Poetry Review: I Give You Thanks My God by Bernard Dadie
Read: Classic Poetry: I Give You Thanks My God by Bernard Dadie
This poem is a good anthem for black pride. It satirically weaves its way around mythical, biblical and historic tales and brings its story through.
Dadie is ironically thankful here to God for having made him a bearer of the world’s sorrow as a black man. This is a symbolic statement of the history of forced service and suppression that the black race has endured since “the first morning” (line 7) and “the first night” (line 10) of creation. Note that in the first chapter of the book of Genesis, the first in the bible, God remarks that “And there was evening and there was morning” before a day has come to completion. The black man has been made “The total of all sorrows” (line 3), a phrase that rivals the biblical allusion to Jesus Christ as a man of sorrows. (Isaiah 53:3; He was despised, and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with disease: and as one from whom men hide their face he was despised; and we didn’t respect him). This allusion to the 53rd chapter of Isaiah is very useful in appreciating the depth of this poem as many more references are made to that chapter. This is the strength of this poem, comparing the black man to a type of Christ, bearing the weight of “the World” on his head, adorned otherwise in the uniform of a Centaur (line 6); a mythological half-man, half-horse.
In the third and fourth stanzas, Dadie is proud of “the shape of my head” (line 12), “the shape of my nose” (line 14), “the form of my legs” (line 17) and “the thickness of my lips” (line 30). He is pleased that they have been so formed to help him bear the suffering that is his curse. A most striking accession is the fact that his legs are made ready to run through all the stages of the World (line 18), an agreement to the fact that in all the generations of man, the black man has been a crucial role-player, leaving his prints.
But the beauty of this poem lies in the fourth stanza, where Dadie talks of thirty-six swords piercing his heart (line 22). This is much like Christ on the cross where a spear was thrust into his side. (Isaiah 53:5 – But he was pierced for our transgressions…). Thirty-six brands burnt his body (line 23) and proved that he is a whore, a slave of more than one owner, eligible to be trampled underfoot by all. And like Christ, “his blood on all the calvaries has reddened the snow” (line 24). To appreciate this line, it is worth noting that Christ was crucified on Calvary, a hill just outside the city walls of ancient Jerusalem according to the Bible. And also, if Dadie’s blood reddened the snow, then he bled in a foreign land where it snows, not in Africa. This just powerfully states the crimes of slavery and colonialism – dark chapters in Africa’s books. Dadie lays the blame right on snowy shores. On the doorstep of the white man.
The final stanza is where hope is set alight, like in all other African dreams. Dadie claims for the second time that “White is a colour for an occasion” (line 32) but “black is the colour for all days” (line 33). He laughs in the night in line 35 and his laughter brings on the day over the world. This is it: in the darkness of his circumstances, he is able to laugh. And it is this laughter that brings strength to defeat the burden of his oppression. The biblical Christ had the last laugh after he carried in his body the sins of Dadie’s World. In this victory, our black man Dadie is thankful to God for his blackness.
This is a truly moving tribute to the power of blackness, poetry and religion.