Serenade : An East African Love Song

O lady, be calm and cry not but sing to your suitors.
Sing to those who guide you and to the discerning passers-by.
Sing to the son of Shaka’s people, cast aside your grief and sorrow and distress.


O lady, be calm, let me give you gifts, fine clothes from our homeland the Hejaz.
Let me adorn you with a chain and beads of gold devised in Shiraz.
Let me build for you a great white house of lime and stone.
Let me furnish it for you with furnishings of crystal, so that those who see it will be astonished by its construction,
Spread beneath with soft rushes from the lakesides of Shaka and Ozi.
Let me satisfy your good parents and let them rest at ease with minstrels’ songs;
Let them lie at ease with food of the young of camels and of many oxen, sheep and goats,
Because, my lady, O lady mine, let me tell you that you are my beloved.
Let me tell you of my love so great that you may see it with your own eyes.
Lift up your eyes and see, that everything may be plain to you.
Every good thing will I do for you, by the goodness of Almighty God,
By his goodness and compassion that shines brightly like the bright moonlight.

by Muhammed Kijuma,
translated by Lyndon Harries,
from Swahili Poetry (1962)

Serenade is probably the best known and most widely admired of all Swahili poems in translation. It is associated with Liyongo, the Swahili national hero. In its rich and elaborate imagery and elegance of style, it provides a vivid impression of pre-colonial Swahili civilisation. The names in the song are all former coastal cities.


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