Today, I shall review a poem by our fallen poet, Kofi Awoonor, whose works I have decided to highlight for Ghanaian Literature Week. A lot has already been read, shared and reviewed for the week and you can follow the ongoing conversations on this aggregator post at Kinna Reads. The picture of Awoonor here is an artist’s pencil work of the picture I used on this previous post I reviewed for Ghanaian Literature Week. Credit to DanJSullivan for the pencil work and Nana Kofi Acquah for the original picture.
When our tears are dry on the shore
and the fishermen carry their nets home
and the seagulls return to bird island
and the laughter of the children recedes at night
there shall still linger the communion we forged
the feast of oneness whose ritual we partook of
There shall still be the eternal gateman
who will close the cemetery doors
and send the late mourners away
It cannot be the music we heard that night
that still lingers in the chambers of memory
It is the new chorus of our forgotten comrades
and the halleluyahs of our second selves
It is somehow poignant to be reviewing a poem on death and mourning by a poet who is dead and being mourned. This poem is one of Kofi Awoonor’s most studied poems and I will err if I don’t review it during this Ghanaian Literature Week in particular.
The poem is quite an easy read and so I will leave much of it to your own interpretation.
By saying ‘our tears are dry’ (line 1), Awoonor is telling us that his poem has something to do with mourning but then also, it is about hope. He goes on to paint different images of mourning for us, about “fishermen [carrying] their nets home” (line 2), “seagulls [returning] to bird island” (line 3), and the recession of the laughter of children at night (line 4).
Rather than be only about mourning, this poem is about hope, for which reason it is titled, ‘Rediscovery’. Awoonor says that after all the mourning has been done, there still will remain “the communion we forged” (line 5). The word ‘communion’ belongs to a class of words known as kangaroo words, being that, they contain another word which has the same meaning as themselves. In this case, ‘communion’ contains ‘union’ and they both mean same. Awoonor stresses that after those persons who we mourn have gone and we have left the mourning grounds, there will still remain the “feast of oneness whose ritual we partook of” (line 6), with them while they were alive with us.
The parting will not be easy, so that “the eternal gateman” (line 7) has to “send the late mourners away” (line 9). Awoonor’s staunch belief in a man on the other side of the life and death divide is also seen in his poem The Journey Beyond, which I have previously reviewed. He talks about ‘Kutsiami’, a boatman who will ferry him across to the other side. Going on here, he tells us that the memory of what will remain most, after the communion feast we shared, will not be the music that accompanies their funeral but rather “the new chorus” (line 12) of those who have left us, “our forgotten comrades” (line 12) and in response, “the halleluyahs of our second selves” (line 13). The ‘forgotten’ are not forgotten literally but he uses the word to say that they have passed on. These last two lines allude to the Christian belief that anyone who dies and makes it to heaven, will spend eternity with the host of heaven, singing new songs. The ‘halleluyahs’ he refers to, comes from a Hebrew word that breaks down quite literally to Hail-Yahweh”, which translated response churches usually give as “Praise the Lord” after a song has been sung. The second selves Awoonor talks about makes me believe that he meant that with every person that we lose, we still stay connected to them by an inner, higher being, or the better us, responding to the chorus they are gone on to sing. We Rediscover our inner selves – the title.
Just read the poem over again with this understanding and reflect on the fact that today, it is Awoonor who is our forgotten comrade, who is singing that chorus, to whom our second selves must needs obey his leading here, and respond the necessary halleluyahs.
Rest in Peace, Awoonor. One day, we shall all sing that chorus together.