What makes a country cry? A related question is: why did such great men as, among others, Dr. Jose Rizal (The Philippines) and Mahatma Gandhi (India) work so hard for their country? Bernard Dadie’s lyric poem, "Dry Your Tears, Africa," offers a West African’s perspective that contextualizes an answer.
“Dry Your Tears, Africa,” a lyric poem that builds on, among other things, apostrophe and personification, is written by a former fine arts director, Bernard Dadie. It tries to comfort the homeland (and brings back memories of the related efforts of great men who have done much for their country’s welfare, among them Dr. Jose Rizal of The Philippines, Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore of India, Genghis Khan of Mongolia, Mao Tse Tung of China, Pres. Abraham Lincoln of the United States of America, or Michael Gorbachev of Russia).
The persona, or speaker in the poem, talks to Africa as if the country is humanly alive and can listen to one of her children who has come home (much as Alan Paton does when he tells Africa to cry in his novel, Cry, My Beloved Country). “Dry your tears, Africa,” the persona says three times in the poem.
Why does Africa cry in the first place? It has been colonized by Europeans, and its people sold as slaves in various parts of Europe and the West. It is easy to see why Africa mourns, or bleeds inside her: just think of a mother who has lost her children; or, think of Sisa (in Dr. Jose Rizal’s El Filibusterismo) and her emotional turmoil, which caused her mind to snap, when she could no longer find her sons, Basilio and Crispin.
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Why does the persona tell Africa to stop crying? Let us take a look at each of the five sections of the poem to trace the progress of both the ideas and their presentation that answer this question.
Section 1, composed of three lines, tells Africa to stop shedding tears, as her children “come back” from “fruitless journeys.”
Section 2, with its seven lines, describes the voyage home of Africa’s children: they ride through the “crest of the wave and the babbling of the breeze,” over the “gold of the east” and “the purple of the setting sun,” the “peaks of proud mountains,” and “grasslands drenched with light.” The section repeats the information that Africa’s children return from their “fruitless journeys.”
Why “fruitless journeys”? Is it because the journey towards knowledge is not to be sought on settings other than one’s native land? Or that in order to have fruitful journeys, one must remain anchored to his or her own country’s tradition or culture or native realities?
Section 3, which consists of five short lines, tell Africa once again to dry her tears, with the added information that her children “have drunk / From all the springs / of ill fortune / and of glory.”
The seven-line section 4 appears to be connected to the information in section 3: having drunk from the springs of ill fortune and glory, the “senses” of Africa’s children are now open to the “splendour” of her “beauty,” “the smell of [her] forests,” “the charms of [her] rivers,” “the clearness of [her] skies,” “the caress of [her] sun,” and “the charm of [her] foliage pearled with dew.”
The aforesaid ideas sound almost like a re-discovering of one’s own homeland. Maybe, they are indeed.
The last section of six lines again tell Africa to stop crying, as her children “come back” to her, with their “hands full of playthings” and “their hearts full of love” to “clothe” Africa “in their dreams and their hopes.”
Have the last section’s ideas been made possible by the end of the slave trade only in the 19th century? So that, now, Africa’s children are no longer weaned from or or forced out of their homeland, but continue to grow up there, with their parents no longer afraid that their offspring may never learn what play is because of capture or kidnapping?
Of the poem, Donna Rosenberg writes that it is written “with the goal of inspiring pride in one’s heritage by emphasizing Africa’s natural beauty and the value of African traditions.”