Analysis of the poem “Vanity”

Analysis of the poem “Vanity”

Vanity by Biragol Diop

If we tell, gently, gently

All that we shall one day have to tell,

Who then will hear our voices without laughter,

Sad complaining voices of beggars

Who indeed will hear them without laughter?

If we cry roughly of our torments

Ever increasing from the start of things

What eyes will watch our large mouths

Shaped by the laughter of big children

What eyes will watch our large mouth?

What hearts will listen to our clamoring?

What ear to our pitiful anger

Which grows in us like a tumor

In the black depth of our plaintive throats?

When our Dead comes with their Dead

When they have spoken to us in their clumsy voices;

Just as our ears were deaf

To their cries, to their wild appeals

Just as our ears were deaf

They have left on the earth their cries,

In the air, on the water,

where they have traced their signs for us blind deaf and unworthy Sons

Who see nothing of what they have made

In the air, on the water, where they have traced their signs

And since we did not understand the dead

Since we have never listened to their cries

If we weep, gently, gently

If we cry roughly to our torments

What heart will listen to our clamoring,

What ear to our sobbing hearts?

Analysis of the poem “VANITY”

The title “vanity” portrays the folly of the living who in spite of having been bequeathed with many legacies have arrogantly and ignorantly failed to honour their dead ancestors. He laments as follows: “They have left on the earth their cries. In the air, on the water, where they have traced their signs for us, blind, deaf and unworthy sons, who see nothing of what they have made in the air, in the water where they have traced their signs”. In the poet’s view, much of the problems bedeviling the African society stem from our disregard for African tradition and over-dependence on the Western culture. He laments further: “If we cry roughly of our torments ever increasing from the start of things”. Birago Diop argues that the solution to Africa’s many problems lie within us.

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He further expresses the African belief that dead ancestors have the ability to punish erring individuals and warns that if they are not respected or honoured, they would also not help the living in time of trouble- “And since we did not understand our dead, since we have never listened to their cries, if we weep gently, gently, if we cry roughly of our torments, what heart will listen to our clamourings, what ear to our sobbing hearts?”

Vanity is a poem of lamentation.

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