare sidewalks of Manhattan 



- At the end of the third week the fever seizes you with the 

pounce of a leopard 
Two weeks without rivers or fields, all the birds of the air 
Falling sudden and dead on the high ashes of flat rooftops. 
No smile of a child blooms, his hand refreshed in my hand. 
No mother's breast, but only nylon legs. Legs and breasts 

that have no sweat nor smell. 
No tender word for there are no lips, only artificial hearts 

paid for in hard cash 
And no book where wisdom may be read. The painter's 

palette blossoms with crystals of coral. 
Nights of insomnia oh nights of Manhattan ! So agitated 

by flickering lights, while motor-horns howl of empty 

And while dark waters carry away hygienic loves, like 

rivers flooded with the corpses of children. 

Now is the time of signs and reckonings 

New York ! Now is the time of manna and hyssop. 

You must but listen to the trombones of God, let your 

heart beat in the rhythm of blood, your blood. 
I saw in Harlem humming with noise with stately colours 

and flamboyant smells 
- It was teatime at the house of the seller of pharmaceutical 

products - 
I saw them preparing the festival of night for escape from 

the day. 
I proclaim night more truthful than the day. 
It was the pure hour when in the streets God makes the 

fife that goes back beyond memory spring up 
All the amphibious elements shining like suns. 
Harlem Harlem! Now I saw Harlem! A green breeze of 

corn springs up from the pavements ploughed by the 

naked feet of dancers 
Bottoms waves of silk and sword-blade breasts, water-lily 

ballets and fabulous masks. 



At the feet of police-horses roll the mangoes of love from 

low houses. 
And I saw along the sidewalks streams of white rum 

streams of black milk in the blue fog of cigars. 
I saw the sky in the evening snow cotton-flowers and 

seraphims' wings and sorcerers' plumes. 
Listen New York! Oh listen to your male voice of brass 

vibrating with oboes, the anguish choked with tears 

falling in great clots of blood 
Listen to the distant beating of your nocturnal heart, 

rhythm and blood of the tom-tom, tom-tom blood and 



New York! I say to you: New York let black blood flow 

into your blood 
That it may rub the rust from your steel joints, like an oil 

of life. 
That it may give to your bridges the bend of buttocks and 

the suppleness of creepers. 
Now return the most ancient times, the unity recovered, 

the reconciUation of the Lion the Bull and the Tree 
Thought linked to act, ear to heart, sign to sense. 
There are your rivers murmuring with scented crocodiles 

and mirage-eyed manatees. And no need to invent the 

But it is enough to open the eyes to the rainbow of April 
And the ears, above all the ears, to God who out of the 

laugh of a saxophone created the heaven and the earth in 

six days. 
And the seventh day he slept the great sleep of the Negro. 



You Held the Black Face 
(for Khalam) 

You held the black face of the warrior between your 

Which seemed with fateful twilight luminous. 
From the hill I watched the sunset in the bays of your 

When shall I see my land again^ the pure horizon of your 

When shall I sit at the table of your dark breasts? 
The nest of sweet decisions lies in the shade. 
I shall see different skies and different eyes^ 
And shall drink from the sources of other lipSj fresher than 

I shall sleep under the roofs of other hair, protected from 

But every year, when the rum of spring kindles the veins 

I shall mourn anew my home, and the rain of your eyes 

over the thirsty savannah. 

/ will Pronounce your Name 
(for Tama) 

I will pronounce your name, Naett, I will declaim you, 

Naett, your name is mild like cinnamon, it is the fragrance 

in which the lemon grove sleeps, 
Naett, your name is the sugared clarity of blooming coffee 

And it resembles the savannah, that blossoms forth under 

the mascuHne ardour of the midday sun. 
Name of dew, fresher than shadows of tamarind, 
Fresher even than the short dusk, when the heat of the day 

is silenced. 



Naett, that is the dry tornado^ the hard clap of lightning 
Naett, coin of gold, shining coal, you my night, my sun! 
I am your hero, and now I have become your sorcerer, in 

order to pronounce your names. 
Princess of Elissa, banished from Futa on the fateful day. 

Be not Amazed 

Be not amazed beloved, if sometimes my song grows dark. 
If I exchange the lyrical reed for the Khalam or the tama 
And the green scent of the ricefields, for the swiftly gallop- 
ing war drums. 
I hear the threats of ancient deities, the furious cannonade 

of the god. 
Oh, tomorrow perhaps, the purple voice of your bard will 

be silent for ever. 
That is why my rhythm becomes so fast, that the fingers 

bleed on the Khalam. 
Perhaps, beloved, I shall fall tomorrow, on a restless earth 
Lamenting your sinking eyes, and the dark tom-tom of the 

mortars below. 
And you will weep in the twilight for the glowing voice 
that sang your black beauty. 


David Diop 

Listen Comrades 

Listen comrades of the struggling centuries 

To the keen clamour of the Negro from Africa to the 

They have killed Mamba 
As they killed the seven of Martinsville 
Or the Madagascan down there in the pale light on the 

He held in his look comrades 
The warm faith of a heart without anguish 
And his smile despite agony 
Despite the wounds of his broken body 
Kept the bright colours of a bouquet of hope 
It is true that they have killed Mamba with his white hairs 
Who ten times poured forth for us milk and light 
I feel his mouth on my dreams 
And the peaceful tremor of his breast 
And I am lost again 

Like a plant torn from the maternal bosom 
But no 

For there rings out higher than my sorrows 
Purer than the morning where the wild beast wakes 
The cry of a hundred people smashing their cells 
And my blood long held in exile 
The blood they hoped to snare in a circle of words 
Rediscovers the fervour that scatters the mists 
Listen comrades of the struggling centuries 



To the keen clamour of the Negro from Africa to the 

It is the sign of the dawn 
The sign of brotherhood which comes to nourish the 

dreams of men. 

Your Presence 

In your presence I rediscovered my name 

My name that was hidden under the pain of separation 

I rediscovered the eyes no longer veiled with fever 

And your laughter like a flame piercing the shadows 

Has revealed Africa to me beyond the snows of yesterday 

Ten years my love 

With days of illusions and shattered ideas 

And sleep made restless with alcohol 

The suffering that burdens today with the taste of to- 

And that turns love into a boundless river 

In your presence I have rediscovered the memory of my 

And necklaces of laughter hung aroimd our days 

Days sparkling with ever new joys. 

The Renegade 

My brother you flash your teeth in response to every 

My brother with gold-rimmed glasses 
You give your master a blue-eyed faithful look 
My poor brother in immaculate evening dress 
Screaming and whispering and pleading in the parlours of 

We pity you 
Your country's burning sim is nothing but a shadow 



On your serene * civilized' brow 

And the thought of your grandmother's hut 

Brings blushes to your face that is bleached 

By years of humiliation and bad conscience 

And while you trample on the bitter red soil of Africa 

Let these words of anguish keep time with your 

restless step - 
Oh I am lonely so lonely here. 


Africa my Africa 

Africa of proud warriors in ancestral savannahs 

Africa of whom my grandmother sings 

On the banks of the distant river 

I have never known you 

But your blood flows in my veins 

Your beautiful black blood that irrigates the fields 

The blood of your sweat 

The sweat of your work 

The work of your slavery 

The slavery of your children 

Africa tell me Africa 

Is this you this back that is bent 

This back that breaks under the weight of humiliation 

This back trembling with red scars 

And saying yes to the whip under the midday sun 

But a grave voice answers me 

Impetuous son that tree young and strong 

That tree there 

In splendid loneliness amidst white and faded flowers 

That is Africa your Africa 

That grows again patiently obstinately 

And its fruit gradually acquire 

The bitter taste of Hberty. 



The Vultures 

In those days 

When civilization kicked us in the face 

When holy water slapped our cringing brows 

The vultures built in the shadow of their talons 

The bloodstained monument of tutelage 

In those days 

There was painful laughter on the metallic hell of the 

And the monotonous rhythm of the paternoster 
Drowned the howling on the plantations 
O the bitter memories of extorted kisses 
Of promises broken at the point of a gun 
Of foreigners who did not seem human 
Who knew all the books but did not know love 
But we whose hands fertilize the womb of the earth 
In spite of your songs of pride 
In spite of the desolate villages of torn Africa 
Hope was preserved in us as in a fortress 
And from the mines of Swaziland to the factories of 

Spring will be reborn imder our bright steps. - 

To a Black Dancer 

Negress my warm rumour of Africa 

My land of mystery and my fruit of reason 

You are the dance by the naked joy of your smile 

By the offering of your breasts and secret pov/ers 

You are the dance by the golden tales of marriage nights 

By new tempos and more secular rhythms 

Negress repeated triumph of dreams and stars 

Passive mistress to the koras' assault 

You are the dance of giddyness 

By the magic of loins restarting the v/orld 

You are the dance 



And the myths burn around me 

Around me the wigs of learning 

In great fires of joy in the heaven of your steps 

You are the dance 

And burn false gods in yovir vertical flame 

You are the face of the initiate 

Sacrificing his childhood before the tree-god 

You are the idea of All and the voice of the Ancient 

Gravely rocketed against our fears 

You are the Word which explodes 

In showers of light upon the shores of obUvion. 

Nigger Tramp 

You who move like a battered old dream 

A dream transpierced by the blades of the mistral 

By what bitter ways 

By what muddy wanderings of accepted suffering 

By what caravels drawing from isle to isle 

The curtains of Negro blood torn from Guinea 

Have you carried your old coat of thorns 

To the foreign cemetery where you read the sky 

I see in your eyes the drooping halts of despair 

And dawn restarting the cottonfields and mines 

I see Soxmdiata the forgotten 

And Chaka the invincible 

Fled to the seabed with the tales of silk and fire 

I see all that 

Martial music soimding the call to murder 

And bellies that burst open amid snowy landscapes 

To comfort the fear crouched in the entrails of cities 

O my old Negro harvester of imknown lands 

Lands of spice where everyone could live 

What have they done with the dawn that Hfted on your 

With your bright stones and sabres of gold 



Now you stand naked in your filthy prison 

A quenched volcano exposed to other's laughter 

To others' riches 

To others' hideous greed 

They called you Half- White it was so picturesque 

And they shook their great jaws to the roots 

Delighted at a joke not malicious in the least 

But I what was I doing on your morning of wind and tears 

On that morning drowned in spray 

Where the ancient crowns perished 

What did I do but endure seated upon my clouds 

The nightly agonies 

The imhealing wounds 

The petrified bundles of rags in the camps of disaster 

The sand was all blood 

And I saw the day Uke any other day 

And I sang Yeba 

Yeba like a delirious beast 

O buried promise 

forsaken seed 
Forgive me Negro guide 
Forgive my narrow heart 

The belated victories the abandoned armour 
Have patience the Carnival is over 

1 sharpen the hurricane for the furrows of the future 
For you we will remake Ghana and Timbuktu 
And the guitars shuddering with a thousand strokes 
Great mortars booming under the blows 



From house to house 

In the coming day. 


Birago Diop 


The Sun hung by a thread. 

In the depths of the Calabash dyed indigo 

Boils the great Pot of Day. 

Fearful of the approach of the Daughters of fire 

The Shadow squats at the feet of the faithful. 

The savannah is bright and harsh 

All is sharp, forms and colours. 

But in the anguished Silences made by Rumours 

Of tiny sounds, neither hollov/ nor shrill. 

Rises a ponderous Mystery, 

A Mystery muffled and formless 

Which surrounds and terrifies us. 

The dark Loincloth pierced with nails of fire 

Spread out on the Earth covers the bed of Night. 

Fearful at the approach of the Daughters of shadow 

The dog howls, the horse neighs 

The Man crouches deep in his house. 

The savannah is dark. 

All is black, forms and colours 

And in the anguished Silences made by Rumours 

Of tiny sounds infinite or hollow or sharp 

The tangled Paths of the Mystery 

Slowly reveal themselves 

For those who set out 

And for those who return. 




A naked sun - a yellow sun 
A sun all naked at early dawn 
Pours v/aves of gold over the bank 
Of the river of yellow. 

A naked sun - a white sun 
A sun all naked and white 
Pours waves of silver 
Over the river of white. 

A naked sun - a red sun 
A sun all naked and red 
Pours v/aves of red blood 
Over the river of red. 


If we tellj gently, gently 

All that we shall one day have to tell. 

Who then will hear our voices without laughter. 

Sad complaining voices of beggars 

Who indeed will hear them without laughter? 

If we cry roughly of our torments 
Ever increasing from the start of things. 
What eyes will watch our large mouths 
Shaped by the laughter of big children 
What eyes will watch our large mouths? 

What heart will listen to our clamouring? 

What ear to our pitiful anger 

Which grows in us like a tumour 

In the black depth of our plaintive throats? 

When our Dead come with their Dead 

When they have spoken to us with their clumsy voices ; 

Just as our ears were deaf 



To their cries, to their wild appeals 

Just as our ears were deaf 

They have left on the earth their cries. 

In the air, on the water, where they have traced their signs 

For us, blind deaf and unworthy Sons 

Who see nothing of what they have made 

In the air, on the water, where they have traced their signs. 

And since we did not understand our dead 

Since we have never listened to their cries - 

If we weep, gently, gently 

If we cry roughly of our torments 

What heart will listen to our clamouring. 

What ear to our sobbing hearts? 


A scroll of blue, an exquisite thought 
Moves upwards in a secret accord 
And the gentle pink explosion the shade filters 
Drowns a woman's perfume in a heavy regret. 

The languorous lament of the saxophone 
Counts a string of troubles and vague promises 
And, jagged or monotonous, its raucous cry 
Sometimes awakes a desire I had thought dead. 

Stop jazz, you scan the sobs and tears 

That jealous hearts keep only to themselves. 

Stop your scrap-iron din. Your uproar 

Seems like a huge complaint where consent is bom. 


In one of the three pots 

the three pots to which on certain evenings 

the happy souls return 

the serene breath of the ancestors, 




the ancestors who were men, 
the forefathers who were wise. 
Mother wetted three fingers, 
three fingers of her left hand: 
the thumb, the index and the next; 
I too wetted three fingers, 
three fingers of my right hand: 
the thumb, the index and the next. 

With her three fingers red with blood, 

with dog's blood, 

with bull's blood, 

with goat's blood. 

Mother touched me three times. 

She touched my forehead with her thumb. 

With her index my left breast 

And my navel with her middle finger. 

I too held my fingers red with blood, 

with dog's blood, 

with bull's blood, 

with goat's blood. 

I held my three fingers to the winds 

to the winds of the North, to the winds of the Levant, 

to the winds of the South, to the winds of the setting sun; 

and I raised my three fingers towards the Moon, 

towards the full Moon, the Moon full and naked 

when she rested deep in the largest pot. 

Afterwards I plunged my three fingers in the sand 

in the sand that had grown cold. 

Then Mother said, *Go into the world, go! 

They will follow your steps in life.' 

Since then I go 

I follow the pathways 

the pathways and roads 

beyond the sea and even farther, 

beyond the sea and beyond the beyond; 

G 65 


And whenever I approach the wicked, 

the Men with black hearts, 

whenever I approach the envious, 

the Men with black hearts 

before me moves the Breath of the Ancestors. 



Lenrie Peters 


The present reigned supreme 
Like the shallow floods over the gutters 

Over the raw paths where we had been. 
The house with the shutters. 

Too strange the sudden change 

Of the times we buried when we left 

The times before we had properly arranged 
The memories that we kept. 

Our sapless roots have fed 

The wind-swept seedlings of another age. 
Luxuriant weeds have grown where we led 

The Virgins to the water's edge. 

There at the edge of the town 

Just by the burial ground 
Stands the house without a shadow 

Lived in by new skeletons. 

That is all that is left 

To greet us on the home coming 
After we have paced the world 

And longed for returning. 




Clawed green-eyed 

Feline of night 


Selling old boot 

On wet pavement 

In hour-glass baskets 

Coconut bellied 

Unyielding copra 

Gland exhausted 

Whore fatigued 

Worm-tunnelled sod 

Prostituted fruit of Eve 

Edging the Park trees 

Like dancing Caterpillars 

In folded leaves 

Softened by Social Conscience 

Hoxmded by Prudes 

Friend of the falling star 

Victim of the lonely bed. . 

We have Come Home 

We have come home 

From the bloodless war 

With simken hearts 

Our boots full of pride - 

From the true massacre of the soul 

When we have asked 

*What does it cost 

To be loved and left alone?' 

We have come home^ 

Bringing the pledge 

Which is written in rainbow colours 

Across the sky - for burial 



But it is not the time 

To lay wreaths 

For yesterday's crimes 

Night threatens 

Time dissolves 

And there is no acquaintance 

With tomorrow 

The gurgling drums 

Echo the star 

The forest howls - 

And between the trees 

The dark sun appears. 

We have come home 

When the dawn falters 

Singing songs of other lands 

The Death March 

Violating our ears 

Knowing all our lore and tears 

Determined by the spinning coin. 

We have come home 

To the green foothills 

To drink from the cry 

Of warm and mellow birdsong. 

To the hot beaches 

Where boats go out to sea 

Threshing the ocean's harvest 

And the harassing, plxmging 

gliding gulls shower kisses on the waves. 

We have come home 

Where through the lightning flash 

And thundering rain 

The Pestilence, the drought 

The sodden spirit 

Lingers on the sandy road 



Supporting the tortiired remnants 

Of the flesh 

That spirit which asks no favour 

Of the world 

But to have dignity. 




Kwesi Brew 

A Plea for Mercy 

We have come to your shrine to worship - 
We the sons of the land. 
The naked cowherd has brought 
The cows safely home. 
And stands silent with his bamboo flute 
Wiping the rain from his brow; 
As the birds brood in their nests 
Awaiting the dawn with imsung melodies; 
The shadows crowd on the shores 
Pressing their lips against the bosom of the sea; 
The peasants home from their labours 
Sit by their log fires 
Telling tales of long ago. 
Why should we the sons of the land 
Plead unheeded before your shrine. 
When our hearts are full of song 
And our lips tremble with sadness? 
• The little firefly vies with the star. 
The log fire with the sun 
The water in the calabash 
With the mighty Volta. 
But we have come in tattered penury 
Begging at the door of a Master. 



The Search 

The past 

Is but the cinders 

Of the present; 

The future 

The smoke 

That escaped 

Into the cloud-bound sky. 

Be gentle, be kind my beloved 
For words become memories. 
And memories tools 
In the hands of jesters. 
When wise men become silent. 
It is because they have read 
The palms of Christ 
In the face of the Buddha. 

So look not for wisdom 

And guidance 

In their speech, my beloved. 

Let the same fire 

Which chastened their tongues 

Into silence. 

Teach us - teach us! 

The rain came down. 

When you and I slept away 

The night's burden of our passions; 

Their new-found wisdom 

In quick lightning flashes 

Revealed the truth 

That they had been 

The slaves of fools. 


Ellis Ayitey Komey 

The Change 

Your infancy now a wall of memory 
In harmattan the locusts filled the sky 
Destroying the sweat put into the field 
And restless seas shattered canoes 
The fisher-folk put to sail by noon. 
The impatience in your teens 
Yet silent were your dreams 
With the fires in your heart 
Breaking the mask of innocence. 
The evasive soUtude in your womb 
And the determination of your limbs 
With eyes like the soaring eagle 
Shattering the glass of ignorance. 
Your infancy now a wall of memory 
Before this you, like the worms. 
Leaning on for vain indecorous dreams 
And the cobras with venomous tongues 
Licking the tepid blooms of hibiscus. 


G. Awoonor- Williams 

Songs of Sorrow 
Dzogbese Lisa has treated me thus 
It has led me among the sharps of the forest 
Returning is not possible 
And going forward is a great difficulty 
The affairs of this world are Hke the chameleon faeces 
Into which I have stepped 
When I clean it cannot go.* 

I am on the world's extreme corner^ 

I am not sitting in the row with the eminent 

But those who are lucky 

Sit in the middle and forget 

I am on the world's extreme corner 

I can only go beyond and forget. 

My people, I have been somewhere 
If I turn here, the rain beats me 
If I turn there the sim burns me 
The firewood of this world 
Is for only those who can take heart 
That is why not all can gather it. 
The world is not good for anybody 
But you are so happy with your fate; 
Alas ! the travellers are back 
All covered with debt. 

* Colloquial : It [the faeces] will not go [come off]. 



Something has happened to me 

The things so great that I cannot weep; 

I have no sons to fire the gim when I die 

And no daughters to wail when I close my mouth 

I have wandered on the wilderness 

The great wilderness men call life 

The rain has beaten me. 

And the sharp stumps cut as keen as knives 

I shall go beyond and rest. 

I have no kin and no brother. 

Death has made war upon our house; 

And Kpeti's great household is no more. 

Only the broken fence stands; 

And those who dared not look in his face 

Have come out as men. 

How well their pride is with them. 

Let those gone before take note 

They have treated their offspring badly. 

What is the wailing for? 

Somebody is dead. Agosu himself 

Alas ! a snake has bitten me 

My right arm is broken. 

And the tree on which I lean is fallen. 

Agosu if you go tell them. 
Tell Nyidevu, Kpeti, and Kove 
That they have done us evil; 
Tell them their house is falling 
And the trees in the fence 
Have been eaten by termites; 
That the martels curse them. 
Ask them why they idle there 
While we suffer, and eat sand. 
And the crow and the vulture 
Hover always above our broken fences 
And strangers walk over our portion. 



Song of War 

I shall sleep in white calico; 

War has come upon the sons of men 

And I shall sleep in calico; 

Let the boys go forward, 

Kpli and his people should go forward; 

Let the white man's guns boom. 

We are marching forward; 

We all shall sleep in calico. 

When we start, the ground shall shake; 

The war is within our very huts; 

Cowards should fall back 

And live at home with the women; 

They who go near our wives 

While we are away in battle 

Shall lose their calabashes when we come. 

Where has it been heard before 

That a snake has bitten a child 

In front of its own mother; 

The war is upon us 

It is within our very huts 

And the sons of men shall fight it 

Let the white man's guns boom 

And its smoke cover us 

We are fighting them to die. 

We shall die on the battlefield 

We shall like death at no other place. 

Our guns shall die with us 

And our sharp knives shall perish with us 

We shall die on the battlefield. 



The Sea Eats the Land at Home 

At home the sea is in the town. 

Running in and out of the cooking places. 

Collecting the firewood from the hearths 

And sending it back at night; 

The sea eats the land at home. 

It came one day at the dead of night. 

Destroying the cement walls. 

And carried away the fowls. 

The cooking-pots and the ladles. 

The sea eats the land at home; 

It is a sad thing to hear the wails. 

And the mourning shouts of the women. 

Calling on all the gods they worship. 

To protect them from the angry sea. 

Aku stood outside where her cooking-pot stood. 

With her two children shivering from the cold. 

Her hands on her breast. 

Weeping mournfully. 

Her ancestors have neglected her. 

Her gods have deserted her. 

It was a cold Sunday morning. 

The storm was raging. 

Goats and fowls were struggling in the water. 

The angry water of the cruel sea; 

The lap-lapping of the bark water at the shore. 

And above the sobs and the deep and low moans. 

Was the eternal hum of the living sea. 

It has taken away their belongings 

Adena has lost the trinkets which 

Were her dowry and her joy. 

In the sea that eats the land at home. 

Eats the whole land at home. 



John Pepper Clark 


I love to pass my fingers^ 

As tide through weeds of the sea. 

And wind the tall fern-fronds 

Through the strands of your hair 

Dark as night that screens the naked moon: 

I am jealous and passionate 

Like Jehovahj God of the Jews^ 

And I would that you reaHze 

No greater love had woman 

From man than the one I have for you! 

But what wakeful eyes of man. 
Made of the mud of this earth. 
Can stare at the touch of sleep 
The sable vehicle of dream 
Which indeed is the look of your eyes? 

So drunken, like ancient walls 
We crumble in heaps at your feet; 
And as the good maid of the sea. 
Full of rich boxmties for men, 
You lift us all beggars to your breast. 



Night Rain 

What time of night it is 

I do not know 

Except that like some fish 

Doped out of the deep 

I have bobbed up bellywise 

From stream of sleep 

And no cocks crow. 

It is drumming hard here 

And I suppose everywhere 

Droning with insistent ardour upon 

Our roof-thatch and shed 

And through sheaves sUt open 

To lighting and rafters 

I cannot make out overhead 

Great water drops are dribbling 

Falling like orange or mango 

Fruits showered forth in the wind 

Or perhaps I should say so 

Much like beads I could in prayer tell 

Them on string as they break 

In wooden bowls and earthenware 

Mother is busy now deploying 

About our roomlet and floor. 

Although it is so dark 

I know her practised step as 

She moves her bins, bags, and vats 

Out of the nm of water 

That like ants filing out of the wood 

Will scatter and gain possession 

Of the floor. Do not tremble then 

But turn brothers, turn upon your side 

Of the loosening mats 

To where the others lie. 

We have drimk tonight of a spell 

Deeper than the owl's or bat's 



That wet of wings may not fly. 
Bedraggled upon the iroko^ they stand 
Emptied of hearts, and 
Therefore will not stir, no, not 
Even at dawn for then 
They must scurry in to hide. 
So we'll roll over on our back 
And again roll to the beat 
Of drumming all over the land 
And under its ample soothing hand 
Joined to that of the sea 
We will settle to sleep of the innocent. 

The Imprisonment of Obatala 

Those stick-insect figures ! they rock the dance 
Of snakes, dart after Him daddy-long arms. 
Tangle their loping strides to mangrove stance 
And He, roped in the tightening pit of alarms 
Dangles in His front, full length. 
Invincible Umbs cramped by love of their strength. 

And that mischievous stir, late sown or spilt 
On the way between homestead and stream. 
Wells up in pots long stagnant on stilt. 
Brims out to where ancestral eyes gleam 
Till angry waves dam His track 
And caterpillars riding break their back. 

One leap upon the charcoal-coloured ass 
Swishing ochre urine towards palace and sim. 
Kicking impatient tattoo on the grass. 
And generations unborn spared the wrong. 
But the cry of a child at what it knows not 
Evokes trebly there the droop, mud-crack, and clot. 



So death 

being the harvest of God 
when this breath 

has blov^Ti uncertain above the sod, 
what seed, cast out in turmoil 
to sprout, shall in despair 
not beat the air 
v/ho falls on rock swamp or the yielding soil? 

In thrall 

mute with the soft pad of sheet 

himg up on the wall, 

I draw in my hook-feet : 

hear the reaper's cry! the rap 

of his crook on the door - 

but the poor 

dupe! opening, shall find bats far gone with my sap. 

For Granny (from Hospital) 

Tell me, before the ferryman's return. 

What was that stirred within your soul. 

One night fifteen floods today. 

When upon a dugout 

Mid pilgrim lettuce on the Niger, 

You with a start strained me to breast: 

Did you that night in the raucous voice 

Of yesterday's rain. 

Tumbling down banks of reed 

To feed a needless stream. 

Then recognize the loud note of quarrels 

And endless dark nights of intrigue 

In Father's house of many wives? 

Or was it wonder at those footless stars 



Who in their long translucent fall 
Make shallow silten floors 
Beyond the pale of muddy waters 
Appear more plumbless than the skies? 



running splash of rust 
and gold - flung and scattered 
among seven hills Uke broken 
china in the sun. 

Fulani Cattle 

Contrition twines me like a snake 

Each time I come upon the wake 

Of your clan. 

Undulating along in agony. 

You face a stool for mystery: 

What secret hope or knowledge. 

Locked in your hump away from man. 

Imbues you with courage 

So mute and fierce and wan 

That, not demurring nor kicking. 

You go to the house of slaughter? 

Can it be in the forging 

Of your gnarled and crooked horn 

You'd experienced passions far stronger 

Than storms which brim up the Niger? 

Perhaps, the drover's whip no more 

On your balding hind and crest 

Arouses shocks of ecstasy: 

Or likely the drunken journey 

From desert, through grass and forest. 



To the hungry towns by the sea 
Does call at least for rest - 
But will you not first vouchsafe to me^ 
As true the long knife must prevail. 
The patience of even your tail? 

Cry of Birth 

An echo of childhood stalks before me 
like evening shadows on the earth, 
rolling back into piquant memory 
the anguished cry of my birth; 

Out of the caverns of nativity 

a voice, I little knew as my own 

and thought to have shed with infancy, 

returns with a sharpness before unknown. 

Poor castaways to this darkling shore, 
void out of the sea of eternity 
and blind, we catch by reflex horror 
an instant glimpse, the guilt of our see: 

The souls of men are steeped in stupor 
who, tenants upon this wild isle imblest, 
sleep on, obUvious of its loud nightmare 
with wanton motions bedevilling our breast. 

All night, through its long reaches and black 
I wander as lo, driven by strange passions, 
within and out, and for gadfly have at my back 
one harrowing shriek of pain and factions - 

It comes ceaseless as from the wilderness ! 
commingled with the vague cogitation 
of the sea, its echo of despair and stress 
precedes me like a shade to the horizon. 




Coming and going these several seasons^ 

Do stay out on the baobab tree. 

Follow where you please your kindred spirits 

If indoors is not enough for you. 

True, it leaks through the thatch 

When floods brim the banks. 

And the bats and the owls 

Often tear in at night through the eaves. 

And at harmattan, the bamboo walls 

Are ready tinder for the fire 

That dries the fresh fish up on the rack. 

Still, it's been the healthy stock 

To several fingers, to many more will be 

Who reach to the sim. 

No longer then bestride the threshold 

But step in and stay 

For good. We know the knife-scars 

Serrating down your back and front 

Like beak of the sword-fish. 

And both your ears, notched 

As a bondsman to this house. 

Are all reHcs of your first comings. 

Then step in, step in and stay 

For her body is tired. 

Tired, her milk going sour 

Where many more mouths gladden the heart. 


Gabriel Okara 

The Snowflakes Sail Gently Down 

The snowflakes sail gently 
down from the misty eye of the sky 
and fall lightly lightly on the 
winter-weary elms. And the branches 
winter-stripped and nude^ slowly 
with the weight of the weightless snow 
bow like grief-stricken mourners 
as white funeral cloth is slowly 
unrolled over deathless earth. 
And dead sleep stealthily from the 
heater rose and closed my eyes with 
the touch of silk cotton on water falling. 

Then I dreamed a dream 

in my dead sleep. But I dreamed 

not of earth dying and elms a vigil 

keeping. I dreamed of birds, black 

birds flying in my inside, nesting 

and hatching on oil palms bearing sims 

for fruits and with roots denting the 

uprooters' spades. And I dreamed the 

uprooters tired and limp, leaning on my roots 

their abandoned roots 

and the oil palms gave them each a sun. 

But on their palms 

they balanced the blinding orbs 



and frowned with schisms on their 
brows - for the suns reached not 
the brightness of gold ! 

Then I awoke. I awoke 

to the silently falling snow 

and bent-backed elms bowing and 

swaying to the winter wind like 

white-robed Moslems salaaming at evening 

prayer, and the earth lying inscrutable 

like the face of a god in a shrine. 

Piano and Drums 

When at break of day at a riverside 

I hear jungle drums telegraphing 

the mystic rhythm, urgent, raw 

like bleeding flesh, speaking of 

primal youth and the beginning, 

I see the panther ready to pounce, 

the leopard snarling about to leap 

and the himters crouch with spears poised; 

And my blood ripples, turns torrent, 

topples the years and at once I'm 

in my mother's lap a suckling; 

at once I'm walking simple 

paths with no innovations, 

rugged, fashioned with the naked 

warmth of hurrying feet and groping hearts 

in green leaves and wild flowers pulsing. 

Then I hear a wailing piano 
solo speaking of complex ways 
in tear-furrowed concerto; 
of far-away lands 
and new horizons with 



coaxing diminuendo, coutiterpointa 
crescendo. But lost in the labyrinth 
of its complexities^ it ends in the middle 
of a phrase at a daggerpoint. 

And I lost in the morning mist 
of an age at a riverside keep 
wandering in the mystic rhythm 
of jungle drums and the concerto. 

Were I to Choose 

When Adam broke the stone 
and red streams raged down to 
gather in the womb, 
an angel calmed the storm; 

And I3 the breath mewed 
in Cain, unblinking gaze 
at the world without 
from the brink of an age 

That draws from the groping Hps 
a breast-muted cry 
to thread the years. 
(O were I to choose) 

And now the close of one 
and thirty turns, the world 
of bones is Babel, and 
the different tongues within 
are flames the head 
continually burning. 

And O of this dark halo 
were the tired head free. 

And when the harmattan 

of days has parched the throat 



and skin^ and sucked the fever 
of the head away^ 

Then the massive dark 
descends^ and flesh and bone 
are razed. And (O were I 
to choose) I'd cheat the worms 
and silence seek in stone. 

The Mystic Drum 

The mystic drum beat in my inside 
and fishes danced in the rivers 
and men and women danced on land 
to the rhythm of my drum 

But standing behind a tree 

with leaves around her waist 

she only smiled with a shake of her head. 

Still my drum continued to beat, 
rippling the air with quickened 
tempo compelling the quick 
and the dead to dance and sing 
with their shadows - 

But standing behind a tree 

with leaves around her waist 

she only smiled with a shake of her head. 

Then the drum beat with the rhythm 

of the things of the groimd 

and invoked the eye of the sky 

the Sim and the moon and the river gods - 

and the trees began to dance, 

the fishes turned men 

and men turned fishes 

and things stopped to grow - 



But Standing behind a tree 

with leaves around her waist 

she only smiled with a shake of her head. 

And then the mystic drum 

in my inside stopped to beat - 

and men became men^ 

fishes became fishes 

and trees, the sun and the moon 

found their places, and the dead 

went to the groimd and things began to grow. 

And behind the tree she stood 
with roots sprouting from her 
feet and leaves growing on her head 
and smoke issuing from her nose 
and her lips parted in her smile 
turned cavity belching darkness. 

Then, then I packed my mystic drum 

and turned away; never to beat so loud any more. 


I hear many voices 

like it's said a madman hears; 

I hear trees talking 

like it's said a medicine man hears. 

Maybe I'm a madman, 
I'm a medicine man. 

Maybe I'm mad, 
for the voices are luring me, 
urging me from the midnight 
moon and the silence of my desk 
to walk on wave crests across a sea. 

Maybe I'm a medicine man 
hearing talking saps, 



seeing behind trees; 
but who's lost his powers 
of invocation. 

But the voices and the trees 

are now name-spelling and one figure 

silence-etched across 

the moonface is walking, stepping 

over continents and seas. 

And I raised my hand - 

my trembUng hand, gripping 

my heart as handkerchief 

and waved and waved - and waved - 

but she turned her eyes away. 

Spirit of the Wind 

The storks are coming now - 
white specks in the silent sky. 
They had gone north seeking 
fairer climes to build their homes 
when here was raining. 

They are back with me now - 

Spirits of the wind, 

beyond the gods' confining 

hands they go north and west and east, 

instinct guiding. 

But willed by the gods 

I'm sitting on this rock 

watching them come and go 

from sunrise to simdown, with the spirit 

urging within. 

And urging a red pool stirs, 
and each ripple is 



the instinct's vital call, 
a desire in a million cells 

O God of the gods and me, 
shall I not heed 
this prayer-bell call, the noon 
angelus, because my stork is caged 
in Singed Hair and Dark Skin? 

One Night at Victoria Beach 

The wind comes rushing from the sea, 
the waves curling like mambas strike 
the sands and recoiling hiss in rage 
washing the Aladuras' feet pressing hard 
on the sand and with eyes fixed hard 
on what only hearts can see, they shouting 
pray, the Aladuras pray; and coming 
from booths behind, compelling highlife 
forces ears; and car lights startle pairs 
arm in arm passing washer-words back 
and forth like haggling sellers and buyers - 

Still they pray, the Aladuras pray 
with hands pressed against their hearts 
and their white robes pressed against 
their bodies by the wind; and drinking 
palm-wine and beer, the people boast 
at bars at the beach. Still they pray. 

They pray, the Aladuras pray 

to what only hearts can see while dead 

fishermen long dead with bones rolling 

nibbled clean by nibbling fishes, follow 

four dead cowries shining like stars 

into deep sea where fishes sit in judgement; 



and living fishermen in dark huts 
sit round dim lights with Babalawo 
throwing their souls in four cowries 
on sandj trying to see tomorrow. 

Still, they pray, the Aladuras pray 
to what only hearts can see behind 
the curhng waves and the sea, the stars 
and the subduing unanimity of the sky 
and their white bones beneath the sand. 

And standing dead on dead sands, 

I felt my knees touch living sands - 

but the rushing wind killed the budding words. 


Frank Aig-Imoukhuede 

One Wife for One Man 

I done try go church, I done go for court 
Dem all day talk about di *new culture': 
Dem talk about 'equality', dem mention 'divorce' 
Dem holler am so-tay my ear nearly cut; 
One wife be for one man. 

My fader before my fader get him wife borku.* 

E no' get equality palaver; he live well 

For he be ogaf for im own house. 

But dat time done pass before white man come 

Wit 'im 

One wife for one man. 

Tell me how una J woman no go make yanga§ 
Wen'e know say na'im only dey. 
Suppose say - make God no 'gree - 'e no born at all? 
A'teU you dat man bin dey crazy wey start 
One wife for one man. 

Jus' tell me how one wife fit do one man; 
How go fit stay all time for him house 
For time when beUeh done kommot. 
How many pickin', self, one woman fit born 
Wen one wife be for one man? 

*borku = plenty, t oga = master or Lord. % una = variation of 'your', 
§ yanga == vanityi pride, and perversity. 



Suppose, self, say na so-so woman your wife dey bom 
Suppose your wife sabe book, no'sabe make chop; 
Den, how you go tell man make'e no' go out 
Sake of dis divorce? Bo, dis culture na waya O! 
Wen one wife be for one man. 


Michael Echeruo 


Left hand is God's hand 
Devil's hand across chaos 
When Eve began 
Was hers in Eden farm 
Through cats' tiger's fur 
Through Adam's core. 

Multiply and till the earth 

Plough on virgin land is temptation. 

And there was a fountain 

Of rain and grain. 

Force fountain down gorge 

Into valley of shoots 

Is not spilling 

But will not bloom on Martha 

Or Vita Nuova 

Eat apples by the left hand. 
Much sweeter. Right hand 
Is Right's hand, bitter. 
Sweet gorgeless Sophia. 


Christopher Okigbo 

From Lament of the Lavender Mist 

Love Apart 

The moon has ascended between us 
Between two pines 
That bow to each other 

Love with the moon has ascended 
Has fed on our solitary stems 

And we are now shadows 
That cling to each other 
But kiss the air only. 

Eight poems from Heavensgate 


Before you, mother Idoto, 
naked I standi 

before your watery presence, 
a prodigal, 

leaning on an oilbean, 
lost in yoiir legend. . . . 

Under your power wait I 
on barefoot. 



watchman for the watchword 
at heavensgate; 

out of the depths my cry 
give ear and hearken. 

Eyes Watch the Stars 

Eyes open on the beach, 
eyes open, of the prodigal; 
upward to heaven shoot 
where stars will fall from. 

Which secret I have told into no ear; 

into a dughole to hold, 

not to drown with - 
Which secret I have planted into beachsand; 

now breaks 
salt-white surf on the stones and me, 
and lobsters and shells in 
iodine smell — 
maid of the salt-emptiness, 
sophisticreamy, native, 

whose secret I have covered up with beachsand. 

Shadow of rain 

over sunbeaten beach, 

shadow of rain 

over man with woman. 

Water Maid 


with the armpit dazzle of a lioness, 

she answers, 

wearing white light about her; 





and the waves escort her, 

my lioness, 

crowned with moonlight. 

So brief her presence - 
match-flare in wind's breath - 
so brief with mirrors around me. 

Downward . . . 
the waves distil her: 
gold crop 
sinking ungathered. 

Watermaid of the salt emptiness, 
grown are the ears of the secret. 

Drop of dew on green bowl fostered 
on leaf green bowl grows under the lamp 

without flesh or colour; 

under the lamp into stream of 

song, streamsong, 
in flight into the infinite - 
a blinded heron 
thrown against the infinite - 

where solitude 
weaves her interminable mystery 
imder the lamp. 

The moonman has gone under the sea: 
the singer has gone under the shade. 

Thundering drums and cannons 

in palm grove : 

the spirit is in ascent. 



I have visited^ 

on palm beam imprinted 

my pentagon - 

I have visitedj the prodigal. . . , 

In palm grove 

long drums and cannons: 

the spirit in the ascent. 

Passion Flower 

And the flower weeps 

Lacrimae Christie 

For him who was silenced; 

whose advent 
dumb bells in the dim light celebrate 
with wine song: 

Messiah will come again. 
After the argument in heaven; 
Messiah will come again. 
Lumen mundi. . . . 

Fingers of penitence 


to a palm grove 

vegetable offering 

with five 

fingers of chalk. 


So would I to the hills again 
so would I 

to where springs the fountain 
there to draw from 




and to hilltop clamber 
body and soul 

whitewashed in the moondew 
there to see from 

So would I from my eye the mist 
so would I 

through moonmist to hilltop 
there for the cleansing 

Here is a new-laid egg 
here a white hen at midterm. 

I am standing above you and tide 
above the noontide. 

Listening to the laughter of waters 
that do not know why: 

Listening to incense. . . . 

I am standing above the noontide 
with my head above it. 

Under my feet float the waters : 
tide blows them under. 

Four poems from Limits 

Siren {& the mortar is not yet dry. . . .) 

I Suddenly becoming talkative 

like weaverbird 
Summoned at offside of 

dream remembered 

Between sleep and waking, 

I hang up my egg-shells 
To you of palm grove. 



Upon whose bamboo towers hang 
Dripping with yesterupwine 

A tiger mask and nude spear. . . . 

Queen of the damp half-light, 

I have had my cleansing. 

Emigrant with airborne nose. 
The he-goat-on-heat. 

For he was a shrub among the poplars 
Needing more roots 
More sap to grow to sunlight 
Thirsting for sunlight 

A low growth among the forest. 

Into the soul 

The selves extended their branches 
Into the moments of each living hour 
Feeling for audience 

Straining thin among the echoes; 

And out of the solitude 

Voice and soul with selves imite 

Riding the echoes 

Horsemen of the apocalypse 

And crowned with one self 
The name displays its foliage. 
Hanging low 

A green cloud above the forest. 

Banks of reed. 

Mountains of broken bottles. 


& the mortar is not yet dry, . . . 

Silent the footfall 

soft as cat's pawj 
Sandalled in velvety 

in fur 

So we must go. 
Wearing evemist against the shoulders. 
Trailing sun's dust sawdust of combat. 
With brand burning out at hand-end. 

& the mortar is not yet dry. . . . 

Then we must sing 
Tongue-tied without name or audience. 
Making harmony among the branches. 

And this is the crisis-point. 
The twiUght moment between 

sleep and waking; 
And voice that is reborn transpires 
Not thro' pores in the flesh 

but the soul's backbone 

Hurry on down 

through the high-arched gate - 
Hurry on down 

little stream to the lake; 
Hurry on down - 

through the cinder market 
Hurry on down 

in the wake of the dream; 
Hurry on down - 

To rockpoint of cable 

To pull by the rope 

The big white elephant. . . . 

& the mortar is not yet dry 

& the mortar is not yet dry. . . , 



& the dream wakes 

& the voice fades 

In the damp half-light. 
Like a shadow. 

Not leaving a mark. 

An image insists 

from the flag-pole of the heart. 
The image distracts 

with the cruelty of the rose. . . . 

My lioness, 
(No shield is lead-plate against you) 
Wound me with your seaweed face. 

Blinded like a strongroom. 

Distances of your 

Turn chloroform, 

enough for my patience - 

When you have finished, 
& done up my stitches, 
Wake me near the altar, 

& this poem will be finished. 


Wole Soyinka 

Telephone Conversation 

The price seemed reasonable, location 

Indifferent. The landlady swore she lived 

Off premises. Nothing remained 

But self-confession. 'Madam,' I warned, 

*I hate a wasted journey - I am African.' 

Silence. Silenced transmission of 

Pressurized good-breeding. Voice, when it came. 

Lipstick coated, long gold-rolled 

Cigarette-holder pipped. Caught I was, foully. 

'how dark?' ... I had not misheard. . . . *are you 


OR VERY DARK?' Button B. Button A. Stench 

Of rancid breath of publicJiide-and-speak. 

Red booth. Red pillar-box. Red double-tiered 

Omnibus squelching tar. It was real! Shamed 

By ill-mannered silence, surrender 

Pushed dumbfounded to beg simplification. 

Considerate she was, varying the emphasis - 

*ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT?' Revelation came. 

'You mean - Hke plain or milk chocolate?' 

Her assent was clinical, crushing in its light 

Impersonality. Rapidly, wave-length adjusted, 

I chose. 'West African sepia' - and as afterthought, 

' Down in my passport.' Silence for spectroscopic 

Flight of fancy, till truthfulness clanged her accent 

Hard on the mouthpiece, 'what's that?' conceding 



*don't know what that is.' *Like brunette.' 

'that's dark, isn't it?' *Not altogether. 

Faciallyj I am brunette, but madam, you should see 

The rest of me. Palm of my handj soles of my feet 

Are a peroxide blonde. Friction, caused - 

Foolishly madam - by sitting down, has turned 

My bottom raven black - One moment madam! ' - sensing 

Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap 

About my ears - * Madam,' I pleaded, 'wouldn't you 

See for yourself?' 

Death in the Dawn 

Traveller, you must set out 

At dawn. And wipe your feet upon 

The dog-nose wetness of the earth. . 

Let simrise quench your lamps. And watch 

Faint brush pricklings in the sky light 

Cottoned feet to break the early earthworm 

On the hoe. Now shadows stretch with sap 

Not twilight's death and sad prostration. 

This soft kindling, soft receding breeds 

Racing joys and apprehensions for 

A naked day. Burdened hulks retract. 

Stoop to the mist in faceless throng 

To wake the silent markets - swift, mute 

Processions on grey byways. . . . On this 

Counterpane, it was - 

Sudden winter at the death 

Of dawn's lone tnmipeter. Cascades 

Of white feather-flakes . . . but it proved 

A futile rite. Propitiation sped 

Grimly on, before. 



The right foot for joy, the left^ dread 
And the mother prayed. Child 
May you never walk 
When the road waits, famished. 

Traveller, you must set forth 

At dawn. 

I promise marvels of the holy hour 

Presages as the white cock's flapped 

Perverse impalement - as who would dare 

The wrathful wings of man's Progression. . . 

But such another wraith! Brother, 
Silenced in the startled hug of 
Your invention - is this mocked grimace 
This closed contortion - I? 



You leave your faint depressions 
Skim-flying still, on the still pond's surface. 
Where darkness crouches, egret wings 
Your love is as gossamer. 


Hear now the dry wind's dirge. It is 

The hour of lesson, and you teach 

Painless dissolution in strange 


Sadness is twilight's kiss on earth, 


I would not carve a pillow 

Off the clouds, to nest you softly. 

Yet the wonder, swift your growth, in-twining 

When I fold you in my thomed bosom. 



N0W3 your blood-drops are 

My sadness in the haze of day 

And the sad dew at dawn, fragile 

Dew-braiding rivulets in hair-roots where 

Desires storm. Sad^ sad 

Your feather-tear running in clefts between 

Thorned buttresses, soon gone, my need 

Must drink it all. Be then as 

The dry sad air, and I may yield me 

As the rain. 

So let your palm, ridge to ridge 

Be cupped with mine 

And the thin sad earth between will nurture 

Love's misfoimdling ~ and there it ended. 

Storm-whispers swayed you outward where 

Once, we cupped our hands. Alone I watched. 

The earth came sifting through. 

I shall sit often on the knoll 

And watch the grafting. 

This dismembered limb must come 

Some day 

To sad fruition. 

I shall weep dryly on the stone 
That marks the gravehead silence of 
A tamed resolve. 

I shall sit often on the knoll 

Till longings crumble too 

O I have felt the termite nuzzle 

White entrails 

And fine ants wither 

In the mind's unthreaded maze. 

Then may you frolic where the head 
Lies shaven, inherit all. 



Death-watches, cut your beetled capers 
On loam-matted hairs. I know this 
Weed-usurped knoll. The graveyard now 
Was nursery to her fears. 

This cup I bore, redeem 
When yearning splice 
The torn branch. 

This earth I pour outward to 
Your cry, tend it. It knows full 
Worship of the plough. 
Lest burning follow breath, learn 
This air was tempered in wild 
Cadences of fire. 

No phoenix I. Submission 

To her cleansing flames fulfilled 

Urn's legacy. 

Yet incandescing was the roar alone 
Sxm-searing haze pools lit the kilns 
That bronzed me. 

It is peace to settle on life's fingers 
Like bran; illusive as the strained meal's 
Bloodless separateness. 

Be still. And when this cup would crush 
The lightness of your hand, build no shrine 
Strew the ashes on your path. 


Grey, to the low grass cropping 
Slung, wet-Uchened, wisps from such. 
Smoke heaviness, elusive of thin blades 
Curl inward to the earth, breed 
The grey hours, 



And days, and years, for do not 

The wise grey temples we must build 

To febrile years, here begin, not 

In tears and ashes, but on the sad mocking 

Threads, compulsive of the hour? 

In the desert wildness, when, lone cactus. 
Cannibal was his love - even amidst the 
Crag and gorge, the leap and night-tremors 
Even as the potsherd stayed and the sandstorm 
Fell - intimations came. 

In the whorled centre of the storm, a threnody 
But not from this. For that far companion. 
Made sudden stranger when the wind slacked 
And the centre fell, grief. And the stricken 
Potsherd lay, disconsolate - intimations then 

But not from these. He knew only 
Sudden seizure. And time conquest 
Bound him helpless to each grey essence. 
Nothing remained if pains and longings 
Once, once set the walls. Sadness 
Closed him, rootless, lacking cause. 

/ Think it Rains 

I think it rains 

That tongues may loosen from the parch 
Uncleave roof-tops of the mouth, hang 
Heavy with knowledge. 

I saw it raise 

The sudden cloud, from ashes. Settling 
They joined in a ring of grey; within 
The circling spirit. 


O it must rain 

These closures on the mind, binding us 



In strange despairs^ teaching 
Purity of sadness. 

And how it beats 
Skeined transparencies on wings 
Of our desires, searing dark longings 
In cruel baptisms. 

Rain-reedsa practised in 

The grace of yielding, yet unbending 

From afar, this, your conjugation with my earth 

Bares crouching rocks. 


Rust is ripeness, rust 

And the wilted corn-plume; 

Pollen is mating-time when swallows 

Weave a dance 

Of feathered arrows 

Thread corn-stalks in winged 

Streaks of light. And, we loved to hear 

Spliced phrases of the wind, to hear 

Rasps in the field, where corn leaves 

Pierce like bamboo sUvers. 

Now, garnerers we. 

Awaiting rust on tassels, draw 

Long shadows from the dusk, wreathe 

Dry thatch in woodsmoke. Laden stalks 

Ride the germ's decay - we await 

The promise of the rust. 




Your hand is heavy. Night, upon my brow, 

I bear no heart mercuric like the clouds, to dare 

Exacerbation from your subtle plough. 

Woman as a clam, on the sea's crescent 
I saw your jealous eye quench the sea's 
Fluorescence^ dance on the pulse incessant 

Of the waves. And I stood, drained 
Submitting like the sands, blood and brine 
Coursing to the roots. Night, you rained 

Serrated shadows through dank leaves 

Till, bathed in warm suffusion of your dappled cells 

Sensations pained me, faceless, silent as night thieves. 

Hide me now, when night children haunt the earth 
I must hear none! These misted calls will yet 
Undo me; naked, tmbidden, at Night's muted birth. 


In vain your bangles cast 
Charmed circles at my feet 
I am Abiku, calling for the first 
And the repeated time. 

Must I weep for goats and cowries 
For palm oil and the sprinkled ash? 
Yams do not sprout in amulets 
To earth Abiku's limbs. 

So when the snail is burnt in his shell. 
Whet the heated fragment, brand me 
Deeply on the breast. You must know him 
When Abiku calls again. 



I am the squirrel teeth, cracked 
The riddle of the palm. Remember 
This, and dig me deeper still into 
The god's swollen foot. 

Once and the repeated time, ageless 
Though I puke; and when you pour 
Libations, each finger points me near 
The way I came, where 

The ground is wet with mourning 
White dew suckles flesh-birds 
Evening befriends the spider, trapping 
Fhes in wind-froth; 

Night, and Abiku sucks the oil 
From lamps. Mothers ! I'll be the 
SuppHant snake coiled on the doorstep 
Yours the killing cry. 

The ripest fruit was saddest; 

Where I crept, the warmth was cloying. 

In the silence of webs, Abiku moans, shaping 

Mounds from the yolk. 


Congo (Brazzaville) 

Tchicaya U Tam'si 


The fire the river that's to say 

the sea to drink following the sand 

the feet the hands 

within the heart to love 

this river that lives in me repeoples me 

only to you I said around the fire 

my race 

it flows here and there a river 

the flames are the looks 

of those who brood upon it 

I said to you 

my race 


the taste of bronze dnmk hot. 

Dance to the Amulets 

Come over here 
our grass is rich 
come you fawns 

gestures and stabs of sickly hands 
curving then unripping of conception 
one - who? - you shape my fate 
come you fawns 



over here the suppleness of mornings 

and the blood masked here 

and the rainbow-coloured dream the rope at the neck 

come over here 

our grass is rich here 

my first coming 

was the harsh explosion of a flint 


my mother promised me to light. 

Still Life 

I was playing 

when my dead sister 

my knife-grandfather 

my grandfather hxmg 

a great fish 

on a tree before our gate. 

We adored aubergines 

I devoured the little gourds 

but I had to fast 

also I cried with hunger, 

if I tell you 

my father does not know my mother's name 

I am the witness of my age 

I have often seen 

carcases in the air 

where my blood burns. 

A Mat to Weave 

he came to deliver the secret of the sun 
and wanted to write the poem of his life 



why crystals in his blood 
why globules in his laughter 

his soul was ready 
when someone called him 
dirty wog 

still he is left with the gentle act of his laughter 
and the giant tree with a living cleft 
what was that country where he lived a beast 
behind the beasts before behind the beasts 

his stream was the safest of cups 
because it was of bronze 
because it was his living flesh 

it was then that he said to himself 
no my life is not a poem 

here is the tree here is the water here are the stones 
and then the priest of the future 

it is better to love wine 
and rise in the morning 
he was advised 

but no more birds in the tenderness of mothers 

dirty wog 

he is the younger brother of fire 

the bush begins here 

and the sea is no more than the memory of gulls 

all standing upright tooth-to-tooth 

against the spume of a deadly dance 

the tree was the leafiest 

the bark of the tree was the tenderest 

after the forest was burnt what more to say 

why was there absinthe in the wine 
why restore in the hearts 
the crocodiles the canoers 
and the wave of the stream 



the grains of sand between the teeth 

is it thus that one breaks the world 



his stream was the gentlest of cups 

the safest 

it was his most living flesh 

here begins the poem of his life 

he was trained in a school 

he was trained in a studio 

and he saw roads planted with sphinxes 

still he is left with the soft arch of his laughter 
then the tree then the water then the leaves 

that is why you will see him 

the marching canoers have raised once more 

against the haulers of french cotton 

their cries 

this flight is a flight of doves 

the leeches did not know the bitterness 

of this blood 

in the purest of cups 

dirty gollywog 

behold my Congolese head 

it is the purest of cups. 


Congo (Leopoldville) 

Antoine-Roger Bolamba 


I have my gri-gri 


my calm bounding awake 
clings to the wavy limbs of the Congo 
never a stormy passage for my heart 
bombarded with glowing oriflammes 
I think of my silver necklace 
become a himdred isles of silence 
I admire the obstinate patience v 

of the okapi 

bluebird battered in the open sky 
what shipwreck 

plimges it to the gulf of nothingness 
nothingness empty of nightly entreaties 

Ah! the broken resolutions 
ah! the screaming follies 
let my fate fall upon its guardians 
they are three villains 

I say three in counting 123 

who dim the ancestral mirror 

but you fugitive image 

I will see you on the height of dizzy anger 

E 129 


wait while I put on my brow my mask of blood 

and soon you will see 

my tongue flutter like a banner. 

A Fistful of News 

The hills hunch their backs 
and leap above the marshes 
that wash about the calabash 
of the Great Soul 

Rumours of treason spread 

like burning swords 

the veins of the earth 

swell with nourishing blood 

the earth bears 

towns villages hamlets 

forests and woods 

peopled with monsters horned and tentacled 

their long manes are the mirror of the Sun 

they are those who when night has come 
direct the regiments of bats 
and who sharpen their arms 
upon the stone of horror. 

the souls of the guilty 

float in the currents of air 

on the galleys of disaster 

paying no heed to the quarrels of the earthbound 

with fangs of fire 

they tear from the lightning its diamond heart. 

Surely the scorn is a gobbet of smoking flesh 
surely the spirits recite the rosary of vengeance 
but like the black ear of wickedness 
they have never understood a single word 



of the scorpion's obscure tongue: 

nor the anger of the snake-wizard 
nor the violence of the throwing-knife 
can do anything against it. 


Cape Verde Islands 

Aguinaldo Fonseca 

Tavern by the Sea 

A distant glimmer 

And a beacon spitting light 

In the black face of night. 

Everything is brine and yearning. 

Winds with waves on their back 
Make tremble the tavern 
Which is an anchored ship. 

Love passionate and brutal 
Amidst the open laiives 
And the abandon 
Of a prostitute's embrace. 

Upon the air despairings rise 
In heavy swells of smoke. 

BottleSj glasses, bottles . . . 

- Oh ! the thirst of a sailor . . . 

Tattooings pricked on skin 
Proclaim the pain and the bravado 
Of escapades in ports. 

Men of every race. 

Men without homeland or name 

- Just men of the sea 
With voice of salt and wind 
And ships in unclouded eyes. 



Boredom and longing appear 
Chewing on aged pipes . . . 
Appear and then depart 
Staggering off with a drunk. 

Cards, tables, and chairs. 
Bottles, glasses, bottles 
And the tavern-keeper's face 
Stirring up ancient quarrels. 

And everything is full of sin 
And everything is full of sleep 
And everything is full of sea ! 


Sao Tome 

Aldo do Espirito Santo 

Where are the Men Seized in this Wind of Madness? 
Blood falling in drops to the earth 
men dying in the forest 
and blood falling, falling . . . 
on those cast into the sea. . . . 
Fernao Dias for ever in the story 
of Ilha Verde, red with blood, 
of men struck down 
in the vast arena of the quay. 
Alas the quay, the blood, the men, 
the fetters, the lash of beatings 
resound, resoimd, resound 
dropping in the silence of prostrated lives 
of cries, and howls of pain 
from men who are men no more, 
in the hands of nameless butchers. 
Ze Mulato, in the story of the quay 
shooting men in the silence 
of bodies falling. 
Alas Ze Mulato, Ze Mulato, 
The victims cry for vengeance 
The sea, the sea of Fernao Dias 
devouring human Uves 
is bloody red. 
- We are arisen - 
Our eyes are turned to you. 
Our lives entombed 



in fields of death, 

men of the Fifth of February 

men fallen in the furnace of death 

imploring pity 

screaming for life, 

dead without air, without water 

they all arise 

from the common grave 

and upright in the chorus of justice 

cry for vengeance. . . . 

The fallen bodies in the forest, 
the homes, the homes of men 
destroyed in the gulf 
of ravening fire, 
lives incinerated, 

raise the imaccustomed chorus of justice 
crying for vengeance. 
And all you hangmen 
all you torturers 
sitting in the dock: 

- What have you done with my people? . . 

- What do you answer? 

- Where is my people? . . . 
And I answer in the silence 
of voices raised 
demanding justice. ... 

One by one, through all the line. . . . 

For you, tormentors, 

forgiveness has no name. 

Justice shall be heard. 

And the blood of lives fallen 

in the forests of death, 

innocent blood 

drenching the earth 

in a silence of terrors 

shall make the earth fruitful, 

crying for justice. 



It is the flame of humanity 

singing of hope 

in a world without bonds 

where liberty 

is the fatherland of men. . . 



Agostinho Neto 

Farewell at the Moment of Parting 

My mother 

(oh black mothers whose children have departed) 

you taught me to wait and to hope 

as you have done through the disastrous hours 

But in me 

life has killed that mysterious hope 

I wait no more 

it is I who am awaited 

Hope is ourselves 

your children 

traveUing towards a faith that feeds life 

We the naked children of the bush sanzalas 

unschooled urchins who play with balls of rags 

on the noonday plains 


hired to burn out our lives in coffee fields 

ignorant black men 

who must respect the whites 

and fear the rich 

we are your children of the native quarters 

which the electricity never reaches 

men dying drunk 

abandoned to the rhythm of death's tom-toms 

your children 

who hunger 



who thirst 

who are ashamed to call you mother 
who are afraid to cross the streets 
who are afraid of men 

It is ourselves 

the hope of life recovered. 


Antonio Jacinto 


On that big estate there is no rain 

it's the sweat of my brow that waters the crops : 

On that big estate there is coffee ripe 

and that cherry-redness 

is drops of my blood turned sap. 

The coffee will be roasted^ 

ground, and crushed, 

will turn black, black with the colour of the contratado. 

Black with the colour of the contratado ! 

Ask the birds that sing, 

the streams in carefree wandering 

and the high wind from inland: 

Who gets up early? Who goes to toil? 
Who is it carries on the long road 
the hammock or bunch of kernels? 
Who reaps and for pay gets scorn 
rotten maize, rotten fish, 
ragged clothes, fifty angolares 
beating for biting back? 


Who makes the millet grow 
and the orange groves to flower? 
- Who? 



Who gives the money for the boss to buy 
cars^ machinery, women 

and Negro heads for the motors? 

Who makes the white man prosper, 
grow big-bellied - get much money? 

And the birds that sing, 
the streams in carefree wandering 
and the high wind from inland 
will answer: 

- Monangambeeee. . . . 

Ah! Let me at least climb the palm trees 

Let me drink wine, palm wine 

and fuddled by my drunkness forget 

- Monangambeee. ... 


South Africa 

Mazisi Kunene 

To the Proud 

In the twirling jnountains overhung with mist 

Foretell Nodongo the proud name of the subsequent hours 

Since, when you beat the loud music of your wings^ 

The secret night creeps imderneath the measured time. 

When you behold the fixed bulk of the sun 
Jubilant in its uncertain festivals 
Know that the symbol on which you stand shall vanish 
Now that the dawning awaits us with her illusions. 

Assemble the little hum of your pealing boast 
For the sake of the reward meted to Somndeni 
Who sat abundantly pride-flowing 
Till the passer-by vultiires of heaven overtook him. 

We who stood by you poverty-stricken 
Shall abandon you to the insanity of licence 
And follow the winding path 
Where the wisdom granaries hold increase. 

Then shall your nakedness show 

Teasing you before the unashamed sun. 

Itching you shall unfurl the night 

But we the sons of Time shall be our parents' race. 



The Echoes 

Over the vast summer hills 

I shall commission the maternal sim 

To fetch you with her long tilted rays. 

The slow heave of the valleys 

Will once again roll the hymns of accompaniment 

Scattering the gUtter of the milky way over the bare fields. 

You will meet me 

Underneath the shadow of the timeless earth 

Where I lie weaving the seasons. 

You will indulge in the sway dances of your kin 
To the time of symphonic flutes 
Ravishing the identity of water Ulies. 

I have opened the mountain gates 

So that the imposing rim 

Of the Ruwenzori shall steal your image. 

Even the bubbUng hps of continents 
(To the shy palms of Libya) 
Shall awake the long-forgotten age. 

The quivering waters of the Zambezi river 
Will bear on a silvery blanket your name 
Leading it to the echoing of the sea. 

Let me not love you alone 

Lest the essence of your being 

Lie heavy on my tongue 

When you count so many to praise. 


O beloved farewell. . . . 

Hold these leaping dreams of fire 

With the skeletal hands of death 



So that when hungry night encroaches 
You defy her stubborn intrigues. 

Do not look to where we turn and seethe 
We pale humanity^ like worms 
(The ululations might bind you to our grief) 
Whose feet carry the duty of life. 

Farewell beloved 

Even the hush that haunts the afternoon 

Will sing the ding-dong drum of your ultimate joy 

Where we sit by the fireside tossing the memories 

Making the parts fit into each day complete; 

Yet knowing ours is a return of emptiness 

Farewell, yewu ... ye. 

As Long as I Live 

When I still can remember 

When I still have eyes to see 

When I still have hands to hold 

When I still have feet to drag 

So long shall I bear your name with all the days 

So long shall I stare at you with all the stars of heaven 

Though you lead me to their sadistic beasts 

I shall find a way to give my burden-love 

Blaming your careless truths on yesterdays. 

Because I swear by life herself 

When you still live, so shall I live 

Turning the night into day, forcing her 

To make you lie pompous on its pathways. 

So shall I wander around the rim of the sun 

Till her being attains your fullness 

As long as I live. . . . 


Bloke Modisane 


it gets awfully lonely^ 


like screaming^ 

screaming lonely; 

screaming down dream alley, 

screaming of blues, like none can hear; 

but you hear me clear and loud: 

echoing loud; 

like it's for you I scream. 

I talk to myself when I write, 
shout and scream to myself, 
then to myself 
scream and shout: 
shouting a prayer, 
screaming noises, 
knowing this way I tell 
the world about still lives; 
even maybe 
just to scream and shout. 

is it I lack the musician's contact 


or, is it true, the writer 


(except the trinity with God, the machine and he) 



incestuous silhouettes 

to each other scream and shout, 

to me shout and scream 

pry and mate; 

inbred deformities of loneliness. 



David Rubadiri 

An African Thunderstorm 

From the west 

Clouds come hurrying with the wind 



Here and there 

Like a plague of locusts 


Tossing up things on its tail 

Like a madman chasing nothing. 

Pregnant clouds 

Ride stately on its back 

Gathering to perch on hills 

Like dark sinister wings; 

The Wind whistles by 

And trees bend to let it pass. 

In the village 

Screams of delighted children 

Toss and turn 

In the din of whirHng wind. 

Women - 

Babies clinging on their backs - 

Dart about - 

In and out 


The Wind whistles by 

Whilst trees bend to let it pass. 



Clothes wave like tattered flags 

Flying off 

To expose dangling breasts 

As jaggered blinding flashes 

Rumble^ tremble, and crack 

Amidst the smell of fired smoke 

And the pelting march of the storm. 

1 60 


John Mbiti 

New York Skyscrapers 

The weak scattered rays of yellow sun 

Peeped through the hazy tissues 

That blanketed them with transparent wax; 

And as the wrinkled rays closed the dayj 

Smoky chinmeys of New York coughed 

Looking down in bended towers 

And vomited sad tears of dark smoke. 


Joseph Kariuki 

Come Away, my Love 

Come away, my love, from streets 
Where unkind eyes divide. 
And shop windows reflect ovir difference. 
In the shelter of my faithful room rest. 

There, safe from opinions, being behind 
Myself, I can see only you. 
And in my dark eyes your grey 
Will dissolve. 

The candlelight throws 
Two dark shadows on the wall 
Which merge into one as I close beside you. 

When at last the lights are out. 
And I feel your hand in mine. 
Two human breaths join in one. 
And the piano weaves 
Its tmchallenged harmony. 



Jose Craveirinha 

The Seed is in Me 

Dead or living 

the seed is in me 

in the universal whiteness of my bones 



at the undoubted whiteness of my bones 

white as the breasts of Ingrids or Marias 

in Scandinavian lands 

or in Polana the smart quarter 

of my old native town. 

All feel 


that the mingling in my veins should be 

blood from the blood of every blood 

and instead of the peace ineffable of pure and simple birth 

and a pure and simple death 

breed a rash of complexes 

from the seed of my bones. 

But a night with the massaleiras heavy with green fruit 
batuques swirl above the sweating stones 
and the tears of rivers 

All feel 


at the white seed in me 

breeding a rash inflamed with malediction. 



And one day 

will come all the Marias of the distant nations 

penitent or no 



or loving to the rhythm of a song 

To say to my bones 
forgive us, brother. 

Three Dimensions 

In the cabin . . . 

the god of the machine 

in cap and overalls 

holds in his hand the secret of the pistons. 

In the carriage . . . 

the first-class god 

elaborates his schemes in regulated air. 

And on the branch-line . . . 

- feet flat against the steel of the coaches - 

bursting his Ixmgs 

the god of the trolley. 


Noemia de Sousa 


Who has strangled the tired voice 

of my forest sister? 

On a sudden^ her call to action 

was lost in the endless flow of night and day. 

No more it reaches me every morning, 

wearied with long journeying, 

mile after mile drowned 

in the everlasting cry: Macala! 

No, it comes no more, still damp with dew, 
leashed with children and submission. . . . 
One child on her back, another in her womb 

- always, always, always ! 

And a face all compassed in a gentle look, 
whenever I recall that look I feel 
my flesh and blood swell tremulous, 
throbbing to revelations and affinities. . . . 

- But who has stopped her immeasurable look 
from feeding my deep hunger after comradeship 
that my poor table never will serve to satisfy? 

lo mamane, who can have shot the noble voice 

of my forest sister? 

What mean and brutal rhino-whip 

has lashed until it killed her? 

- In my garden the seringa blooms. 

But with an evil omen in its purple flower. 



in its intense inhuman scent; 

and the wrap of tenderness spread by the sun 

over the light mat of petals 

has waited since summer for my sister's child 

to rest himself upon it. ... 

In vain, in vain, 

a chirico sings and sings perched among the garden reeds, 

for the Httle boy of my missing sister^, 

the victim of the forest's vaporous dawns. 

Ah, I know, I know: at the last there was a glitter 

of farewell in those gentle eyes, 

and her voice came like a murmur hoarse, 

tragic and despairing. . . . 

O Africa, my motherland, answer me: 

What was done to my forest sister, 

that she comes no more to the city with her eternal Httle 

(one on her back, one in her womb), 
with her eternal charcoal- vendor's cry? 
O Africa, my motherland, 
you at least will not forsake my heroic sister, 
she shall Uve in the proud memorial of your arms ! 


Valente Malangatana 

To the Anxious Mother 

Into your arms I came 

when you bore me, very anxious 

yoUa who were so alarmed 

at that monstrous moment 

fearing that God might take me. 

Everyone watched in silence 

to see if the birth was going well 

everyone washed their hands 

to be able to receive the one who came from Heaven 

and all the women were still and afraid. 

But when I emerged 

from the place where you sheltered me so long 

at once I drew my first breath 

at once you cried out with joy 

the first kiss was my grandmother's. 

And she took me at once to the place 

where they kept me, hidden away 

everyone was forbidden to enter my room 

because everyone smelt bad 

and I all fresh, fresh 

breathed gently, wrapped in my napkins. 

But grandmother, who seemed like a madwoman^ 

always looking and looking again 

because the flies came at me 

and the mosquitoes harried me 

God who also watched over me 

was my old granny's friend. 




In the cool waters of the river 

we shall have fish that are huge 

which shall give the sign of 

the end of the world perhaps 

because they will make an end of woman 

woman who adorns the fields 

woman who is the fruit of man. 

The flying fish makes an end of searching 

because woman is the gold of man 

when she sings she ever seems 

like the fado-singer's well-timed guitar 

when she diesj I shall cut off 

her hair to deUver me from sin. 

Woman's hair shall be the blanket 

over my coffin when another Artist 

calls me to Heaven to paint me 

woman's breasts shall be my pillow 

woman's eye shall open up for me the way to heaven 

woman's belly shall give birth to me up there 

and woman's glance shall watch me 

as I go up to Heaven. 


Sources of the Poems 

Sources of the Poems 

Aig-Imoukhuede: poem from MS, 

AwooNOR- Williams: all poems from Okyeame, i (1961). 

BolAiMba: aU poems from Esanzo. 

Brew: both poems from Okyeame, i (196 1). 

Clark: all poems from MSS. 

Craveirinha: both poems from Andrade's anthology. 

De Sous a: poem from Andrade's anthology. 

Diop (BiRAGO): all poems from Leurres et lueurs. 

Diop (David): all poems from Coups de pilon. 

EcHERUo: poem from MS. 

Pons EGA: poem from Andrade's anthology. 

Jacinto: poem from Andrade's anthology. 

Kariuki: poem from MS. 

Komey: poem from Black Orpheus. ■^ 

Kunene: all poems from MSS. 

Malangatana: both poems from MSS. 

Mbiti: poem from MS. 

Modisane: poem from MS. 

Neto: poem from Andrade's anthology. 

Okara: The Snowflakes Sail Gently Down, Adhiambo, The 

Mystic Druniy and One Night at Victoria Beach from MSS; 

Were I to Choose^ Piano and Drums, and Spirit of the Wind 

from Black Orpheus. 
Okigbo: all poems from MSS. 
Peters: all poems from MSS. 

Rabearivelo: all poems from Senghor's anthology. 
Ranaivo: both poems from Senghor's anthology. 
Rubadiri: poem from MS. 
Santo: poem from Andrade's anthology. 
Senghor: In Memoriam, Night of Sine, Luxembourg 19 39s 

Totem, Paris in the Snow, Blues, The Dead, Prayer to Masks, 



Visity and AH Day Long from Chants d'omhres and Hosties 
noiresi In what Tempestuous Night and New York from 
^thiopiques; You Held the Black Face, I will Pronounce your 
Name, and Be not Amazed from Chants pour Naett. 

Soyinka: Season from Black Orpheus; all other poems from 

U Tam'si: all poems from Feu de Brousse. 

The following key works are referred to above and in the 

following Notes: 

Senghor's anthology: Nouvelle Anthologie de la poesie negre et 
malgache, edited by L. S. Senghor, with an introduction 
UOrphee noir by Jean-Paul Sartre (Paris, Presses Universi- 
taires de France, 1948). 

Andrade's Caderno: Caderno dapoesia negra de expressdo portu- 
guesa edited by Mario de Andrade (Lisbon, 1953). 

Andrade's anthology: Antologia da poesia negra de expressao 
portuguesa edited by Mario de Andrade and preceded by 
Cultura negro-africana e assimilacdo (Paris, Oswald, 1958). 

Black Orpheus : Journal of African and Afro-American Litera- 
ture, published twice or thrice yearly since 1957, from the 
Ministry of Education, Ibadan, Nigeria. 

Presence Africaine: Cultural Review of the Negro World, pub- 
lished regularly since 1947, of recent years bi-monthly and 
in both French and English editions, by Presence Africaine, 


Notes on the Authors 


Notes on the Authors 

Aig-ImoukhuedEj Frank: b. 1935 at Ediinabon near Ife 
in the Yoruba country of Western Nigeria^ though his home 
is in Benin Province. Attended at least fifteen primary schools, 
then Igbobi College and University College^ Ibadan, where 
he contributed poetry to J.P. Clark's The Horn. Recently 
worked for a national daily in Lagos and is now back in 
Ibadan as an Information Officer. Has written a number of 
plays for broadcasting. The first of the young Nigerian poets 
to attempt writing in pidgin English. Two of his poems have 
appeared in Black Orpheus. 

AwooNOR-WiLLiAMSj George: b. 1935 at Wheta, near 
Keta in the Togo Region of Ghana, of a Sierra Leonian father 
and a Togolese mother. Educated at Achimota and the 
University of Ghana, where he now works in the Institute of 
African Studies, speciaHzing in vernacular poetry. Edits the 
Ghanaian literary review Okyeame, in which some of his 
poems have appeared. 

BoLAMBA, Antoine-Roger: born in the former Belgian 
Congo. Has pubUshed numerous articles and poems in the 
review La Voix du Congolais, of which he was Editor. Influ- 
enced by Cesaire. Has published Esanzo, poems (Presence 
Africaine, 1956). 

Brew, Kwesi: b. 1928 at Cape Coast in Ghana. Graduated 
at the University of Ghana. Published poetry in the first 
number of the Ghanaian literary review Okyeame. Now 
working at the Foreign Office at Accra. 

Clark, John Pepper: b. 1935 in the Ijaw country of the 
Niger Delta, Nigeria. Educated at Government College, 
Warri, and the University College, Ibadan. While at Ibadan 
founded an influential poetry magazine, The Horn. Since i960 
has worked as a journalist in Ibadan and Lagos and is now at 



Princeton on a fellowship. He has published several poems in 
Black Orpheus and his first play. Song of a Goat, was produced 
at Ibadan and Enugu in 1962. A free spirit and an abundant 
talent. Has published Song of a Goat, play (Ibadan, Mbari, 
1962) and Poems (Mbari, 1962). 

Craveirinha, Jose: b. 1922 at Lourengo Marques, where he 
works as a journaUst. His poems have appeared in various 
periodicals and in Andrade's anthology. 

De Sousa, Noemia: b. 1927 at Louren9o Marques. The first 
African woman to achieve a genuine reputation as a modern 
poet, she has published poetry in a number of BraziUan, 
Angolan, and Mozambique journals and in Andrade's 
Caderno and anthology. 

Diop, BiRAGo; b. 1906 at Dakar, Senegal. Studied at Lycee 
Faidherbe in St Louis and later quaUfied as a veterinary 
surgeon. Has spent much of his Hfe in Upper Volta as a 
government veterinary officer. His output is small, but care- 
fully and exquisitely composed. Had several poems in 
Senghor's anthology. Has published Leurres et lueurs, poems 
(Presence Africaine, i960), Les Contes d' Amadou Koumba 
(Paris, Fasquelle, 1947), Les Nouveaux Contes d* Amadou 
Koumba (Presence Africaine, 1958). 

Diop, David: b. 1927 at Bordeaux of a Senegalese father and 
a Cameroonian mother. Killed in an air-crash off Dakar in 
i960. Throughout his short life Diop was in poor health and 
was often in hospital. Moved frequently from his childhood 
onwards between France and West Africa. Was a regular 
contributor to Presence Africaine and had several early poems 
in Senghor's anthology. Has published Coups depilon,poQxns 
(Presence Africaine, 1956). 

EcHERUO, Michael: b. 1937 in Owerri Province in the Ibo 
country of Eastern Nigeria. Educated at Stella Maris College^ 
Port Harcourt, and University College, Ibadan, where he 
read English. Now lecturing in English at the University of 
Nigeria, Nsukka, but is at present at Cornell on a fellowship. 
He produced J. P. Clark's Song of a Goat at Enugu in 1962. 

Fonseca, Aguinaldo: b. 1922 in the Cape Verde Islands. 
Has worked on nimierous literary reviews, including Seara 
Nova, AtlanticOi and Nundo Literario and has contributed to 
Andrade's anthology. Has published Linha do horizonte, 



poems (Edi^ao da Seccao de Cabo Verde da Casa dos 
Estudantes do Imperioj Lisbon, 195 1). 

JacintOj Antonio: bom in Luanda, Angola. His poems 
have appeared in Andrade's Caderno and anthology. 

KariukIj Joseph: b. 1929 in the Kikuyu country of Kenya. 
Educated at Makerere College in Uganda and taught for 
several years in Kenya before coming to England to read 
English at ICing's College, Cambridge. An occasional broad- 
caster while in England, he has recently returned to Kenya to 
teach at Kangaru School. 

KoMEY, Ellis Ayitey: b. 1927 at Accra. Educated at 
Accra Academy. Has published poetry in Black Orpheus and 
West African Review. Now African Editor of Flamingo. 

Kunene,Mazisi: b. 1930 in Durban, where he took his M. A. 
at Natal University. Came to London in 1959 to work on a 
thesis on Zulu poetry. Now engaged on pohtical work and 
writing an epic concerning the origin and purpose of life as 
understood in Zulu tradition. Has written a number of 
vernacular poems and plays, some of which have been pub- 
lished in South Africa. Won the Bantu Literary Competition 
in 1956. 

Malangatana, Valente: b. 1936 at Marra9uene in 
Mozambique. Began drawing as a boy. At this time his mother 
suddenly went mad, while his father was frequently away at 
the mines in South Africa. While working as a servant at the 
Lourengo Marques Club he attended night school and began 
painting 'furiously'. He was d^covered painting one night 
by the brilliant architect Amangio Guedes, who took him 
into his studio. Since then he has worked both as a decorative 
artist on architectural schemes and as a painter of great 
force and originality. In addition to a number of poems, 
he has completed an autobiography. Some of his poetry has 
appeared in Black Orpheus together with an account of his 

Mbiti, John: b. 1931 at Kitui in the Kamba coimtry of 
Kenya. Educated at Alliance High School, Makerere College, 
and Barrington College USA, where he was ordained. Is now 
at Cambridge, working on a thesis. Has published several 
books in Kikamba, his mother tongue, and has contributed 
poems and stories to various periodicals in Europe. 



MoDiSANEj Bloke: b. 1923 at Johannesburg, where he was 
educated. Worked for some years on Drum magazine but fled 
from South Africa a few years ago and now lives and works in 
London as a writer, actor, and broadcaster. Has published 
short stories and articles in many periodicals and is now 
working on three books : a collection of South African stories, 
another of his own stories, and an autobiography. He played 
a leading role in the London production of Genet's The 

Neto, Agostinho: b. 1922 at Icola e Bengo in Angola. 
Studied medicine in Lisbon and returned to practise in 
Angola. Associated with the movement led by Viriato da 
Cruz for the 'rediscovery' of Angola's indigenous culture. 
In i960 Neto was elected President of the Angolan Liberation 
Movement MPLA. In i960 he was arrested and taken to 
Portugal for imprisonment. But in 1962 it was annoimced 
that he had escaped from Portugal with the aid of the demo- 
cratic resistance movement. Has published poetry in Portu- 
guese and Angolan reviews and in Andrade's Caderno and 

Okara, Gabriel: b. 1921 in the Ijaw country of the Niger 
Delta, Nigeria. Educated at Government College, Umuahia, 
he then became a book-binder. At that time he began to write 
plays and features for broadcasting. He is now Information 
Officer with the Eastern Regional Government at Enugu. 
Several of his poems have appeared in Black Orpheus, starting 
with the first number in 1957. He has just completed a novel. 
A self-sufficient, deeply read, and thoughtful poet. 

Okigbo, Christopher: b. 1932 at Ojoto near Onitsha in the 
Ibo country of Eastern Nigeria, The imagery of his poetry is 
often rooted in the groves, shrines, and sacred streams of his 
birthplace. Educated at Government College, Umuahia, and 
University College, Ibadan, where he read Classics. From 
1956 to 1958 he was Private Secretary to the Federal Minister 
of Research and Information, then taught for two years at 
Fiditi near Ibadan before joining the Library staff at the 
University of Nigeria. He is now West African representative 
of the Cambridge University Press. A voracious reader, whose 
passion for classical poetry seems to be reflected in his own 
fastidious craftsmanship. He has published Heavensgate, 



poems (Ibadan, Mbari, 1962), Limits and Other Poems (Mbari, 

Peters, Lenrie: b. 1932 at Bathurst. Educated at Bathurst, 
Freetown, and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took a 
medical degree in 1959. Now studying surgery at Guildford. 
He is an amateur singer and broadcaster and has completed a 
novel which is now under consideration. 

Rabearivelo, Jean- Joseph: b. 1901 at Antananarivo, 
Madagascar, of a noble but poor family. Left school at 
thirteen and began writing poetry at an early age. His early 
work is imitative, for he had to teach himself a mastery of 
French Hterary form before he could develop his own ardent 
style. He founded a literary review and led the way in the 
creation of a new Madagascan literature written in French. 
Passionate and restless in temperament, he married young 
and drifted from one job to another. He became a drug- 
addict and killed himself in 1937 in a mood of despair brought 
on partly by the persistent refusal of the local officials to let 
him visit France, the ambition of his life. Several of his 
poems appeared in Senghor's anthology. Has published La 
Coupe de cendres (1924), Sylves (1927), Volumes (1928), 
Vientes de la Manana (Rio de Janeiro), Presque-songes 
(Tananarive, presented by Robert Boudry, chez Henri 
Vidalie, 1934). 

Ranaivo, Flavien: b. 1914 in the Imerina country near 
Antananarivo, his father being Governor of Arivonimamo. 
He did not go to school imtil he was eight and learnt music 
long before he learnt the alphabet. Since early childhood he 
has spent much time wandering through the countryside 
aroimd the capital, and his poetic style is much influenced by 
vernacular song and ballad forms, especially that called 
*hain-teny\ Hence his crisp use of language, more authentic- 
ally Madagascan than Rabearivelo's. Several of his poems 
appeared in Senghor's anthology. Has published L^ Ombre et 
le vent (Preface by O. Monnoni and Illustrations by Andri- 
amampianina, Tananarive, 1947) and Mes chansons de toujours 
(Paris, 1955). 

RuBADiRi, David: b. 1930 in Nyasaland. Educated at 
Makerere College in Uganda and at King's College, Cam- 
bridge, where he took the English Tripos. During the 



Nyasaland crisis in 1959 he was arrested but went to Cam- 
bridge after his release from detention. An active broadcaster 
while in England, he has recently returned to Nyasaland to 

Santo, Aldo do Espirito: b. 1926 in Sao Tome, where he 
works as a teacher. Has published poetry in several reviews 
of Sao Tome and Portugal and in Andrade's Caderno and 

Senghor, Leopold Sedar: b. 1906 at Joal, an old Portu- 
guese coastal settlement in Senegal. He is of the Serere tribe. 
His father was a groundnut merchant and a Catholic in a land 
predominantly Moslem. Senghor passed brilliantly from the 
local lycee and at the age of twenty-two went on to the Lycee 
Louis le Grand in Paris. Later he completed his agregation at 
the Sorbonne, the first West African to do so. In Paris he met 
Cesaire, Damas, and other black poets and intellectuals from 
the Caribbean area. Prominent as an intellectual and pohtical 
leader of West Africa for many years, he has been at various 
times a teacher at the Ecole Nationale de la France d'Outre- 
mer, a member of the Council of Europe, a Deputy for 
Senegal in the French National Assembly, and a minister in 
the French Government. In i960 installed as first President 
of the Independent Republic of Senegal. Senghor is the 
principle African advocate of Negritude and the only African 
poet who has yet produced a substantial body of work. His 
style emerged fully formed in his first book, which contains 
some of his best poems. These display already his character- 
istic music and imagery, an imagery of the night and the 
moon, of tenderness and protective presences. Has published 
Chants d^ ombres, poems (Paris, lEditions du Seuil, 1945), 
Hosties noires, poems (■Editions du Seuil, 1948 : reissued with 
Chants d* ombre, 1956), Chants pour Naett, poems (Paris, 
Seghers, 1949), ^thiopiques, poems (Seuil, 1956), Nocturnes, 
poems (Seuil, 1961), Langage et poesie negro-africaine{ pub- 
lished in Poesie et langage, Maison du Poete, Brussels, 1954), 
UApport de la poesie negre (in Temoignages sur la poesie du 
demi-siecle, Maison du Poete, Brussels, 1953), Esthetique 
negro-africaine (Diogene, October 1956). 

SoYiNKA, Wole: b. 1935 at Abeokuta in the Yoruba country 
of Western Nigeria. Educated in Ibadan at Government 



College and University College, then at Leeds University, 
where he took English Honours. Taught for a while in Lon- 
don and worked at the Royal Court Theatre, where one of his 
short plays was produced. In i960 he returned to Nigeria, 
where his verse play A Dance of the Forests won the Observer 
Competition and was produced for Nigerian Independence 
in October 1960. Soyinka is actor, musician, and producer as 
well as poets and his return to Nigeria has greatly stimulated 
theatrical hfe there. Has published poetry in Black Orpheus 
(of which he is an editor). Encounter ^ and elsewhere. He is the 
first African poet to develop an elegant and good-humoured 
satirical style, though his recent poetry is darker in tone. Is 
publishing A Dance of the Forests (forthcoming from Oxford 
University Press). 
U Tam'si* Tchicaya: b. 1931 at MpiU in the Middle 
Congo. In 1946 accompanied his father (then Deputy for 
Moyen Congo) to France and studied at Orleans and Paris. 
Hais contributed to various French reviews and written 
many radio features. His poetry exhibits some influence 
from Cesaire, but seems to have a distinctively Congolese 
passion and intensity. Has published Le Mauvais Sang, 
poems (Paris, Caracteres, 1955), Feu de brousse, poems 
(Caracteres, 1957), A Triche-Couer, poems (Paris, Oswald. 
i960), and J^pitome, poems (Oswald, 1962). 


Index of First Lines 

Index of First Lines 

A distant glimmer 135 
A naked sun - a yellow sun 63 

A scroll of blue, an exquisite thought 64 

Africa my Africa 58 

All day long, over the long straight rails 50 

An echo of childhood stalks before me 90 

An image insists 1 10 

And the flower weeps 106 
At home the sea is in the town 81 

Banks of reed 108 
Be not amazed beloved, if sometimes my song grows dark 55 

Before you, mother Idoto _ 103 

Blood falling in drops to the earth 139 

Bright with the armpit dazzle of a lioness 104 

Clawed green-eyed 70 

Come away, my love, from streets 164 

Come over here 123 
Coming and going these several seasons 91 

Contrition twines me like a snake 89 

Dead or living 167 

DonH love me, my sweet 38 

Drop of dew on green bowl fostered 105 

Dzogbese Lisa has treated me thus 78 

Eyes open on the beach 104 

For he was a shrub among the poplars 108 

From the west 159 



Grey 3 to the low grass cropping u^ 

he came to deliver the secret of the sun 124 

/ am standing above you and tide 107 

/ done try go churchy I done go for court 100 
/ dream in the intimate semi-darkness of an afternoon 50 

/ have my gri-gri 129 

/ hear many voices 96 

/ love to pass my fingers 85 

/ must hide him in my innermost veins 46 

/ shall sleep in white calico 80 

/ think it rains 116 

/ was playing 124 
/ will pronounce your name Naett^ I will declaim you^ 

Naettl 54 

Ibadan, running splash of rust 89 

If we tell) gently i gently 63 

In one of the three pots 64 

In the cabin ... 168 

In the cool waters of the river 172 

In the twirling mountains overhung with mist 151 

In those days 59 

In vain your bangles cast 118 

In your presence I rediscovered my name 57 

Into your arms I came 171 

it gets awfully lonely 154 

It is Sunday 43 

Left hand is God's hand 102 

Listen comrades of the struggling centuries - 56 

Lord:, you visited Paris on the day of your birth 46 

Masks! Oh Masks! 49 
My brother you flash your teeth in response to every 

hypocrisy 57 

My mother 145 



Negress my warm rumour of Africa 59 

New York! At first I was confused by your beauty 51 

O beloved farewell. .... 152 

Oaf the young man who lives down there 37 

On that big estate there is no rain I47 

Over the vast summer hills 152 

Rust is ripeness i rust ii 7 

She whose eyes are prisms of sleep 34 

So death 88 

So would I to the hills again 106 

Suddenly becoming talkative 107 

Tell mCi before the ferrymarCs return 88 

That multitude of moulded hands 36 

The black glassmaker 35 

The fire the river thafs to say 123 

The hide of the black cow is stretched 33 

The hills hunch their backs 130 

The moon has ascended between us 103 

The mystic drum beat in my inside 95 

The past - 76 

The present reigned supreme 69 

The price seemed reasonable^ location 1 1 1 

The snowfiakes sail gently 92 
The spring has swept the ice from all my frozen rivers 47 

The storks are coming now 97 

The Sun hung by a thread 62 

The weak scattered rays of yellow sun 163 

The wind comes rushing from the sea 98 

They are lying out there beside the captured roads 48 
This morning at the Luxembourg, this autumn at the 

Luxembourg 45 

Those stick-insect figures ! they rock the dance 87 

Thundering drums and cannons 105 



Traveller i you must set out 112 

We have come home 70 

We have come to your shrine to worship 75 
What dark tempestuous night has been hiding your 

face? 51 

What invisible rat . 33 

What time of night it is 86 

When Adam broke the stone 94 

When at break of day at a riverside 93 

When I still can remember 153 

Who has strangled the tired voice 169 
Woman^ rest on my brow your balsam hands^ your 

hands gentler than fur 44 

You held the black face of the warrior between your 

hands 54 

You leave your faint depressions 113 

You who move like a battered old dream 60 

Your hand is heavy ^ Nighty upon my brow 118 

Your infancy now a wall of memory 77 


3 1262 04092 4630 

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This modern poetical geography of Africa is unique. 
It draws on sixteen countries to present the work of 
black poets yyriting in English, French, and 
Portuguese, although all the poems, many of which 
appear for the first time here, are presented in 
English. As a sample of contemporary African 
writing they reveal an interesting blend of public and 
personal statements 

Poetry composed in African languages has been 
left out, because no two editors could possibly have 
covered the enormous field. This omission, however, 
does not impair the clear picture of emotional, 
social and political pressures (fashionably termed 
'Negritude') as they are reflected by Africa's 
imaginative or committed poets today. 

Published by Penguin Boolcs