ይድረስ ለወንድሜ ለማላውቅህ

(ባለቅኔ ሎሬት ፀጋዬ ገብረ መድኅን)

ይድረስ ላንተ ለማላውቅህ
ለወንድሜ ሩቅ ለማልፍህ
ለምታውቀኝ-ለማላውቅህ፥ ለምታየኝ-ለማላይህ. . .
ማነህ ባክህ?
ሳትወደኝም ሳታምነኝም፥ አጢነህ ለምትፈራኝ
ስናገርህ አጠንቅረህ፥ አተኩረህ ለምትሰማኝ….
ይድረስ ለክቡር ወንድሜ፥ ለአረህ ዟሪው ለገታሩ
ለሩቅ ገጠሬ ነባሩ
ለማላውቅህ ለዳር ዳሩ፥….
ማነህ


ከሩቅ የምታስተውለኝ
የማልለይህ-የምትለየኝ
ተግተህ የምትገምተኝ፥ ያላየኸኝ አስመስለህ
አቀርቅረህ ተግ ብለህ
ባንደበትህ የእርግማን መርዝ፥ በልብህ ትእዝብት ቋጥረህ…
የፀጥታው የዋሻው ሱቅ
ማነህ አንተ የቅርቤ-ሩቅ
ማነህ….
ከረን ነህ መለሎ ብሌን
ከአሰብ ወደብ እስከ ስሜን
ስትሳብ ስትሰበሰብ
ሽንጠ ሰንበሌጠ-መርገብ
ከኡመ-ራ ነህ ከመረብ
አኑአክ ወይስ ገለብ
ከዘር ተገፍተህ ተሰደህ
በሐሩር ሰደድ ተጥለህ
በንዳድ መቀመቅ ታጥረህ
በእልቂት አፋፍ ፈፋ ያለህ
ማነህ
‘አጋው’ ነህ ወይስ ሺናሻ
ቅማንቴ ነህ ወይ ፈላሻ
ስምህ የሆነብን ግርሻ፥
ግራ ጐንደር ነህ መተከል
ባላዋቂ የምላስ ቅርስ፥ የዘር ንፍገት ስትቀበል
ያለዕዳህ ስምህ ሲበከል
እምትችል እምትቀበል፥ እማትሞት እማትነቀል
ማነህ
ቆለኛ ሸክላ ሠሪ ነህ
ያገር ዕድል ያገለለህ።
ለጥበብህ እንደመካስ
በደባትር ትንታግ ምላስ
ዘለዓለም ልብህ የሚላስ
ማነህ
ገባር ነህ የሙክት ሳቢ
እረኛ ነህ የከብት አርቢ
አራሽ ነህ ያገር ቀላቢ
አማል ነህ የግመል ሳቢ….
ባክህ ማነህ ወንድምዬ፥ አንድም ቀን የማንወያይ
በውል፥ በጣይ፥ ባደባባይ
በፎቶ ግራፍ ዓይን እንጂ፥ ዓይን ለዓይን የማንተያይ
እኔ ለወሬ አንተን መሳይ፥ አንተ ለጭንቅ እኔን መሳይ።
ማነህ እኮ የማላውቅህ
ማዶ ለማዶ ሩቅ ለሩቅ፥ በመኪና ዓይን የማይህ
የማትቀርበኝ የማልቀርብህ
ጠረንክን የምጠየፍህ
በጋዜጣ በመጽሔት፥ ወሬህን የምተርክህ
ሥዕልክን ፎቶግራፍክን፥ ላገር ጎብኚ የምሸጥህ፥
ማነህ አንተ ወንድምዬ፥ የማላውቅህ የምታውቀኝ
ሶዶሬ ማዶ እምታልፈኝ
በዝምታህ የምትከሰኝ
ባይንህ ጦር የምትገሥፀኝ
የሆድክን የማልጠይቅህ፥ የሆድክን የማተነግረኝ፥
ማነህ
ቦረን ነህ አባ ጋናሌ
የኛዻ ጠር አባ ጣሌ
ወይ ‘ሳፋር’ ንጥረ ሶማሌ፥
ከረን ነህ ወይስ ዳንካሌ
አፋር ነህ አባ ቱማታ
ማታሐራ ወይ ከምባታ
ወይስ ኩናማ አባ ዱታ፥
ማነህ ጐበዝ ማነህ አያ
ኢማኑ ነህ አባ ራያ
ወይስ ኢቱ አባ ሎቲ
የአዳል ሞአ የአዳል ሞቲ፥
እኮ ማነህ ሩቅ ያለኸው
ማንነትክን የማላውቀው
እማልሰማ እማልጠይቅህ
እማትነግረኝ እማላውቅህ፥
ማነህ ጐበዝ ላስተውልህ፥ አተኩረህ ጭጭ እምትል
እማትጣጠፍ ቅምጥል
መሃል አገር ያልሸተተህ
ባሻገር ዙር ድንበር ያለህ
የእህል ደላላ እሚበላህ
ባለሚዛን እሚያዋካህ፥
ማነህ
የዝምታ መደብር ነህ?….
እኮ ማነህ ስምህ ማነው
የዘር ግንድህ የሰየመው
ተበጥሶ ያልተቀጠለው
ሥርህ ማነው?….
በልቦናህ የምታማኝ
ታዝበህ የምትሰማኝ
ባትወደኝም ባታምነኝም፥ አጢነህ የምትፈራኝ
ማክበር እንጂ እማታስጠጋኝ፥
ማንነትክን ምንነትንክን፥ ላልሰማህ የምጠይቅህ
ለጉልበት ለላብህ በቀር፥ ላንተነትህ የማልቀርብህ
ከዓይነ-ጥላዬ እምትሸሸኝ፥ ከዓይነ-ጥላህ እማልርቅህ
ላፌ እንጂ ለልቦናዬ፥ የማትመስለኝ የማልመስልህ
ከመንፈሴ እምገልልህ
ከሕሊናዬ እማሸሽህ
ቦታህን የማትረሳ፥ ቦታህን የማስታውስህ….
ማነህ
ይድረስ ለክቡር ወንድሜ፥ ሕመምከን ለማታዋየኝ
በጸጥታህ ለምትወቅሰኝ
ጐፈሬህን እንደአባትህ፥ እንደሞያህ አጐፍረህ
በወለባ አንቆጥቁጠህ
ሎቲ አጥልቀህ ጦር አንግበህ
በመኪና እግር እማልፍህ
የማትጠራኝ የማላውቅህ፥
ማነህ
በየቱሪስቱ ካርድ ላይ
ከቦህ ሰማያዊ ሰማይ
አተኩረህ የምትታይ
ውሸትክን ፈጠህ ሳቅሁ ባይ፥
እንደቴክኖክራሲ አግቦ
ዙሪያህ በሀሰት ጌጥ ታጅቦ
እፎይታ ያቀፈህ መስለህ
ትእዝብት በዓይንህ ጦር አዝለህ
ርቀህ ተቀብረህ ሰንብተህ
የቱሪስት ካርድ የሳበህ
አንተ ማነህ?
እኮ ማነህ ወንድምዬ፥ ደራሲ የሚቀኝብህ
ሠዓሊ የሚነድፍብህ
ቀሲስ የሚቀሰስብህ
የቱሪስት የጋዜጠኛ፥ ካሜራ እሚጋበዝብህ
የሚተች የሚተረጉም፥ የሚነድፍህ የማንም እጅ
የማነህ ደም የማነህ ቅጅ?….
አንተ የማማ ኢትዮዽያ ልጅ
እኔማ ሆኜብህ ፈረንጅ
አሳብ ለአሳብ ለተጣጣን
ምን አጣላን ማን አጣላን
ማን እንዳንወያይ ገራን
እንደባቢሎን ኬላ ግንብ፥ ለመተላለፍ የቀባን
አንተን የዘልማድ ዘላን፥ እኔን የመኪና ዘላን
እንድንሆን የገፋፋን?
ማነው ምንድነው ወንድሜ፥ ሆድ ለሆድ የሚያናክሰን
ሳንርቅ የሚያራርቀን፥ ሳናኮርፍ የሚያኳርፈን!….
ይድረስ ለክቡር ወንድሜ፥ ለምትሳብ ናዳ ጥጉን
ፈፋ ዙሪያ ሸንተረሩን
ሸለቆውን ፈረፈሩን
ዳር ድንበሩን ሩቁን-ሩቁን፥
ከዘር ተገፍተህ ተሰደህ
በሐሩር ሰደድ ተጥለህ
በንዳድ መቀመቅ ታጥረህ
በእልእቂት አፋፍ ፈፋ ላለህ….
እኛ መሀል ለሌለኸው
ታሪክህ ለተሸፈነው
ሁሉን ከሩቅ አብሰልስለህ፥ አጠንቅረህ ለምታየው….
ይድረስ ለክቡር ወንድሜ፥ ለምታየኝ ለማላይህ
ለምታውቀኝ ለማላውቅህ
ማነህ ባክህ….
ማነህ

ባለቅኔ ሎሬት ፀጋዬ ገብረ መድኅን(እሳት ወይ አበባ)

(ለበጌምድር ወይጦ ባላገር – (1963፲፱፻፷፫ – ደባርቅ)

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ወንድ ብቻውን ነው እሚያለቅስ

   ጸጋዬ ገብረ መድኅን
ከወዳጅ ከዘመድ ርቆ
አንጀቱን በአንጀቱ ታጥቆ      
ተሸሽጎ ተገልሎ፥ ተሸማቆ ተሸምቆ
ከቤተ-ሰው ተደብቆ
መሽቶ፥ የማታ ማታ ነው፥ ሌት ነው የወንድ ልጅ እንባው
ብቻውን ነው የሚፈታው፡፡ . . .
ብቻውን ነው የሚረታው፡፡ . . .
ችሎ፥ ውጦ፥ ተጨብጦ፥ ተማምጦ ተጣጥሮ
በሲቃ ግት ተወጥሮ
እንደደመና ተቋጥሮ
እውስጥ አንጀቱ ተቀብሮ . . .
መሽቶ፥ ረፍዶ፥ ጀምበር ጠልቆ
የጨለማ ድባብ ወድቆ
በእንቅልፍ ጥላ ሲከበብ፥ በዝምታ ሲዋጥ አገር
ፍጡር ሁሉ ተስለምልሞ፥ ብቸኝነት ብቻ ሲቀር . . .

የኋላ የኋላ፥ ማታ
ምድር አገሩ በእፎይታ
ዓይኑን በእንቅልፍ ሲያስፈታ
ሁሉ በእረፍት ዓለም ርቆ፥ ብቸኝነት ብቻ ሲቀርብ
ያኔ ነው ወንድ ዓይኑ የሚረጥብ
የብቻ፥ እንባ ወዙ እሚነጥብ፡፡
ብቻውን ነው፥ ብቻውን ነው . . .
የእንባ ጭለማ ለብሶ ነው
ወንድ ልጅ ወዙ እሚነጥበው፡፡
ዕጣውን ለብቻው ቆርሶ
ብቻውን ሰቀቀን ጐርሶ
ብቻውን ጭለማ ለብሶ
ገበናውን ሣግ ሸፍኖ
ክብሩን በሰቆቃ አፍኖ
ሌሊት፥ የማታ ማታ ነው
ሕቅ እንቁን እሚነጥበው
ኤሎሄውን እሚረግፈው . . .
ከዓይኑ ብሌን ጣር ተመጦ
ከአንጀቱ ሲቃ ተቆርጦ
ደም አልሞ ፍም አምጦ
ከአፅመ-ወዙ እቶን ተፈልጦ
ከአንጀቱ ሲቃ ቆርጦ
ደም አልሞ ፍም አምጦ
ከአፅሙ ወዙ እቶን ተፈልጦ
እንደጠፍር-ብራቅ እምብርት
እንደእሳተ ገሞራ ግት
‘ርቅ ነው ወንድ ልጅ እንባው
ደም ነው፥ ፍም ነው እሚያነባው፤
ንጥረ ሕዋስ ነው ሰቆቃው
ረቂቅ ነው ምሥጢር ነው ጣሩ፥__ብቻውን ነው የሚፈታው፥
ብቻውን ነው የሚረታው፡፡
ችሎ፥ ውጦ፥ ተጨብጦ፥ ሰቀቀኑን በሆዱ አጥሮ
በአንጀቱ ገበና ቀብሮ
ውሎ ጭጭ እፍን ብሎ፥ እንደደመና ተቋጥሮ
ጣሩን ውጦ ተጣጥሮ
በሲቃ ግት ተሰትሮ፥ . . .
ከወዳጅ ከዘመድ ርቆ
ከቤተ-ሰው ተደብቆ
አንጀቱን በአንጀቱ ታጥቆ፥
ተሸሽጎ ተከናንቦ፥ ተሸማቆ ተሸምቆ . . .
የብቻ ብቸኝነቱ፥ የጭለማ ልብሱ እስኪደርስ
በዓይን አዋጅ ሃሞቱ እንዳይረክስ
ቅስሙ በገበያ እንዳይፈስ
ተገልሎ በእኩለ-ሌት፥ ወንድ ብቻውን ነው እሚያለቅስ፡፡
ጸጋዬ ገብረ መድኅን
እሳት ወይ አበባ
            ለዘውዴ ሸዋሞልቶት – (፲፱፻፶፭ – አምቦ – ኮልፌ)

እግር እንይ! (ሎሬት ጸጋዬ ገብረመድኅን)

poem in pdf
እግር እንይ!
(ሎሬት ጸጋዬ ገብረመድኅን)
አርቀን ማስተዋል ማለት፣ የኛን ሥልጣኔ ድልድይ
እግር ማየት ነው ብለዋል፣ እስቲ እንግዲህ እግር እንይ!
            ያባቶችህ ያይን ድንበር፣ ከተረከዘ ሎሚ ሳያልፍ
            አንተ ግን ጆቢራው-ዘራፍ
ጠፍር አይወስንህ ጉብል
ጥሎ በዘመንህ ዕድል
ዓይንህ ባት አልፎ እንዲዋልል፤
ቴህ ወዲያ ጀግንነት የለ፣ ተዚህ የከረረ ግዳጅ
ባደባባይ የዱር ገደል፣ ስትናደፍ የእግር አዋጅ
ሌሊቱን በየሌት- ‘ግለብ’፣ ቀኑን ጭምር በጠራራ

ሲነጋ እንደጧት ጆቢራ
በከተማህ ስታቅራራ
በዕድሜህ መንከራተት ሥራ፣
ካንዱ ቢሮ ሌላው ቢሮ፣ አቦል በረካውን ብለህ
ያገሩን ወሬ ተንትነህ
ተጨቃጭቀህ ተለፋልፈህ
አመሳጥረህ አቆላልፈህ፣ የዚያን ጉዳይ ከዚህ ጉዳይ
ዘጋግነህ በቡና ምገህ፣ አምተህ ደክመህ ስትለያይ፣
በዚህ ብቻ ሳታስቀረው፣ ደሞ አዲሱን የአገር ጠባይ
ከልማድ የቡና ሱስ ጋር፣ የዘመኑን ሳትለያይ
እስቲ ደሞ አራዳ ወጥተህ፣ በከተማው አደባባይ
ያንዷን ካንዷ ዳሌና ባት፣ እግሯን ከእግር ጋር አስተያይ!
ደርቶልህ ያገር ልጅ ቅልጥም
ዳሌው ባቷ እስኪፈረጥም
እየናረ እስኪያስገመግም
አንተ አድፍጠህ ከኋላዋ፣ በዓይንህ ሣግ ስታነፈንፍ
ያቺን ልክፍ ያቺን ንድፍ
እያረክ ስታሾልቅ፣ አንዷ ፈርታ አንዷ ስታፈጥ
ተጠግታህ ባቷ ሲያገምጥ
“ዘራፍ” ቀርቶ ቀልብህም “ውይ!”
እያለ ወኔህ እግር ይይ!
“በሠየጠኑትማ ዘንድ
አንዱም የባላንጣ ዘዴ፣ የባዕዳን ሥውር መንገድ
ዘመናጥ ጦር መሣሪያ ነው፣ ታዳጊ አገር ለማንጋደድ
እምነቱን ለማወናበድ
ያንድን ትውልድ የሕልም አቅጣጫ
ወደፊት ሳይሆን ወደታች፣ አመንምኖ ማቀጨጫ!”
ቢልህ ፈጥጦ በግልምጫ
ለኅሊናው ማጋለጫ
ናቀው እርግፍ አርገህ ተወው፣ ቴህ ቢጤው ጋር አትንጫጫ፡፡
ሠልጥነን ንቀን አልፈነው፣ የይሉኝታን መቀመጫ
የኛ ዓይን የእግር ነው እንጂ፣ በቅቶት ኅሊና መግለጫ፡፡
እርቀን ማስተዋል ማለት፣ የኛን ሥልጣኔ ድልድይ
እግር ማየት ነው ብለናል፣ አሜን በቃን እግር እንይ!
                               (ሎሬት ጸጋዬ ገብረመድኅን)
    ‘ለእግረተኞች’ – (፲፱፻፷፫ – ‘ፒያሳ’)
                                    እሳት ወይ አበባ

እሳት ወይ አበባ – Fire or Bloom English Translation

Fire or Bloom
Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin, Bahrnegash Bellete
/In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:/
And thus, like you and I, he whose eye for beauty has gone blind
whose wings of perception have gone stiff
not blessed with imagination
whose eye for beauty has gone dim
avers the sky is darkness, not bloom.

The wretched one.
* * *
The night, the stars, like spring
engulfing us with red daisies
the sky wearing a quilt
ornamented, shimmering
bright, bejeweled and glowing
lording over harvest and the garden of dawn
garnished with varieties of daisies
suffused with the scent of the new year’s crop
all being oh! my bloom
the moon out of its lid, its ornate bud
bursting out of its shell, oozing its fruity charm
having emerged like a virgin rose
ebullient luminous orb. . .
Unfurled youthful blossom
why then does he whose lens has hardened
his imagination taut
whose eye for beauty has gone blind
and his passion withered
say no, it is not bloom
no, it is not fire?


The wretched one. . . [End Page 46a] 
The sky is darkness, not fire, he denied
even as the furnace was ablaze in his eyes.
The stars like a torch
like golden flames
fluttering edge to edge
the bonfire roaring
glowing, smoldering
when clouds are aflame like a blaze
lightning coming down like wildfire
having fired a shooting star
lit fire in the horizons. . .
He, like you and I, whose eye for beauty has gone dim
avers the sky is darkness, not fire.
The wretched one.

* * *
Leave it alone, we won’t discuss.
You and I will not converse.
We are not blessed with conversation
just mum, mum. . . mum.
Whether we become bloom or fire
ensnared by the curse of desire
the calamity sparked by infatuation
as we labor through our days. . .
we will not become fire, nor bloom
choking over hiccups
our youth has been squandered, as we wallowed in tears. . .
We have feared, yes, love we have feared.
We have muffled the soul’s utterance
the ache of our life let, our labored conception’s voice
that which youth had conferred upon us
our divine anointment
our baptism by fire
which the God of love, in his wisdom, bestowed upon us.
We’ve feared, yes we’ve truly feared
We’ve been the breath of passion denied.
* * * [End Page 47a]
Neither separating nor keeping us together
bathing us in steamy sweat
limiting us to eye contact
keeping us neither near nor far apart
putting a fence of gossip around us
splitting us over hearsay
without our becoming neither fire nor bloom
confined to separate plateaus. . .
You and I will not converse
even if it pains us we won’t discuss
just hush, zip, mum.
Enough, spare me your memory
suffer me your sickening dreams. . .
As your eye wished death upon mine, were it to heed hints of rebuke
to die upon being told to die
to stay when told to go stay
to listen to hearsay
and abided when faulted
Amen, be gone all of it. Be gone the songs of birds
be gone, we won’t watch the moon
a mere pipe dream
idle illusive fortune
it won’t be gone, were it to, be gone when told to
it won’t be dead, were it to, be dead when told to. . .
Wouldn’t that have meant peace?
Do then, make peace with me over your pain
shield me from your distress.
Pardon me for your ache.
If you were to spare me, spare me, spare me your memory. . .
* * *
Why then is your voice so distant?
Why, your utterance become so weak?. . .
The glow in your eye deflected, as though pregnant with tears [End Page 48a] 
wavering over crying
forming a coat of pain and suffering
throbbing with passion
why has it remained in agony?. . .
How I wish I could wipe your tears
caress your sweat
come near your eye’s radiance, its flame
feel the warmth of its rays. . .
Though I may not reach you, approach you, evoking you in thought
reaching up over your breath
were I to reach you, caress you, stretching my soul’s tentacles
sniffing in pain your illusive trace, your scent
prostrate before the altar of your footsteps
the dirt I kiss will be neither fire nor bloom.
Since without love your tears are worthless
unadorned with ache
unless the guts are exposed, the vigor simmering
of your flame, your embers
your fluttering eyelids
your pupils, your light
of your flame…
Callaloo

Vol. 18 (1995) through current issue
CALLALOO, the premier African Diaspora literary journal, publishes original works by, and critical studies of, black writers worldwide. The journal offers a rich mixture of fiction, poetry, plays, critical essays, cultural studies, interviews, and visual art. Frequent annotated bibliographies, special thematic issues, and original art and photography are some of the features of this highly acclaimed international showcase of arts and letters.
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Current Issue: Volume 35, Number 3, Summer 2012

NILE: A Poem by Tsegaye Gebre-Medhin

I am the first Earth Mother of all fertility
I am the Source I am the Nile I am the African I am the beginning
O Arabia, how could you so conveniently have forgotten
While your breath still hangs upon the threads of my springs
O Egypt, you prodigal daughter born from my first love
I am your Queen of the endless fresh waters
Who rested my head upon the arms of Narmer Ka Menes
When we joined in one our Upper and Lower Lands to create you
bosom of my being
How could you so conveniently count down
In miserable billions of petty cubic yards
The eternal drops of my life giving Nile to you
Beginning long before the earth fell from the eye ball of heaven,
O Nile, that gush out from my breath of life
Upon the throats of the billions of the Earth’s thirsty multitudes,
O World, how could you so conveniently have forgotten
That I, your first fountain, I your ever Ethiopia
I your first life still survive for you?
I rise like the sun from the deepest core of the globe
I am the conqueror of scorching pestilences
I am the Ethiopia that “stretch her hands in supplication to
God”
I am the mother of the tallest traveler on the longest journey on Earth
My name is Africa I am the mother of the Nile.
O Nile, my prodigal daughter on the wilderness of the desert
Bringing God’s harmony to all brothers and sisters
And calming down their noises of brass in their endless nakednesses
O Nile, you are music that restore the rhythm of existence
Into the awkward stampeding of these Middle Eastern blindnesses
You are the irrigator that cultivate peace
From my Ethiopian sacred mountains of the sun
Across to nod on the East of Aden and across Sinai
Beyond Gibraltar into the heights of Mount Moriah
O Nile, my chosen sacrifice for universal peace offering
Upon whose gift the heritages of Meroe and Egypt
Still survive for the benefit of our lone World
You are the proud daughter O Nile, who taught
The ancient world how to walk in upright grace
You are my prodigal daughter who saved and breast fed
Little lost Jacob whose brothers sold for food
You, who nurtured, fed and raised
The child prophet called Moses on your cradle,
You, who stretched out your helping hand and protected
The baby Christ from the slaughtering swords of their Herods,
O Nile, my infinite prodigal daughter
At whose feet mountains like Alexander bent
Their unbendable heads to drink from your life giving milk,
O Nile, at whose feet giants like Caesar Knelt
Conquerors like Napoleon bowed
Their unbowable heads to partake from your immortal bounty.
O Nile, you are the majestic blood line of my African glory
That shower my blessings upon the starved of the world
You are the eloquence that ring the Ethiopian bell across the deaf world You
are the gifted dancer of graceful rhythms
That harmonize with your sisters Atbara and Shabale
With your brothers Awash and Juba
To fertilize the scorched sands of Arabia
O Nile, without your gift Mediterranea shall be a rock of dead waters
And Sahara shall be a basket of skeletons
You are Africa’s black soil that produce life
You are the milk that quench the thirsty multitudes
You are the messenger of my gospel, O Nile
That bring my abundant harvest to the mouth of the needy
You are the elegant pilgrim of my mercy.
You are the first fountain you are the first ever Ethiopia
You are the appeaser of the lustful greeds
You are the first Earth Mother of all fertility
Rising like the sun from the deepest core of the globe
You are the conqueror of the scorching pestilence
You are the source you the Africa you are the Ethiopia you are the Nile.
– Tsegaye Gebre-Medhin, Ethiopian Poet Laureate, August 1997

Tsegaye Gebre-Medhin Ethiopia’s poet and playwright of the common people

The poet and dramatist Tsegaye Gebre-Medhin, who has died aged 69, was considered Ethiopia’s poet laureate. He was one of the most important literary figures that country has produced in the last hundred years, and certainly the best known, both within and outside it; his 1960s decision to write about the common man, rather than religion and royalty, marked the beginning of modern Ethiopian theatre. He wrote in English and was a translator of Shakespeare, but his real gift and achievement was to harness the considerable lyrical powers of his own, Ethiopian, languages.
This was often achieved under trying circumstances. His career spanned three regimes: Emperor Haile Selassie I’s feudal rule, Mengistu Hailemariam’s Marxist dictatorship (under which he was briefly imprisoned), and the putative democracy of Meles Zenawi. All three banned his plays; he once estimated that of 49 works, 36 had at one time or another been censored.
Tsegaye was born in Boda, a village some 120km from the capital, to an Oromo father, who was away fighting the Italians, and an Amhara mother. (The two groups speak languages from entirely different linguistic groups, Cushitic and Semitic respectively; the latter has an alphabet of some 300 letters.) As many Ethiopian boys do, he also learned Ge’ez, the ancient language of the church, an Ethiopian equivalent to Latin; he also helped the family by caring for cattle. He was more unusual in beginning to write plays when at the local elementary school. At 16 he transferred to the Wingate school in Addis Ababa, where he developed an interest in pantomime; this was followed, in 1959, by a degree from the Blackstone School of Law in Chicago. He had not forgotten his first love, however; the following year he used a UNESCO scholarship to do an educational tour that included visits to the Royal Court Theatre in London and the Comédie Française, Paris.

The 1960s were an important decade. He returned to Ethiopia in 1960 to run the Municipality Company at the National Theatre and establish a school which produced a number of leading Ethiopian actors. Realising the usefulness of Shakespeare in the making of dangerous political points, he translated Macbeth and King Lear. He also translated Molière’s Tartuffe, and wrote a play in English called Oda Oak Oracle, which was performed in theatres in Ethiopia, Britain, Denmark, Italy, Romania, Nigeria, Tanzania and the US, and still appears on reading lists in black studies departments. But it was Yekermew Sew (Tomorrow’s Man) which established his place in Ethiopian theatre.”Drawing from Ge’ez and Amharic and Orominya, he was able to coin phrases which, in normal Amharic language, don’t exist, but are powerful and expressive,” says Tamrat Gebeyehu, author of the Ethiopian entry in the World Encyclopedia of Contemporary Theatre. Thus it was “a pleasure to hear his characters talk, even though chances were you did not understand 50% of what they were saying.” In 1966, aged 29, he became the youngest person ever to receive the Haile Selassie I Prize for Amharic Literature.
Briefly, he was appointed minister of culture, but Haile Selassie was deposed by Mengistu Hailemariam and, during the Red Terror in 1975, Tsegaye and the playwright Ayalneh Mulatu spent months together in a prison cell. Ayalneh, who remained friends with Tsegaye for the rest of his life, remembers a daily 11am roll call of men to be killed, and the day his own name came up. It was mispronounced, and Tsegaye seized on the mispronunciation to argue they had the wrong man, thus saving Ayalneh’s life. They wrote poems and plays on the paper bags their food came in.
Agit-prop came into its own under the Marxist regime, as did Tsegaye’s own brand of declamatory nationalism. He wrote Inat Alem Tenu (or Mother Cour- age, though he borrowed only the title) and Ha Hu be Sidist Wer (ABC in Six Months), which referred to the period of the emperor’s deposition. In 1979 he helped to establish the theatre arts department at Addis Ababa University where he is remembered as being very strict and aloof. In the 1980s he also wrote historical plays about Ethiopian kings, one of which, Tewodros, was performed at the Arts Theatre in London in 1986. In 1993, after Mengistu Hailemariam was in turn deposed, he wrote a companion piece to Ha Hu be Sidist Wer. This was Ha Hu Weynis Pe Pu – A or Z, a play about peace, which the current regime banned.
There are persistent reports that the actors were beaten while on tour. Despite this, “I like to go out and communicate with the common folk of Ethiopia,” Tsegaye wrote in 1999. “The peasant, the patriot, the soldier, the traitor, the housewife, the priest, the sheikh … It is from them that I learn about my country and people. And generally their comments are accompanied by tears; their stories are mostly melancholy; their memories are bitter and tragic. It is that which I reflect in my writings. That is why my plays dwell on tragedy.”
In 1998 he moved to New York to undergo dialysis, virtually unavailable in Ethiopia, and to be near his children. He remained active, promoting Ethiopian culture, until the end. In 2002 the African Union took one of his poems as its anthem. He is survived by his wife Lakech Bitew, three daughters, Yodit, Mahlet and Adey, and three sons, Ayenew, Estifanos and Hailu. Tsegaye Gebre-Medhin, poet and dramatist, born August 17 1936; died February 25 2006 http://www.guardian.co.uk/news/2006/may/03/guardianobituaries.booksobituaries