By Mitiku Adisu
If you were to sum up in few words the trajectories of your life what would those words be? “Life goes on” was how the octogenarian Robert Frost (d.1963) responded to a journalist’s query. Frost is gone but his memory lives on.
What of Ethiopia’s preeminent communitarian poet-playwright Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin (1936— 2006)? We will briefly consider the quintain below even as we fondly remember the heyday of the Ethiopian theatre ( Enat Alam Tannu, an adaptation of Brecht’s Mother Courage; Ha Hu Basidst Wer, The Alphabet in Six Months), and so on, each fully attended for months on end, with viewers poring over the playwright’s perky prose like possessed monastic holy men. Not unlike the prophets of old, Tsegaye had a disposition to carry in his person the tragedies, the beauty and hopes of the Motherland.
The verse likely was composed in New York City. The playwright had come there to receive regular dialysis—something he did not foresee would keep him away from his beloved country forever. Alas, his one wish to have his friends arrange for him ‘one last visit’ never could materialize.
Tsegaye’s stay in New York was painful in more ways than one, obviously. The same however must have granted him the distance to ponder deeply the substance of his life. At one end was this Edenic “Boda of holy springs, groves and ridges;” at the other end New York, the quintessence of profligacy. A precocious early teen, a long long time ago, staged a play on the occasion of Emperor Haileselassie’s visit to his elementary school; half a century later, a humble poet is nearing a bend in the road, his creative engagement vigorous as ever. Between bookends and vicissitudes of life, we are offered a terse and revelatory poem to sum it all up.
Thus dreaming dreams that see not the light of day
Tending afflictions that refuse to go away
Weeding seedlings but no growth to survey
Trimming brambles in the path of others, I—
I overlooked to do life my way.
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