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.


13 thoughts on “¡Mayombe-bombe-mayombé!

  1. 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.

    1. Wow nice in about 1974., I too did this poem in festival. I was in Primary School. We too won a gold medal (1st place). Reading it bring warm memories of my childhood!

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

  3. 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

  4. 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.

    1. 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.

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