View this article only in English | Swahili

Poetry From the May 2013 issue: North Korean Defectors



I too have words; I’ll join those already speaking;
I’ll gild my verse so it pleases those who’re reading;
Untwist these words, for their sense may be misleading.

There’s a croc gliding smugly down the river,
A boastful sop who believes he’s brave and clever.
He loves to talk, tells the world he’ll live forever.

With fool’s conceit he strings himself along,
Sustains belief that he’ll always be this strong,
But self-deceit and pride can only last so long.

He should know, someday he’ll breathe his last.
He too will go, once his die’s been cast.
Time will show his power finally passed.

What lies ahead none of us can comprehend;
What fate has set, no show of fierceness can transcend.
Don’t forget: what has a start must have an end. 

Written while the poet was imprisoned by the Kenyatta government, 1969–72, and published in Abdilatif Abdalla, Sauti ya Dhiki (Nairobi: Oxford University Press, 1973), p. 10. By arrangement with Oxford University Press. Translation © 2013 by Meg Arenberg. All rights reserved.

Nami nambe, niwe kama waambao
Niupambe, upendeze wasomao
Niufumbe, wafumbuwe wawezao
Kuna mamba, mtoni metakabari
Ajigamba, na kujiona hodari
Yuwaamba, kwamba ‘taishi dahari
Memughuri, ghururi za kipumbavu
Afikiri, hataishiwa na nguvu
Takaburi, hakika ni maangavu
Akumbuke, siku yake ikifika
Roho yake, ajuwe itamtoka
Nguvu zake, kikomoche zitafika
Afahamu, mtu hajuwi la kesho
Hatadumu, angatumiya vitisho
Maadamu, lenye mwanzo lina mwisho.

Abdilatif AbdallaAbdilatif Abdalla

Abdilatif Abdalla was born in Mombasa, Kenya, in 1946 to a renowned literary family and began composing poetry as a teenager. After publishing a political pamphlet questioning the direction in which Jomo Kenyatta was guiding the country, he was imprisoned for three years. Upon his release from prison in 1972 he left Kenya and worked at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania and the Swahili Service of the BBC in London. He later held academic appointments teaching Swahili at the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London and, most recently, the University of Leipzig in Germany. He retired in 2011.

Translated from SwahiliSwahili by Meg ArenbergMeg Arenberg

Meg Arenberg began translating Swahili prose and poetry into English after spending several years living and working in Tanzania. She holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Oberlin College and is currently pursuing a certificate in literary translation and a PhD in comparative literature from Indiana University - Bloomington.