I share with you a poem by the late Congolese writer Tchicaya U Tam’si, “Vos yeux prophétisent une douleur”/”Your Eyes Prophesy a Pain.” Gérald-Félix Tchicaya is mostly known by his pseudonym Tchicaya U Tam’si, where U Tam’si means ‘the one who speaks for his country‘. Born in Mpili in the former French Congo (Republic of Congo), he was a poet, journalist, and an activist. He is considered by many as one of the greatest poets of his generation.
U Tam’si’s poetry uses symbolism, dark humor, and surrealist, corporeal imagery to explore cultural identity in a politically unstable society. A member of the Congolese independence movement, a friend of Patrice Lumumba, U Tam’si creates work on the nature of African identity that is sometimes connected to Aimé Césaire’s Negritude movement, which advocated for the protection of a distinct African culture in the face of French colonialism and European exploitation.
To me, the pain U Tam’si talks about in this poem is that of slavery, of colonialism, of neo-colonialism, of tribalism. He talks as if he was in the 1600s, during slavery times, and predicting more pain. What do you think? What pain is U Tam’si talking about? The original poem was published in Anthologie Africaine: Poésie Vol2, Jacques Chevrier, Collection Monde Noir Poche, 1988; the English translation is brought to you by Dr. Y., Afrolegends.com.
|Vos yeux prophétisent une douleur…
Comme trois terrils, trois collines de cendres!
Mais dites-moi de qui sont ces cendres?
La mer obéissait déjà aux seuls négriers
Des négres s’y laissaient prendre
Malgré les sortilèges de leurs sourires
On sonnait le tocsin
A coups de pied au ventre
De passantes enceintes:
Il y a un couvre-feu pour faisander leur agonie
Les feux de brousse surtout donnent de mauvais rêves
Quant à moi
Quel crime commettrais-je ?
Si je violais la lune
Les ressusciterais-je ?
Quelle douleur prophétisent vos yeux ?
Your eyes prophesy a pain …
As three heaps, three hills of ashes!
But tell me, from whom are those ashes?
The sea already obeyed only the slave ships
Niggers were being captured
Despite the spells of their smiles
The tocsin was sounded
Through kicks in the belly
Of pregnant passers-by:
There is a curfew to intensify their agony
Bushfires especially give nightmares
As for me
What crime would I commit?
If I raped the moon
Will I resuscitate them?
What pain do your eyes prophesy?