A Yoruba funeral song from Nigeria. The metaphors have the force of proverbs, expressing but generalising the son’s grief.

Slowly the muddy pool becomes a river,
Slowly my mother’s disease becomes death.
When wood breaks, it can be repaired
But ivory breaks for ever.
An egg falls to reveal a messy secret:
My mother went, and carried her secret along.
She has gone far –
We look for her in vain:
But when you see a Kob antelope on the way to the farm, (1)
When you see the Kob antelope on the way to the river –
Leave your arrows in the quiver,
And let the dead depart in peace.

from Yoruba Poetry
Cambridge University Press, (1970)
compiled and edited by Ulli Beier


  1. This beautiful image also suggests something of the woman’s qualities.