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II. Poetry
  1. The Negro Speaks of Rivers
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  4. 'River' poems - Hello Poetry

But while the singing is going on, what the cat is really doing is to quietly pick off the rats one by one as they sing with their backs to her. At last only one is left, still singing the song. Just in time, she looks round, and throws herself out of the way and escapes. The structure of the story is thus marked by the recurrence of the song in each new episode. Another Limba example can make this plain:. The plot is the intentionally fantastic and humorous one of the hero Sara and his endeavours to kill and eat a guinea-fowl he had caught without sharing it with any of his friends.

But the bird is a magical one and the more Sara tries to kill and eat it, going through all the usual preparations and cooking procedures, the more it sings back at him. At last he eats it—but even in his stomach the bird sings and demands to be excreted; and in the final effort, Sara dies.

The Negro Speaks of Rivers

First, the guinea-fowl is discovered in the snare, and it sings:. Sara is coming to loose me, Sara is coming to loose me. Here he found a path, a night passed, Here he came and put a snare for me, The guinea-fowl, The guinea-fowl, Ko de ba ko naligbe 8 What is your name? What is your name? Response Tambarenke, Tambarenke. Tambarenke, Tambarenke. Tambarenke, Tambarenke …, etc.

Again the bird sings:. Sara is coming to pluck me, Sara is coming to pluck me. Here he found a path, a night passed, Here he came and put a snare for me, The guinea-fowl, The guinea-fowl, Ko de ba ko nagligbe What is your name? Tambarenke, Tambarenke…. Sara is coming to cut me up… Sara is coming to pound me… 9 Sara is coming to mould me… Sara is coming to put me in to the pot … Sara is coming to take me out… Sara is coming to eat me… Sara is going to lie down…. Sara is going to excrete me… Full story in Finnegan — In some other cases, however, such as some Akan stories, the words are more developed.

The following is a variation on a very common theme:. Elephant and Antelope are said to have made very good friends in the forest. Elephant being the stronger and wealthier of the two was able to lay on sumptuous meals every day to which he invited Antelope.

One day he expressed the desire to visit Antelope in his house. This embarrassed Antelope for he also wanted to give him a good meal. It occurred to him after failing to get any meat that Mother Antelope was the answer, so he caused her to be killed and used. When Elephant arrived he was greatly surprised by the delicious meal and asked to see Mother Antelope.

But Antelope succeeded in putting this off. After the meal however, Elephant again asked for Mother Antelope and Antelope replied in a song as follows:. Have you ever seen a poor man And a wealthy man exchange things equally? Elephant Akwaa Brenkoto that commands his destiny, Elephant that plucks the tops of trees on his right, King of musketry, father and king, Birefi Akuampon, mighty one to whom all stray goods are sent to be used.

Yes; let us proceed, Mother Antelope, I have stewed her. Yes, let us proceed. Mother Antelope, I have used her to redeem myself. Nketia b : But observation of the natural world, especially the animal world is often significant. Take the simple little song about a brook recorded in Malawi in the nineteenth century.

Response Anyanyale. Simultaneously 1st voice Likwanya likunyanya ku chiko. Macdonald i, Have you deceived me? Lightning often presages rain, and this symbolizes hope. But sometimes the hope is disappointed and the rain-clouds move away. Sometimes the song is envisaged as sung by the bird itself, and at least in part is an onomatopoeic representation of the call.

We could instance the many lyrics supposed to be sung and exchanged by birds among the Beti of the Cameroons. The ngiai afan genderme silvatique sings of the insecurity of life:. Te bo zaq. Anya-Noa —5. The bird called uthekwane hammerkop or heron is pictured strolling gracefully by the waterside, with his fine-looking crest and shapely thighs—symbolizing vanity:.

I myself, have often said:— Thekwane! You, with your crest, your leisurely strolling when frequenting the spring, at the time it has been opened up— mark you as a very fine fellow. You have large thighs. Dunning Where, where is the meat? Where, where are the worms? There are none, there are no worms bis. Are there none, are there none over there? Where will I get them from?

Look for them, look for them over there bis. There are none, there are none over there bis. I am going, I am going, I am going home to my people bis. Go, go, you have long since said so bis. He is pictured as turning his head to the right, then to the left, surveying himself in self-admiration. He sings:. Who do I kill stab? Who do I kill? I kill the relations of these indicating his victims outright! I kill the relations of these outright! When men drink beer, they become intoxicated, They take up their sticks And they the sticks clashing together sound xakaxaka, xakaxaka, xakaxaka.

I have been across the Umdawane 11 Where I ate up the big dance. I repeated this by catching a Fantail Warbler early this morning And fixed it on the end of a slender twig. I drank the blood of a bird early this morning. I struck its little stomach, it became red with blood at that very moment, Because I am the King of Birds. Salute me royally Khuleka! Make obeisance to me Nkosi! Dunning 45—6 Moon, you must shine, shine that I may eat the tadpoles; I sit on a stone, and my bones all rattle.

If it were not for my big mouth, The maidens would be crying for me. Rattray But some certainly exist particularly in South and Central Africa. The brief Hottentot song about a baboon gives a vivid little picture of his typical occupation:. Among the South African Bantu the tradition of praising seems still strong, and recent praises although strictly of a different order from the songs quoted in this chapter are much more simple and lyrical in concept than the lengthy and grandiose praises of traditional culture.

Thus Hurutshe men describe a hare:. Merwe —9 Cattle come to mean far more to their owners than mere economic sustenance, and are accepted as emotional and evocative topics for deeply felt expression. This can be seen in the songs collected by recent investigators from the Nilotic cattle-keeping people, and also from a Dinka song published early in the century.

The individual singer typically praises his own bull in an outpouring of personal pride:. My Bull is as white as the silvery fish in the river; as white as the egret on the river bank; as white as new milk.

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My bull is as dark as the rain-cloud, that comes with the storm. He is like Summer and Winter; half of him dark as the thundercloud; half of him as white as sunshine.

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His hump shines like the morning star. His forehead is like a banner; seen by the people from afar. He is like the rainbow. I shall water him at the river, and drive My enemies from the water with my spear. Let them water their cattle at the well; The river for me and my bull. Drink, O Bull, of the river. Am I not here with My spear to protect you? Cummins In fact this can be seen even in many of the songs ostensibly about birds, for the bite of the comment is often its veiled relevance for human action, character, aspiration, or absurdity.

There are lyrics about every facet of human activity. Love and marriage are probably the commonest themes, and the remainder of this section will illustrate some of these songs. Not only its attractions are indicated in song, but also its difficulties or absurdities. Thus one of the Ganda songs connected with marriage lightly warns young suitors:. Not knowing that he is going with a girl with a fiery temper. Sempebwa A nice field?

You have nothing but a house? How would we live? Go to Bukavu; there you can earn plenty of money. You want me to marry me but you have nothing. Merriam Here the girl is pictured as sad and solitary without her husband; like so many others he has gone off many hundreds of miles to work in the mines.

I am most distressed, I am most distressed as my man has gone off to work, And he does not give me clothes to wear, Not even black cloth. Tracey a : Even the idea of courtly and romantic love is not always absent. It seems, for instance, to occur to some extent among the Hausa, whose rich tradition of love poetry is now influencing surrounding people. Dakabo is tin!

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Dakabo is copper! Dakabo is silver! Dakabo is gold! Where greatness is a fortune The thing desired is obtained only with time. Thy things are my things, My things are thy things, Thy mother is my mother, My mother is thy mother, Thy father is my father, My father is thy father! Be patient, O maid! Be patient, young maiden! Fletcher These are short lyric love poems that have become popular recently and are particularly associated with the new urban generation.

It is sung to a distinct tune with syncopated rhythms, but there are relatively few of these tunes and thousands of different poems. There are two, related, themes in these lyrics: first, those addressed to a beloved woman, in hope of marriage; and secondly those to a woman admired from afar off, even one seen only once whom the poet can have little hope of seeing again. This theme of romantic and frustrated love gives rise, it seems, to genuine and deeply felt emotion, expressed in a condensed and symbolic form arising from one central image:.

Woman, lovely as lightning at dawn, Speak to me even once. I long for you, as one Whose dhow in summer winds Is blown adrift and lost, Longs for land, and finds— Again the compass tells— A grey and empty sea. Laurence Like a tall tree which, fallen, was set alight, I am ashes. Andrzejewski My heart is single and cannot be divided, And it is fastened on a single hope; Oh you who might be the moon. Andrzejewski and Lewis ; also pp. The Nyamwezi of central Tanganyika around Tabora can sing:. My love is soft and tender, My love Saada comforts me, My love has a voice like a fine instrument of music.

Tracey There are many ways of describing this fertile theme. The Kuanyama Ambo of South West Africa have a series of brief antiphonal love poems used in courtship, with call and response between man and girl. Usually some analogy of a general rather than a personal kind is made between nature and human relationships:. A palm stick bow does not like the rainy season it warps ; A woman fond of a man does not like to be among people.

Loeb , All things in nature love one another. Never shall I fall in love with a suckling. Joy, joy, O mother, this one sleeps unrealising. I would like to fall in love with a dashing he-man. Would love him-who-appears-and-causes-heart-aches! Yes, I would like a whirlwind of a man! Dhlomo 7. The song expresses all her despair and the mundane yet heart-breaking aspects of parting:. I thought you loved me, Yet I am wasting my time on you. I thought we would be parted only by death, But to-day you have disappointed me. You will never be anything. You are a disgrace, worthless and unreliable.

Bring my things. I will put them in my pillow. You take yours and put them under your armpit. You deceived me. Tracey b : The final examples of love poetry will be taken from their oigo lyrics, one of the many types of songs in Luo country. The girls walk to the hut where they are to be entertained by the men, by the light of the full moon. As they go, they sing these songs, individually or in groups, taking it in turns to sing the whole way.

Meanwhile the young men are waiting, straining their ears for the first sounds of the song. The girls come and are welcomed with gifts. The tunes are simple and rather repetitive with an insistent rhythm. This distinctive style comes out, even in translation, in the following poem. The characteristic refrain, doree ree yo , is far more repetitive and appealing than can be represented in an English text:.

I am possessed, A bird bursting on high with the ree lament I am the untiring singer. Owuor At other times we are given a picture of another side of her nature—wilful and unpredictable, her impulsiveness breaking through the ordinary rules of behaviour. This comes out in one song that is arranged round the image of a family setting out, led by the favourite bull who symbolizes their unity.

Impulsively, the girl runs ahead to keep up with the animal, in spite of the pain in her chest from her exertion:. Our bull is starting off for Holo, The Kapiyo clan have fine cattle. Then the giggling one said, Then the playful one said, How amusing The impulsive ree singer Is a forest creature lamenting the pain in her chest; The forest creature lamenting the pain in her chest, The spirited one lamenting the pain in her chest, The giggling ree singer Is a forest creature lamenting the pain in her chest, The Nyagwe Gune lamenting the pain in her chest, The impulsive ree singer Is a forest creature lamenting the pain in her chest.

It is one which does not necessarily correspond in all ways to the reality, but forms a conventional part of this particular form of art:. She lives in a dreamland, though much tempered by the idealised role she longs to fill in the community… As with a bird, singing appears to be the natural outpouring of the life force itself. The prestige of clan and family depended not only on the prowess of its young men but also on the zealous way in which its women represented its interests in song and dance. For a group of girls the oigo was a means of announcing their presence and of differentiating themselves from the older married women; for an individual a way of expressing her idiosyncrasies Owuor That is, there is response of some kind between soloist and chorus, and the song depends on the alternation between the two parts.

It is he who decides on the song, and when it should start and end. Even more important, he can introduce variations on the basic theme of the song in contrast to the part of the chorus, which is more or less fixed. In other cases, the soloist has complete scope to improvise his part of the verse as he chooses apart perhaps from the very first line.

This type of composition results in many impromptu and often ephemeral lyrics. This is partly a question of who the performers are.

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Sometimes, for instance, there is more than one cantor; two or even three may interchange verses with each other as well as with the accompanying chorus. In addition to these, a little elaboration in the form of a short introduction based on the words of the song may be sung by the cantor or by a member of the chorus who wishes to start a new song before the leading phrase A is begun. Examples of this will be found in the music of kple worship of the Ga people. It is also greatly exploited in Adangme klama music Ibid.

Further extensions of the basic principle are also common. One might be built up on a kind of sequential pattern so that A and B are repeated at different levels, resulting in a form of A B A 1 B 1. The complete unit now of four sections, or even of six, eight, or more can be repeated several times over. In this type too the cantor is at liberty to introduce slight variations, melodic or textual. This raises the problem of how the song is ended.

Sometimes the end is abrupt and the leader simply stops; but at other times he joins in the chorus response, often with a prolonged final note. In other songs there is a special closing refrain. In songs of this pattern there is not the same balanced alternation between the two parts. Instead the soloist merely introduces the song. The cantor might sing the entire verse of the song right through once, and this is then repeated by the chorus.

An example of this is the simple but effective Ghanaian song:. I sleep long and soundly; Suddenly the door creaks. I open my eyes confused, And find my love standing by. Mother Adu, I am dying. These actions reinforce the notion from lines that peoples of African descent have ancient spiritual and physical ties to nature.

When Hughes wrote this poem in , ideas and images of primitive, tribal cultures were very chic in American art and literature. After Hughes visited Africa in , he no longer viewed Africa as a mythic, exotic land where black identity was rooted, but instead as a land ravaged by Western imperialism, a symbol of lost roots. In his later writing, Hughes steered away from images of African primitivism, for he saw such depictions of African and African-American culture as impeding rather than advancing the cause of racial equality.

Here Hughes draws an analogy between the ancient rivers alongside which Africans founded civilizations, and the Mississippi, the river on which several American cities were built, including St. The change may represent the improved status of African Americans after the Civil War , hope for future changes, or the power of the poet to transform reality through imaginative language.

Line 8 personifies the river by giving it the human capacity to sing. Through this personification, Hughes associates the ceaselessness of the mighty river with the eternal, life-affirming endurance of Africans and African Americans. The poem closes with the phrases that opened it. By enacting the circling of time and rivers, the speaker again associates himself with those elemental forces. Amazingly, although it was composed very quickly when he was only seventeen, it is both polished and powerful.

The opening lines of the poem introduce the ancient and powerful cultural history of Africa and West Asia, with the mention of the Euphrates and the dawn of time. Next the Congo, mother to Central Africa, lulls the speaker, to sleep. Last, the poem moves to more recent times, with the introduction of the Mississippi. The speaker clearly represents more than Langston Hughes, the individual. The poem describes, underlying that identity, an eternal spirit, existing before the dawn of time and present still in the twentieth century. The different sections of the poem emphasize this: the speaker actually functions on two levels.

One is the human level. However, the poem also discusses a spiritual level where the soul of the speaker has been and continues to be enriched by the spirit of the river, even before the creation of humanity. Thus, the second and third lines of the poem develop an eternal, or cosmic, dimension in the poem.

It honors the wisdom and strength which allowed African-Americans to survive and flourish in the face of all adversity, most particularly the last few centuries of slavery. The poem exalts the force of character, the wisdom and strength, which created this survival. He describes the inspiration for the poem in his autobiography, The Big Sea. Yet even after centuries of brutal inhumanity in bondage, the African-American spirit has emerged triumphant. Rivers have been a powerful force throughout human history. Many early mythologies made the river—or the river god—a symbol of both life and death.

It is easy to understand the reason for this since most of the great early civilizations grew up in river valleys. The Euphrates, which is the first of the rivers mentioned in the poem, helps to form Mesopotamia. Even today, world history textbooks refer to the area using the symbolic phrase, the cradle of civilization, because of the number of ancient kingdoms which flourished there: Ur, Sumer, Babylon.

The Nile, too, played a central role in early civilization. It ensured Egyptian prosperity. Thus the river was worshipped as the god, Khnum, who made the earth fruitful.

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Central African tribes also believed in the powerful river spirits who were sources of life, wisdom, and purification. Even, today, Christian baptism, which originated when John the Baptist anointed Jesus Christ in the River Jordan, represents both a symbol of purification and the entrance to new life. Some critics remark that these repetitions echo the tone and rhythm of black spirituals. Hughes became famous for his use of other African American musical forms in his poetry, particularly jazz and blues.

The Bible catalogs who begot whom, and who boarded the ark; the poet Virgil cataloged all the ships and heroes going into the Trojan War. Catalogs, like the technique of long lines, represent vast numbers and magnitude. During the period of Reconstruction which followed the American Civil War , Northern troops remained in the South in order to help eradicate the lingering effects of slavery.

In addition, branches of a political organization, known alternately as the Union or Loyalty League, were established to ensure voting rights for former slaves. As a result of this, many African Americans held political office at the local, state, and federal level; two black senators and several congressmen were elected from the South during those years. In fact, one of the senators, Hiram R.

Revels, was elected to complete the term of Jefferson Davis , former president of the Confederacy. However, when the Northern troops left the region in , state and local governments quickly returned to white domination. Local authorities began to set up a series of statutes aimed at disenfranchising black citizens. Poll taxes and literacy tests were mandated; laws requiring segregation were passed. The federal government in Washington looked the other way, ignoring the problem.

Thus by the beginning of the twentieth century, the South was once again firmly under white control. Blacks were summarily denied rights they had previously held. In Alabama, for example, the number of blacks on the voting rolls went from , in to in The denial of political and civil rights was, however, only a part of the problem which blacks faced in the United States. Once the Reconstruction era ended, blacks had little protection against a rising wave of violence directed against them.

Lynching became part of the southern way of life. Several prominent African-American leaders attempted to address these issues. One was Booker T. Washington, perhaps the most dominant figure in African-American political and social thought at the time and the founder of the Tuskeegee Institute in Alabama. He did not believe in directly challenging the unjust southern system.

Instead, he felt that vocational and technical training, which would improve the economic status of blacks, would encourage a gradual change. The primary educational goal of his Tuskeegee Institute, therefore, was industrial education, the preparation for jobs. While academic subjects were not ignored, they also were not emphasized. One prominent critic was W. DuBois, a teacher and intellectual who had received a doctoral degree from Harvard.

In , the two organized a meeting at Niagara Falls to protest discrimination. Woodrow Wilson , who was born in the South, proved hostile to black requests for equality, and soon segregation became official government policy in offices in Washington, D. When Monroe Trotter led a protest group to meet with Wilson, the two men became involved in an exceedingly angry confrontation. Mob violence was also on the increase. During the years from to , race riots occurred in cities throughout the United States. In order to accomplish this, DuBois founded Crisis magazine, which also provided a forum for the artistic expression of black writers.

For several decades, it provided a voice of protest, celebration, and opportunity. Although most critics now praise his ongoing dedication to racial struggle, when The Weary Blues , was published in , critical reactions were mixed. This poem, moreover, is sometimes considered one of his lyrics, and lyrics are often considered non-political. Critics regard this poem as a lyric because it has a first person speaker who expresses a strongly felt emotion and appears to exist outside of time. Several critics suggest that the lyric speaker of this poem begins with personal memory but moves steadily toward collective memory.

Hughes wrote the poem on a train he took to visit his estranged father in Mexico. Crossing the Mississippi outside St. She writes plays, short stories, poems and essays and is currently working on a novel. Although Hughes brought rhythmic innovations from jazz and the blues to his future poetry, this classic poem, written when he was only 18 years old, stands at the gateway of his entire body of work.

The black man had been brought to American shores as a slave and his presence preceded the birth of the United States, but in those years of forced illiteracy when a slave was forbidden to read and write, no work of note dealt with his history.

'River' poems - Hello Poetry

After being freed by Abraham Lincoln in the Emancipation Proclamation of , his rights were squashed in the South under the Jim Crow laws. These blatant injustices dealt with separate but unequal drinking fountains, blacks sitting at the back of the bus, not being allowed into hotels except through the back door as employees, and innumerable other humiliations.

In particular, the act of voting was made into such an obstacle course for black voters, most were discouraged from the ordeal. The liberal North harbored less but subtler prejudices that stifled black initiative. In fact, Hughes was. The black mother and her progeny, who never abandoned their spirituality but refined it into music, poetry, and dance, are now seen for their true value, revealed in the light as golden. Although Hughes would soon hate his father for his views, when he wrote this, his hatred had not surfaced yet.

In that case, out of anxiety and suppressed anger, a positive and stately poem emerged. Also, our speaker is giving us a sweeping overview, suggesting possibly the beginnings of life by presenting a picture of water, one of the essentials for life. At this point, also, we understand the speaker is not only speaking for himself, but for all Negroes. In the second stanza, which is only a line, Hughes compares his soul to the rivers, saying it has the depth of a river. The implications were that this music and food came from the deprivations the black man had to endure in an oppressive white society and, therefore, came from the soul.

In the third stanza, the speaker traces Negro history through rivers intimately connected with the evolution of those with African roots. Also, according to Muslims, Jews, and Christians, the Garden of Eden existed nearby, a beautiful spot believed to be the Al-Qurah of today. Besides, African slaves were sold to countries in the Americas populated by Judeo-Christian Europeans, products of this Mesopotamian-born, Western civilization.

The next river mentioned is the Congo, the second longest river in Africa, which runs through the center of the continent. Here, too, rich civilizations rose up in a world where man lived beside the lion and the elephant. Ironically, though, in the more recent past, tribes living along the Congo, and the Kongo tribe in particular, helped feed the slave trade. The second interpretation does not contradict the first, but puts events into sequence and deepens the poetry.

The third river is the Nile, the longest river in Africa and one that flows through many African nations. Because of the pyramids, the Egyptians needed as much manpower as possible and enslaved those they captured to build their gigantic tombs. Still, this knowledge does little to detract from the glamour and, if anything, balances it with reality. The last river mentioned is the Mississippi, the longest river in the United States, and one intimately connected to slavery. Louis, Missouri. Its muddy bosom connects it to the Negro mother who nurtured her babies despite the fact that they could be taken away from her at any time and despite the fact that some of their fathers were the white masters.

In the end, after a life of cruel hardship, the heavenly rewards come at death, at sunset. The black mother and her progeny, who never abandoned their spirituality but refined it into music, poetry and dance, are now seen for their true value, revealed in the light as golden. The final repetitions also add a rhythm to the poem, as if, after the flow of the first and third stanzas, like the river, this poem has arrived at its mouth, its place of proclamation to the world. These people, these Negroes, have come out of Africa, and later out of slavery, and they have flourished in the fertile crescent of their spirituality and contributed much to.

Let them look back on a golden heritage, Hughes seems to say; let them speak of these rivers that are so much a part of that heritage. Dean Rader has published widely in the field of twentieth-century poetry. In his essay he explores the connections between Hughes and Walt Whitman. In fact, he was often in poor health. And, it is unlikely that he literally sent his barbaric yawp over the roofs of the world, though he might have done a good deal of yelling.

Similarly, the biographical figure, Hughes, did not build his hut near the Congo, as he says in the poem, nor did he participate in the construction of the pyramids in Egypt. In both poems, the poets use the lyric persona to let the individual stand for many, or, to be more precise, to stand for everyone. He has not done these things himself; he has done them through others. Through a poetic and cultural connection to these places and to history, he has participated in important events for African and African-American citizens.

For Kids - I am a River Rhyme - Cartoons and Rhymes for Kids