Black love poetry contains the poetry of notable African writers
The next two African poets who contribute richly to black love poetry on my page are also Nigerian in origin. They are Christopher Okigbo (1932-1967) and J. P. Clark-Bekederemo (b.1935) whose beautiful black love poetry is on Olokun, the sea goddess.
Okigbo is of particular interest mainly because of his short but meteoric career, cut short by his death in the civil war that ravaged his country. His poetry has been described as difficult but suggestive and prophetic, displaying influences from modernist European and American poetry, African tribal mythology, and Nigerian music and rhythms.
After studying Greek and Latin at the University of Ibadan, Okigbo published his first poems in the student literary journal Horn, which was edited by J.P. Clark. As a poet Okigbo made his breakthrough in 1962, when his works appeared in the literary magazine Black Orpheus. In the same year he also published pamphlet, entitled Heavensgate, and a long poem in the Ugandan cultural magazine Transition, which was published in Kampala.
Okigbo's early poems reflected the divided cultural heritage of his country, although first influences from Virgil, Ovid, Eliot, and Pound seem to be stronger than the oral literature of his people, the Igbo. Heavensgate marked his return to the African part of his heritage and self-renewal through the goddess:
Before you, Mother Idoto/ naked I stand/ before your watery presence/ a prodigal leaning on an oilbean/ lost in your legend...
After his death, the poems Okigbo wished to preserve were published posthumously by Heinemann as Labyrinths in 1971. Let us take a look at his uniquely African black love poetry:
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.
with armpit-dazzle of a lioness,
wearing white light about her;
and the waves escort her,
crowned with moolight.
So brief her presence-,
match-flare in wind's breath-
so brief with mirrors around me.
the waves distil her:
Watermaid of the salt emptiness,
grown are the ears of the secret.
Before you, mother Idoto,
naked I stand,
before your watery presence,
leaning on an oilbean;
lost in your legend...
Under your power wait I on barefoot,
Watchman for the watchword at
out of the depths my cry
give ear and hearken.
Heavensgate is one of Okigbo's best loved poems. Idoto being the river in his village that contained the water sprite/goddess of the same name to which his grandfather was a priest. By the time he was born, his father had converted to strict Roman Catholicism, but Okigbo was very much enamoured to his grandfather and these cultural and ethnic influences came to the fore later on in his work, and assumed pre-eminence as he developed his poetry.
John Pepper Clark Bekederemo(b.1935) is a
great African poet, playwright and essayist. Educated at the Universities of Ibadan and Princeton, he is a retired professor of English. He has been a prolific author who has published numerous volumes of poetry including A Reed in the Tide, which is said to have been the first by a single African poet to be published internationally (rather than in an anthology.) His poetry for which he is best known is inspired a great deal by his cultural roots among the Ijaw people of Nigeria.
In his poetry, he draws his imagery from the indigenous African background of his environment and from Western literary tradition. He has succeeded in combining the two influences to dazzling effect. So while he numbers poets like T.S. Eliot, W.B.Yeats and W.H. Auden among his influences, he has cultivated an eloquent, penetrating, and descriptive voice of his own.
This evolved style was already manifest early his career, as can be seen in the black love poetry example of his works I have chosen for my page. Olokun is a masterpiece of black love poetry:
I love to pass my fingers
(As tide thro' weeds of the sea
And wind the tall fern-fronds)
Thro' the strands of your hair
Dark as night that screens the naked moon:
I am jealous and passionate
Like Jehovah, God of the Jews,
And I would that you realise
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 bounties for men,
You lift us all beggars to your breast.
As I already mentioned earlier, Olokun is no mere female or mortal! She is the feminine deity of the seas very familiar in the culture of the Riverine people of the Niger Delta to which the poet belongs.
The third example on this page of black love poetry from Africa is an engaging piece by Kwesi Brew called The Mesh:
We have come to the cross-roads
And I must either leave or come with you.
I lingered over the choice
But in the darkness of my doubts
You lifted the lamp of love
And I saw in your face
The road that I should take.
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