Friday, June 27, 2014

Poem of the day

Diallo’s Test­a­ment
by Ben Okri

Who can read the riddle of life
In this por­trait of mine?
I am one on whom provid­ence
Has worked its magic reversals.
Behind me are silent stor­ies
Like a storm. I have worn
His­tory round my neck like chains.
Free­dom is a dif­fi­cult les­son to learn.
I have tasted the lan­guage of death
Till it became the water of life.
I have shaped a little my can­vas of time.
I have crossed seas of fires
And seen with these African eyes
The one light which neither empires
Nor all the might of men obscure.
Man is the sick­ness, God the cure.

I read this poem for the first time yesterday in the National Portrait Gallery. The portrait of Ayuba Suleiman Diallo was painted in 1733 by William Hoare and is the earliest known British painting of a freed slave. Diallo was an edu­cated man from a fam­ily of Muslim cler­ics in West Africa. In 1731 he was taken into slavery and sent to work on a tobacco plant­a­tion in Amer­ica. By enter­prise and good luck, Diallo arrived in Lon­don in 1733 where he mixed with intellectuals and high soci­ety, was intro­duced at Court and was bought out of slavery by pub­lic appeal. After nearly a year in Eng­land, he then happily returned to his fam­ily in Africa.


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