When I started this project, I wanted to incorporate different forms; some that I’m familiar with, others I’ve never tried. Of course I use a lot of free verse, there are the list poems that I enjoy writing, the ghazal and the unfinished sonnet. What else should I use in this collection of red?
Thinking about the line “feast of martyrs” in “Red“, which apparently in Catholic tradition is symbolized by the color red, my mind went to Gregorian chants. That would be cool. But alas, in my research I found that Gregorian chant is not really a poetic form. You can chant just about anything: the Psalms, the book of Numbers, an owners manual for a Volkswagen, a grocery list. Not what I’m looking for. Further study of chants led me to African chants and those being brought to the Americas through the slave trade. These chants are a call and response. This may work.
Occasionally, I’ll throw some Spanish or Latin or some other language into a poem. I don’t speak them, I just like the sounds and sometimes it’s needed. (I have a small collection of language dictionaries of languages I’ll probably never speak.) Living in the Lowcountry of South Carolina, I’m aware of the rich history and cultures of the area, including Gullah. Gullah are directly related to the Africans brought to the South as slaves for the rice plantations. The language is a creole and is in use today.
I wrote the poem first in English with a short Latin refrain. I then translated it into Gullah using De Nyew Testament from the American Bible Society. The refrain is Yiddish. I don’t know if it’s an accurate translation, perhaps it may need polishing. Anyone who knows Gullah, any input welcome.
First the English version:
Feast of Martyrs: Plain Chant
Who shall feed on the feast sublime?
Those who have eaten the bread and wine.
Those who have lived on bread and wine.
Who receives strong meat of the word?
Those who have learned what us evil and good.
Those who can discern the evil and the good.
Who is worthy to drink of His cup?
Those who are humble and do not lift themselves up.
Any who serves and who does not lift himself up.
Who will not taste death? Who shall partake of the kingdom reign?
Those that take up the cross and show not shame.
Those that deny themselves and lose their life for His name.
Who is a sweet smell in the nostril of God?
Those who sacrifice for others, those who show love.
Those who give themselves for others, sacrificial love.
Who is it that pleases God?
All that believe and know His reward.
They that believe Him and know He rewards.
And now the Gullah version, the title is Haitian Creole (thank you Google Translate):
Fet nan Mati: Plen Chante
Who dat be et de feas ob heaben?
Dey dat be etin de bread and de wine.
Dey dat libe off ob bread and wine.
Who dat git de solid food?
Dem wa laan wa ebil an wa good.
Dem wa know de diffunce twixt de ebil an de good.
Who dat fit for ta drink ob E cup?
Dem wat take low. Dem wa ain’t pit demsef op.
Dem wa saabe and ain’t pit demsef op.
Who dat be ain gwine dead? Who gwine nyam een God nation?
E dat tote da cross. E ain for shame.
E dat dohn do jes wa e wahn. E dat giib e life fa God name.
Who dat be dat smell sweet ta da nose ob God?
Dem dat sacrifice fa odas, dat gii lob.
Dey dat gii ob desef fa odas, all de time lob.
Who dat be dat be pleasing God?
All dem dat belieb. Dem dat know what E got.
Dem dat belieb Um. Dem know Um gibe tings dat be good.
Copyright © 2015 Scott Daniel Massey