Frances-Marie Coke: poems of nostalgia / poems of insight, reflecting upon a Jamaican past

"Washday by the River" by Jamaican artist Bernard Stanley Hoyes

“Washday by the River” by Jamaican artist Bernard Stanley Hoyes

Frances-Marie Coke (Jamaica)

River Women


Behind their barely-covered lips,

The Whisperers of Above Rocks huddled

in the no man’s land where housetops leaned


and clotheslines tilted, their arms akimbo

jutting out from hilly backsides, fingers jabbing

at each other’s brows, presiding over business


in the valley. Wielding bramble brooms

dragged across their piece of dust,

they swept up kass-kass with cut-eye,


frock-tail fanning an’ kiss-teet, passing sentence

on grudgefulness and bad mind, malice and red-eye ––

hot words spiced with vinegar and scotch bonnet.


They planted after-births and futures at the navel-string tree;

washed away bad luck with sinklebible and baptized

in healing streams; read meanings in the wind,


in deadening stares of three-foot horse, dogs

howling at full moons, headless sen-seh fowls fluttering

in the feathered blood spilled in time for Sunday lunch.


Long-robed, heads wrapped in calico, they journeyed

down dark mud-tracks to their sideways church,

there to sip white rum and rule the nine-night sankey.


Their faces wore each other’s rage and everything

that caused it –– (one more half-empty butterpan

de pickney bring up wid him two lef-han from riverside!)


They railed at daughters sent to better life in town,

ending up in bed and in the way for men

with nothing but their curly hair and two-toned shoes.


No yard was spared from throw-word

when river women draped their wash-pans with their legs,

flared their noses and their skirts, (tucked in where it mattered),


and punished the missis white sheets with Guinea Gold

and corn cob, muttering underneath their breaths

when stains betrayed dark secrets of Old Stony Hill.


By sunset they’d passed judgement on everything

that counted: clear skin, dark skin, brown skin ––

each with its own grade, depending on the hair ––


knotty-knotty, picky-picky, good or nice and long ––

every version praised or damned at the river-bank,

every son instructed how to lighten with a nice brown girl.


In time we knew our verdict: “Miss G. gran-pickney dem

have good colour and nice hair, but dat one wid

de mawga foot, she want some good home-training!”


The river murmured, minding its own business.

. . .

Idlewild in August


Far from the city rattle,

in my retreat behind the country piano,

its keys at rest from the gingery fingers

of a grandfather who loved and ruled


with few breaks in his silence, I stumbled

on a haven that was mine alone –– spread out

across old pages that splintered

as I turned them to unearth another time:


adventures that entranced, words that smelled

of sky and sea; of consolation brewed

in Limacol and Lipton’s tea,

of love outgrowing loss as Gramma

brushed my hair steeped in rosemary bush

we uprooted from the pearl-pebbles

strung out along our backyard beach.


Idlewild erupted every August

when Kingston schoolyards rested

from their noisy rows of prisoners in their blue

and white, with their inky fingers scrawling over

British kings and queens, parliaments and wars

that tossed their disconnected islands out to sea.


Along the razor rocks and seagrape bush

huddled round the water’s yawning edge,

we scampered after cowrie shells

and soldier crabs between our mugs of tambrin tea,

sweet corn and condense milk.


Now, children of the salt and sand, beguiled

by freedom in the wild, we arched our backs

against the wind and vanished in the eddies

of McCarthy’s pool, defying sea-egg and mermaid,

till one by one our heads bobbed up anew,

like calabashes floating in the unbroken blue

stretched out along the spine of Idlewild.


Seasoned to the bone,

our sinews contoured on the edge-cliffs

of the creek, we threw off British history,

simmered in our praisesongs, gospels ringing

in our ears, laying tracks of who we were,

of what we would become!

. . .

Lessons for Young Women


Proper English words were not enough

to teach the serious lessons girls must learn.


Only stories of who fell, or proverbs in Jamaica talk

could do the job. From morning until night


doomsday sayings echoed, breaking silences

that drizzled in between: what it meant to be a big girl,


knowing only one woman can live inside the house

so since is not you paying rent, it can’t be you.


If you flying past yuh nest, tek sleep mark death

and call back; otherwise you soon find out


what happen to dem force-ripe girls

who paint them lip and ass in red


and hang up hang up at the gate, with all dem

old bwoy bwoy from down the road. Show me yuh company


an ah tell you who you are, for crab who walk too much

always los’ him claw and if you sleep wid dawg


you must get up wid flea. For what sweet nanny goat

always run dem belly, and what gone bad a morning


can’t come good a evening! So if you think you bad,

an’ you ears don’t have no hole, gwan you ways


but mine you don’t cut off you nose an spite you face!

. . .

One of Us is Missing


We loved you only yesterday when we were young;

when stars stopped by to hear you sing.


We loved you only yesterday

when moonlit stairways led to magic kingdoms

and golden poui petals cushioned every fall.

We loved you only yesterday when we whispered

all our dreams into the Mona sky.


The stars stopped by last night to hear you sing

but found you locked in silence.

At dusk a hand fell on your shoulder,

taking –– your fingers

groping in the darkness for a light.


You never knew the bow was bent

–– the arrow drawn and stiff ––

until you heard the songbird in the evening

and smiled into the night.

St. Mary's Church_Port Maria, Jamaica: photograph copyright Mark Phinn

St. Mary’s Church_Port Maria, Jamaica: photograph copyright Mark Phinn


The Search


How strange that we should sip at once

both peace and poison from this cup

raised by priests and sorcerers,

chanting alleluias amid the incense-bearing altar boys,

insensate hordes of pilgrims lost,

groping in the teeming murk for light,

finding only the eternity of night.


How strange to search,

to finger baubles,

not knowing there’s a difference

between the thinly layered gloss we crave

and hammered gold that outlasts the grave.

. . .

Jamaican-born Frances-Marie Coke has lectured at the University of the West Indies, and has also been a high-school teacher and guidance counsellor. The Balm of Dusk Lilies, her first book, came out in 2001. The poems featured above are from Intersections, published in 2010 by Peepal Tree Press.

. . . . .

Sensitivity and Strength: poems of Delores Gauntlett

Under a yellow Poui tree in Hope Gardens

Delores Gauntlett

A Sense of Time


I drive past my father’s grave

and past the place where I began.

That swing-bridge to my childhood games

is now a town to which I seldom return.

There the headstones wear familiar names,

and there I turned the page

at five to my first big word,

repeating it until it blurred.


The church grew smaller in the rear

-view mirror; my face awash in the wind,

I approached the curves I knew by heart,

then drove the silent miles to Flat Bridge.

The sun going down behind the hill

hauled its net of shadow as it fell.

. . .

On Growing Tired of Her Complaints

One pound of fretting can’t repay one ounce of debt.

(Jamaican proverb)


As far away as you are now from childhood

is the gap between ideas and reality,

the air tensed with what you took pleasure in,

doodling in complaints, not knowing what to do ––

not knowing what accidental turn you took,

that blew everything entirely out of whack

though the worst of the rain has come and gone.

Surrounded by whatever else you happened on,

numbed by repetition, eyes clenched,

you cannot catch the rhythm of the wind,

indecipherable; you move from room to room.


I knew you when a day made a difference,

when you’d look out of the window and gaze

at anything: a bee, the dew drop from a leaf

in the spot by the still pond under the trees.

Now you linger by the bridge where what’s unlived

is not available, where even a mild occurrence

shapes a stronghold of might-have-been, of this and that;

and nothing I say today

will be any more convincing than the last.

Meantime the rest of the world unfurls, shading

the retreating back of history, and what happens, happens.

. . .

Love Changes Everything


At the window where our two reflections

meet, pulled as to a magnet to the rhythm

of Zamfir’s panflute whistling its seduction

Love, love changes everything…

Sometimes the body needs to set itself on fire,

to consume the dry leaves and twigs as if swept

by a magic wind to a new view of desire,

barefoot, heart racing from the outset,

flayed like an upheld palm in the rain.

Then work defers to moments that assume

good reason to be here and love, not live in vain,

gauging time like an echo in a vacant room.

We, once strangers on the eve of first sight,

blush through blue August, whispering goodnight.

. . .

Another Mystery of Love


He loved her, but he used his love like a rope:

frayed from their tug-of-war of the heart,

stretched taut across his frightening temper

till he fell flat on his back to win.

Meanwhile she slipped away with something heartrending

caught in her eye,

diverting her attention by making bread,

kneading until the sun burned out,

slapping the dough with the heel of her hand

to revenge herself

against the familiar words which quailed her

into thinking everything she did was wrong.

Then he, looking as though it had never happened,

and she, never looking at another man,

stared out of the window, wondering at the bird

clinging to a swaying stalk in silence,


like a patient thought.

. . .

Love Letters


At first it was your slick quips

that quickened me to sit down and take notice ––

when to my one-sentence reply you said

I reminded you of Lord Wavell,

the British general in World War II

who, the more adulation he received,

the more taciturn he became,

that brevity, brevity was his forte,

that his strength lay in silence.


That was the hook that lifted my attention,

and when it seemed you guessed what I was wearing

the first intensity warmed the air to now.

You wound me a path along windswept beaches

to a place unmarked on any map

where we resumed our secret walk with words

guardedly wrapped around ourselves,

though between each line the meaning was implied.


And when I wrote to you my reason

why I couldn’t meet you face to face, I lied.

I wanted instead to lean into your hands

away from the tangibles of daily life,

wearing the countenance that each word bears

where nothing is well founded; yet

when you invited me to sit down, and I did,

I understood more and less at the same time.

. . .

Writing a Poem in Metre


Takes rain, the racket

in a madman’s head

and strains it

into sonata.

(Wayne Brown: ‘Critic’)


Nothing on the page made sense.

I was on the brink of giving up

fretting in pentameter,

feeling like a fish pulled from the sea

into the fierce sunlight,

when your no-fooling-around approach

and a direct heart sent me to work.

That each line should slip under the skin,

as in the blood, fleshed out from the nuance

of sound on sound, as in the beat of a heart!

I pushed off into the swell,

swimming across the bay of iambics:

three, four, five beats underwater,

pulling, pulling against the tension,

taking a turn on my back,

watching the water scatter from my hands,

splash, splash, each slow spondee

stretching my thought beyond recollection.


Call it the music in the traffic-hiss,

entertaining an early morning thought,

or the climb uphill to the first clearing

to move around in when a foot doesn’t fit.

To one who asks

“What’s the good of all that?”

I can only speak for me,

that it discovers what I have to say,

takes my hand and leads me down a lane

from which I can take my time returning.

. . .

That Sunday Morning


She was not begging for forgiveness when she knelt

facing the wall, her head flung back

as if preparing to hold a flashlight to the eyes of Jesus.

Full of argument, raw with energy,

something shouting in her breast flashed clear again

to the August afternoon when the death winds came

to the broken sidewalk that narrows to a lane,

when, after the bullet wrapped itself in silence,

it took the colour from the photo in her purse.


She looked in vain for answers

to what nags her sleep, night after night,

remembering the hour when the sun went down burning

over the yard of scratching chickens, digging

for the words that would tell her all would be well

while the clock ticked to the wrong time.

Talking to Him as if to a next door neighbour

she stood, knowing her anger was not a bluff,

and, with the world still coming to an end,

danced her way up to a victory hallelujah!––

a pitch this poem cannot put into 20 lines.

. . .

The Reckoning

A nuh di same day leaf drop in a water it rotten.

(Jamaican proverb)


Years later, he walks beside the shadow

of the past, to the beat of the grim consequences

he brought upon himself in surprising ways.

In middle-age he might have been content,

had he foreseen that as time went by

his antics would lead to where love pulled away

to be as far from him as possible

when his expression betrayed no signs of change.

Blinded to the cause of his predicament,

he walks, with nothing open for discussion,

not knowing he’s been struck by his own hand.

. . .

In Limbo

Yuh cyan sow corn and expec’ fi reap peas.

(Jamaican proverb)


Unable in the end to separate what’s done from what

should have been done, the truth

undid what you so earnestly embodied.


There’s nothing for it:

your life requires a harder pardon.

Cry all you want,


but for a miracle: your promises have gone

like smoke

on a stray breeze up into a cloud,


grey from overuse,


a cloud from which the night fills in

the disquiet of the past,

and what was hidden is rising


to the surface, like a dank mist after rain.

. . .

From a Cove in St. Ann


From under the noonday shadow of a rock

I stare long and hard into the blue

sea, breaking one thought to ponder through

to the heart of a concern, taking stock

of a home where shocking news is the norm.

It’s hard to put a finger on the lessons

to be learned; as when a tense bow misses

a shifting target, each moment ends in doubt.

On a day like this, besieged between ‘forlorn’

and a place riddled with brutalities, I

distract myself with the waves rushing to shore,

and the blessings one must create to know the sea’s.

I lift my hope over the open water

with its flush of foam which alters in the sand,

filtering its sound to the hill as if to find

an echo far from the turbulent deep. Dusk

drops over the trees where some unknown soul

stumbled once, with one hand breaking his fall.

. . .

Chances Are


Coming in from the streets that mock delight

I’m caught between two streams of thought:

old news, and the need to shift my mind to write.

A melting candle moves tobacco from the flat,

and, short of throwing both hands up in the air,

solutioned-out in a world where all’s been said.

I plan never to compare today

but do what I have to, pushing ahead,

fishing around these potential days

in a land spinning on the edge of nerves

where someone’s always leaving, and someone else is busy.

Rights are taken further away from those they serve.

Chances are the prime minister will not come to see

me or my friends. He’s busy. So are we.

. . .

The above poems are from the 2005 collection The Watertank Revisited

published by Peepal Tree Press, and are © Delores Gauntlett.

Delores Gauntlett was born in St. Ann, Jamaica, in 1949. Her first poetry collection, Freeing Her Hands to Clap, was published in 2001. She was recipient of the David Hough Literary Award from The Caribbean Writer in 1999, and poems by Gauntlett have won prizes in the annual literary-arts competitions of The Observer.

. . . . .

Una Marson: poems of a Jamaican literary pioneer

Poinciana tree in bloom_Hope Gardens_Kingston_Jamaica

Una Marson (1905-1965)



J ust a lovely little jewel floating on fair Carib’s breast,

A ll a-glittering in her verdue ‘neath a blazing tropic sky.

M ust have been part of Eden, it’s so full of peace and rest,

A nd the flowers in their splendour make you feel it’s good to die

I n a spot that’s so near heaven where one never feels depressed,

Cause Dame Nature makes you lazy and Dame Fortune lingers nigh,

A nd you feel just like a fledgling in your mother’s cosy nest.

. . .

I Cannot Tell


I cannot tell why I who once was gay

And never knew the burden of a sigh

Now sit and pass the weary hours away,

And never have a care for what goes by.


I cannot tell why oft the teardrops rise

And my sad heart lies leaden in my breast,

And in my mind these anxious thoughts arise

For no more am I happy with the rest.


I cannot tell why life is not the same

And my heart answers not to music’s plea,

Or why I start whene’er I hear your name

And in my dreams no other face I see:


I cannot tell why I should wish to die,

Now that the time has come to say goodbye.




. . .

Love’s Lament


I cannot let you hold me in your arms

And listen while you talk of trivial things;

It pains my heart thus to resist your charms

And see the longings of my soul take wings.


I cannot feel the pressure of your hands

Without the wish to hold them to my lips,

I have no strength to face life’s big demands

While daily from my heart your image slips,


I cannot bear the thought of losing you.

Yet still your presence brings me bitter pain.

The happy days gone by we will not rue ––

Their tender mem’ries still to us remain;


But oh my heart, I cannot bid you stay,

Though as you go you take my life away.




. . .

The Peanut Boy


Lord, look upon this peanut boy,

He’s rough and coarse and rude;

He has been selling all the day,

His words are very crude.


But, Lord, he’s worn and weary now,

See how he stands asleep;

His head is resting on the post,

The basket at his feet.


Dear Lord, he has not sold them all,

But he has done his best:

And, while he stands and sleeps awhile,

With sweet dreams make him blest.


And, Lord, when I shall fall asleep

With my tasks incomplete,

Remember I was weary, Lord,

And give me peaceful sleep.

. . .

Another Mould


You can talk about your babies

With blue eyes and hair of gold,

But I’ll tell you ’bout an angel

That’s cast in another mould.


She is brown just like a biscuit

And she has the blackest eyes

That don’t for once remind you

Of the blue of tropic skies.


And her hair is black and shiny

And her little teeth are pearls,

She’s just a year, I’ll tell you,

But the best of baby girls.


O, she’s sweeter than the sweetest

Of all babies ‘neath the sun,

And I feel that I could eat her,

Thinking she’s a sugar bun.


O, little ivory babies

Are as sweet as they can be,

But give me my brown skin cherub

Still a-dangling on my knee.



. . .



In South Africa £25 per head per annum is spent on educating the white child. The government gives a subsidy of £2 3s. 7d. per head to the missionary bodies who have undertaken the education of 300,000 black children of the 1,100,000 who should be educated. (W. G. Ballinger at W.I.L. Conference.)


It must be by oppression; and, for my part,

I know no personal cause to spurn at them,

But for my countrymen. They would be learned: ––

How that might change their nature, there’s the question,

It is the bright day that brings forth the adder;

And that craves wary walking. Teach him? –– that; ––

And then, I grant, we put a sting in him,

That at his will he may do danger with.

The abuse of learning is when it is given

To subject races: And, to speak truth of Negroes,

I have known when they have turned to serve us

Once they are taught. But ’tis a common proof

That lowliness is young ambitious ladder

Whereto the climber upward turns his face:

But when he once attains the utmost round,

He then unto the ladder turns his back,

Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees

By which he did ascend: So Negroes may:

Then, lest they may, prevent. And, since the quarrel

Will bear no colour for the thing they are,

Fashion it thus; that what they are, when learned

Would run to these and these extremities:

And therefore, think them as the serpents

Which, hatch’d, would as their kind grow mischievous;

And keep them ignorant.


(With apologies to Shakespeare)



. . .

The Stranger


You liked talking to people like me

You said, with a wistful smile

That enchanted me, so the pause

That came before I spoke

Must have seemed strange to you,

And when I returned the compliment

So sweetly made, I still thought

Of the wistfulness of your smile.


So you like talking to people like me,

Friend with the wistful smile,

To foreign girls who are brown of skin

And have black kinky hair

And have strange black eyes.


You like to hear the tales I tell

Of a tropic Paradise,

Of sunkissed woods and mountains high

Of skies that are bluer than ever

Skies are blue in your nordic clime:

Of magic sunsets and marvellous seas,

Of waterfalls clattering down,

Stars so near, and the moon so large,

And fireflies, stars of the earth.


I like to listen to you,

Friend with the wistful smile.

It’s not to hear of your great country

And tales of your marvellous land,

But to watch the wistful smile

That plays around your mouth,

The strange look in your eyes

And hear the calm sweet tone of your voice.

. . .

Home Thoughts


June is drawing near

And in my sun-kissed isle

The Poinciana with its flaming blossom

Casts its spell o’er all the land.

These mighty trees in regal robes

Now call the land to worship,

And the bees, hungry for hidden honey,

Swarm among its blossoms and buzz and buzz,

And the blossoms laugh and yield

Shedding their sweet perfume;

They make a crown of golden dust

To beautify the honeybee.


There on the hillside, ‘mid a tuft

Of dark green trees, towers the Poinciana

Stretching its branches eagerly

To watch the children passing by.

I see a tree I used to love

Whose red and golden glory

Has thrilled my soul with wonder;

O, I remember that glad June,

So long ago it seems,

‘Twas Harvest in the Village Church

And the merry school children

Cut great branches of Poinciana

And made a radiant glory of the Church.


June comes again and Poinciana trees

Now blossom in my sunkissed isle

And I am here in London, and the flowers

Of dainty shades and delicate perfumes

Stir my heart and wake my love,

But it is the flaming glory

Of Poinciana trees in fair Jamaica

That my lone heart is homing.

I might sing of fragrant Myrtle blossoms

Whiter than snow and sweeter than honey,

Of pink and white June roses,

Of Jessamines, Hibiscus, Begonias,

Of Bougainvillea and Cassia,

But the Flaming Poinciana

Calls to me across the distance

Calling, calling me home.


O pride and glory of our tropic Isle,

As thy red and golden petals

Drip blood drops on the sod

That thou mayst bring forth

Mighty pods of fertile seed,

So children of your tropic land

With broken hearts that bleed

In foreign lands afar

Strain every nerve to bring forth

Fruit that may enrich the race

And are anew inspired

With hope and loyal longing ––

Hope that thy red and golden banners

Now unfurled through all the land

May call men’s hearts

To bow at Beauty’s shrine ––

And loyal longing that awakes

And claims the best thy sons and daughters give.


O Fair Jamaica! my thoughts go home to you,

In love and loyalty I shall for aye be true.

. . .



How tender the heart grows

At the twilight hour,

More sweet seems the perfume

Of the sunless flower.


Come quickly, wings of night,

The twilight hurts too deep;

Let darkness wrap the world around,

My pain will go to sleep.

. . .

My Philosophy

(as expounded by a Market Woman)


(Market woman walking quickly ahead of her friend. She carries a huge basket on her head. She swings both hands violently as she addresses the friend close behind her without turning):


“You can tan up talk wid him,

If you and him is companion

Me and him is no companion.”


(Second market woman following quickly at her heels):


“Me and him is companion, yes,

Me and him is companion

Me and all de wide worl’ is companion

For dere is nobody better dan me

And I is not better dan nobody.”




The Test


The test of true culture

Is the ability

To move among men,

East or West,

North of South,

With ease and confidence,

Radiating the pure light

Of a kindly humanity.

. . .



They tell us

That our skin is black

But our hearts are white.


We tell them

That their skin is white

But their hearts are black.

. . .


(Winter 1941)


Europe is frozen.

It is too cold for birds to sing,

For children to make snowmen,

For rivers to splash and sparkle,

For lovers to loiter in the snowlight.


The heart of humanity is frozen.

It is too cold for Poets to sing.

. . .

Una Marson in the 1940s

Una Marson, of Santa Cruz, Saint Elizabeth parish, was the youngest of six children born to Rev. Solomon Isaac, a Baptist parson, and Ada Marson.
In 1928 she launched her own magazine in Kingston, Jamaica – The Cosmopolitan – which dealt with local, proto-feminist, and workers’ rights issues. Her first book of poems she self-published in 1930: Tropic Reveries. It was followed by Heights and Depths in 1931, and a play, At What a Price, performed at the Ward Theatre in Kingston. In 1937 she published The Moth and The Star. Marson spent time in London, England, from 1932-36, and again from 1938-45 (the duration of WWII); it was during the war years that her work with the BBC lead to the creation of the Caribbean Voices programme. In her later years she divided her time between Jamaica and Washington, D.C., and it is now known that she suffered from clinical depression. She died of a heart attack in 1965.
We are grateful to Alison Donnell (Una Marson: Selected Poems, Peepal Tree Press, 2011) for providing biographical details and a description of the social and political context for Una Marson’s life and work.
. . . . .

Claude McKay: “Songs of Jamaica” (poems)

Jamaican market woman_circa 1920
Claude McKay (1889-1948)
Poems from Songs of Jamaica (published in 1912)
. . .
Quashie to Buccra
You tas’e petater an’ you say it sweet,
But you no know how hard we wuk fe it;
You want a basketful fe quattiewut,
‘Cause you no know how ‘tiff de bush fe cut.
De cowitch under which we hab fe ‘toop,
De shamar lyin’ t’ick like pumpkin soup,
Is killin’ somet’ing for a naygur man;
Much less de cutlass workin’ in we han’.
De sun hot like when fire ketch a town;
Shade-tree look temptin’, yet we caan’ lie down,
Aldough we wouldn’ eben ef we could,
Causen we job must finish soon an’ good.
De bush cut done, de bank dem we deh dig,
But dem caan’ ‘tan’ sake o’ we naybor pig;
For so we moul’ it up he root it do’n,
An’ we caan’ ‘peak sake o’ we naybor tongue.
Aldough de vine is little, it can bear;
It wantin’ not’in but a little care:
You see petater tear up groun’, you run,
You laughin’, sir, you must be t’ink a fun.
De fiel’ pretty? It couldn’t less ‘an dat,
We wuk de bes’, an’ den de lan’ is fat;
We dig de row dem eben in a line,
An’ keep it clean – den so it mus’ look fine.
You tas’e petater an’ you say it sweet,
But you no know how hard we wuk fe it:
Yet still de hardship always melt away
Wheneber it come roun’ to reapin’ day.

. . .
Buccra = white man
petater = sweet potato
quattiewut = quattieworth: quattie is a quarter of sixpence.
cowitch = the Macuna pruriens climbing bean
shamar = Shamebush, a prickly sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica)
. . .

Me Bannabees
Run ober mango trees,
‘Pread chock to kitchen doo’,
Watch de blue bannabees,
Look how it ben’ down low!
De blossom draw de bees
Same how de soup draw man;
Some call it “broke-pot” peas,
It caan’ bruk we bu’n-pan.
Wha’ sweet so when it t’ick?
Though some calll it goat-tud,
Me all me finger lick,
An’ yet no chew me cud.
A mumma plant de root
One day jes’ out o’ fun;
But now look ‘pon de fruit,
See wha’ de “mek fun” done.
I jam de ‘tick dem ‘traight
Soon as it ‘tart fe ‘pread,
An begin count de date
Fe when de pod fe shed.
Me watch de vine dem grow,
S’er t’row dung a de root:
Crop time look fe me slow,
De bud tek long fe shoot.
But so de day did come,
I ‘crub de bu’n-pan bright,
An’ tu’n down ‘pon it from
De marnin’ till de night.
An’ Lard!me belly swell,
No ’cause de peas no good,
But me be’n tek a ‘pell
Mo’ dan a giant would.
Yet eben after dat
Me nyam it wid a will,
‘Causen it mek me fat;
So I wi’ lub it still.
Caan’ talk about gungu,
Fe me it is no peas;
Cockstone might do fe you,
Me want me bannabees.
. . .
Bannabees = Bonavist, a climbing bean or pea
Me nyam = I ate
gungu = Congo peas
Cockstone = red peas, the beans of America
. . .

King Banana
Green mancha mek fe naygur man;
Wha’ sweet so when it roas’?
Some boil it in a big black pan,
It sweeter in a toas’.
A buccra fancy when it ripe,
Dem use it ebery day;
It scarcely give dem belly-gripe,
Dem eat it diffran’ way.
Out yonder see somoke a rise,
An’ see de fire wicket;
Deh go’p to heaben wid de nize
Of hundred t’ousan cricket.
De black moul’ lie do’n quite prepare’
Fe feel de hoe an’ rake;
De fire bu’n, and it tek care
Fe mek de wo’m dem wake.
Wha’ lef” fe buccra teach again
Dis time about plantation?
Dere’s not’in dat can beat de plain
Good ole-time cultibation.
Banana dem fat all de same
From bunches big an’ ‘trong;
Pure nine-han’ bunch a car’ de fame, –
Ole met’od all along.
De cuttin’ done same ole-time way,
We wrap dem in a trash,
An’ pack dem neatly in a dray
So tight dat dem can’t mash.
We re’ch: banana finish sell;
Den we ‘tart back fe home:
Some hab money in t’read-bag well,
Some spen’ all in a rum.
Green mancha mek fe naygur man,
It mek fe him all way;
Our islan’ is banana lan’,
Banana car’ de sway.
. . .
mancha = “Martinique”, the best variety of banana in Jamaica

. . .
The Biter Bit
[“Ole woman a swea’ fe eat calalu: calalu a swea’ fe wuk him gut.” Jamaican proverb]
Corn an’ peas growin’ t’ick an’ fas’
Wid nice blade peepin’ t’rough de grass;
An’ ratta from dem hole a peep,
T’ink all de corn dem gwin’ go reap.
Ole woman sit by kitchen doo’
Is watchin’ calalu a grow,
An’ all de time a t’inking dat
She gwin’ go nyam dem when dem fat.
But calalu, grow’n’ by de hut,
Is swearin’ too fe wuk him gut;
While she, like some, t’ink all is right
When dey are in some corner tight.
Peas time come roun’ – de corn is lef”;
An’ ratta now deh train himse’f
Upon de cornstalk dem a’ night
Fe when it fit to get him bite.
De corn-piece lie do’n all in blue,
An’ all de beard dem floatin’ too
Amongst de yellow grain so gay,
Dat you would watch dem a whole day.
An’ ratta look at ebery one,
Swea’in’ dat dem not gwin’ lef’ none;
But Quaco know a t’ing or two,
An’ swear say dat dem won’t go so.
So him go get a little meal
An’ somet’ing good fe those dat steal,
An’ mix dem up an’ ‘pread dem out
For people possess fas’ fas’ mout’.
Now ratta, comin’ from dem nes’,
See it an’ say “Dis food is bes’;”
Dem nyam an’ stop, an’ nyam again,
An’ soon lie do’n, rollin’ in pain.

. . .
calalu = “spinach” (could be Amaranthus viridis or Xanthosoma or dasheen leaves)
blue = the blueish leaf of the maize
. . .

Taken Aback
Let me go, Joe, for I want go home:
Can’t stan’ wid you,
For Pa might go come;
An’ if him only hab him rum,
I don’t know whateber I’ll do.
I must go now, for it’s gettin’ night
I am afraid,
An’ ’tis not moonlight:
Give me de last hug, an’ do it tight;
Me Pa gwin’ go knock off me head.
No, Joe, don’t come! – you will keep me late,
An’ Pa might be
In him sober state;
Him might get vex’ an’ lock up de gate,
Den what will becomin’ of me?
Go wid you, Joe? – you don’t lub me den!
I shame o’ you –
Gals caan’ trust you men!
An’ I b’en tekin’ you fe me frien’;
Good-night, Joe, you’ve proven untrue.
. . .
Say if you lub me, do tell me truly,
Ione, Ione;
For, O me dearie, not’in’ can part we,
Ione, Ione.
Under de bamboo, where de fox-tail grew,
Ione, Ione,
While de cool breeze blew – sweet, I did pledge you,
Ione, Ione.
Where calalu grows, an’ yonder brook flows,
Ione, Ione,
I held a dog-rose under your li’l nose,
Ione, Ione.
There where de lee stream plays wid de sunbeam,
Ione, Ione,
True be’n de love-gleam as a sweet day-dream,
Ione, Ione.
Watchin’ de bucktoe under de shadow,
Ione, Ione,
Of a pear-tree low dat in de stream grow,
Ione, Ione,
Mek me t’ink how when we were lee children,
Ione, Ione,
We used to fishen in old Carew Pen,
Ione, Ione.
Like tiny meshes, curl your black tresses,
Ione, Ione,
An’ my caresses tek widout blushes,
Ione, Ione.
Kiss me, my airy winsome lee fairy,
Ione, Ione;
Are you now weary, little canary,
Ione, Ione?
Then we will go, pet, as it is sunset,
Ione, Ione;
Tek dis sweet vi’let, we will be one yet,
Ione, Ione.
. . .
bucktoe = a small crawfish
Pen = the Jamaican equivalent for ranche

. . .
My Pretty Dan
I have a póliceman down at de Bay,
An’ he is true to me though far away.
I love my pólice, and he loves me too,
An’ he has promised he’ll be ever true.
My little bobby is a darlin’ one,
An’ he’s de prettiest you could set eyes ‘pon.
When he be’n station’ up de countryside,
Fus’ time I shun him sake o’ foolish pride.
But as I watched him patrolling his beat,
I got to find out he was nice an’ neat.
More still I foun’ out he was extra kin’,
An’ dat his precious heart was wholly mine.
Den I became his own true sweetheart,
An’ while life last we’re hopin’ not fe part.
He wears a truncheon an’ a handcuff case,
An’ pretty cap to match his pretty face.
Dear lilly p’liceman stationed down de sout’,
I feel your kisses rainin’ on my mout’.
I could not give against a póliceman;
For if I do, how could I lub my Dan?
Prettiest of naygur is my dear police,
We’ll lub foreber, an’ our lub won’t cease.
I have a póliceman down at de Bay,
An’ he is true to me though far away.
. . .

A Midnight Woman to the Bobby
No palm me up, you dutty brute,
You’ jam mout’ mash like ripe bread-fruit;
You fas’n now, but wait lee ya,
I’ll see you grunt under de law.
You t’ink you wise, but we wi’ see;
You not de fus’ one fas’ wid me;
I’ll lib fe see dem tu’n you out,
As sure as you got dat mash’ mout’.
I born right do’n beneat’ de clack
(You ugly brute, you tu’n you’ back?)
Don’t t’ink dat I’m a come-aroun’,
I born right ‘way in ‘panish Town.
Care how you try, you caan’ do mo’
Dan many dat was hyah befo’;
Yet whe’ dey all o’ dem te-day?
De buccra dem no kick dem ‘way?
Ko ‘pon you’ jam samplatta nose:
‘Cos you wear Mis’r Koshaw clo’es
You t’ink say you’s de only man,
Yet fus’ time ko how you be’n ‘tan’.
You big an’ ugly ole tu’n-foot
Be’n neber know fe wear a boot;
An’ chigger nyam you’ tumpa toe,
Till nit full i’ like herrin’ roe.
You come from mountain naked-‘kin,
An’ Lard a mussy! you be’n thin,
For all de bread-fruit dem be’n done,
Bein’ ‘poil’ up by de tearin’ sun:
De coco couldn’ bear at all,
For, Lard! de groun’ was pure white-marl;
An’ t’rough de rain part o’ de year
De mango tree dem couldn’ bear.
An’ when de pinch o’ time you feel
A ‘pur you a you’ chigger heel,
You lef’ you’ district, big an’ coarse,
An’ come join buccra Pólice Force.
An’ now you don’t wait fe you’ glass,
But trouble me wid you’ jam fas’;
But wait, me frien’, you’ day wi’ come,
I’ll see you go same lak a some.
Say wha’? – ‘res’ me? – you go to hell!
You t’ink Judge don’t know unno well?
You t’ink him gwin’ go sentance me
Widout a soul fe witness i’?
. . .
beneat’ de clack = the clock on the public buildings at Spanish Town
come-aroun’ = day-labourer, man or woman, in Kingston streets and wharves, famous for the heavy weight he or she can carry
samplatta = a piece of leather cut somewhat larger than the size of the foot, and tied sandal-wise to it: said of anything that is flat and broad.
Mis’r Koshaw clo’es = Mister Kershaw’s clothes i.e. police uniform. Col. Kershaw was Inspector-General of Police in 1911, (when this poem was written.)
An’ chigger nyam you’ tumpa toe, etc. = And chigoes (burrowing fleas) had eaten your maimed toe, and nits (young chigoes) had filled it.
Lard a mussy! = Lord have mercy!
unno (or onnoo) = an African word meaning “you” collectively

Jamaica_vintage photograph_early 20th centuryJamaican primary schoolhouse with children and their teacher_early 20th century photograph
Mother Dear
“HUSBAN’, I am goin’ –
Though de brooklet is a-flowin’,
An’ de coolin’ breeze is blowin’
Softly by;
Hark, how strange de cow is mooin’,
An’ our Jennie’s pigeons cooin’,
While I feel de water growin’,
Climbing high.
“Akee trees are laden,
But de yellow leaves are fadin’
Like a young an’ bloomin’ maiden
Fallen low;
In de pond de ducks are wakin’
While my body longs for Eden,
An’ my weary breat’ is gledin’
‘Way from you.
“See dem John-crows flyin’!
‘Tis a sign dat I am dyin’;
Oh, I’m wishful to be lyin’
All alone:
Fait’ful husban’, don’t go cryin’,
Life is one long self-denyin’
All-surrenderin’ an’ sighin’
Livin’ moan.”
. . .

“WIFE, de parson’s prayin’,
Won’t you listen what he’s sayin’,
Spend de endin’ of your day in
Christ our Lord?”

. . .
But de sound of horses neighin’,
Baain’ goats an’ donkeys brayin’,
Twitt’rin’ birds an’ children playin’
Was all she heard.
Things she had been rearin’,
Only those could claim her hearin’,
When de end we had been fearin’
Now had come:
Now her last pain she is bearin’,
Now de final scene is nearin’,
An’ her vacant eyes are starin’
On her home.
Oh! it was heart-rendin’
As we watched de loved life endin’,
Dat sweet sainted spirit bendin’
To de death:
Gone all further hope of mendin’,
With de angel Death attendin’,
An’ his slayin’ spirit blendin’
With her breath.
. . .
Akee = Cupania sapida, bearing beautiful red fruits
John-crows = Turkey-buzzards

. . .
Dat Dirty Rum
If you must drink it, do not come
An’ chat up in my face;
I hate to see de dirty rum,
Much more to know de tas’e.
What you find dere to care about
I never understan’;
It only dutty up you mout’,
An’ mek you less a man.
I see it throw you ‘pon de grass
An ‘met you want no food,
While people scorn you as dey pass
An’ see you vomit blood.
De fust beginnin’ of it all,
You stood up calm an’ cool,
An’ put you’ back agains’ de wall
An’ cuss our teacher fool.
You cuss me too de se’fsame day
Because a say you wrong,
An’ pawn you’ books an’ went away
Widout anedder song.
Your parents’ hearts within dem sink,
When to your yout’ful lip
Dey watch you raise de glass to drink,
An’ shameless tek each sip.
I see you in de dancing-booth,
But all your joy is vain,
For on your fresh an’ glowin’ youth
Is stamped dat ugly stain.
Dat ugly stain of drink, my frien’,
Has cost you your best girl,
An’ med you fool ‘mongst better me
When your brain’s in a whirl.
You may smoke just a bit indeed,
I like de “white seal” well;
Aldough I do not use de weed,
I’m fond o’ de nice smell.
But wait until you’re growin’ old
An’ gettin’ weak an’ bent,
An’ feel your blood a-gettin’ cold
‘Fo you tek stimulent.
Then it may mek you stronger feel
While on your livin’ groun’;
But ole Time, creepin’ on your heel,
Soon, soon will pull you down:
Soon, soon will pull you down, my frien’,
De rum will help her too;
An’ you’ll give way to better men,
De best day you can do.
. . .

“white seal” = the name of a brand of cigarettes

. . .

Killin’ Nanny
Two little pickny is watchin’,
While a goat is led to deat’;
Dey are little ones of two years,
An’ know naught of badness yet.
De goat is bawlin’ fe mussy,
An’ de children watch de sight
As de butcher re’ch his sharp knife,
An’ ‘tab wid all his might.
Dey see de red blood flowin’;
An’ one chil’ trimble an’ hide
His face in de mudder’s bosom,
While t’udder look on wide-eyed.
De tears is fallin’ down hotly
From him on de mudder’s knee;
De udder wid joy is starin’,
An’ clappin’ his han’s wid glee.
When dey had forgotten Nanny,
Grown men I see dem again;
An’ de forehead of de laugher
Was brand wid de mark of Cain.

Peasants with their mules_Jamaica_early 20th century photograph

Strokes of the Tamarind Switch
I dared not look at him,
My eyes with tears were dim,
My spirit filled with hate
Of man’s depravity,
I hurried through the gate.
I went but I returned,
While in my bosom burned
The monstrous wrong that we
Oft bring upon ourselves,
And yet we cannot see.
Poor little erring wretch!
The cutting tamarind switch
Had left its bloody mark,
And on his legs were streaks
That looked like boiling bark.
I spoke to him the while:
At first he tried to smile,
But the long pent-up tears
Came gushing in a flood;
He was but of tender years.
With eyes bloodshot and red,
He told me of a father dead
And lads like himself rude,
Who goaded him to wrong:
He for the future promised to be good.
The mother yesterday
Said she was sending him away,
Away across the seas:
She told of futile prayers
Said on her wearied knees.
I wished the lad good-bye,
And left him with a sigh:
Again I heard him talk –
His limbs, he said, were sore,
He could not walk.
I ‘member when a smaller boy,
A mother’s pride, a mother’s joy,
I too was very rude:
They beat me too, though not the same,
And has it done me good?
. . .
Rise and Fall
[Thoughts of Burns – with apologies to his immortal spirit for making him speak in Jamaica dialect.]
Dey read ’em again an’ again,
An’ laugh an’ cry at ’em in turn;
I felt I was gettin’ quite vain,
But dere was a lesson fe learn.
My poverty quickly took wing,
Of life no experience had I;
I couldn’t then want anyt’ing
Dat kindness or money could buy.
Dey tek me away from me lan’,
De gay o’ de wul’ to behold,
An’ roam me t’rough palaces gran’,
An’ show’red on me honour untold.
I went to de ballroom at night,
An’ danced wid de belles of de hour;
Half dazed by de glitterin’ light,
I lounged in de palm-covered bower.
I flirted wid beautiful girls,
An’ drank o’ de wine flowin’ red;
I felt my brain movin’ in whirls,
An’ knew I was losin’ my head.
But soon I was tired of it all,
My spirit was weary to roam;
De life grew as bitter as gall,
I hungered again for my home.
Te-day I am back in me lan’,
Forgotten by all de gay throng,
A poorer but far wiser man,
An’ knowin’ de right from de wrong.
. . .
To Bennie
[ In Answer to a Letter ]
You say, dearest comrade, my love has grown cold,
But you are mistaken, it burns as of old;
And no power below, dearest lad, nor above,
Can ever lessen, frien’ Bennie, my love.
Could you but look in my eyes, you would see
That ’tis a wrong thought you have about me;
Could you but feel my hand laid on your head,
Never again would you say what you’ve said.
Naught, O my Bennie, our friendship can sever,
Dearly I love you, shall love you for ever;
Moment by moment my thoughts are of you,
Trust me, oh, trust me, for aye to be true.
. . .

. . . . .

“Once upon a time, there were no stories in this world…” Toronto Storytelling Festival: March 19th-29th, 2015

Anansi:  the Spider God who is a storyteller, and whose name is synonymous with skill in speech.

Anansi: the Spider God who is a storyteller, and whose name is synonymous with skill in speech.

2015 Toronto Storytelling Festival
Among the many events…
The Talking Stick: a special evening at 1001 Friday Nights of Storytelling, Innis College, March 20th , 8 pm.
Queers in Your Ears, at Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives (CLGA), March 21st, 2 pm.
All Aboard! On the Katari Story Time Machine, at the Japan Foundation, Toronto, March 21st, 3 pm.
Storytelling with Elizabeth Laird and Rubena Sinha: Animal Fables and Tiger Tales, at the Aga Khan Museum, March 22nd, 2 pm to 10 pm.
A Storytelling Journey to Ethiopia, Brazil, and The Yukon, at The Ismaili Centre, Toronto, March 23rd, 7:30 pm.
D’bi Young: dubpoet, praise-singer, storyteller, at Aki Studio Theatre, Daniels Spectrum, Regent Park, Toronto, March 24th, 5 pm.
Storytalk: What comes first – the story or the world? At Paintbox Bistro, Regent Park, Toronto, March 28th, 10 am.
Storytalk: Aqausivut – Our Inuit Love Songs from mother to child, at Paintbox Bistro, March 28th, 11:15 am.
. . .
Storytellers will include:  Taina Tyebjee, Leeya Solomon, Marîa del Carmen Orodoñez, Michael Parent, Mahlika Awe:ri, Djennie Laguerre, Richard Wagamese, Itah Sadu, Donald Carr, Rubena Sinha,
…and more!
.     .     .
ANANSI is a West-African god who often takes the shape of a spider. The Asante (Ashanti) people of Ghana had many Anansi tales, and these stories were in the oral tradtion; Anansi himself was always synonymous with skill + wisdom in speech.
There is one Anansi story that explains the phenomenon of how his name became attached to the whole corpus of tales:
Once upon a time there were no stories in this world; the Sky-God, Nyame, had them all.
Anansi went to Nyame and asked how much they would cost to buy.
Nyame set a high price: Anansi must bring back Onini the Python, Osebo the Leopard, and the Mboro Hornets.
And so, Anansi set about to capture these three: python, leopard, and the hornets.
First he went to where Python lived and debated out loud whether Python was really longer than the palm branch – or not as his wife Aso had said. Python overheard, and, when Anansi explained the debate, agreed to lie along the palm branch. Because he could not easily make himself completely straight, a true impression of his actual length was difficult to obtain. So Python agreed to be tied to the branch. And once he was completely tied down, Anansi took him to Nyame.
To catch the Leopard, Anansi dug a deep hole in the ground. When the leopard fell in the hole Anansi offered to help him out with his webs. Once the leopard was out of the hole he was bound in Anansi’s webs – and carried away.
To catch the hornets, Anansi filled a calabash with water and poured some over a banana leaf he held over his head and some over the nest, calling out that it was raining. He suggested the bees get into the empty calabash, and when they obliged, he quickly sealed the opening.
Anansi handed his captives over to Nyame, and Nyame rewarded him by making him the “god of all stories”.


“Anancy and Common Sense” (A tale told in Jamaican Patois)


Wance apan a time Breda Anancy mek up im mind seh im gwine callect all a de camman sense inna de wurl. Im was tinking dat he would be de smartest smaddy in de wurl ef im do dis. So Anancy traveled all ova de wurl collecting camman sense. Im go to big countries an likkle ones. Im go to primary schools and universities. Im go to govament offices and businesses. Im go people house and dem work place.

Im tek all de zillions camman sense he had collected fram around the wurl and put it a big calabash. Im tek de calabash wid im to im backyard and climbed a big gwangu tree. His plan was to store it at de tap of the tree for safety-keeping. Nobady woulda get to it but Anancy.

To mek sure it was safe Anancy tie the calabash to de front of his bady. Dis slow down im progress up de tree to a slow crawl. Im did look very clumsy a-go up de tree wid be-caw the calabash dida hamper im.

As im was slowing going up toward de top a de tree a likkle girl below called out to im. Anancy, mek you nuh tie the calabash pon you back insteada in front of yuh. It will git up de tree much fasta and ez-a.

Anancy was bex be-cah de likkle girl show im up for not thinking. She had more good sense dan him he thought. He called out to her “Mi did tink me collected all the camman sense fram all ova de wurl”

He was so angry dat im fling the calabash to the to the groung and it bust. All of the camman sense im did callect fly back to all ova de wurl.

An dat’s how you and I manage to have just a likkle common sense for we-self tideh.

.     .     .     .     .

“Di Gud Nyuuz bout Jiizas…” / El Nacimiento de Jesús / Jezi te fèt lavil Betleyèm / Jesus’ Birth in Bethlehem: Matyu 2:1-11 / Mateo 2:1-11 / Matye 2:1-11 / Matthew 2:1-11

Jamaican Poinsettia, also known as Euphorbia punicea

Jamaican Poinsettia, also known as Euphorbia punicea

An excerpt from Matthew’s telling of the Nativity story – presented here in four languages…

.     .     .

John Wycliffe Bible, printed in 1395, written in “Middle English”:  Matthew 2:1-11

Therfor whanne Jhesus was borun in Bethleem of Juda, in the daies of king Eroude, lo! astromyenes camen fro the eest to Jerusalem, and seiden, Where is he, that is borun king of Jewis? for we han seyn his sterre in the eest, and we comen to worschipe him. But king Eroude herde, and was trublid, and al Jerusalem with hym. And he gaderide to gidre alle the prynces of prestis, and scribis of the puple, and enqueride of hem, where Crist shulde be borun. And thei seiden to hym, In Bethleem of Juda; for so it is writun bi a profete, And thou, Bethleem, the lond of Juda, art not the leest among the prynces of Juda; for of thee a duyk schal go out, that schal gouerne my puple of Israel. Thanne Eroude clepide pryueli the astromyens, and lernyde bisili of hem the tyme of the sterre that apperide to hem. And he sente hem in to Bethleem, and seide, Go ye, and axe ye bisili of the child, and whanne yee han foundun, telle ye it to me, that Y also come, and worschipe hym. And whanne thei hadden herd the kyng, thei wenten forth. And lo! the sterre, that thei siyen in the eest, wente bifore hem, til it cam, and stood aboue, where the child was. And thei siyen the sterre, and ioyeden with a ful greet ioye. And thei entriden in to the hous, and founden the child with Marie, his modir; and thei felden doun, and worschipiden him. And whanne thei hadden openyd her tresouris, thei offryden to hym yiftis, gold, encense, and myrre.

.     .     .

King James Version, 1611:  Matthew 2: 1-11

2:1 Now when Jesus was born
in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king,
behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,
2:2 Saying, Where is He that is born King of the Jews?
for we have seen His Star in the east, and are come to worship Him. 2:3 When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. 2:4 And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. 2:5 And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judaea: for thus it is written by the prophet, 2:6 And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule My people Israel. 2:7 Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the Star appeared. 2:8 And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, Go and search diligently for the young Child; and when ye have found Him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship Him also. 2:9 When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the Star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young Child was.
2:10 When they saw the Star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy. 2:11 And when they were come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down, and worshipped Him: and when they had opened their treasures, they presented unto Him gifts; gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

.     .     .

Antigua Versión de Casidoro de Reina, 1569:  Mateo 2: 1-11

2:1 Cuando Jesús nació en Belén de Judea en días del rey Herodes, vinieron del oriente a Jerusalén unos magos,
2:2 diciendo: ¿Dónde está el rey de los judíos, que ha nacido? Porque su estrella hemos visto en el oriente, y venimos a adorarle.
2:3 Oyendo esto, el rey Herodes se turbó, y toda Jerusalén con él.
2:4 Y convocados todos los principales sacerdotes, y los escribas del pueblo, les preguntó dónde había de nacer el Cristo
2:5 Ellos le dijeron: En Belén de Judea; porque así está escrito por el profeta:
2:6 Y tú, Belén, de la tierra de Judá,
No eres la más pequeña entre los príncipes de Judá;
Porque de ti saldrá un guiador,
Que apacentará a mi pueblo Israel.
2:7 Entonces Herodes, llamando en secreto a los magos, indagó de ellos diligentemente el tiempo de la aparición de la estrella;
2:8 y enviándolos a Belén, dijo: Id allá y averiguad con diligencia acerca del niño; y cuando le halléis, hacédmelo saber, para que yo también vaya y le adore.
2:9 Ellos, habiendo oído al rey, se fueron; y he aquí la estrella que habían visto en el oriente iba delante de ellos, hasta que llegando, se detuvo sobre donde estaba el niño.
2:10 Y al ver la estrella, se regocijaron con muy grande gozo.
2:11 Y al entrar en la casa, vieron al niño con su madre María, y postrándose, lo adoraron; y abriendo sus tesoros, le ofrecieron presentes: oro, incienso y mirra.

.     .     .

Bible Kréyòl ayisyen/Haitian Creole BibleMatye 2:1-11

2:1 Jezi te fèt lavil Betleyèm nan peyi Jide, sou tan wa Ewòd. Apre li te fèt, kèk nèg save ki konn etidye zetwal yo soti nan peyi solèy leve, yo rive lavil Jerizalèm.

2:2 Yo t’ap mande: Kote wa jwif ki fenk fèt la? Nou wè zetwal li parèt depi nan peyi nou an, nou vin adore li.

2:3 Lè wa Ewòd pran nouvèl la, sa te boulvèse tèt li. Sa te boulvèse tout moun lavil Jerizalèm yo tou.

2:4 Ewòd reyini tout chèf prèt yo ansanm ak direktè lalwa yo ki t’ap dirije pèp jwif la. Li mande yo: Ki kote Kris la gen pou l’ fèt?

2:5 Yo reponn li: Se lavil Betleyèm nan peyi Jide li gen pou l’ fèt. Paske, men sa pwofèt la te ekri:

2:6 Ou menm, Betleyèm, ki bati sou tè Jida a, pawòl sèten: se pa ou ki pi piti nan tout lavil peyi Jida yo. Paske, gen yon chèf ki gen pou soti lakay ou. Se li menm ki va kondi moun Izrayèl yo, pèp mwen an.

2:7 Se konsa, Ewòd fè nèg save yo vin jwenn li an kachèt. Li mande yo kilè egzakteman zetwal la te parèt.

2:8 Apre sa, li voye yo ale Betleyèm. Li di yo: Ale non! Chache konnen tout bagay sou ti pitit la. Lè n’a jwenn li, fè m’ konnen pou m’ sa kapab al adore l’, mwen menm tou.

2:9 Apre wa a te fin di yo sa, nèg save yo pati. Lè sa a, zetwal yo te wè nan peyi solèy leve a parèt devan yo ankò. Li t’ap mache devan yo. Zetwal la kontinye konsa jouk li rive sou tèt kay kote ti pitit la te ye a. Epi l’ rete.

2:10 Lè yo te wè zetwal la, yo pa t’ manke kontan.

2:11 Yo antre nan kay la, yo wè ti pitit la ansanm ak Mari, manman li. Yo mete ajenou devan l’, yo adore l’. Apre sa, yo louvri sak yo, yo ba li anpil kado: te gen lò, lansan ak lami.

.     .     .

Jamiekan Patwa (Jamaican Patois) New Testament, 2012:  Matyu 2:1-11

2 Jiizas did baan iina Betliyem, wan toun iina Judiya. Dem taim de, a Erad did a king iina Judiya. Nou, iina dem siem taim de, som waiz man fram di Iis said did kom a Jeruusilem an a aks, 2 “We di pikni de we baan di ada die, we fi kom ton king fi di Juu piipl dem? Wi si im staar iina di Iis, we shuo se im baan, an wi kom fi shuo im nof rispek.” 3 Nou wen King Erad ier dis ya, dis bada bada im ed, an it bada uol iip a piipl iina Je- ruusilem tu. 4 Erad kaal evribadi tugeda iina wan miitn — aal a di ed priis an di man dem we tiich Muoziz Laa — an im aks dem a wich paat di Krais — di king we Gad pramis, fi baan. 5 Dem ansa se, “Iina Betliyem, kaaz a dat di prafit did rait dong: 6 ‘An yu Betliyem we iina Judiya, wen yu luk pan aal di ada toun dem we a liid, yu no wot no les dan dem — yu op de mongks di tap-a-tap toun dem; kaaz a fram outa yu wan liida a-go kom we a-go protek an liid mi piipl dem we iina Izrel.’ ” 7 Den Erad sen kaal di waiz man dem fi kom kom chek im anda di kwaiyat, an fain out fram dem a wa taim dem did si di staar. 8 Im sen dem go a Betliyem an se, “Gwaan go luk fi di pikni. Luk gud gud, an wen unu fain im, kom tel mi, so mi kyan go shuo im nof rispek tu.” 9 Afta dem don lisn di king, dem lef go we. Az dem a go bout dem bizniz so, no di sed staar we dem did si iina di Iis said kom bak agen! It galang infronta dem til it riich wich paat di pikni did de, an a uova de-so it tap. 10 Wen dem did si di staar agen dem glad-bag bos! 11 Dem kom iina di ous an si di pikni wid im mada, Mieri, an dem go dong pan dem nii an priez im. Dem tek out di prezent we dem did bring, an gi di pikni — guol, frang- kinsens an mor.

.     .     .     .     .

Luke 2: 1-14: “Di Gud Nyuuz bout Jiizas”: El nacimiento de Jesús en la prosa poética de La Biblia / Jesus’ birth in the poetic prose of Renaissance Spanish and English Bibles + Wycliffe(1395), Haitian Creole and Jamaican Patois

ZP_A toy Nativity scene with a coconut shell as the stable, from Haiti. Jwaye Noel means Merry Christmas in Haitian Creole._Jwaye Nwel dice Feliz Navidad en el idioma criollo haitiano.

ZP_A toy Nativity scene with a coconut shell as the stable, from Haiti. Jwaye Noel means Merry Christmas in Haitian Creole._Jwaye Nwel dice Feliz Navidad en el idioma criollo haitiano.

Un fino ejemplo de la prosa poética de La Biblia en su Antigua Versión de Casidoro de Reina (1569) con revisiones por Cipriano de Valera (1602):

Luca 2: 1-14:

“ Aconteció en aquellos días que salió un edicto de parte de César Augusto, para levantar un censo de todo el mundo habitado. Este primer censo se realizó mientras Cirenio era gobernador de Siria. Todos iban para inscribirse en el censo, cada uno a su ciudad. Entonces José también subió desde Galilea, de la ciudad de Nazaret, a Judea, a la ciudad de David que se llama Belén, porque él era de la casa y de la familia de David, para inscribirse con María, su esposa, quien estaba encinta. Aconteció que, mientras ellos estaban allí, se cumplieron los días de su alumbramiento, y dio a luz a su hijo primogénito. Le envolvió en pañales, y le acostó en un pesebre, porque no había lugar para ellos en el mesón. Había pastores en aquella región, que velaban y guardaban las vigilias de la noche sobre su rebaño. Y un ángel del Señor se presentó ante ellos, y la gloria del Señor los rodeó de resplandor; y temieron con gran temor. Pero el ángel les dijo: No temáis, porque he aquí os doy buenas nuevas de gran gozo, que será para todo el pueblo: que hoy, en la ciudad de David, os ha nacido un Salvador, que es Cristo el Señor. Y esto os servirá de señal: Hallaréis al niño envuelto en pañales y acostado en un pesebre.

De repente apareció con el ángel una multitud de las huestes celestiales, que alababan a Dios y decían: ¡Gloria a Dios en las alturas, y en la tierra paz entre los hombres de buena voluntad! ”

.     .     .

Y en el inglés del tiempo de Shakespeare, de la versión del rey Jacobo (1611):

A fine example of the poetic prose of The King James Version (1611) of The Bible:

Luke 2: 1-14:

“And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed.  And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.  And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.  And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem;  because he was of the house and lineage of David:  to be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.  And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.  And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger;  because there was no room for them in the inn.  And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.  And lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them:  and they were sore afraid.  And the angel said unto them: Fear not, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.  For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.  And this shall be a sign unto you;  Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying:  Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace and good will toward men.”

.     .     .

Y en el ‘inglés medio’de dos siglos antes de la versión del rey Jacobo, de la Biblia de John Wycliffe (1395):

And, from The Wycliffe Bible, two centuries earlier (1395) – in ‘Middle English’:

Luke 2: 1-14:

“ And it was don in tho daies, a maundement wente out fro the emperour August, that al the world schulde be discryued.  This firste discryuyng was maad of Cyryn, iustice of Sirie.  And alle men wenten to make professioun, ech in to his owne citee.  And Joseph wente vp fro Galilee, fro the citee Nazareth, in to Judee, in to a citee of Dauid, that is clepid Bethleem, for that he was of the hous and of the meyne of Dauid, that he schulde knouleche with Marie, his wijf, that was weddid to hym, and was greet with child. And it was don, while thei weren there, the daies weren fulfillid, that sche schulde bere child.  And sche bare hir first borun sone, and wlappide hym in clothis, and leide hym in a cratche, for ther was no place to hym in no chaumbir. And scheepherdis weren in the same cuntre, wakynge and kepynge the watchis of the nyyt on her flok.  And lo! the aungel of the Lord stood bisidis hem, and the cleernesse of God schinede aboute hem; and thei dredden with greet drede.  And the aungel seide to hem, Nyle ye drede; for lo! Y preche to you a greet ioye, that schal be to al puple.  For a sauyoure is borun to dai to you, that is Crist the Lord, in the citee of Dauid. And this is a tokene to you; ye schulen fynde a yong child wlappid in clothis, and leid in a cratche.

And sudenli ther was maad with the aungel a multitude of heuenli knyythod, heriynge God, and seiynge, Glorie be in the hiyeste thingis to God, and in erthe pees be to men of good wille. “

.     .     .

En Kréyòl ayisyen / In Haitian Creole / en el idioma de criollo haitiano:

Lik 2: 1-14:

Lè sa a, Seza Ogis te bay lòd pou yo te konte dènye moun ki nan peyi l’ap gouvènen yo.

Premye travay sa a te fèt nan tan Kireniyis t’ap kòmande nan peyi yo rele Siri a.

Tout moun te al fè pran non yo nan lavil kote fanmi yo te soti.

Jozèf te rete nan peyi Galile, nan yon bouk yo rele Nazarèt. Men, paske li te moun nan fanmi ak ras David, li moute, li ale nan Jide, nan lavil David yo rele Betleyèm lan.

Jozèf tapral fè yo pran non l’ ansanm ak non Mari, fiyanse li, ki te ansent.

Antan yo te la, jou pou Mari te akouche a rive.

Li fè premye pitit li a, yon ti gason. Mari vlope pitit la nan kouchèt, li mete l’ kouche nan yon kay kote yo bay bèt manje, paske pa t’ gen plas pou yo nan lotèl la.

Nan menm zòn sa a, te gen gadò mouton ki t’ap pase nwit la deyò ap veye mouton yo.

Lè sa a, yon zanj Bondye parèt devan yo, bèl limyè Bondye a klere tout kote yo te ye a. Yo te pè anpil.

Men zanj lan di yo konsa: Pa pè. N’ap anonse nou yon bon nouvèl ki pral fè tout pèp la kontan anpil.

Jòdi a, nan lavil David la, nou gen yon Sovè ki fenk fèt: se Kris la, Seyè a.

Men remak ki va fè nou rekonèt li: n’a jwenn yon tibebe vlope nan kouchèt, kouche nan yon kay kote yo bay bèt manje.

Menm lè a, yon foul lòt zanj nan syèl la vin jwenn zanj lan; yo t’ap fè lwanj Bondye, yo t’ap di konsa:

Lwanj pou Bondye anwo nan syèl la, kè poze sou latè pou tout moun li renmen.

.     .     .

And…in Jamaican Patois:

Luuk 2: 1-14:

1 Iina dem die de, di Ruoman ruula, Siiza Agostos, gi aada fi rait dong di niem a evribadi iina im kindom.  2 (Dis a di fos taim niem a rait dong sins di taim wen Kiriniyos did a ruul uova Siriya.)  3 Aal im piipl dem did afi go a di toun we dem baan fi get dem niem rait dong, so di govament kyan taks dem.

4 So kaaz Juozif did kom fram Dievid fambili an Dievid did baan iina Judiya, im did afi lef fram Nazaret iina Gyalalii an go a Betliyem iina Judiya.  5 Juozif go de wid Mieri fi get dem niem rait dong. Di tuu a dem did ingiej fi marid dem wan aneda an shi did av biebi iina beli.  6 Wen dem de de, Mieri tek iin fi av biebi,  7 an shi av ar fos pikni, wan bwai. Shi rap im op iina biebi blangkit an put im iina di baks we di animal dem nyam outa, kaaz no spies neva iina di ges ous fi dem.

8 Da nait de, som shepad did a luk aafa dem shiip iina wan fiil, nier we Mieri dem did de.  9 Wan a di Laad ienjel dem kom tu di shepad dem. Wan brait brait lait fram Gad kova dem an it mek dem fraitn so til.  10 So di ienjel tel dem se, “No fried! Mi av gud nyuuz fi unu. Nyuuz we ago mek evribadi api.  11 Di wan we ago siev unu baan tide iina di toun we Dievid kom fram. Im a Krais, di Laad.  12 Mi ago tel unu wa unu ago si, so wen unu si dat unu ago nuo se a im. Unu ago si wan biebi rap op iina wan biebi blangkit an a lidong iina di baks we di animal dem nyam outa.”

13 Aal av a sodn uol iip a ienjel fram evn, jain im. Dem did a priez di Laad an se,  14 “Priez Gad we de a evn, an piis fi evribadi we Gad api wid.”

.     .     .     .     .

Louise Bennett-Coverley and Jamaican Patois: A Unique Truth

ZP_Louise Bennett's 1966 collection of Jamaican dialect poems_she is photographed as Miss Lou on the coverJamaican Patois Poems

by Louise Bennett-Coverley


“Dutty Tough”


Sun a shine but tings no bright;

Doah pot a bwile, bickle no nuff;

River flood but water scarce, yawl

Rain a fall but dutty tough.

Tings so bad dat nowadays when

Yuh ask smaddy how dem do

Dem fraid yuh tek it tell dem back,

So dem no answer yuh.

No care omuch we dah work fa

Hard-time still een we shut;

We dah fight, Hard-time a beat we,

Dem might raise we wages, but

One poun gawn awn pon we pay, an

We no feel no merriment

For ten poun gawn pon we food

An ten pound pon we rent!

Saltfish gawn up, mackerel gawn up.

Pork en beef gawn up,

An when rice and butter ready

Dem just go pon holiday!

Claht, boot, pin an needle gawn up’

Ice, bread, taxes, water-rate

Kersene ile, gasolene, gawn up;

An de poun devaluate.

De price of bread gawn up so high

Dat we haffi agree

Fi cut we yeye pon bred an all

Tun dumplin refugee

An all dem marga smaddy weh

Dah gwan like fat is sin

All dem-deh weh dah fas wid me

Ah lef dem to dumpling!

Sun a shine an pot a bwile, but

Things no bright, bickle no nuff

Rain a fall, river dah flood, but,

Water scarce and dutty tough.

.     .     .

“Colonization in Reverse” (1966)


Wat a joyful news, Miss Mattie,

I feel like me heart gwine burs

Jamaica people colonizin

Englan in Reverse

By de hundred, by de tousan

From country and from town,

By de ship-load, by de plane load

Jamaica is Englan boun.

Dem a pour out a Jamaica,

Everybody future plan

Is fe get a big-time job

An settle in de mother lan.

What an islan! What a people!

Man an woman, old an young

Jus a pack dem bag an baggage

An turn history upside dung!

Some people doan like travel,

But fe show dem loyalty

Dem all a open up cheap-fare-

To-England agency.

An week by week dem shippin off

Dem countryman like fire,

Fe immigrate an populate

De seat a de Empire.

Oonoo see how life is funny,

Oonoo see da turnabout?

Jamaica live fe box bread

Out a English people mout’.

For wen dem ketch a Englan,

An start play dem different role,

Some will settle down to work

An some will settle fe de dole.

Jane says de dole is not too bad

Because dey payin she

Two pounds a week fe seek a job

dat suit her dignity.

me say Jane will never fine work

At de rate how she dah look,

For all day she stay pon Aunt Fan couch

An read love-story book.

Wat a devilment a Englan!

Dem face war an brave de worse,

But me wonderin how dem gwine stan

Colonizin in reverse.


Louise Bennett-Coverley (1919-2006) was

Jamaica’s much-loved poet of Patois – and she

used her people’s language with warmth, humour

and trenchant wit.

As a performer on stage, and through radio

and television, Louise Bennett-Coverley “carried on”

and “held forth” in Patois –  often in character as “Miss Lou” –

bringing the language’s uniqueness and truth

to the forefront.


Louise Bennett-Coverley’s poems “Dutty Tough”

and “Colonization in Reverse” are

© Louise Bennett-Coverley Estate and are

here reprinted by permission of her Executors.

These poems may not be duplicated

or reproduced without prior consent of the

Executors of her Estate.

.     .     .     .     .