Fortune News | Jul 06,2019
Some stories flow like poetry. It is reported that, to the amazement of many, “Happy Birthday to You” had been, till very recently, a copyrighted song that earns million of dollars a year; as it is ranked as the world’s most recognised song in the Guinness Book of World Records. It was written in 1893 by the Hill sisters, taking its name only from the first line of its second stanza. It was popularised as much by its melody as by its simple lyrics.
No wonder. If an original draft of poetry by William Shakespeare, who is assumed not of an age but for all time, came on the market today, it would sell for millions of dollars. The same goes for any great poet whose name is not new to us.
Recently, I had the pleasure of meeting up with Ephraim Seyoum, the poet, whom I very much admire, to get his signature on the list of books he authored. Luckily, all I have were genuine copies, and all went as planned. Yet, we talked about the problem of pirated copies. I also told him how indebted I am to his book, Tewaney, meaning “actor.” It was an adopted poetic translation from Ge'ez that also inspired me to study the language.
It was in the aftermath of meeting Ephraim that I suggested to a friend we bring back a pastime we used to have when we were in high school. There was a once in a while ‘quatrain’ competition in poetry – a series of four lines that make one verse of an impromptu poem – a stanza in Amharic.. It was for us a byway of joining great scholars as well as bards and reviving a broad interest in what seems like an ancient art form.
I remember how we used to keenly await the competition, on subjects prescribed by lot. We used to ponder over what it takes to be clear and simple, and the vocabularies deemed appropriate for themes or occasions. We used to discuss about poets, whether they are born or made, and whether we could make it to where the greats did.
It was then we decided to further draw inspiration from some poems from “Esat woy Abeba” by Tsegaye Gebre Medhin, staged in a western form of drama at the historical Hager Fikir Theatre. No wonder that it was from a man brought up being amazed by qene, play on words in poetry, and bridge making among cultures. It was manifested through the joy of all who attended the show, as some like myself followed line-by-line with his typical rhythm.
It often seemed that as and when Tsegaye was using words that are not instantly recognised by everyone, even considered as an example of unfortunate writing, for some, the only good writing is that which is with plain words. Yet, many lamented leaving the small auditorium, repenting the same misunderstanding and the lost opportunity of enjoying the beauty and essence of lexicons from the man who changed the Ethiopian theatre stage.
As we left the auditorium – we had attended the show twice – we regretted with my friend why we were unable to preserve our lost quatrains of our high school. We could have kept them, as “Anonymous,” the world’s most prolific author; as tens of thousands of works have been published or kept anonymously since the invention of the printing press. Famous anonymous works include Poe’s first poems; all of Jonathan Swift’s works; all of Jane Austen’s early works; and Alexander Pope’s “Essay on Criticism.”
Hopefully, “Esat Wey Abeba” will be a pioneer to other poets to come to the stages, while efforts as that of Ephraim Seyoum’s need to be encouraged. Not everyone will be a poet. But we can all help create them by becoming enthusiastic readers.
PUBLISHED ON May 28,2022 [ VOL 23 , NO 1152]
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