Here is yesterday’s poem, in English. It is a mysterious text alluding to a ceremony in which a poisonous snake is killed, ostensibly with an axe, but also by singing.


(Chant to kill a snake)

The snake has eyes of glass;
The snake coils on a stick;
With his eyes of glass on a stick,
With his eyes of glass.

The snake can move without feet;
The snake can hide in the grass;
Crawling he hides in the grass,
Moving without feet.

Hit him with an ax and he dies;
Hit him! Go on, hit him!
Don’t hit him with your foot or he’ll bite;
Don’t hit him with your foot, or he’ll get away.

Sensemayá, the snake,
Sensemayá, with his eyes,
Sensemayá, with his tongue,
Sensemayá, with his mouth,

The dead snake cannot eat;
the dead snake cannot hiss;
he cannot move,
he cannot run!
The dead snake cannot look;
the dead snake cannot drink;
he cannot breathe,
he cannot bite.

Sensemayá, the snake . . .
Sensemayá, does not move . . .
Sensemayá, the snake
Sensemayá, he died!

–Translated by Willis Knapp Jones. Spanish American Literature in Translation: A Selection of Poetry, Fiction, and Drama since 1888. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1963.



Filed under Poetry

12 responses to “¡Mayombe-bombe-mayombé!

  1. luisa

    I love the poem. thanks for the translation (I speak very little spanish).

  2. Thanks for the translation, I can now think about it more focused.

  3. Sybil

    When I was in High School in Jamaica WI, in 1950’s, my elocution class recited this poem in a compitition and we won. I have always recalled it fondly.

  4. lincia

    I love this poem, I really love the translation.

  5. Rohan H. Stephenson

    Awesome poem, this brings back memory of first form at Kingston College in the 70’s. Precious memories, how the linger

  6. Z

    This is the poem I needed today, thank you for bringing it to my attention!

  7. Hyacinth Morris-Wellington

    Mr. L.J Smith taught me this Poem at Brittonville Primary school Jamaica in the 70’s.He made me appreciate poetry.L J would be top of class now.Would love to hear about him.FR Hyacinth Morris- W

  8. Jackie McDonald

    I learnt this poem at May Pen Primary School in Jamaica in Grade 5. I am going to teach my children. I really love it.

  9. Chip Ettinger

    Why not give credit to Nicolas Guuillen?

    • Z

      It’s Nicolás Guillén (sorry to be pedantic). Why: because everyone knows, and verve of this post is that we do know, we are intimate with this text, and what we’re less familiar with are the translations, so we are listing the translator. The concept is, this is a voodoo blog and we know every voodoo-type poem by heart, so not even having to mention our brother the author is a style thing, the perspective of the post.

    • Z

      Oh and also — this follows on a post from the day before, with the poem in Spanish, with its real title. (You could have asked here why I was not using the correct title, too.) See: https://profacero.wordpress.com/2006/11/02/sensemaya/

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