While we're drinking tea on the verandah
watching our children
as they swing joyfully
we ought to know our rope
has frayed and worn thin:
a few more strands and we will fall.
Once, you used to push me
up higher than half a circle;
once, I used to catch you
as you almost fell.
Once, we used to take it in turns:
one of us standing to push the other on the swing.
Even though we swooped up high both forwards and backwards,
we too laughed at our high hopes -
and then we went in to make dinner.
It was our early afternoon.
Now we wait for dreams that can no longer be realised.
Let's drink our evening tea down to the dregs -
not spitting them out, but smiling.
Let us lick the sweetness from our lips
as we remember that very first day
when we met one evening under the mango tree
looking for a good stout branch
to bear our swing
while Simba the dog waited for you.
But before we leave so silently
to complete the half circle that remains,
let us make sure our cups are clean.
The literal translation of this poem was made by Katriina Ranne
The final translated version of the poem is by The Poetry Translation Workshop
Our first query was 'porch', which Katriina had used in her literal version. This sounded quite American to us and so we went with 'verandah' which is also the word used in Arabic.
Next, we had to think about 'we should know' (in the literal): for this, and at other points in the poem, we settled on 'ought' which, in English, has the sense of a recommendation, or a moral obligation that's stronger and more specific than 'should'.
'There was a time when' became, first, 'Once, you would' and then 'Once you used to': the latter better expressing the sense of a repeated, habitual action in the past that's closer to the Swahili original.
It was a real pleasure translating this luminous poem, the first poem we've ever translated from Swahili, and we're very grateful to Katriina for introducing us to the poetry of Euphrase Kezilahabi. This poem was published in 1988, so it's part of his later, more reflective style. We liked the way that he manages to convey such depth of emotions by conjuring up a glimpse of the everyday.
© Poetry Translation Centre 2004-2014