A to Z

by Maxamed Xaashi Dhamac 'Gaarriye'

Caalin, listen, I'm going to travel
From A to Z carried by language -
The alphabet, alive on the page.

I write the words and send them to you;
You sing to the wind and the crows as they fly
Carry my lines through the noonday sky
Chanting each to each. The ants
Become orators. The gossiping camels
Crowd the waterhole, eager for rumours.

Even the trees, as they rustle their leaves,
Are sharing a joke; the sheep and goats
Talk tough as they sniff out the latest news.
The hum of the breeze in the river-bed
Is the language of pride; the termites talk
With a tap and a touch; the clouds compose
Poems as only they can; the land
Speaks in prose of growth and gain
And the sound of rain in the season of rain
Rumbles like thunder and why this should be
Is something only the rain can explain.

I write these words and send them to you
To let you know that we live through language.
Without it - deformity, ugliness, illness;
Without it - no anchor for culture; without it
No making of maps, no naming of nations.

A man might boast of property, money,
Position, but if he's unable to write
He's a pauper. Caalin, listen, your pen
Is your wealth, you're less than nothing without it.

Ask the old Gods how our culture has grown.
Think back to the time when our language suffered
One onslaught after the other: invasions,
Armies crossing our borders, the songs
Our fathers once sang destroyed or derided,
Our epics fading in memory, even
Our idioms gradually losing their meanings.

Every lost syllable tells in my heartbeat,
Every lost line is a scar on my heart.
Poems go hand-over-hand to create
A chain of wisdom, a chain that goes
From strength to strength; when this was shattered,
When our chain of poems was broken and scattered,
We were left with nothing but fragments, nothing
But scraps of wisdom - our inheritance
Nothing more than a handful of images.

Our story - a story so ancient that only
The Old Gods recall it - was gone forever.
Our children will never recover that wisdom:
Our legends and myths and the words of the prophets...

Remember the time when a man from the north
Wrote a letter received by a man from the south
And the second man threw the letter away,
Since the first man's language was foreign to him?

Remember the time when a camel was owned
By two men who needed to talk things through,
So a third man came in as interpreter?

Remember how politicians decided
To give us a written language? Remember
The fighting and feuding, the shouting and swearing?
Ten years went by with nothing decided
Until someone in power said, ‘Latin!' and then
Somalia sat down and uncapped its pen.

I dreamed of that day! The pen and the page -
A poet's stock-in-trade. The choice
Finally made. The alphabet
Taking the first few steps of a journey
And never looking back. A new age
Of wisdom in poetry, yes, a new
Tradition! Go, now, and wake Sayid -
Give him the news, tell all the great
Poets our language lives again,
And this time written to last in lines
That can't be lost or thrown away.

Caalin, write lyrics, write epics, write verse
That beats in the brain and tells on the pulse;
Write poems of love, write poems that show
How myths can revive and language grow.

Enough! I've written all that I need
To write, except to praise the men
Who talked the language into being -
Statesmen, thinkers, poets, who gave
Somali poets a new way with words.
We could raise a statue to them and set it
Above the image of Jupiter...
Or perhaps we should honour them in poems
That use all the letters from A to Z.

The literal translation of this poem was made by Martin Orwin and Maxamed Xasan 'Alto'

The final translated version of the poem is by David Harsent

Comments

  1. April 19th, 2014 at 12:14 am

    Mozibur Ullah says:

    Fantastic poem - the recovery of language, of myth and narrative. 

  2. December 14th, 2013 at 6:15 am

    Maydai says:

    Beautiful somali poetry I live my country and my culture I just hate people that are full of hate that want to destroy it and divide it

  3. October 31st, 2013 at 3:22 pm

    Farhiyo Hassan says:

     .This poems is very very intersted

  4. December 3rd, 2011 at 12:03 am

    Najma says:

    For a while I've disregarded myself as a somali. Accepting the ways of the westen world because stability and the"american dream" was all I thought was worth being. My identity. Lies, I've been given to, to regard myself as a member of the free world. What world? Nor didnt I know the my home was on the horizon of reality. The horn of Africa. The poems, the literal genuis I've never seek out to look for because of arrogance. My arrogance. To read this knowing this was from my people, my homeland waiting to be saved, it makes my emotional and guilty of what kind of person am I?

  5. August 9th, 2011 at 9:14 am

    Mohamed A. Awil says:

    Prof: Gaarriye always in my toughts, not only that he is the best Somali poets a, Universites Lecturer, Biologist, he influenced me to live with literature as well. 

    Wish you good luck.

     

  6. May 6th, 2011 at 4:04 pm

    Ayan says:

    I will add one thing that my brother ahmed did not mention on his grateful letter. Which there is something gained beside what you lost in any translation? Therefore our poetries are  addressed to our culture  

  7. July 28th, 2010 at 8:02 pm

    Husein Abdi says:

    proff garriye is very active teacher and he is not afraid the fact.

    his poems is very very intersted i like his poama

  8. May 20th, 2010 at 9:20 am

    Ahmed says:

    Thank you for translating it, I always listen to Somali poems, and my favourite poem is Macaan iyo Qadhaadh, will could be translated into Sweet and sour.

    Howevr, I have noticed ione thing no matter  how careful somali poems are being translated by experts, some of whom have dedicated their lives on studying the Somali language, something is always lost in translation. Finally, I would like to thank all the scholars for their endovour in highlighting how rich the somali language is.

     

  9. August 17th, 2009 at 1:09 pm

    M Sheikh says:

    I agree with my daughter Hamda (that is my girl!) that it is beautiful.

  10. June 28th, 2009 at 11:42 pm

    Hamda Sheikh says:

    BEAUTIFUL!