Epic poem sings the song of Africa

THIS IS an excerpt from Anthem of the Decades, an epic poem of 185000 words that Mazisi Kunene, inaugural South African Literary Awards national poet laureate, wrote while in exile.

THIS IS an excerpt from Anthem of the Decades, an epic poem of 185000 words that Mazisi Kunene, inaugural South African Literary Awards national poet laureate, wrote while in exile.

It was originally written in isiZulu and later translated into English.

From the magic night he heard infinite sounds:

I am the voice of the earth,

I embrace the shoulders of the high sun.

Between my boundaries and the sky, the winds carry the ancient Song.

Eternity surrounds me with the margins of fire,

Tearing through the ligaments of the night.

I shall protect my children from the wounding time.

Until they grow hard and can sing with me:

We are the children of the earth and of eternity.

Making me warm with the lushness of their green voices.

I shall hum their anthems in the ancient valley,

And listen to them as they rise to the sky.

Then I shall grow from a pointed boulder,

Until the oceans retreat to let me sleep forever.

The poet awoke suddenly from his dream.

He listened to the whispering wounds of his mind.

The earth welcomed him with her breast.

Then he knew a pleasant word had found a home.

The poet now ventured into the secrets of the earth.

He travelled where none had ever been;

Here antiquity spoke in a strange language of stone.

As he sat he saw animals crossing two rivers.

He was seized by a desire to learn their language, (which, it is said, resembles that of the earth),

Then he saw a large nation of wandering baboons,

Startled, he addressed them: "Sons and Daughters of the Thusi Clan!

I seek someone to convey the urgent message of the Gods!"

Flattered, the Thusis rejoiced as if already chosen;

Overwhelmed, they shouted: "We shall be the wisest creatures,

Our knowledge shall make us superior to man.

We shall be the chosen of the Gods.

We, the superior beings, possess the gifts of heaven."

But the divine vision follows its own secret truths.

The poet conveyed the will of the Gods and said:

"Such must come from the conference of animals."

They were not cowed by these rebuffs.

Instead they beamed with pleasure,

Rejoicing that they were the first with this message.

Inviting all beasts, small and large, ugly and beautiful.

Some emerged from the rivers, crawling on their belies,

Others came rushing from the skies;

Still, others stampeded over the earth.

All creatures assembled in an open space;

They looked as if they came from different planets.

It was the nation of baboons that addressed the assembly:

"In this congregation there is a word destined for honour.

It shall create a great bond between man and animals.

Our name shall become famous among men and the Gods alike.

Man shall fear us for our close bonds with the Gods;

Because of this, he shall desist of unwarranted arrogance.

He shall bow down to us as the favoured of the Gods.

Perhaps we shall tell this great foot of the earth:

'The Gods have let us into their secrets.'

Then he will know he fares no better than us before the Gods."

Other animals were filled with amazement at these words.

many detested the snobbishness of the Thusi clan.

Who, from time immemorials, shunned the world of the animals,

Never regarding themselves as sharing a common brotherhood .

They kept aloof from others.

They mocked other animals from their homes in the cliffs.

It was now whispered privately at the stance of these braggards.

The elephant expressed what was in the minds of all:

"I am defective; I have no skill to climb the hills.

Because of my clumsiness, I am a laughing stock to others.

In truth, I am not the favourite of my relatives.

But, if my words have meaning, even to my enemies,

I reject the clan of baboons as our representatives."

The crowd of baboons turned their eyes in all directions,

Disturbed by these harsh words and hoping for support.

They had planted a word of contempt about elephants,

And said: "Such bulk goes together with a dull mind."

In disgust, a lioness spat down at their words.

many turned and starred at them with angry eyes.

The poet who had disguised himself as a ram,

Now began to talk: "I am a stammer, I ask for your patience.

I bring you no outstanding gifts of wisdom.

I say only this: 'Such affairs have to be digested.

It is clear that whoever shall be the messenger of heaven,

Shall be endowed with patience and a humble heart,

For such words cannot come from boastful lips.

For this reason, we must devise a crucial test,

Through which we shall choose those eligible for the task of heaven'."

many protested, accusing him of dilly-dallying.

Despite these complaints, the ram continued:

"My plan is a simple one;

Whoever shall shepherd the moon and the sun,

Until both complete their full cycles,

Shall be honoured by the Gods for their patience."

They crowded him with questions,

But the ram continued, ignoring their demands.

"It is clear the message of the Gods is pregnant with meaning;

They have planted a root to bind heaven and earth,

To bring together the two clans in common accord.

The two regions regions must balance each other and be heard.

Whoever shall stand as guardian at the gate of dawn,

Must hold the low ends of evening, waiting for the night;

Thus, the cycle catches up with others, to eternity.

When we have seen all, felt all, suffered all,

And, even reaped some moments of joy;

We shall come closer to his forehead,

And, count the furrows of his wisdom.

We shall wait to feed on his tales."

As the ram spoke, he cast his eyes on all sides,

Eager to infuse in them the spirit of truth.