I recently bought a book of poetry called Divine Inspiration; The Life Of Jesus in World Poetry by R. Atwan, G. Dardess and P. Rosenthal. It follows the New Testament accounts of Jesus’s life and teachings in fairly chronological order from birth to death, resurection and ascension. It is not your usual sappy kind of poetry that one often sees in a “Christian” book. And the poets are from around the globe including a couple famous Canadians – Atwood and Leonard Cohen. The diversity of the authors struck me as well as the quality of the expression.
In the book I found a couple of poems by Léopold Sédar Senghor. If you are not familiar with Senghor, he studied to be a priest in colonial Senegal, went on to study in Paris and chose to follow a career in writing and poetry rather than in the priesthood. When Senegal gained it’s independance, Senghor was elected President. He continued to write and was elected to the French Academy – the first African to do so – in 1983.
He writes in French of course. The poem I would like to share with you was translated from the French by Melvin Dixon. The poem speaks not of the great world wars, but of the oppression that the African continent has known. It was written more to speak to the promise of “Peace on Earth” offered by Jesus at Christmas time than to speak to the promise of the ending of war that we think of at Remembrance Day.
Much of todays conflict is taking place in Africa. We need to remember that continent and the millions whose lives have been lost or devastated by war in this area of the world.
And as we remember we, like Senghor, need to learn to forget the wrongs inflicted on us by our enemies. Maybe then we would have a chance to have “Peace on Earth”.
Snow in Paris by Léopold Sédar Senghor
Lord, you have visited Paris on this day of your birth
Because it has become mean and evil,
You have purified it with incorruptible cold, with white death.
This morning, right up to the factory smokestacks
Singing in unison, draped in white flags-
Peace to Men of Good Will!”
Lord, you have offered the snow of your Peace to a torn world,
To divided Europe and ravaged Spain
And the Catholic and Jewish Rebels have fired their fourteen hundred
Cannons upon the mountain of your Peace.
Lord, I have accepted your white cold, burning hotter than salt.
And now my heart melts like snow in the sun.
The white hands firing the rifles that crumbled our empires,
The hands that once whipped slaves, and that whipped you,
The snowy white hands that slapped you,
The powdery white hands that slapped me,
The firm hands that led me to loneliness and to hate,
The white hands that cut down the forests
Of straight, firm palmyra trees dominating Africa,
In the heart of Africa, like the Sara men,
Handsome as the first men born from your brown hands.
They tore down the black forest to build a railroad,
They cut down Africa‘s forests to save Civilization,
Because they needed human raw materials.
Lord, I know I’ll never release this reserve of hatred
For diplomats who show their long canine teeth
And tomorrow trade in black flesh.
My heart, Lord, has melted like the snow on the roofs of Paris
In the sunshine of your gentleness.
It is kind even unto my enemies and unto my brothers
With hands white without snow
Because of these hands of dew, in the evening,
Upon my burning cheeks.