While I was careful to preface Ethiopia through writers’ eyes with the following epigraph/caveat:
Like all those possessing a library, Aurelian was aware that he was guilty of not knowing his in its entirety.
The Theologians, Jorge Luis Borges
It rests that as soon as a book is launched into the world, be it from the flat topped amba of Mount Abora, a multitude of overlooked books begin to form a perillously high tower of their own.
First, a poem by Walt Whitman in Leaves of Grass, which was kindly suggested to me at the launch of Ethiopia through writers’ eyes, by Gordon Wetherell, the United Kingdom ambassador to Ethiopia in the late 90s.
The poem was written by Whitman in the aftermath of the events of 1867/68 which saw world newspapers recount Emperor Theodoros’exploits and demise. The poem therefore weaves a traditional reference to Ethiops – a stand in for describing Black characters in western literature (as in Shakespear) – and the American Civil War, with an actual nod to real events in Abyssinia, and to the symbol of African/Black pride of the times, Emperor Theodoros’ green/yellow/red resistance to the British expedionnary force of Napier – later Lord Napier of Magdala.
Ethiopia Saluting the Colors Who are you dusky woman, so ancient hardly human, With your woolly-white and turban'd head, and bare bony feet? Why rising by the roadside here, do you the colors greet? ('Tis while our army lines Carolina's sands and pines, Forth from thy hovel door thou Ethiopia com'st to me, As under doughty Sherman I march toward the sea.) Me master years a hundred since from my parents sunder'd, A little child, they caught me as the savage beast is caught, Then hither me across the sea the cruel slaver brought. No further does she say, but lingering all the day, Her high-borne turban'd head she wags, and rolls her darkling eye, And courtesies to the regiments, the guidons moving by. What is it fateful woman, so blear, hardly human? Why wag your head with turban bound, yellow, red and green? Are the things so strange and marvelous you see or have seen?