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Saturday, 7 March 2015

Serenade (Traditional)




Literary Analysis (Summary)

A serenade is a love song performed in the open, especially at night, by a lover under the window of his mistress, professing his undying love and affection. This traditional serenade is a Swahili love song from Kenya, East Africa.

The poet begins by calling on the sad lady to “be calm and cry not”. He appeals to her to forget her sorrow and sing to her suitors, those who guide her from being harmed and the “passers-by” who acknowledges and appreciates her outstanding natural beauty.

The lover also urges the lady to sing to her suitors from the great ancestral lineage of Shaka, the influential warrior-monarch of the Zulu kingdom in East Africa. The “son of Shaka’s people” are brave men who can guide and shield the lady in times of grief. Instead of being weighed down by such emotional burden, he implores her to cast aside her “grief and sorrow and distress.”

In order to comfort the lady, the poet-speaker makes promises of different gifts from the Arab world to her. He promises to give her “fine clothes” from the Kingdom of Hejaz, a region in Saudi Arabia, the beautiful jewelries of “chain and beads of gold” made in Shiraz, Iran.

As the man repeats “let me” at every new promise, he seeks to impress the lady in order to make her realise his concern and care. Above all, he assures the lady that he will provide for her a befitting and enviable shelter; “a great white house of lime and stone” furnished with crystals around the “lakesides of Shaka and Ozi”, Kenya coastal cities. The house will be one of its kind so “that those who see it will be astonished by its construction.”

More importantly, this poem exposes the beauty of the ancient civilisation of the Swahili people in pre-colonial Kenya. It shows their early contact with the Arabs. They were influenced by the Arab culture and tradition through bilateral trading. The lover’s choice of gifts reveals Swahili people’s obsession with rich ornaments from the Arab Peninsula. ‘Swahili” was coined by early Arab merchants to Kenya coast. Swahili means “the coast’.

The lover further impresses the pretty lady by promising to satisfy her “good parents” and make them relax by being entertained with songs from minstrels. Aside that, he will make them comfortable and well fed with “food of the young of camels and of many oxen, sheep and goats.”

With all this, the man admonishes the lady to open her eyes and see the abundant love he is offering. It is a “love so great” that the lady should be able to see and acknowledge. The lover believes the elaborate material gifts he has promised the lady should be “plain to” her and should be reciprocated by giving him her heart.

The lover doesn’t stop there. He strongly assures, “Every good thing will I do for you, by the goodness of Almighty God.” He even calls Almighty God as a witness to all his promises that he is going to fulfill everything, only if she casts her sorrow away and loves him “because, my lady, O lady mine, let me tell you that you are my beloved”. In order to convince the lady, the lover swears to accomplish all his promises “by his goodness and compassion that shines brightly like bright moonlight.”

Themes
True love is unhidden
The need to celebrate one’s culture
The quest for companionship
The show of abundant wealth
Promises are sacred
Sorrow does not bring happiness
The appreciation of love


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