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:

Black Woman

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

eager caresses

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

sweetening, child.

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

New African

If you like Black Love Poetry and would like to receive more information directly in your inbox, subscribe to my Love Poetry of The World newsletter

Return from Black Love Poetry to Love Poetry of The World