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The Promise of Hope: New and Selected Poems, 1964-2013

The Promise of Hope: New and Selected Poems, 1964-2013

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Kofi Awoonor, one of Ghana’s most accomplished poets, had for almost half a century committed himself to teaching, political engagement, and the literary arts. The one constant that guided and shaped his many occupations and roles in life was poetry. The Promise of Hope is a beautifully edited collection of some of Awoonor’s most arresting work spanning almost fifty years.


Selected and edited by Awoonor’s friend and colleague Kofi Anyidoho, himself a prominent poet and academic in Ghana, The Promise of Hope contains much of Awoonor’s most recent unpublished poetry, along with many of his anthologized and classic poems. This engaging volume serves as a fitting contribution to the inaugural cohort of books in the African Poetry Book Series.


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780803254947
Publisher: Nebraska Paperback
Publication date: 03/01/2014
Series: African Poetry Book
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 328
File size: 708 KB

About the Author

Kofi Awoonor (1935–2013) was a diplomat and a professor of comparative literature at numerous universities, including the University of Ghana. He is the author of several volumes of poetry, including Night of My Blood; Ride Me, Memory; The House by the Sea; and The Latin American and Caribbean Notebook. His collected poems (through 1985) were published in Until the Morning After. Kofi Anyidoho, a poet and scholar, serves on editorial boards for several journals and has been a guest editor of Matatu, a journal of African culture and society that is published in Amsterdam.

Read an Excerpt

The Promise of Hope

New and Selected Poems, 1964â?"2013

By Kofi Awoonor, Kofi Anyidoho


Copyright © 2014 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8032-5494-7


From Herding the Lost Lambs


Poems in English and Ewe

    The Light Is On

    A gray pigeon has just flown in
    across the green country
    where loafers chase a speck of white

    How I used to
    adore the summers
    the windswept landscape
    the open fields
    and the lush foreboding country

    Ah I almost forgot the water
    wide wide as the vistas
    of youth, the wish to curb a
    foreboding future full of formidable
    prospects receding now so fast

    Each gnat is part of this inexorable
    universe, this inevitable landscape
    with its own inimitable echoes.

    Our journey, supported by time and wind
    captive of a May morning
    away from the original March heat
    when the shimmers over the water
    glimmer so fiercely.

    There are times when a new sorrow rings
    when regrets, palpable as obvious fruits
    of ill-considered acts
    without hidden agenda
    loom large as fate

    Dear dear sorrow
    rings, reminding, just reminding
    of a time ahead, not for reckoning
    but only for recalling as fate.

    the time we as young as
    our country
    dreamed of obvious success,
    of achievements measured
    in concise yardage
    of promises delivered,
    of children protected from age,
    the time
    when the river from which we came
    shall sweep us along
    toward the original source
    of eminence and glory,
    when we will defy love
    and death,
    when we shall stand
    by the beloved country as the single tree
    struggling to be a nation
    and a forest

    benevolent fathers,
    when we forget the loins from which we came
    nudge us back into the river,
    send us up the same water
    by which we came

    so with the last fish
    we can cross the last ocean
    to be one with the fire that
    warmed your feet
    guided you over deserts
    by pyramids and temples
    shrines and sacred groves,
    on that island
    where once the bird
    was plentiful and the hunt
    was good, and the cheer
    was loud and the laughter joyful

    and ah! the child Kekeli
    came one October day
    large-eyed, replica of the first
    princess, and now the prince
    has come promised
    someday, by some river
    I shall teach him the
    last light and reveal
    the divine affair
    of which he is part
    of which he is an heir.

    here is water for your feet
    here is flower for your feet
    here is wine for your lips
    here is the embrace I promised.

    The New Boy on the Block

    He came one October night
    screaming blue murder
    out of a swearing mother
    whose enormous pain
    disarms, hurts

    Away from the antiseptic smells
    and the silent steps of the attendants
    waddling across a vast eternity
    of a delivery hall
    I waited for your arrival.

    A small music flows
    across time
    reminding of another birth
    at another place

    I swear that I shall stand by you
    that I shall prepare the field
    for your planting time
    provide the seed
    for your sowing dawn.

    I shall raise my tomb
    a full memorial for your
    wondrous future
    so that wherever I fall
    you shall rise up.

    At an age
    when many rock themselves
    into an easy chair
    I chose to father children
    and to hell with who disagrees
    including the lobby against birth
    run by eunuchs and fools.

    Welcome, boy, you have come
    to sweeten the falling years
    when leisure is less than planned
    and romance blooms in the eyes
    of a lovely woman.
    Hurrah for fatherhood.

    Fair souls that canter
    across a golden era
    of crowns and gravestones
    delicious hours of long lost
    love and the brevity of faith
    in the infinite certainty
    that God exists
    and loves all His children
    without exception
    assures us

    I dreamt again that dream
    of childhood,
    this time I left the homestead
    walked across a small dune
    cactus filled a row
    erect, arrogant beyond belief
    and the claim they
    are the remnants of divine action
    which fools ascribe to the first man

    The fear of the grave
    is real
    I still shudder
    passing by cemeteries
    particularly those planted
    with the curative nim
    and the forget-me-not
    winds howling by
    among stones shabbily laid
    by masons whose sense
    of size and measure
    confound the sharpest eye.
    Builder, king, queen
    Sun-god and priest
    Of my temple

    Good Lord, Whatever
    the price let me pay
    it in the full knowledge
    that your mercy rests
    secure, and You and Your host of
    deities shall be with your son
    and your people.

    Across a New Dawn

    Sometimes, we read the
    lines in the green leaf
    run our fingers over the
    smooth of the precious wood
    from our ancient trees;

    Sometimes, even the sunset
    puzzles, as we look
    for the lines that propel the clouds,
    the color scheme
    with the multiple designs
    that the first artist put together

    There is dancing in the streets again
    the laughter of children rings
    through the house
    On the seaside, the ruins recent
    from the latest storms
    remind of ancestral wealth
    pillaged purloined pawned
    by an unthinking grandfather
    who lived the life of a lord
    and drove coming generations to
    despair and ruin

    But who says our time is up
    that the box maker and the digger
    are in conference
    or that the preachers have aired their robes
    and the choir and the drummers
    are in rehearsal?

    No; where the worm eats
    a grain grows.
    the consultant deities
    have measured the time
    with long-winded
    arguments of eternity

    And death, when he comes
    to the door with his own
    inimitable calling card
    shall find a homestead
    resurrected with laughter and dance
    and the festival of the meat
    of the young lamb and the red porridge
    of the new corn

    We are the celebrants
    whose fields were
    overrun by rogues
    and other bad men who
    interrupted our dance
    with obscene songs and bad gestures

    Someone said an ailing fish
    swam up our lagoon
    seeking a place to lay its load
    in consonance with the Original Plan

    Master, if you can be the oarsman
    for our boat
    please do it, do it.
    I asked you before
    once upon a shore
    at home, where the
    seafront has narrowed
    to the brief space of childhood

    We welcome the travelers
    come home on the new boat
    fresh from the upright tree

    Songs of Abuse

    I once swore to forgo
    the abuse songs, the dirge
    and the praise poem for
    straight verbal statements
    direct comment and simple talk
    as fresh as the child's language
    before comprehension

    But I have enough provocation
    to renounce my oath
    and return to cursing the night
    the falling light
    and the inglorious criminals
    whose ancestry stretches to
    the fornicating hard-arsed baboon
    and the smelly hyena
    who laughs as he feeds
    on the corpse of his grand-aunt

    I know you all, you
    products of thieving jackals,
    stepsons of frauds
    who rechristen themselves
    donkeys believing it is
    a higher-sounding nomenclature
    I know you all, you lascivious brutes
    I know one in particular
    his mother an aging whore
    his putative father
    a lunatic criminal
    with a record of political molestation.

    And the congregation of contumacious rats
    who in concert with products
    of unions between calculating whores
    and a race of swamp goats
    now perched on a pedestal of power
    visiting on the beloved republic
    the shame of their mediocrity

    I will spew out the venom of years
    expurgate the hurts of one generation
    so that I retain my sanity.

    I love the after-harvest fields
    when the wild hen roams

    I denounce your arrogance
    your false claims to virtue
    and your monkey ways

    I challenge you to prove
    you were not fathered
    by a barnyard sheep
    and an errant baboon
    who it is established
    was raving mad.

    That you found money somewhere
    to print a newspaper
    is not a mystery
    every fool with a fool's tale
    can coax money from other fools
    for ignoble purpose

    But the fact remains
    that your mother is still a whore,
    your father, well
    some said he took a Bible
    into hell, babbling obscenities,
    the simple fact is
    he was a certified lunatic,
    part of the destructive howling winds
    that rocked the sanity of men.
    how expertly you mimick him

    To Feed Our People

    Do not dress me yet
    lift me not
    unto that mound before the mourners.
    I have still to meet the morning dew
    a poem to write
    a field to hoe
    a lover to touch
    and some consoling to do
    before you lay me out.

    Has the invitation come yet
    from India?
    I have to go
    and meet the sunset
    share time
    with the Florida pigeons on that Island,
    I have to meet again my friends in Agra
    where they owe me
    for pictures and a memory.

    Why are we not calving the cows
    or herding the lost lambs home ourselves?
    Why must we think
    others will lead our horses
    herd our sheep
    and feed our people?

    We must bring in our harvest
    father the children
    and thatch the barns.
    We must build the roads
    clear the paths to the planting fields
    and clean the holy places;
    and oh, we must meet the
    morning dew wet,
    work with the early sun till the vertex
    when it will come home with us.

    Then after the wash, then only
    shall we bring out the drums
    recall old glories
    and ancient pains
    with the dance our dance.

    When the final night falls on us
    as it fell upon our parents,
    we shall retire to our modest home
    earth-sure, secure
    that we have done our duty
    by our people;
    we met the challenge of history
    and were not afraid.

    To the Ancient Poets

    They said they found a strange
    woman at my door
    one deep night

    A messenger indeed from the gods?

    The gone befores,
    I call you again,
    I call you, Akpalu akpa, gogowoduto
    Bibia bi wofoe na woviwo

    I recall our last encounter
    by the lagoon shore on a breezy cloudy day
    when the rusty roofs of Keta
    had disappeared in the mist;
    gulls, in an early gambol
    across our lagoon
    recall the shrieks
    heard since time
    coinciding with your voice
    proclaiming "I shall go
    beyond and forget"

    your songs were the sons
    you bore; you sang;
    the rain beat you
    the sun scorched you
    the firewood of this world
    is not for all
    that is why you did not
    gather it.

    Dzenawo, nyonu gbade
    a woman of high worth
    you sang the dirge of wealth
    and death
    the eternal stalker
    who plucks the young
    and leaves the old
    refuses gold
    and insists on man,
    who harvests the fields
    he did not plant
    who locks the door
    and hides the key

    and all of you,
    those gone ahead
    into the long night of life

    My ancient friends Dunyo,
    mesea gbagba o,
    Komi Ekpe
    who said his deity
    is stuck in a brass pan.
    You stood by your gods
    and went home a holy man.

    All of you;
    take a message to our fathers
    to Nyidevu, medaa ke vu o
    to Afedomeshie
    the black beauty of the ancient

    Vuyokpo, you who left recently;
    what did I do wrong
    for you to leave in my absence?
    Why didn't you wait for me
    to bring the eye drops
    you ordered
    and deliver the iron bed
    you asked for?

    But you were only an errand woman
    sent to the old ones
    to deliver our long-spoken message
    Gbe Kuetrome, I recall you now
    how swiftly you left
    I recall our rich sessions
    when you spoke of Kofi Wodi
    and his traveling friend.

    Welcome, this is where we are
    at home with the termites
    the hour will surely come
    so let us be ready.

    Counting the Years

    As usual, as in the earlier dreams
    I come to the whistling shores
    the voice of the high domed
    crab stilled
    but a chorus remains of the water creatures
    of earlier times, of the birth time
    and the dying time, the pity,
    when we resurrect the travelers
    the anchorman on our singular boat
    that will take us home

    Once More

    I came again to the whistling shore
    the wind lashing the gray trees of the after-rains
    across my usual bay
    where I ran a race as a boy
    the thorn bush wept for the squirrels
    bereft of nuts in a season
    when the palms refused to ripen
    and the wine turned a thin sap
    unequal to the task

    how weary I am
    of the need to do good
    cheer the weepy
    and comfort the sorrower:
    what more strength can I summon
    for this miraculous effort
    at mercy?

    An ailing tree
    reminds us of a journey
    to a far-off kingdom
    of the man, unalone
    who hanged they say
    for all

    I believe still in the unity of man
    in the sun rising tomorrow
    in the rain to grow our crops
    in the gods and the ancestors
    in infinite grace and mercy
    and the ever-presence
    of the Divine force
    who gives to all HIS/HER children
    without fail
    without discrimination

    On the Gallows Once

    I crossed quite a few
    of your rivers, my gods,
    into this plain where thirst reigns
    I heard the cry of mourners
    the long cooing of the African wren at dusk
    the laughter of the children at dawn
    had long ceased

    night comes fast in our land

    where indeed are the promised vistas
    the open fields, blue skies, the singing birds
    and abiding love?

    History records acts
    of heroism, barbarism
    of some who had power
    and abused it massively
    of some whose progenitors
    planned for them
    the secure state of madness
    from which no storm can shake them;
    of some who took the last ships
    disembarked on some far-off shores and forgot
    of some who simply laid down the load
    and went home to the ancestors


    I watch the countenance
    of this man, looking for the tell-tale
    signs of truth, honor, fortitude
    and a faint whiff of gratitude
    only a wry smile
    eyes on the verge of blazing
    a terrible effort to dissemble

    alas dear gods, he gets away
    with it

    What Brought Me Here?

    What brought me here
    is more than the desire
    to share a common fate
    partake in the work and promise
    of man and country

    What brought me here
    is the determination to heal
    the thorn-wounds
    of those with eternal miseries
    and the burden of night-time cries,
    of orphans without meals
    of lepers without fingers
    of holy men without faith

    Dear God, what consolation
    have you stored for us
    after these fretful days
    in the service of ingrates and wickedness?
    How much pain shall we endure
    as our hope burns in chains
    beside the hanging tree?

    O how little
    is our faith
    in an eternal deity
    who lashes our souls
    with sin and the promise
    of redemption

    I caught history's eye
    the other day.
    I saw the anguish in his eyes,
    as I watched his life-lines ebb away
    I smelt the fear on his fetid breath
    as time wound itself
    in the final sheets of an ending.
    I remember not the hour
    of regrets, pain, and sorrow
    but the time when I
    was young as the new moon and nation
    on a clear June evening;
    wrens and the cuckoo dove,
    the one that keeps the hour
    on our savannas
    sang a jubilee
    "all that is not given is not lost"
    why must thanklessness
    cover the tail of work done,
    commitment so ably made?
    my friend the Methodist
    in answer to my query
    "God is His own interpreter
    and He will make it plain"

    What More Can I Give?

    "if they do not heed my call
    I will walk alone"
    A lifetime used in service
    at times at the behest of saints
    and heroes, at times, only at times
    at the behest of not so good men
    and women

    So much does my infant's cry mean
    so much, my friends.
    Returning once along my favorite road
    homeward, beneath a crazy bridge
    occupied by bats
    hearing a siren crying
    a fellow to the sick house
    I thought I needed a pee.

    The fact of our lives,
    full of achievements
    vilification, praise
    or contempt from those
    who surely do not measure
    eternity becomes a quotation
    posted on the billboard of a single life.
    Passions are exhausted
    love, renewed again
    and again
    to satisfy a basic longing,
    journeys made, departures recorded
    deaths foretold again
    and again

    I have the fear that I am not done
    that my gnat days will be long
    tedious and melancholy
    the premonition that not much
    will come from the vigil and the sweat
    and the tears and the long hours
    and the sacrifice

    That I come from illustrious men
    and women is an obvious fact
    but also that in this gene
    I harbor not so good
    men and women, persons
    of questionable morality and obvious flaws
    is no matter

    I did not know it will return
    this crushing urge to sing
    only sorrow songs;
    the urge to visit again
    the last recesses of pain
    pluck that lingering hair with a wince.
    how long shall my God
    linger in a brass pan
    the offertory unreceived?


Excerpted from The Promise of Hope by Kofi Awoonor, Kofi Anyidoho. Copyright © 2014 Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska. Excerpted by permission of UNIVERSITY OF NEBRASKA PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents


In Retrospect: An Introduction,
From Herding the Lost Lambs,
From Latin American & Caribbean Notebook,
From Until the Morning After,
From The House by the Sea,
Part One: Before the Journey,
Part Two: Homecoming ... Poems from Prison,
From Ride Me, Memory,
From Night of My Blood,
From Rediscovery and Other Poems,
From This Earth, My Brother: An Allegorical Tale of Africa,
From Comes the Voyager at Last: A Tale of Return to Africa,
An Epilogue,
Source Acknowledgments,
About the Author,

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