Tanzania: The Well|Euphrase Kezilahabi

In the birthplace of civilisation
the spring of health is open to all.
The croaking frogs draw us closer,
their chorus leading the giant
who approaches with long, loping strides.
A copper dagger pierces his navel.
With a bow and arrow clasped in his hands
he kneels down by the spring,
ready to attack anyone who approaches:
a hero never dies surrounded by thieves,
a hero dies like alone, like a wounded lion.

We cannot draw water from the well any longer
and the ink in our pens has run dry.
He who presses on with the pen
will be called a hero of deceit.
He who is fearful yet stands firm,
even unsupported,
will open the opposite door:
that between wisdom and understanding –
the first generation we behold.

KISIMA

Kisima cha maji ya uzima ki wazi
Na vyura katika bonde la taaluma watuita
Tujongee kwa mahadhi yao
Yaongozayo pandikizi la mtu
Kwa hatua ndefu litembealo
Na sindano ya shaba kitovuni
Upinde na mishale mkononi
Kisha likapiga goti kisimani
Tayari kumfuma akaribiaye
Maana shujaa hafi miongoni mwa wezi
Bali kama simba mawindoni.

Hatuwezi tena kuteka maji
Na kalamu zetu zimekauka wino.
Nani atamsukuma kwa kalamu
Aitwe shujaa wa uwongo!
Aliyeitia kitovuni kwa hofu
Ingawa tegemeo hakulipata
Alifungua mlango uelekeao
Katikati ya ujuzi na urazini mpya
Mwanzo wa kizazi tukionacho.

Euphrase Kezilahabi is a Tanzanian poet, novelist, and scholar, and is the most widely acknowledged contemporary Swahili author. He was one of the first African writers to publish a collection of free verse poetry in Swahili, his first collection, Kichomi (Twinge) was published in 1974 and led the movement for free verse Swahili poetry. Other collections include Karibu ndani (Welcome Inside, 1988) and Dhifa (Feast, 2008).

 

Translated by Katriina Ranne
Culled From: The Poetry Translation Workshop

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