In Prison (Kifungoni)

From looking up at the sky
and crying from so much longing
sky-blue has seeped 
                                 into my eyes.
From growing maize in the fields
and crying so much from sadness
yellow has seeped
                              into my eyes.

Let soldiers go to war
lovers go to the garden
and teachers to the classroom,
      As for me, give me prayer beads
      and an old chair from the past
      So in this world I would be:
            a gatekeeper
            at the door of inner pain
      while books, laws and all religions
guarantee me death
                                 starving or in prison

Translation notes

We've translated two poems by Alamin Mazrui which, in English, have the title 'In Prison' even though, in Swahili, they have different titles, 'Kifungoni' (this poem) and 'Kizuizini' (the other). However, both words are best translated as 'In Prison', so we've decided to leave them and to distinguish between them by appending the Swahili title to the version in English.

We've all enjoyed translating Alamin Mazrui's complex, deeply thoughtful poems. He engages with directly political issues in a suggestive and indirect way that few other poets ever attempt, avoiding polemic or shutting down the poem's options. His poems speak to the subjective experience of political and moral conflict with great delicacy and tact.


1 Comment

1 Kayange

I am left speechless, being a Tanzanian living in Canada, I know how Swahili is tricky to translate in any language whether between dialects or English. Dr Katriina Ranne is brilliant. The ability to translate literature without loosing its message and beauty is an art itself and takes the mind of a genius. Thanks Dr Katriina, I hope to enjoy reading the rest of your work.


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