under the clear moon

by mengistu lemma

Under the clear moon deep in the night,

While like the star her eyes shone bright,

‘Kiss her!Kiss her!Embrace her!’ they said;

His purpose was this, and the youth was compelled-

Her waist and her neck in his arms he held,

And his lips drew up to her mouth in dread.

Although her pointed thorn-like breasts were firm,

He felt her slap across his temples burn.

As her whip-like hand began to fight-

Under the clear moon, deep in the night:

Woe to the beginner,and to the learner woe,

Oh, to carry out orders, and advice to know!

Translated by Michael Coke,

Source,  Bulletion of the School of Oriental and African    studies, University of London,1972, xxxv, p706.

A literary giant, Mengistu was born in Harar, where his father was the aleqa in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.He studied religious music and classical poetry or qene.He completed his secondary education in Addis Ababa at Haile Selassie I Secondary School.He then went to London where he studied at the Regent Street Polytechinic, London School of Economics, and University of London.He participated in the Ethiopian Students Society and served as editor of its publication, The Lion Cub.

After returning to Ethiopia, his first job was in the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Department.Mengistu moved to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, served in New Delhi, and returned to the Ministry as director general of the division of social and economic affairs in the United Nations Department.He then became secretary general of the Amharic Language Academy in the Ministry of Education.A good socialist, he stayed on there after the Derg seized power (1974) and later moved to the Ministry of Culture.

Mengistu’s real love was literature, poetry, and playwriting.Always writing in Amharic, he is especially known for his plays Marriage by Abducation and The Marriage of Unequals.Although his early work tended to be comedies, after the 1974 revolution he published more serious plays and poems.He died in Addis Ababa on 27 July 1988.

2 thoughts on “under the clear moon

  1. To commemorate Mengistu Lemma and his style of poetry, I have tried my level best, and yet with a high level of humblness, to write the following piece of poem.

    “Fikir – Yegedilal yalishiw, Mewuded – yegedilal yalishiw
    ” Anchis – yetal yemotishew.
    “Fikir – Sew kegedele, Mewuded – sew kegedele
    “Egnam alken nebere.”
    Bilo Yezefene – endih yeterete
    Algebawum ende! – Adam lemin mote?
    Ayenuan aslemilma,tirsuan bilich arga,Tutochuan wodira…..
    “Atiwodegnim Ende?”- bila,gena sititeykew
    Wode afer memeles – mot sayaschenkew
    Tizaz aferese – mekabirin nakew.
    “Enkuan leminesaw behualegnaw zemen
    “Firdu tekeyiro – endehonew bihon
    “Emotalehu motin – ebelalehu Beles
    “Anchin des endilish – yelibish endiders.
    “Mot Metito bewosidegn ,besat sergela, besemay demena
    “Hulun echilalehu -’kanchi ayebelitimina’ ”
    Bilo zefenelat
    Bemotu wodedat.
    Set lijin….fikirin…Esatin….Nefasin.


  2. Wow, that’s absolutely excellent. I have a little doubt on the claim that it is a response to Mengistu’s poem. But it absolutely magnificent. I am fan of Mengistu lemma lately after i read his biography. I am trying to read more about him.

    hey if you write such poems, you should have been known. I mean it i am a friend and fan of some literature people as Be’ewketu Siyoum because of their power of their message. The allusion was great and relevant.
    I would love to hear from you


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s