Literary treatment of “Esat Woy Abeba”

One of the poetry masterpieces that are remarkable in Ethiopian literature is poet-laureate Tsegaye Gebremedhin’s “Esat Woy Abeba”, meaning “Fire or Flower”.tsegaye12.jpg

This anthology in which great poetry pieces are included is considered classical by literature professionals. For the acumen and literary quality of the poems, an Ethiopian poetry style called “ye Tegaye Bet” (Tsegaye’s metre) is derived from them.

On the occasion organized to commemorate Tsegaye’s life and works, a fellow-poet and editor-in-chief of the weekly Amharic newspaper Addis Admas, Nebiy Mekonen, has presented a brief literary analysis of the poems in “Esat Woy Abeba”. It was with the supposition that most people don’t actually know what the distinctions of Tsegaye’s works are that Nebiy Mekonen and other next veteran fellow friends prepared the analysis.

As Nebiy said at the beginning of his presentation, it would be difficult to speak of arts like literature, paining or theatre. It would be preferable to be a poet, painter or actor to reveal the subject to the heart’s content, instead of staggering and stammering in vain trying to speak of arts as a common man. “Tsegaye himself said that as a believer he prefers to serve God with his belief than to state the principles in the religion. The poet also prefers to create beauty and wisdom and to deliver the content, than stating the rules and regulation in literature,” Nebiy remarks.

Nebiy started the analysis by defining poetry by an analogy with one Amharic short story. In the story a blind man asks his guide what a flag looks like. The guide answers “green, yellow and red”. The blind man in turn asks what yellow looks like. Bewildered by the blind man’s question, the guide reminds him of a tej (yellow local beer) house they used to go to and said, “yellow looks like tej.” The blind man then said “oh! yes.” “If we think of the understanding of the blind man, he tried to understand the flag’s yellow by the “tej” he heard through his ears and tasted by his tongue. So a flag is sweet, intoxicates and if taken too much it makes ill. This is the blind man’s understanding. Therefore a flag is understood in accordance with the understanding capacity of the person,” he explains.

“As a flag creates such an understanding, it has further confined virtues like history, aim, freedom, development and harmony. And when this flag is hoisted to proclaim the victory of our athletes with the national anthem it becomes a poem that invokes tear in a special way,” he continues. “If the idea contained in it the proportion of the flag and the pole, the colors and their harmony, are thought with the melody, it would be called a poem. A poem, having rhythm, beauty, which is confined, is written with a chosen diction, ornamented, unforgettable and sweetened. If it contains these qualities, we say the art has coincided with form.”

When coming to Tsegaye’s poetry, it hasn’t got a form that is typical of the defined metres of Amharic poetry. It has got its own metric form derived from the already-existing metres. In poetry, metre means a system that is used to shape the rhythm in every line of the poem so as to make the lines to have some pattern and musicality. It is achieved by using a fixed number of accented and unaccented syllables in a line of a poem. Nebiy elaborated this by referring to Tsegaye’s own opinion about his style. The poet-laureate once said that the known and most frequented Amharic poetry metres are “Yewol bet”, “Yesengo Megen Bet”, and “Yebuhe Belu Bet”, but that he writes with a style that uses eight metres within a verse. Literature professionals have named this style “Ye Tsegaye Bet” (Tsegaye’s metre). Tsegaye writers his poems with eight metres while others write with three or four metres within a verse.

With regard to thematic features of the poems, he covered a wide range of topics: social issues, art, politics, love, history and heroism. Philosophy of life and cultural values are the major themes in the poems. As a vehicle for the themes, he used acute imagery, satire and deviation. His use of language is dominantly of an elevated diction, words which are uncommon for the wide reader. “Drawing from Gee’z, Amharic and Oromigna, he was able to coin phrases which in normal Amharic language doesn’t exist, but are powerful and expressive,” says Tamirat Gebeyehu, author of Ethiopian entry in the World Encyclopedia of contemporary theatre.

According to Nebiy, Tsegaye writes in a style known as an inverted pyramid. He begins with general facts and views and waters down the idea to the specific spirit of the poem. Beside his local themes and focus, Tsegaye has writings that are of a great appeal both internationally and continentally. Aesop, the 8th harmony, prologue to African conscience and Anthem of AU are the notable ones.

It is to be remembered that the new secretary general of UN, Ban-Ki-mun has quoted Tsegaye in his recent speech at the AU-summit in Addis Ababa. “I will conclude today by paying tribute to both our host country and the African Union through the words of Tsegaye Gebremedhin. This Ethiopian poet laureate, who passed away last year, sums up the aspirations for Africa better than I ever could. For it is his worlds that make up the anthem of the union. And so, as Tsegaye unforgettably wrote, let us unite to give the best we have to Africa, the cradle of mankind. Let us make Africa the tree of life.”

Nebiy also tried to show that Tsegaye dominantly uses simile, a type of figurative speech that uses “like” or “as” and two- and three-letter Amharic words in his poems.

Nebiy concluded his analyses by asserting that Tsegaye’s poem is filled with literary beauty, and that every line is imbued with philosophy ideas, figurative speeches, and implications. Let us wind up with an extract of verses from his English poem “Gladiators Love.”

Gladiator’s Love

. . .  Though the stars no more glitter
Though the cloud no more rain
Though the moon shall not be borne
Yet your love is not in vain
Though I bid farewell to life
Where you too are included
Breaking the law of nature
Your love has intruded.
“Tsegaye has also written about love. The poem “Gladiator’s Love” which he wrote in late 50s touches me. It is during his youth that he wrote the poem. Many of the romantic writings we wrote in our youth were lost with their spirit of love that couldn’t be felt as intensely afterwards, but Tsegaye has written it in a splendid way,” Nebiy comments.

to know about the event commemorating the author’s life in USA see liben’s events list

15 thoughts on “Literary treatment of “Esat Woy Abeba”

    • “የማይነጋ ህልም ሳልም

      የማይድን በሽታ ሳክም

      የማያድግ ችግኝ ሳርም

      የሰው ህይወት ስከረክም

      እኔ ለእኔ ኖሬ አላውቅም ::”

      ብላቴን ጌታ ሎሬት ፀጋዬ ገብረ መድህን


      • Tsegay is really an Ethiopian literary giant who already has a big room in the hearts of his readers. Those who write their names on the walls’ of human souls, shall not perish from the highest form of eternity.


  1. Golden works with a golden patriotism……… “motm ymut yet abatu” endalew moto bihon noro motm……….yhene sint metsaf ketekeberew yetbeb abatachn abrak enkachu teblen neber????


  2. When someone writes an piece of writing he/she retains the thought of a user in his/her brain that how
    a user can be aware of it. So that’s why this article is
    outstdanding. Thanks!


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