Mazisi Kunene is a major figure in African poetry. He is the author of many books, the best known of which are his epic poems, Anthem of the Decades and Emperor Shaka the Great (both Heineman), which were written in Zulu and translated into English by the poet. He lives in Durban.
Over the vast summer hills
I shall commission the maternal sun
To fetch you with her long tilted rays,
The slow heave of the valleys
Will once again roll the hymns of accompaniment
Scattering the glitter of the Milky Way over the bare fields.
You will meet me
Underneath the shadow of the timeless earth
Where I lie weaving the seasons.
You will indulge in the sway dances of your kin
To the time of symphonic flutes
Ravishing the identity of waterlilies.
I have opened the mountain gates
So that the imposing rim
Of the Ruwenzori shall steal your image.
Even the bubbling lips of continents
(To the shy palms of Libya)
Shall awake the long forgotten age.
The quivering waters of the Zambezi river
Will bear on a silvery blanket your name
Leading it to the echoing of the sea.
Let me not love you alone
Lest the essence of you being
Lies heavy on my tongue
When you country so many to praise
The Political Prisoner
I desired to talk
And talk with words as numerous as sands,
The other side of the wire,
The other side of the fortress of stone.
I found a widow traveling
Passing the prisoners with firewood.
It is this woman who forbade me to sleep
Who filled me with dreams.
The dream is always the same.
It turns on an anchor
Until it finds a place to rest:
It builds its cobwebs from the hours.
One day someone arrives and opens the gate.
The sun explodes its fire
Spreading its flames over the earth.
Touching the spring of mankind.
Behind us there are mountains
Where the widow is abandoned.
Until she remains there unable to give birth
Priding herself only in the shadows of yesterdays.
First Day After the War
We heard the songs of a wedding party.
We saw a soft light
Coiling round the young blades of grass
At first we hesitated, then we saw her footprints,
Her face emerged, then her eyes of freedom!
She woke us up with a smile saying,
'What day is this that comes so suddenly?'
We said, 'It is the first day after the war.'
Then without waiting we ran to the open space
Ululating to the mountains and the pathways
Calling people from all the circles of the earth.
We shook up the old man demanding a festival.
We asked for all the first fruits of the season
We held hands with a stranger
We shouted across the waterfalls
People came from all lands
It was the first day of peace.
We saw our Ancestors traveling tall on the horizon.
(Translated from Zulu by the poet)