Claude McKay: selected poems from “Harlem Shadows” (1922)

Claude McKay_photograph from the 1920s
Claude McKay
(1889-1948, Jamaica / New York / Chicago)

Selected poems from Harlem Shadows (1922)

Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!
Her vigour flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate.
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead,
And see her might and granite wonders there,
Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand,
Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.
. . .
Home Thoughts
Oh something just now must be happening there!
That suddenly and quiveringly here,
Amid the city’s noises, I must think
Of mangoes leaning o’er the river’s brink,
And dexterous Davie climbing high above,
The gold fruits ebon-speckled to remove,
And toss them quickly in the tangled mass
Of wis-wis twisted round the guinea grass ;
And Cyril coming through the bramble-track
A prize bunch of bananas on his back;
And Georgie —none could ever dive like him—
Throwing his scanty clothes off for a swim;
And schoolboys, from Bridge-tunnel going home,
Watching the waters downward dash and foam.
This is no daytime dream , there’s something in it,
Oh something’s happening there this very minute!

. . .

On Broadway
About me young and careless feet
Linger along the garish street;
Above, a hundred shouting signs
Shed down their bright fantastic glow
Upon the merry crowd and lines
Of moving carriages below.
Oh wonderful is Broadway—only
My heart, my heart is lonely.
Desire naked, linked with Passion,
Goes strutting by in brazen fashion;
From playhouse, cabaret and inn
The rainbow lights of Broadway blaze
All gay without, all glad within;
As in a dream I stand and gaze
At Broadway, shining Broadway—only
My heart, my heart is lonely.

Times Square in Manhattan_photograph from 1922

Times Square in Manhattan_photograph from 1922

The Barrier
I must not gaze at them although
Your eyes are dawning day;
I must not watch you as you go
Your sun-illumined way;
I hear but I must never heed
The fascinating note,
Which, fluting like a river reed ,
Comes from your trembling throat;
I must not see upon your face
Love’s softly glowing spark;
For there’s the barrier of race,
You’re fair and I am dark.

. . .

The City’s Love

For one brief golden moment rare like wine,
The gracious city swept across the line;
Oblivious of the colour of my skin,
Forgetting that I was an alien guest,
She bent to me, my hostile heart to win,
Caught me in passion to her pillowy breast;
The great, proud city, seized with a strange love,
Bowed down for one flame hour my pride to prove.

. . .

When I Have Passed Away
When I have passed away and am forgotten,
And no one living can recall my face,
When under alien sod my bones lie rotten
With not a tree or stone to mark the place;
Perchance a pensive youth, with passion burning,
For olden verse that smacks of love and wine,
The musty pages of old volumes turning,
May light upon a little song of mine,
And he may softly hum the tune and wonder
Who wrote the verses in the long ago;
Or he may sit him down awhile to ponder
Upon the simple words that touch him so.

. . .
On the Road
Roar of the rushing train fearfully rocking,
Impatient people jammed in line for food,
The rasping noise of cars together knocking,
And worried waiters, some in ugly mood,
Crowding into the choking pantry hole
To call out dishes for each angry glutton
Exasperated grown beyond control,
From waiting for his soup or fish or mutton.
At last the station’s reached, the engine stops;
For bags and wraps the red-caps circle round;
From off the step the passenger lightly hops,
And seeks his cab or tram-car homeward bound:
The waiters pass out weary, listless, glum,
To spend their tips on harlots, cards and rum.

. . .

The Harlem Dancer
Applauding youths laughed with young prostitutes
And watched her perfect, half-clothed body sway;
Her voice was like the sound of blended flutes
Blown by black players upon a picnic day.
She sang and danced on, gracefully and calm,
The light gauze hanging loose about her form;
To me she seemed a proudly-swaying palm
Grown lovelier for passing through a storm.
Upon her swarthy neck black  shiny curls
Luxuriant fell; and  tossing coins in praise,
The wine-flushed, bold-eyed boys, and even the girls,
Devoured her shape with eager, passionate gaze;
But looking at her falsely-smiling face,
I knew her self was not in that strange place.
. . .

For the dim regions whence my fathers came
My spirit, bondaged by the body, longs.
Words felt, but never heard, my lips would frame;
My soul would sing forgotten jungle songs.
I would go back to darkness and to peace,
But the great western world holds me in fee,
And I may never hope for full release
While to its alien gods I bend my knee.
Something in me is lost, forever lost,
Some vital thing has gone out of my heart,
And I must walk the way of life a ghost
Among the sons of earth, a thing apart;
For I was born, far from my native clime,
Under the white man’s menace, out of time.

. . .
I Know My Soul
I plucked my soul out of its secret place,
And held it to the mirror of my eye,
To see it like a star against the sky,
A twitching body quivering in space,
A spark of passion shining on my face.
And I explored it to determine why
This awful key to my infinity
Conspires to rob me of sweet joy and grace.
And if the sign may not be fully read,
If I can comprehend but not control,
I need not gloom my days with futile dread,
Because I see a part and not the whole.
Contemplating the strange, I’m comforted
By this narcotic thought: I know my soul.

New York subway tunnel_1920s_hand tinted black and white photographNYC subway route sign
Subway Wind
Far down, down through the city’s great, gaunt gut
The gray train rushing bears the weary wind;
In the packed cars the fans the crowd’s breath cut,
Leaving the sick and heavy air behind.
And pale-cheeked children seek the upper door
To give their summer jackets to the breeze;
Their laugh is swallowed in the deafening roar
Of captive wind that moans for fields and seas;
Seas cooling warm where native schooners drift
Through sleepy waters, while gulls wheel and sweep,
Waiting for windy waves the keels to lift
Lightly among the islands of the deep;
Islands of lofty palm trees blooming white
That lend their perfume to the tropic sea,
Where fields lie idle in the dew drenched night,
And the Trades float above them fresh and free.
. . .
Sometimes I tremble like a storm-swept flower,
And seek to hide my tortured soul from thee.
Bowing my head in deep humility
Before the silent thunder of thy power.
Sometimes I flee before thy blazing light,
As from the specter of pursuing death;
Intimidated lest thy mighty breath,
Windways, will sweep me into utter night.
For oh, I fear they will be swallowed up—
The loves which are to me of vital worth,
My passion and my pleasure in the earth—
And lost forever in thy magic cup!
I fear, I fear my truly human heart
Will perish on the altar-stone of art!
. . .

A Prayer
‘Mid the discordant noises of the day I hear thee calling;
I stumble as I fare along Earth’s way; keep me from falling.
Mine eyes are open but they cannot see for gloom of night;
I can no more than lift my heart to thee for inward light.
The wild and fiery passion of my youth consumes my soul;
In agony I turn to thee for truth and self-control.
For Passion and all the pleasures it can give will die the death;
But this of me eternally must live, thy borrowed breath.
‘Mid the discordant noises of the day I hear thee calling;
I stumble as I fare along Earth’s way; keep me from falling.
. . .
Rest in Peace
No more for you the city’s thorny ways,
The ugly corners of the Negro belt;
The miseries and pains of these harsh days
By you will never, never again be felt.
No more, if still you wander, will you meet
With nights of unabating bitterness;
They cannot reach you in your safe retreat,
The city’s hate, the city’s prejudice!
‘Twas sudden—but your menial task is done,
The dawn now breaks on you, the dark is over,
The sea is crossed, the longed-for port is won;
Farewell, oh, fare you well! my friend and lover.
. . .
Upon thy purple mat thy body bare
Is fine and limber like a tender tree.
The motion of thy supple form is rare,
Like a lithe panther lolling languidly,
Toying and turning slowly in her lair.
Oh, I would never ask for more of thee,
Thou art so clean in passion and so fair.
Enough! if thou wilt ask no more of me!
. . .
Nay, why reproach each other, be unkind,
For there’s no plane on which we two may meet?
Let’s both forgive, forget, for both were blind,
And life is of a day, and time is fleet.
And I am fire, swift to flame and burn,
Melting with elements high overhead,
While you are water in an earthly urn,
All pure, but heavy, and of hue like lead.
. . .
Author’s Word: from the first edition (1922) of Claude McKay’s Harlem Shadows:
In putting ideas and feelings into poetry, I have tried in each case to use the medium most adaptable to the specific purpose. I own allegiance to no master. I have never found it possible to accept in entirety any one poet. But I have loved and joyed in what I consider the finest in the poets of all ages.
The speech of my childhood and early youth was the Jamaica Negro dialect, the native variant of English, which still preserves a few words of African origin, and which is more difficult of understanding than the American Negro dialect. But the language we wrote and read in school was England’s English. Our text books then, before the advent of the American and Jamaican readers and our teachers, too, were all English-made. The native teachers of the elementary schools were tutored by men and women of British import. I quite remember making up verses in the dialect and in English for our moonlight ring dances and for our school parties. Of our purely native songs the jammas (field and road), shay-shays (yard and booth), wakes (post-mortem), Anancy tales (transplanted African folk lore), and revivals (religious) are all singularly punctuated by metre and rhyme. And nearly all my own poetic thought has always run naturally into these regular forms.
Consequently, although very conscious of the new criticisms and trends in poetry, to which I am keenly responsive and receptive, I have adhered to such of the older traditions as I find adequate for my most lawless and revolutionary passions and moods. I have not used patterns, images and words that would stamp me a classicist nor a modernist. My intellect is not scientific enough to range me on the side of either; nor is my knowledge wide enough for me to specialize in any school.
I have never studied poetics; but the forms I have used I am convinced are the ones I can work in with the highest degree of spontaneity and freedom.
I have chosen my melodies and rhythms by instinct, and I have favoured words and figures which flow smoothly and harmoniously into my compositions. And in all my moods I have striven to achieve directness, truthfulness and naturalness of expression instead of an enameled originality. I have not hesitated to use words which are old, and in some circles considered poetically overworked and dead, when I thought I could make them glow alive by new manipulation. Nor have I stinted my senses of the pleasure of using the decorative metaphor where it is more truly and vividly beautiful than the exact phrase. But for me there is more quiet delight in “The golden moon of heaven” than in “The terra-cotta disc of cloud-land.”
Finally, while I have welcomed criticism, friendly and unfriendly, and listened with willing attention to many varying opinions concerning other poems and my own, I have always, in the summing up, fallen back on my own ear and taste as the arbiter.

. . .

Our Special Thanks to: Chris Forster and Roopika Risam of

. . . . .

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.
. . .

. . . . .

Langston Hughes: poemas del poemario “Montaje de un Sueño Diferido” (1951)

1951 book cover for Montage of a Dream Deferred by Langston Hughes

Una selección de poemas del poemario Montage of a Dream Deferred (Montaje de un Sueño Diferido) (1951) por Langston Hughes (nacido 1 de febrero de 1902 / muerto 22 de mayo de 1967).  Versiones españoles (enero de 2016): Alexander Best

. . .
¿El trabajo?
Yo, no tengo que trabajar.
No tengo que hacer nada
comer, beber, permanecer negro – y morir.
Este viejo cuartito amueblado es
tan pequeño que
aun no puedo azotar un gato sin pillar el pelaje en mi boca.
Y la casera es tan anciana que sus rasgos desdibujan juntos;
¡y sabe el Señor que ella puede cobrarme de más a mí – eso es seguro!
(Entonces…éso es el motivo por que estimo que debo trabajar – después de todo.)

. . .
I don’t have to work.
I don’t have to do nothing
but eat, drink, stay black, and die.
This little old furnished room’s
so small I can’t whip a cat
without getting fur in my mouth
and my landlady’s so old
her features is all run together
and God knows she sure can overcharge –
which is why I reckon I does
have to work after all.
. . .

Pregunta número 2
Dijo la señora:
¿Puedes hacer lo que no puede hacer
mi otro hombre – ? Y éso es:
¡Quiéreme, papi,
y aliméntame también!
. . .
“Question (2)”
Said the lady, Can you do
what my other man can’t do –
that is
love me, daddy –
and feed me, too?

. . .
‘Bugui’ despreocupado
Abajo en el contrabajo
caminando andando
al firme tiempo
– como pies marchandos.
Abajo en el contrabajo
menearse fácil
– el revolcón como me gusta en mi alma.
< Riffs, manchas, descansos.>
¡Eh, mamacita! – ¿has oído lo que digo?
Despreocupado, yo lo impulso – ¡en mi cama!
. . .
“Easy Boogie”
Down in the bass
That steady beat
Walking walking walking
Like marching feet.
Down in the bass
That easy roll,
Rolling like I like it
In my soul.
Riffs, smears, breaks.
Hey, Lawdy, Mama!
Do you hear what I said?
Easy like I rock it
In my bed!
. . .
Las 3 de la mañana en el café…
Agentes de policía de la vicebrigada,
con ojos agotados y sádicos – divisando a los maricones.
Degenerados, dice alguna gente.
Pero Dios – o la Naturaleza – o alguien – les hizo en esa forma.
¿Una policía – o una Lesbiana – allá?

. . .
“Café: 3 a.m.”
Detectives from the vice squad
with weary sadistic eyes
spotting fairies.
some folks say.
But God, Nature,
or somebody
made them that way.
Police lady or Lesbian
over there?
. . .

Calle número 125 (en Harlem)
Rostro como una barra de chocolate,
lleno de nueces – y dulce.
Cara como una calabaza de Hallowe’en,
y adentro una candela.
Rostro como una loncha de sandía
– y una sonrisa tan amplia.

. . .
“125th Street”
Face like a chocolate bar
full of nuts and sweet.
Face like a jack-o’-lantern,
candle inside.
Face like a slice of melon,
grin that wide.

. . .
Los blues en el alba
No oso empezar con algunos pensamientos
en las primeras horas del día
– no, no oso pensar en ese momento.
Si yo piense algo de pensamiento mientras estoy en cama,
esos pensamientos romperían mi cabeza
– pues, las mañanas: no oso empezar a pensar.
No oso recordar en el alba, no – nunca en el alba.
Porque, si yo evocara el día antes,
no me levantaría nunca más
– pues, las mañanas: no oso recordar.

. . .

“Blues at Dawn”
I don’t dare start thinking in the morning.
I don’t dare start thinking in the morning.
If I thought thoughts in bed,
Them thoughts would bust my head –
So I don’t dare start thinking in the morning.
I don’t dare remember in the morning
Don’t dare remember in the morning.
If I recall the day before,
I wouldn’t get up no more –
So I don’t dare remember in the morning.

. . .
El vecino
En el sur él se colocaba él mismo en la escalera de entrada – y miraba el sol pasando…
Aquí en Harlem, cuando está completo su trabajo – él se coloca en un bar con una cerveza.
Parece más alto que es, y más jóven que no es.
Parece su piel más oscura que es, también – y él es más listo que muestra su rostro.
No es listo, ese vato es un bufón tonto.
Aw, no es eso tampoco – es un buen tipo, salvo que platica demasiado.
A decir verdad es un cuate estupendo – pero cuando toma el vaso, bebe rápido.
A veces no bebe.
Es cierto, sólo deja estar allí su vaso – nada más.

. . .
Down home
he sets on a stoop
and watches the sun go by.
In Harlem
when his work is done
he sets in a bar with a beer.
He looks taller than he is
and younger than he ain’t.
He looks darker than he is, too.
And he’s smarter than he looks –
He ain’t smart.
That cat’s a fool.
Naw, he ain’t neither.
He’s a good man,
except that he talks too much.
In fact, he’s a great cat.
But when he drinks,
he drinks fast.
he don’t drink.
he just
lets his glass
set there.
. . .
La hora punta en el metropolitano
nuestro aliento, nuestro olor.
Tan cerca – nosotros, negros y blancos;
ningún espacio para el temor.
. . .
“Subway Rush Hour”
breath and smell
so close
black and white
so near
no room for fear.

. . .

Somos parientes – tú y yo;
tú del Caribe,
yo de Kentucky.
Familiar – tú y yo;
tú de África,
yo de los EE.UU.
Hermanos somos – tú y yo.
. . .
We’re related – you and I,
You from the West Indies,
I from Kentucky.
Kinsmen – you and I,
You from Africa,
I from U.S.A.
Brothers – you and I.

. . .

Rimas pequeñas corrientes
y una tonadilla ordinária
pueden ser casi peligrosas
como una astilla de la luna.
Una tonadilla ordinária
con unas pequeñas rimas corrientes
pueden ser navaja – a veces –
a la garganta de un hombre.
. . .

Cheap little rhymes
A cheap little tune
Are sometimes as dangerous
As a sliver of the moon.
A cheap little tune
To cheap little rhymes
Can cut a man’s
Throat sometimes.
. . .
Mi gente, les digo a ustedes:
el Nacimiento es duro
y la Muerte es miserable – así que
agarren ustedes mismos algo de Amor
entre aquellos dos.

. . .

Folks, I’m telling you:
Birthing is hard
And Dying is mean,
So get yourself
Some loving in between.
. . .
Lo juego muy tranquilo esta vida – y me gusta toda la jerga.
Es la razón que aún estoy vivo.
Mi lema,
como estoy viviendo, descubriendo, es:
dar amor-tomar amor y
. . .
I play it cool
And dig all jive.
That’s the reason
I stay alive.
My motto,
As I live and learn,
Dig And Be Dug
In Return.

. . .

No hemos incluido los dos poemas más famosos del poemario Montaje de un Sueño Diferido: Tarea para el segundo curso de inglés (“Theme for English B”) y “Harlem (2)”, más conocido por una frase extraída de su primera línea:  Un Sueño Diferido (A Dream Deferred).



. . . . .

Langston Hughes: poèmes de la Renaissance de Harlem

Portrait de Langston Hughes par Bruce Patrick Jones_graphite et aquarelle_2016

Portrait de Langston Hughes par Bruce Patrick Jones_graphite et aquarelle_2016

Langston Hughes (le 1er février 1902 – mai 1967: poète, écrivain, et dramaturge noir-américain)

Le Nègre parle des fleuves (1921)
(The Negro speaks of rivers)
J’ai connu des fleuves
J’ai connu des fleuves anciens comme le monde et plus vieux
que le flux du sang humain dans les veines humaines.

Mon âme est devenue aussi profonde que les fleuves.

Je me suis baigné dans l’Euphrate quand les aubes étaient neuves.
J’ai bâti ma hutte près du Congo et il a bercé mon sommeil.
J’ai contemplé le Nil et au-dessus j’ai construit les pyramides.
J’ai entendu le chant du Mississipi quand Abe Lincoln descendit
à la Nouvelle-Orléans, et j’ai vu ses nappes boueuses transfigurées
en or au soleil couchant.
J’ai connu des fleuves:
Fleuves anciens et ténébreux.
Mon âme est devenue aussi profonde que les fleuves.
. . .

Moi aussi, je chante l’Amérique (1926)
(Epilogue: I, Too)
Moi aussi, je chante l’Amérique.
Je suis le frère à la peau sombre.
Ils m’envoient manger à la cuisine
Quand il vient du monde.
Mais je ris,
Et mange bien,
Et prends des forces.
Je me mettrai à table
Quand il viendra du monde
Personne n’osera
Me dire
«Mange à la cuisine».
De plus, ils verront comme je suis beau
Et ils auront honte…
Moi aussi, je suis l’Amérique.
. . .
Le Blues du Désespoir (1926)
(The Weary Blues)
Fredonnant un air syncopé et nonchalant,
Balançant d’avant en arrière avec son chant moelleux,
J’écoutais un Nègre jouer.
En descendant la Lenox Avenue l’autre nuit
A la lueur pâle et maussade d’une vieille lampe à gaz
Il se balançait indolent…
Il se balançait indolent…
Pour jouer cet air, ce Blues du Désespoir.
Avec ses mains d’ébène sur chaque touche d’ivoire
Il amenait son pauvre piano à pleurer sa mélodie.
O Blues !
Se balançant sur son tabouret bancal
Il jouait cet air triste et rugueux comme un fou,
Tendre Blues !
Jailli de l’âme d’un Noir
O Blues !
D’une voix profonde au timbre mélancolique
J’écoutais ce Nègre chanter, ce vieux piano pleurer –
« J’n’ai personne en ce monde,
J’n’ai personne à part moi.
J’veux en finir avec les soucis
J’veux mettre mes tracas au rancart. »
Tamp, tamp, tamp ; faisait son pied sur le plancher.
Il joua quelques accords et continua de chanter –
« J’ai le Blues du Désespoir
Rien ne peut me satisfaire.
J’n’aurai plus de joie
Et je voudrais être mort. »
Et tard dans la nuit il fredonnait cet air.
Les étoiles disparurent et la lune à son tour.
Le chanteur s’arrêta de jouer et rentra dormir
Tandis que dans sa tête le Blues du Désespoir résonnait.
Il dormit comme un roc ou comme un homme qui serait mort.

. . .

Nègre (1922) (Negro)

Je suis un Nègre :
Noir comme la nuit est noire,
Noir comme les profondeurs de mon Afrique.
J’ai été un esclave :
César m’a dit de tenir ses escaliers propres.
J’ai ciré les bottes de Washington.
J’ai été ouvrier :
Sous ma main les pyramides se sont dressées.
J’ai fait le mortier du Woolworth Building.
J’ai été un chanteur :
Tout au long du chemin de l’Afrique à la Géorgie
J’ai porté mes chants de tristesse.
J’ai créé le ragtime.
Je suis un Nègre :
Les Belges m’ont coupé les mains au Congo.
On me lynche toujours au Mississipi.
Je suis un Nègre :
Noir comme la nuit est noire
Noir comme les profondeurs de mon Afrique.
. . .

Les poèmes originals, en anglais:

The Negro Speaks of Rivers
I’ve known rivers:
I’ve known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.
I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I’ve seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.
I’ve known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.
My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

. . .
Epilogue: I, too
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Nobody’ll dare
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.
. . .
The Weary Blues
Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
He did a lazy sway . . .
He did a lazy sway . . .
To the tune o’ those Weary Blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.
O Blues!
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
Sweet Blues!
Coming from a black man’s soul.
O Blues!
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—
“Ain’t got nobody in all this world,
Ain’t got nobody but ma self.
I’s gwine to quit ma frownin’
And put ma troubles on the shelf.”
Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more—
“I got the Weary Blues
And I can’t be satisfied.
Got the Weary Blues
And can’t be satisfied—
I ain’t happy no mo’
And I wish that I had died.”
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that’s dead.
. . .
I am a Negro:
Black as the night is black,
Black like the depths of my Africa.
I’ve been a slave:
Caesar told me to keep his door-steps clean.
I brushed the boots of Washington.
I’ve been a worker:
Under my hand the pyramids arose.
I made mortar for the Woolworth Building.
I’ve been a singer:
All the way from Africa to Georgia
I carried my sorrow songs.
I made ragtime.
I’ve been a victim:
The Belgians cut off my hands in the Congo.
They lynch me still in Mississippi.
I am a Negro:
Black as the night is black,
Black like the depths of my Africa.

. . . . .

George Elliott Clarke: “El Blues para X” / “Blues for X”

ZP_painting by William Henry Johnson, 1901 - 1970_Café_1940

ZP_painting by William Henry Johnson, 1901 – 1970_Café_1940

George Elliott Clarke (born 1960)

Blues for X”


Pretty boy, towel your tears,

And robe yourself in black.

Pretty boy, dry your tears,

You know I’m comin’ back.

I’m your slavish lover

And I’m slavish in the sack.


Call me:  Sweet Potato,

Sweet Pea, or Sweety Pie,

There’s sugar on my lips

And honey in my thighs.

Jos’phine Baker bakes beans,

But I stew pigtails in rye.


My bones are guitar strings

And blues the chords you strum.

My bones are slender flutes

And blues the bars you hum.

You wanna stay my man ? –

Serve me whisky when I come !

.     .     .

George Elliott Clarke (nace 1960)

El Blues para X”


Lindo chico, enjúgate las lágrimas,

Y vístete de negro.

Chico chicho – que no llores,

Volveré – tú sabes.

Soy tu amante-esclava

Y soy servil en la cama.


Llámame:  “mi camote”,

chícharo’zuc’rado” o “pastelito dulce”,

Hay azucar en mis labios

Y miel en mis muslos.

Jos’phine “Panadero” Baker cuece frijoles

Pero yo guiso colas-de-chancho en güisqui.


Son cuerdas de guitarra mis huesos

Y los acordes que rasgueas El Blues.

Los huesos son flautas esbeltas

Y El Blues – el compás que tarareas.

¿Quieres permanecer mi hombre?

!Sírveme güisqui cuándo me vengo!

.     .     .

George Elliott Clarke, el poeta laureado actual de la ciudad de Toronto, nació en este día, el 12 de febrero de 1960.  Los temas de su poesía son los hechos y la mitología de su provincia natal – Nova Scotia, Canadá.   Con la provincia al lado – New Brunswick – las dos forman lo que Señor Clarke dice como “Africadia” – la palabra África (de unos esclavos fugados de los Estados Unidos) + la palabra Acadia (la misma región canadiense en su época francesa, antes de la llegada de los británicos).

Señor Clarke es Profesor de la literatura canadiense y de la diáspora africana en la Universidad de Toronto.

El poema “El Blues para X” (1990) fue escrito en la voz de una mujer que está confiada en su sexualidad y honesta en sus deseos.  El estilo del poema es, quizás, de “nuevo-Blues”.   Mezcla algo de la habla clara de Langston Hughes con las palabras francas de Bessie Smith.

.     .     .

The City of Toronto’s current Poet Laureate, George Elliott Clarke (born February 12th, 1960, in Windsor Plains, Nova Scotia), has mythologized Black-Canadian history in what he calls Africadia – Africa + Acadia – the provinces of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia as lived by Black people for more than two centuries.  Clarke received the Governor General’s Award in 2001 for his Execution Poems, based on the lives – and deaths – of two of his relatives, George and Rufus Hamilton.  He wrote a libretto for his own play, Beatrice Chancy, and with a score by James Rolfe the opera premiered in Toronto in 1998 with Fredericton-born Measha Brueggergosman in the title role.  Since 1999 Professor Clarke has taught Canadian and African Diasporic Literature at the University of Toronto.  The poem “Blues for X” – from his 1990 poetry collection Whylah Fallsmight be deemed a neo-Blues poem – harkening back to the plain-spoken Blues poems of Langston Hughes, but with a wake-up shot à la Bessie Smith (the last two verses).


Traducción en español  /  Translation into Spanish:     Alexander Best,  Lidia García Garay

“Blues for X”  ©  George Elliott Clarke

“Mind is your only ruler – sovereign”: Marcus Garvey and Bob Marley: “Emancípense de la esclavitud mental; nadie más que nosotros puede liberar nuestras mentes.”

ZP_Bob Marley, 1945 - 1981

ZP_Bob Marley, 1945 – 1981

ZP_Marcus Garvey, 1887 - 1940_Jamaican orator, Black Nationalist and promoter of Pan-Africanism in the Diaspora

ZP_Marcus Garvey, 1887 – 1940_Jamaican orator, Black Nationalist and promoter of Pan-Africanism in the Diaspora

“Redemption Song”, from Bob Marley and The Wailers final studio album (1980), was unlike anything Marley had recorded previously.  There is no reggae in in it, rather it is a kind of folksong / spiritual and just him singing with an acoustic guitar.  The exhortation to “emancipate yourselves from mental slavery, none but ourselves can free our minds” was taken directly from a famous speech that fellow Jamaican and Pan-Africanist Marcus Garvey gave in Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1937.  Garvey published the speech in his Black Man magazine.  He had said: “We are going to emancipate ourselves from mental slavery because whilst others might free the body, none but ourselves can free the mind.  Mind is your only ruler, sovereign.  The man who is not able to develop and use his mind is bound to be the slave of the other man who uses his mind…”   Bob Marley was born on this day, February 6th, in 1945.  He developed cancer in 1977 but for three years did not seek treatment because of his Rastafarian beliefs;  was the illness perhaps Jah’s will?  He died in 1981, at the age of 36.

At Marley’s funeral Jamaican Prime Minister Edward Seaga eulogized him thus:  “His voice was an omnipresent cry in our electronic world. His sharp features, majestic looks, and prancing style a vivid etching on the landscape of our minds. Bob Marley was never seen. He was “an experience” – which left an indelible imprint with each encounter.  Such a man cannot be erased from the mind.  He is part of the collective consciousness of the nation.”



Robert Nesta ‘Bob’ Marley

“Redemption Song”


Old pirates, yes, they rob I;
Sold I to the merchant ships,
Minutes after they took I
From the bottomless pit.
But my hand was made strong
By the hand of the Almighty.
We forward in this generation
Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever have:
Redemption songs,
Redemption songs.


Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds.
Have no fear for atomic energy,
‘Cause none of them can stop the time.
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look?

Some say it’s just a part of it:
We’ve got to fulfil The Book.
Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever have:
Redemption songs,
Redemption songs,
Redemption songs.
Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery;
None but ourselves can free our minds.
Woah, have no fear for atomic energy,
‘Cause none of them can stop the time.
How long shall they kill our prophets,
While we stand aside and look?
Yes, some say it’s just a part of it:
We’ve got to fulfil The Book.
Won’t you help to sing
These songs of freedom?
‘Cause all I ever had:
Redemption songs,

Yes, all I ever had:
Redemption songs:
These songs of freedom,
Songs of freedom.


.     .     .

Canción de Redención, del disco final (1980) grabado por Bob Marley y “Los hombres plañideros”, es algo diferente:   una canción folklórica muy íntima – con solamente una voz y una guitarra acústica – y no es canción de reggae.   Cuando Marley cantó este “canto” que es también una exhortación, ya sufría del cáncer, y ahora, en el año 2013 – más de tres décadas después de su muerte – las letras de Redención parecen como buen consejo para vivir con dignidad en el mundo actual.

Las palabras Emancípense de la esclavitud mental – nadie más que nosotros puede liberar nuestras mentes son pasajes de una declaración famosa del activista jamaiquino Negro-Nacionalista Marcus Garvey (1887-1940).  En Jamaica la gente cree que la religión rastafari (la fe de Bob Marley) es en parte consecuencia de las ideas de Garvey;  él anunció la llegada de un rey, el emperador Haile Selassie de Etiopía.  En hecho, Garvey aseguró a sus seguidores:  “Miren a Africa cuando un rey negro sea coronado – éso significa que la liberación está cerca”.

Pero “la llegada de un rey” no resuelve todo el misterio irónico de la Vida – como la muerte de un hombre casi joven – y de gran don.

Edward Seaga, el primer ministro de Jamaica, pronunció el elogio al funeral de Bob Marley.   Dijo:  “Su voz fue un grito omnipresente en nuestro mundo electrónico. Sus rasgos afilados, su aspecto majestuoso y su forma de moverse se han grabado intensamente en el paisaje de nuestra mente. Bob Marley nunca fue visto. Fue “una experiencia” que dejó una huella indeleble en cada encuentro. Un hombre así no se puede borrar de la mente. Él es parte de la conciencia colectiva de la nación.”



Robert Nesta ‘Bob’ Marley (6 de febrero, 1945 – 1981)

“Canción de Redención”


Viejos piratas, sí, que me roban a yo;
Vendido yo a los buques mercantes,
Minutos después de que tomé a yo
Desde el pozo sin fondo.
Pero mi mano fue hecha fuerte
Por la mano del Todopoderoso.
Avanzamos adelante en esta generación

– Triunfante.
¿No le gustaría ayudar a cantar
Estas canciones de libertad?
Porque todo lo que tengo – alguna vez:
Las canciones de redención,
Canciones de la redención.
Emancípense de la esclavitud mental;
Nadie más que nosotros puede liberar nuestras mentes.
No tenga miedo de la energía atómica,
Ninguno de ellos puede parar el tiempo.
¿Por cuánto tiempo van a matar a nuestros profetas,
A pesar de que un lado para mirar?

Algunos dicen que es sólo una parte de todo:
Tenemos que cumplir con El Libro.
¿No le gustaría ayudar a cantar
Estas canciones de libertad?
Porque todo lo que tengo – alguna vez:
Las canciones de redención,
Canciones de redención,
Canciones de la redención.
Emancípense de la esclavitud mental;
Nadie más que nosotros puede liberar nuestras mentes.

No tenga miedo de la energía atómica,
Ninguno de ellos puede parar el tiempo..
¿Por cuánto tiempo van a matar a nuestros profetas,
A pesar de que un lado para mirar?
Sí, algunos dicen que es sólo una parte de todo:
Tenemos para cumplir con El Libro.
¿Usted, no va a tener que cantar
Estas canciones de libertad?
Porque todo lo que tuve – alguna vez:
Las canciones de redención.
Todo lo que yo tuve – alguna vez:
Canciones de redención, ah sí
Estas canciones de libertad,
Canciones de la libertad.

.     .     .     .     .

“Viva y no pare” / “Live and don’t hold back”: Nicolás Guillén + el Yoruba de Cuba / the Yoruba from Cuba

Z|P_Cabeza de piña por Eduardo Roca alias Choco_pintor cubano

Z|P_Cabeza de piña por Eduardo Roca alias Choco_pintor cubano

Nicolás Guillén (Cuba, 1902-1989)

A poem from “ ‘Son’ Motifs ” (1930)

Go get some dough”


Get some silver,

go get some dough for us!

Cuz I’m not goin one step more:

we’re down to just rice and crackers,

that’s it.

Yeah, I know how things are,

but hey, my Guy – a person’s gotta eat:

so get some money,

go get it,

else I’m gonna beat it.

Then they’ll call me a ‘no good’ woman

and won’t want nothin’ to do with me. But

Love with Hunger? Hell no!


There’s so many pretty new shoes out there, dammit!

So many wristwatches, compadre!

Hell – so many luxuries we might have, my Man!


Translation from Spanish: Alexander Best


Note: ‘Son’ (meaning Sound) was the traditional Cuban music style of the early twentieth century.

It combined Spanish song and guitars with African percussion of Bantu origin. ‘Son’ was the basis upon which Salsa developed.

.     .     .

Del poemario “Motivos de Son” (1930)

Búcate plata”


Búcate plata,

búcate plata,

poqque no doy un paso má;

etoy a arró con galleta,

na má.

Yo bien sé como etá to,

pero biejo, hay que comé:

búcate plata,

búcate plata,

poqque me boy a corré.

Depué dirán que soy mala,

y no me quedrán tratá,

pero amó con hambre, biejo.

¡qué ba!

con tanto sapato nuevo,

¡qué ba!

Con tanto reló, compadre,

¡qué ba!

Con tanto lujo, mi negro,

¡qué ba!

.     .     .

A poem from Sóngoro cosongo: mulatto poems (1931)



The black man
together with the plantation.

The yankee
on the plantation.

The earth
beneath the plantation.

Our blood
drains out of us!

.     .     .

Un poema del poemario Sóngoro cosongo: poemas mulatos (1931)



El negro
junto al cañaveral.

El yanqui
sobre el cañaveral.

La tierra
bajo el cañaveral.

que se nos va!

.     .     .

Two poems from “West Indies, Ltd.” (1934):

Guadaloupe, W. I., Pointe-à-Pitre”


The black men, working
near the steamboat. The arabs, selling,
the french, strolling, having a rest

and the sun, burning.

In the harbour the sea
lies down. The air toasts
the palm trees… I scream: Guadaloupe!

but nobody answers.


The steamboat leaves, labouring through
the impassive waters with a foaming roar.

There the black men stay, still working,
and the arabs, selling,
and the french, strolling, having a rest

and the sun, burning…

.     .     .

Guadalupe, W. I., Pointe-à-Pitre” (1934)


Los negros, trabajando
junto al vapor. Los árabes, vendiendo,
los franceses, paseando y descansando

y el sol, ardiendo.

En el puerto se acuesta
el mar. El aire tuesta
las palmeras… Yo grito: ¡Guadalupe!

pero nadie contesta.


Parte el vapor, arando
las aguas impasibles con espumoso estruendo.

Allá quedan los negros trabajando,
los árabes vendiendo,
los franceses, paseando y descansando

y el sol, ardiendo…

.     .     .



The teeth, filled with the morning,
and the hair, filled with the night.
Who is it? It’s him, or it’s not him?
— Black man.


Though she being woman and not beautiful,
you’ll do what she orders you.
Who is it? It’s him, or it’s not him?
— Hunger.


Slave of the slaves,
and towards the masters, tyrant.
Who is it? It’s him, or it’s not him?
— Sugar cane.


Noise of a hand
that never ignores the other.
Who is it? It’s him, or it’s not him?
— Almsgiving.


A man who is crying
going on with the laugh he learned.
Who is it? It’s him, or it’s not him?
— Me.

.     .     .



En los dientes, la mañana,
y la noche en el pellejo.
¿Quién será, quién no será?
— El negro.


Con ser hembra y no ser bella,
harás lo que ella te mande.
¿Quién será, quién no será?
— El hambre.


Esclava de los esclavos,
y con los dueños, tirana.
¿Quién será, quién no será?
— La caña.


Escándalo de una mano
que nunca ignora a la otra.
¿Quién será, quién no será?
— La limosna.


Un hombre que está llorando
con la risa que aprendió.
¿Quién será, quién no será?
— Yo.

.     .     .

Poem from “Cantos para soldados y sones para turistas (1937)



They are going to execute
a man whose arms are tied.
There are four soldiers
for the shooting.
Four silent
fastened up,
like the fastened-up man they’re going to kill.

Can you escape?
— I can’t run!
— They’re gonna shoot!
— What’re we gonna do?
— Maybe the rifles aren’t loaded…
— They got six bullets of fierce lead!
— Perhaps these soldiers don’t shoot!
— You’re a fool – through and through!


They fired.
(How was it they could shoot?)
They killed.
(How was it they could kill?)
They were four silent
and an official señor
made a signal to them, lowering his saber.
Four soldiers they were,

and tied,
like the man they were to kill.

ZP_En la mira (In the cross-hairs)_Eduardo Roca (Choco)_pintor cubano

ZP_En la mira (In the cross-hairs)_Eduardo Roca (Choco)_pintor cubano



Van a fusilar
a un hombre que tiene los brazos atados.
Hay cuatro soldados
para disparar.
Son cuatro soldados
que están amarrados,
lo mismo que el hombre amarrado que van a matar.

¿Puedes escapar?
—¡No puedo correr!
—¡Ya van a tirar!
—¡Qué vamos a hacer!
—Quizá los rifles no estén cargados…
—¡Seis balas tienen de fiero plomo!
—¡Quizá no tiren esos soldados!
—¡Eres un tonto de tomo y lomo!


(¿Cómo fue que pudieron tirar?)
(¿Cómo fue que pudieron matar?)
Eran cuatro soldados
y les hizo una seña, bajando su sable,
un señor oficial;
eran cuatro soldados
lo mismo que el hombre que fueron los cuatro a

.     .     .



The vanquished bourgeois – they don’t make me sad.
And when I think they are going to make me sad,
I just really grit my teeth, really shut my eyes.


I think about my long days with neither shoes and roses,
I think about my long days with neither sombrero nor
I think about my long days without a shirt – or dreams,
I think about my long days with my prohibited skin,
I think about my long days And


You cannot come in, please – this is a club.
The payroll is full.
There’s no room in this hotel.
The señor has stepped out.

Looking for a girl.
Fraud in the elections.
A big dance for blind folks.


The first price fell to Santa Clara.
A “Tómbola” lottery for orphans.
The gentleman is in Paris.
Madam the marchioness doesn’t receive people.
Finally And


Given that I recall everything and

the way I recall everything,
what the hell are you asking me to do?
In addition, ask them,
I’m sure they too
recall all.

.     .     .



No me dan pena los burgueses vencidos.
Y cuando pienso que van a dar me pena,
aprieto bien los dientes, y cierro bien los ojos.


Pienso en mis largos días sin zapatos ni rosas,
pienso en mis largos días sin sombrero ni nubes,
pienso en mis largos días sin camisa ni sueños,
pienso en mis largos días con mi piel prohibida,
pienso en mis largos días Y


No pase, por favor, esto es un club.
La nómina está llena.
No hay pieza en el hotel.
El señor ha salido.


Se busca una muchacha.
Fraude en las elecciones.
Gran baile para ciegos.


Cayó el premio mayor en Santa Clara.
Tómbola para huérfanos.
El caballero está en París.
La señora marquesa no recibe.
En fin Y

Que todo lo recuerdo y como todo lo
¿qué carajo me pide usted que haga?
Además, pregúnteles,
estoy seguro de que también
recuerdan ellos.

.     .     .

The Black Sea”


The purple night dreams

over the sea;

voices of fishermen,

wet with the sea;

the moon makes its exit,

dripping all over the sea.


The black sea.

Throughout the night, a sound,

flows into the bay;

throughout the night, a sound.


The boats see it happen,

throughout the night, this sound,

igniting the chilly water.

Throughout the night, a sound,

Inside the night, this sound,

Across the night – a sound.


The black sea.

Ohhh, my mulatto woman of fine, fine gold,

I sigh, oh my mixed woman who is like gold and silver together,

with her red poppy and her orange blossom.

At the foot of the sea.

At the foot of the sea, the hungry, masculine sea.


Translation from Spanish:  Alexander Best

.     .     .

El Negro Mar”
La noche morada sueña
sobre el mar;
la voz de los pescadores
mojada en el mar;
sale la luna chorreando
del mar.

El negro mar.

Por entre la noche un son,
desemboca en la bahía;
por entre la noche un son.

Los barcos lo ven pasar,
por entre la noche un son,
encendiendo el agua fría.
Por entre la noche un son,
por entre la noche un son,
por entre la noche un son. . .

El negro mar.

Ay, mi mulata de oro fino,
ay, mi mulata
de oro y plata,
con su amapola y su azahar,
al pie del mar hambriento y masculino,
al pie del mar.

.     .     .

Son” Number 6


I’m Yoruba, crying out Yoruba
Since I’m Yoruba from Cuba,
I want my lament of Yoruba to touch Cuba
the joyful weeping Yoruba
that comes out of me.
I’m Yoruba,
I keep singing
and crying.
When I’m not Yoruba then
I am Congo, Mandinga or Carabalí.
Listen my friends, to my ‘son’ which begins like this:
Here is the riddle
of all my hopes:
what’s mine is yours,
what’s yours is mine;
all the blood
shaping a river.
The silk-cotton tree, tree with its crown;
father, the father with his son;
the tortoise in its shell.
Let the heart-warming ‘son’ break out,
and our people dance,
heart close to heart,
glasses clinking together
water on water with rum!

I’m Yoruba, I’m Lucumí,
Mandinga, Congo, Carabalí.
Listen my friends, to the ‘son’ that goes like this:
We’ve come together from far away,
young ones and old,
Blacks and Whites, moving together;
one is a leader, the other a follower,
all moving together;
San Berenito and one who’s obeying
all moving together;
Blacks and Whites from far away,
all moving together;
Santa María and one who’s obeying
all moving together;
all pulling together, Santa María,
San Berenito, all pulling together,
all moving together, San Berenito,
San Berenito, Santa María.
Santa María, San Berenito,
everyone pulling together!
I’m Yoruba, I’m Lucumí
Mandinga, Congo, Carabalí.
Listen my friends, to my ‘son’ which ends like this:
Come out Mulatto,
walk on free,
tell the White man he can’t leave…
Nobody breaks away from here;
look and don’t stop,
listen and don’t wait
drink and don’t stop,
eat and don’t wait,
live and don’t hold back
our people’s ‘son’ will never end!


Translation from Spanish:  Salvador Ortiz-Carboneres

.     .     .

Son número 6”


Yoruba soy, lloro en yoruba
Como soy un yoruba de Cuba,
quiero que hasta Cuba suba mi llanto yoruba;
que suba el alegre llanto yoruba
que sale de mí.
Yoruba soy,
cantando voy,
llorando estoy,
y cuando no soy yoruba,
soy congo, mandinga, carabalí.
Atiendan amigos, mi son, que empieza así:
de la esperanza:
lo mío es tuyo
lo tuyo es mío;
toda la sangre
formando un río.
La ceiba ceiba con su penacho;
el padre padre con su muchacho;
la jicotea en su carapacho.
¡Que rompa el son caliente,
y que lo baile la gente,
pecho con pecho,
vaso con vaso,
y agua con agua con aguardiente!
Yoruba soy, soy lucumí,
mandinga, congo, carabalí.
Atiendan, amigos, mi son, que sigue así:
Estamos juntos desde muy lejos,
jóvenes, viejos,
negros y blancos, todo mezclado;
uno mandando y otro mandado,
todo mezclado;
San Berenito y otro mandado,
todo mezclado;
negros y blancos desde muy lejos,
todo mezclado;
Santa María y uno mandado,
todo mezclado;
todo mezclado, Santa María,
San Berenito, todo mezclado,
todo mezclado, San Berenito,
San Berenito, Santa María,
Santa María, San Berenito
todo mezclado!
Yoruba soy, soy lucumí,
mandinga, congo, carabalí.
Atiendan, amigos, mi son, que acaba así:
Salga el mulato,
suelte el zapato,
díganle al blanco que no se va:
de aquí no hay nadie que se separe;
mire y no pare,
oiga y no pare,
beba y no pare,
viva y no pare,
que el son de todos no va a parar!

.     .     .     .     .