In Celebration of Emancipation: A New Poem by Lorna Goodison, Poet Laureate of Jamaica - The National Library of Jamaica

In Celebration of Emancipation: A New Poem by Lorna Goodison, Poet Laureate of Jamaica

Lorna Goodison, the Poet Laureate of Jamaica, has penned a new composition to commemorate the country’s 2017 Emancipation celebrations. Written in three voices, this new poem explores Emancipation and the experiences of slavery from the perspective of those who lived them.

Although August 1, 1834 brought the proclamation of the abolition of slavery throughout the British Empire, full emancipation did not come until four years later with the end of the Apprenticeship system in 1838. Those who received their freedom on August 1, 1838 were the very last to be released from the bonds of slavery.

We are so pleased to share Goodison’s powerful and tender poem here on the blog.

(This poem also appeared in The Sunday Gleaner on August 6, 2017.)

 

 

 

Testimony of First of August Negroes: the Last to Be Set Free.

 

I tell my friend Quasheba, stop up you ears with this beeswax,

so that the bantering song of all who get fi leave scotch free

don’t mad we who still bind to cane piece. We who get left back

because spiteful Massa say: ‘Emancipation is like an aged white

rum—so strong not every Negro can imbibe at one time, lest they

grow drunken and stagger”. So him water down freedom, share

it out little little and what left  in a barrel bottom is fi me and you.

 

I say, Dont bawl Q, we wait long already, we can wait more still.

She say: “Since them carry me come from Guinea me want go home.”

Me too.  But if is one thing me learn from what Saint Paul preach

is: They that wait. No, is not him say that, must be the prophet

Isaiah or one other man who help write Massa bible with the lock

and key.  My friend say she don’t want hear no comfortable words

today. My heart string stretch out too.  Me disappoint. Me tired pray.

 

Bend down! Full-free hurrycomeup dem a come down the road

like a Syrian wolf upon the fold. I no rightly sure what that mean,

but me like how it sound. Turn you back and bend down lower,

inspect grass hard like a cruel overseer. Bend down, chop furious

and cuss like wicked slave driver. Tell grass how it good-fi-nothing,

lazy,  and no make fi flourish. Say it bad like sin that Ham commit.

Them gone?  We can stand up now.  Our day of Jubilee a come.

 

Address to the weed in the cane piece:

 

Pretty little grass weed, to me you are a sweet rose,

even though some don’t think so. According to them,

it matters not that you bud and blossom, you do not

count as flowers, therefore you not good enough

to cut and put in a water vase and set pon table

in a big house.  So them order me, a human weed,

to dig you down, and root you up, and fling you

to one side, although your roots bind the ground

together. You’re as good as any other growing thing,

you are just planted where you’re less counted.

To me little weed you are sweet as any roses.

 

Last Words

 

Yes, is true.  Some who get freedom first,

walk past and mock the first of august Nayga

the last to get emancipation. Yes sir.

 

We had was to bear all the commotion

and bangarang of old pan as them galang

past we out a the estate.

 

Some believe all the foolishness hard heart people say

bout freedom not for any and every one.

How some need to be

 

led with bridle and bit like mule and horse.

Not because some get let go first,

always remember this:

 

It matters not when you did leave.

Every single one of a we

come out a the cane piece.

 

 

Lorna Goodison is the Poet Laureate of Jamaica 2017-2020.

For more information check out the Poet Laureate of Jamaica page on the National Library of Jamaica website