Black love poetry contains the poetry of notable African writers
Black love poetry from Africa is an even more recent phenomenon in literature than its African-American counterpart. Probably the earliest example of the genre I have for you is from the apostle of the Negritude movement, Leopold Sedar Senghor who was a young Senegalese student in Paris in the 1930's where his literary career was born. For reasons I have spoken of earlier ( barring ancient Egypt), records of African examples of black love poetry do not predate the 20th century.
The next noteworthy feature of the black love poetry from Africa I have on this page, is the love muse is hardly ever a product of the personal experience of the poet. Rarely is some beauty, both in form and temperament, the object of desire transposed into lilting verse by the inspired one.
It would however be presumptuous of us to conclude from this that African poets never experienced the joys of love personally. Only that historically, they rarely gave expression to it in writing. You will see from the examples of black love poetry I have for you from the Motherland, that Senghor, Soyinka, Okigbo, J.P. Clark-Bekederemo and others allowed their muse to draw more from earth and sea mythical figures than women of flesh and blood. Possibly because of the affinity Africans share with nature and its denizens.
The resultant black love poetry is not in any way diminished in content or form and often the imagery is dazzling and rich. An exotic tapestry that is unabashedly African in origin and different in context from what has gone on beforehand.
African literature draws from the unseen world in equal measure as it does from the temporal, and we can see this outstandingly demonstrated in the novels of contemporary Nigerian authors, Ben Okri and Helen Oyeyemi. Indeed Africa is magical and its magic seeps into the pores, almost catching the unwary by surprise.
Leopold Senghor (1902-2001) was influenced by the poets of the Harlem Renaissance especially Claude McKay. He also became one of the guiding lights of the Negritude Literary Movement. Senghor's first collection of poems, CHANTS D'OMBRE (1945), was inspired by the philosopher Henri Bergson. It dealt with the themes of exile and nostalgia. He later put aside his calling as a writer for politics and became the first head of state of his country Senegal.
Senghor's poems, written in French, have been translated into several languages: Spanish, English, German, Russian, Swedish, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and others. In his poetry Senghor invites the reader to feel the nearly mystical, supersensory world of Africa. Noliwe is his black love poetry:
The weakness of the heart is holly...
Ah! You think that I never loved her
My Negress fair with palmoil, slender as a plume
Thighs of a starlet otter, of Kilimanjaro snow
Breasts of mellow rice-fields, hills of acacias
under the East Wind.
Noliwe with her arms of boas, lips of the adder
Noliwe, her eyes were constellations there is no
need of moon or drum
But her voice in my head and the feverous pulse
of the night…
Ah! You think that I never loved her!
But these long years, this breaking on the wheel
of the years, this carcan strangling every act
This long night without sleep I wandered like a
mare from the Zambezi, running and rushing at the
Gnawed by a nameless suffering, like the
leopards in the trap.
I would not have killed her if I had loved her less.
I had to escape from doubt
From the intoxication of the milk of her mouth,
from the throbbing drum of the night of my blood
From my bowels of fervent lava, from the uranium
mines of my heart in the depths of my Blackness
From love of Noliwe
From the love of my black skinned People.
The next example of black love poetry from Africa and Leopold Senghor is just as impressive:
Naked woman, black woman
Clothed with your colour which is life,
with your form which is beauty!
In your shadow I have grown up; the
gentleness of your hands was laid over my eyes.
And now, high up on the sun-baked
pass, at the heart of summer, at the heart of noon,
I come upon you, my Promised Land,
And your beauty strikes me to the heart
like the flash of an eagle.
Naked woman, dark woman
Firm-fleshed ripe fruit, sombre raptures
of black wine, mouth making lyrical my mouth
Savannah stretching to clear horizons,
savannah shuddering beneath the East Wind's
Carved tom-tom, taut tom-tom, muttering
under the Conqueror's fingers
Your solemn contralto voice is the
spiritual song of the Beloved.
Naked woman, dark woman
Oil that no breath ruffles, calm oil on the
athlete's flanks, on the flanks of the Princes of Mali
Gazelle limbed in Paradise, pearls are stars on the
night of your skin
Delights of the mind, the glinting of red
gold against your watered skin
Under the shadow of your hair, my care
is lightened by the neighbouring suns of your eyes.
Naked woman, black woman,
I sing your beauty that passes, the form
that I fix in the Eternal,
Before jealous fate turn you to ashes to
feed the roots of life.
Wole Soyinka (b.1934) is the next African poet I have chosen to illustrate black love poetry. Soyinka is one of the most celebrated African literary figures. He became the Nobel Laureate for literature in 1986, and was educated at the University of Leeds. A professor of comparative literature, He has combined a brilliant academic career in drama and literature with political activism in Nigeria
Soyinka has published over 20 works in drama, novels and poetry. He writes in English and his literary language is marked by great scope and richness of words. He bases his writing on the mythology of his own tribe-the Yoruba-with Ogun, the god of iron and war, at the centre. He wrote his first plays during his time in London, The Swamp Dwellers and The Lion and the Jewel (a light comedy), which were performed at Ibadan in 1958 and 1959 and were published in 1963.
Moremi is a mythical and legendary heroine of Yoruba folklore, the people of Western Nigeria to which the poet belongs. she is the subject of his black love poetry:
for Moremi, 1963
Earth will not share the rafter's envy; dung floors
Break, not the gecko's slight skin, but its fall
Taste this soil for death and plumb her deep for life
As this yam, wholly earthed, yet a living tuber
To the warmth of waters, earthed as springs
As roots of baobab, as the hearth.
The air will not deny you. Like a top
Spin you on the navel of the storm, for the hoe
That roots the forests plows a path for squirrels.
Be ageless as dark peat, but only that rain's
Fingers, not the feet of men, may wash you over.
Long wear the sun's shadow; run naked to the night.
Peppers green and red—child—your tongue arch
To scorpion tail, spit straight return to danger's threats
Yet coo with the brown pigeon, tendril dew
between your lips.
Shield you like the flesh of palms, skyward held
Cuspids in thorn nesting, insealed as the heart of
A woman's flesh is oil—child, palm oil on your tongue
Is suppleness to life, and wine of this gourd
From self-same timeless run of runnels as refill
Your podlings, child, weaned from yours we embrace
Earth's honeyed milk, wine of the only rib.
Now roll your tongue in honey till your cheeks are
Swarming honeycombs—your world needs
Camwood round the heart, chalk for flight
Of blemish—see? it dawns!—antimony beneath
Armpits like a goddess, and leave this taste
Long on your lips, of salt, that you may seek
None from tears. This, rain-water, is the gift
Of gods—drink of its purity, bear fruits in season.
Fruits then to your lips: haste to repay
The debt of birth. Yield man-tides like the sea
And ebbing, leave a meaning of the fossilled sands.
African Black Love Poetry 2
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