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I am the voice of Ífa, messenger
Of all the Gods: to me the histories
Are known, and I will tell you of the days
Of the Descent. How Old Arámfè sent
The Gods from Heaven, and Odudúwa stole
The bag—my king has told you. . . For many a day
Across unwatered plains the Great Ones journeyed,
And sandy deserts—for such is the stern bar
Set by Arámfè 'twixt his smiling vales
the edge of
|And the stark cliff's edge which his sons approached|
Tremblingly, till from the sandy brink they peered
Down the sheer precipice. Behind them lay
The parched, forbidding leagues; but yet the Sun
Was there, and breezes soft, and yet the mountains—
A faded line beyond the shimmering waste—
Called back to mind their ancient home. Beneath
Hung chaos—dank blackness and the threatening roar
Of untamed waters. Then Odudúwa spoke:
"Orísha, what did we? And what fault was ours?
Outcasts to-day; to-morrow we must seek
Our destiny in dungeons, and beneath
p. 21 That yawning blackness we must found a city
For unborn men. Better a homeless life
In desert places: dare we turn and flee
To some lost valley of the hills? Orísha,
What think you?" Then spoke Orísha whom men call
The Great: "Is this Odúwa that I hear—
My mother's son who stole Arámfè's gift,
And thought to filch away the hearts of men
With blessings which were mine to give? For me,
The arts I know I long to use, and yearn
To see the first of toiling, living men
That I shall make. Forbidding is our task,
You say—but think, ere we return to peace
And Heaven's calm, how boundless is the fate
You flinch from! Besides, is Godhead blind?
|Arámfè would not know? Has Might no bodes|
With eyes and ears? . . Dumb spirits hungering
|For life await us: let us go." So spoke|
Orísha; and Odúwa hung a chain
Over the cliff to the dark water's face,
And sent Ojúmu, the wise priest, to pour
The magic sand upon the sea and loose
p. 22 The five-clawed Bird to scatter far and wide
Triumphant land.1 But, as Earth's ramparts grew,
Ever in the darkness came the waves and sucked
Away the crumbling shore, while foot by foot
Lagoons crept up, and turned to reedy swamps
The soil of hope. So Odudúwa called
|Olókun2 and Olóssa3 to the cliff|
And thus he spoke: "Beneath, the waters wrestle
With the new-rising World, and would destroy
Our kingdom and undo Arámfè's will.
Go to the fields of men to be, the homes
That they shall make. Olókun! to the sea!
For there your rule and your dominion shall be:
To curb the hungry waves upon the coastlands
For ever. And thus, in our first queen of cities
And secret sanctuaries on lonely shores
Through every æon as the season comes,
Shall men bring gifts in homage to Olókun.
And you, Olóssa, where your ripple laps
The fruitful bank, shan see continually
The offerings of thankful men."
|p. 23 The months|
|Of Heaven passed by, while in the moonless night|
|Beneath the Bird toiled on until the bounds,|
The corners of the World were steadfast. And then
Odúwa called Orísha and the Gods
To the cliff's edge, and spoke these words of sorrow:
"We go to our sad kingdom. Such is the will
Of Old Arámfè: so let it be. But ere
The hour the wilderness which gapes for us
Engulf us utterly, ere the lingering sight
Of those loved hills can gladden us no more—
May we not dream awhile of smiling days
Gone by? . . Fair was drenched morning in the Sun
When dark the hill-tops rose o'er misty hollows;
Fair were the leafy trees of night beneath
The silvering Moon, and beautiful the wind
Upon the grasslands. Good-bye, ye plains we roamed.
|Good-bye to sunlight and the shifting shadows|
Cast on the crags of Heaven's blue hills. Ah! wine
Of Heaven, farewell" . . . So came the Gods to Ífè.
Then of an age of passing months untold
By wanings of the Moon our lore repeats
The dirge of wasting hopes and the lament|
Of a people in a strange World shuddering
Beneath the thunder of the unseen waves
On crumbling shores around. Always the marsh
Pressed eagerly on Ífè; but ever the Bird
Returned with the unconquerable sand
Ojúmu poured from his enchanted shell,
And the marsh yielded. Then young Ógun bade
The Forest grow her whispering trees—but she
Budded the pallid shoots of hopeless night,
And all was sorrow round the sodden town
Where Odudúwa reigned. Yet for live men
|Orísha, the Creator, yearned, and called|
To him the longing shades from other glooms;
He threw their images1 into the wombs
Of Night, Olókun and Olóssa, and all
The wives of the great Gods bore babes with eyes
Of those born blind—unknowing of their want—
And limbs to feel the heartless wind which blew
From outer nowhere to the murk beyond. . .
But as the unconscious years wore by, Orísha,
The Creator, watched the unlit Dawn of Man
Wistfully—as one who follows the set flight
p. 25 Of a lone sea-bird when the sunset fades
Beyond a marshy wilderness—and spoke
To Odudúwa: "Our day is endless night,
And deep, wan woods enclose our weeping children.
The Ocean menaces, chill winds moan through
Our mouldering homes. Our guardian Night, who spoke
To us with her strange sounds in the still hours
Of Heaven is here; yet she can but bewail
Her restless task. And where is Evening? Oh! where
Is Dawn?" He ceased, and Odudúwa sent
Ífa, the Messenger, to his old sire
To crave the Sun and the warm flame that lit
The torch of Heaven's Evening and the dance. . .
|A deep compassion moved thundrous Arámfè,|
The Father of the Gods, and he sent down
The vulture with red fire upon his head
For men; and, by the Gods' command, the bird
Still wears no plumage where those embers burned him—
A mark of honour for remembrance. Again
The Father spoke the word, and the pale Moon
Sought out the precincts of calm Night's retreat
p. 26 To share her watch on Darkness; and Day took wings,
And flew to the broad spaces of the sky—
To roam benignant from the floating mists
Which cling to hillsides of the Dawn—to Eve
Who calls the happy toilers home.
|Was changed: for when the terror of bright Day|
Had lifted from the unused eyes of men,
Sparks flew from Ládi's anvil, while Ógun taught
The use of iron, and wise Obálufon1
Made brazen vessels and showed how wine streams out
From the slim palms.2 And in the night the Gods
Set torches in their thronging courts to light
The dance, and Heaven's music touched the drum
Once more as in its ancient home. And mirth
With Odudúwa reigned.
1 See Note I on the Creation of the Earth.
2 The Goddess of the Sea.
3 The Goddess of the Lagoons.
1 See Note IV on the Creation of Man.
1 See Note V on Obálufon.
2 Palm-wine, an efficacious native intoxicant.