West African Melodies


WITHIN a native hut, ere stirred the dawn,
Unto the Pure one was an Infant born;
Wrapped in blue lappah that His mother dyed,
Laid on His father’s home-tanned deerskin hide,
The Babe still slept, by all things glorified.
Spirits of black bards burst their bonds and sang
‘Peace upon earth’ until the heavens rang.
All the black babies who from earth had fled
Peeped through the clouds — then gathered round His head.
Telling of things a baby needs to do,
When first he opes his eyes on wonders new;
Telling Him that to sleep was sweetest rest,
All comfort came from His black mother’s breast.
Their gift was Love, caught from the springing sod,
Whilst tears and laughter were the gifts of God.
Then all the Wise Men of the past stood forth,
Filling the air East, West, and South and North;
And told Him of the joy that wisdom brings
To mortals in their earthly wanderings.
The children of the past shook down each bough,
Wreathed frangipani blossoms for His brow;
They put pink lilies in His mother’s hand,
And heaped for both the first fruits of the land.
His father cut some palm fronds, that the air
Be coaxed to zephyrs while He rested there.
Birds trilled their hallelujahs; all the dew
Trembled with laughter, till the Babe laughed too.
All the black women brought their love so wise,
And kissed their motherhood into His mother’s eyes.


THE calabash wherein she served my food
Was as smooth and polished as sandalwood;
Fish, as white as foam from the sea,
Peppered, and golden fried for me;
She brought palm wine, that carelessly slips
From the sleeping palm tree’s honeyed lips.
But who can guess, or even surmise,
Of the countless things she served with her eyes?


THE souls of black and white were made
By the selfsame God of the selfsame shade.
God made both pure, and He left one white;
God laughed o’er the other, and wrapped it in night.
Said He, ‘I’ve a flower, and none can unfold it;
I’ve a breath of great mystery, nothing can hold it.
Spirit so illusive the wind cannot sway it,
A force of such might even death cannot slay it.’
But so that He might conceal its glow
He wrapped it in darkness, that men might not know.
Oh, the wonderful souls of both black and white
Were made by one God, of one sod, on one night.