Words as drugs

The versatile Abdul-Walid of Acerbia has posted two translations from the Yoruba at oncaesura. As long-time readers may remember, I have a special fondness for Yoruba folk poetry and Ifa divination hymns, especially as translated by Ulli Beier in a couple of long out-of-print volumes. Though inevitably much of the word-play and musical effects of the originals don’t come through in translation, the vivid imagery and often vatic tone still make for arresting poems in English.

Abdul-Walid translates a pair of traditional incantations (ofo) by an herbalist (onisegun), along with a simplified transcription that allows one to appreciate some of the sounds of the original without the usual mess of diacritical marks to indicate the tones of the syllables. The first is An incantation to tranquilize the afflicted; the second (in order of performance) is An incantation to calm the afflicted:

Calm, calm, soft and calm,
soft and calm is the snail,
gentle is the leaf’s fall
from the tree.

In calmness the springbok
births its young in the forest.
Softness is the mud’s by the riverside,
gentleness seeks out the banana tree.

May softness fall upon you,
may softness fall upon you.
The ikupero leaf whispers:
may your body be untied,

may rest befall you
without warning,
until all is calm.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll lie down for a brief nap…

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

4 Comments


  1. Yes, I’d enjoy hearing this daily maybe as a recording inserted underneath soothing music so that the mind would receive it subliminally. A voice like that of Alec Guinness or Morgan Freeman or Donovan would be very nice. All is well, relax, my child…all is well.

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  2. I’ did not click the links to Abdul Walid’s work…must get to another machine for that…will do that later today.

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  3. Come to think of it, it would be nice if we could get A-W to post an audio of himself reciting the Yoruba. I’d love to hear how it’s really supposed to sound.

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