Saturday, June 7, 2014

Birago Diop: "Sighs"

Hear more often things than beings,
The voice of the fire listening,
Hear the voice of the water.
Hear in the wind
The bushes sobbing,
It is the sigh of our forebears.

Those who are dead are never gone:
They are there in the thickening shadow.
The dead are not under the earth:
They are in the tree that rustles,
They are in the wood that groans,
They are in the water that runs,
They are in the water that sleeps,
They are in the hut, they are in the crowd,
The dead are not dead.

Those who are dead are never gone,
They are in the breast of the woman,
They are in the child who is wailing
And in the firebrand that flames.
The dead are not under the earth:
They are in the fire that is dying,
They are in the grasses that weep,
They are in the whimpering rocks,
They are in the forest, they are in the house,
The dead are not dead.

"Sighs" by Birago Diop, as presented in A Companion to African Philosophy, edited by Kwasi Wiredu (translator from the French unknown). © John Wiley & Sons, 2008.

This poem ("Souffles" in French) is found in various forms online, sometimes entitled "Spirits." A longer version of the poem in both French and English can be read here.   

Art credit: Street art painted in Senegal by Christian Guemy (C215) and photographed by StreetArtNews (originally color).



  1. Subscriber Mary Forst just let me know that today's poem by Birago Diap was adapted into a song called "Breaths" by Sweet Honey in the Rock. Listen at this link: ("It's beautiful," my 11-year-old son just told me, listening from beyond the room.)

  2. I remember when I was learning this poem in Africa when starting middle school and it was in french. "Les morts ne sont pas morts". Birago Diop, a great author!

  3. First made aware of this poem in 1970. Go back to it now and then.
    It has had a profound effect on me.

  4. Refreshing Spiritual order of living life, it continues to move, hopefully forward for us, indigenously nurtured ones in the family tribe clan Chieftaincy , Unity on the Continent, called “Africa”, for the Africans
    who want ant will fight to wrestle it out of,
    hands of detractors traducers, internally,
    externally, etc., whatsoever direction.
    Oduno A . Tarik , Beaumont, Texan

  5. It's really nice


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