Valentine’s season begins officially at Brittle Paper with this dreamy little poem. It’s a classic African love number. It’s an Ethiopian poem published in the March 1966 issue of the Achebe-run Black Orpheus literary magazine.
In the next few days, there’ll be features on an African literary take on love, romance, and more. So be on the look out.
You lime of the forest, honey among the rocks,
Lemon of the cloister, grape in the savannah.
A hip to be enclosed by one hand;
A thigh round like a piston.
Your back—a manuscript to read hymns from.
Your eye trigger-happy, shoots heroes.
Your gown cobweb-tender,
Your shirt like soothing balm.
Soap? O no, you wash in Arabian scent,
Your calf painted with silver lines.
I dare not touch you!
Hardly dare to look back.
You mistress of my body:
More precious to me than my hand or my foot.
Like the fruit of the valley, the water of paradise.
Flower of the sky; wrought by divine craftsmen.
With muscular thigh she stepped on my heart
Her eternal heel trod me down.
But have no compassion with me:
Her breast resembles the finest gold
When she opens her heart–
The Saviours image!
And Jerusalem herself, sacred city,
Shouts “holy, holy!”
Originally published in Black Orpheus, no. 19 (March 1966)
Image by Senegalese photographer Fabrice Monteiro via African Digital Arts