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  4. Had Death Not Had Me in Tears by Kofi Awoonor
Had Death Not Had Me in Tears

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Had death not had me in tears
I would have seen the barges
on life's stream sail.
I would have heard sorrow songs
in groves where the road was lost
long
where men foot prints mix with other men foot prints
By the road I wait
"death is better, death is better"
came the song
I am by the roadside
looking for the road
death is better, death is much better
Had death not had me in tears
I would have seen the barges
I would have found the road
and heard the sorrow songs.
The land wreathes in rhythm
with your soul, caressed by history
and cruel geography
landscape ineffable yet screaming
eloquent resonant like the drums
of after harvests.
We pile rocks on terracing love
Carry the pithy cloth
to cover the hearths of our mother.

Come now, you lucky ones
come to the festival of corn and lamb
to the finest feast of this land
come, now,
your lovers have unfurled
their cloths
their thighs glistening like golden knives
ready for the plunging,
for the plentiful loving time.
To whom shall I turn
to what shall I tell my woes ?
My kinsmen, the desert tree
denied us sustenance
long before the drought.
To whom shall I turn
to whom shall I tell my woes?
Some say tell the mother goat
she too is my kinswoman
elemental sister of your clan
But I cannot tell the mother goat
for she is not here.

Kofi Awoonor, "Had Death Not Had Me In Tears" from The Promise of Hope: New and Selected Poems, 1964-2013. Copyright © 2014 by Kofi Awoonor.  Reprinted by permission of University of Nebraska Press.
Source: The Promise of Hope: New and Selected Poems (University of Nebraska Press, 2014)
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Had Death Not Had Me in Tears

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  • Kofi Awoonor was born George Awoonor-Williams in Wheta, Ghana, to Ewe parents. He was a poet, literary critic, professor of comparative literature and served as an ambassador for Ghana. Awoonor earned a BA from University College of Ghana, an MA from University College, London, and a PhD in comparative literature from SUNY Stony Brook. He is the author of novels, plays, political essays, literary criticism, and several volumes of poetry, including Rediscovery and Other Poems (1964), Night of My Blood (1971), Ride Me, Memory (1973), The House by the Sea (1978), The Latin American and Caribbean Notebook (1992), and a volume of collected poems, Until the Morning After (1987).

    Awoonor’s grandmother was an Ewe dirge singer, and the form of his early poetry draws from the Ewe oral tradition. He translated Ewe poetry in his critical study Guardians of the Sacred Word and Ewe Poetry (1974). Other works of literary criticism include...

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