The Wind of Time (1974) + A Note on Seeking (2021)

A Tanzanian translation of Euphrase Kezilahabi’s “Upepo wa Wakati”

Princely H. Glorious
10 min readNov 25, 2021


Original photo by Maksim Romashkin from Pexels

(P.S. A note on the whys and hows of my translation follows the poem. Find the Swahili version by Kezilahabi himself at the end of the page.)

The Wind of Time

Written by Euphrase Kezilahabi (1974)
Translated by Princely H. Glorious (2021)

Upon a small hill
I stood one day
looking down at the lake; that day
a storm brewed. I saw waves
rising and falling. Swelling,
swirling, crashing and foaming.
Like mad bulls in a grassless valley.
Oh, how those waves were formed!
How they’d collapse and soar afresh!
Never had I seen this before.
But I watched the waves fall forcefully
and soar swiftly, pushed about
by winds from the West and the East.
Such is the world.
Such is human life.
Rising and falling
pushed about by the wind of time.
Watch how they grab power
the way a drowning man clutches a friend’s legs!
How they cling to money like a child
to a mirage
or a mad soldier to his rifle
to silence us!
They will rise and fall
and they’ll crash indeed!
Pushed about by the wind of time.

A Note on Seeking:

Notes on my translation of Kezilahabi’s “Upepo wa Wakati”

“Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the greats of old; seek what they sought.

Seek the meaning behind their footsteps, not upon the steps themselves.”

— Matsuo Bashō, 17th Century Japan

A sea cliff. Photo by Erik Mclean from Pexels.

Seeking what he sought:

I have had two main frustrations seeking the great Tanzanian poet, novelist and philosopher Euphrase Kezilahabi’s poetry online in 2021. First, while critical readings and translations of his work abound in English, for his original work in Swahili I could at first only find fragments. There were quotes, annotations, citations, commentary— but rarely the source material itself. Secondly, the few English translations I managed to find read to me as prosaic robberies of the poetry within his poems. Prose in stanza form, really.

I would read the joyless, simplistic English translation and (at first) wonder why this man was considered so great. Then I read a fragment of his Swahili original with delight. Once I found a complete poem of his, I was moved. Here was a genius!

It was as though the translators’ focus was to produce literal renderings of the ideas of Kezilahabi but at the expense of the language of Kezilahabi. This seems to me a fundamental misreading of Kezilahabi — a man possessed by the idea that language can become more than merely a representation of ideas and things.

“Tutaunda lugha ambayo msingi wake ni Kuwako.”

“We shall create a language whose foundation is Being.” — Euphrase Kezilahabi (1991)

Language as the thing itself:

The sounds, the pauses, the serious-seeming metaphors pregnant with levity, and the simpler ones pregnant with meaning. All these seemed to matter more in the original Swahili than in the translations. The translations were largely precise but functionally stripped of soul. (Here goes my precision vs function dichotomy again).

Perhaps saying the translations I read were soulless is too harsh. In the Swahili, however, the sounds, the pace and the deceptive simplicity seemed just as important as the plot or the meaning. There seemed to be what I’ll call an emotive arc in addition to the narrative arc. And they both seemed to matter just as much to the author! The Western translations seemed focused on precise meaning.

There was also an inventiveness, a playful harkening to older, more formal Swahili when needed with a simultaneous rebellious creativity of common words. He fought to write in common Swahili, in free verse, at a time when Swahili poetry was ultracodified. An example of how this plays out in my vocabulary choice, for example, is the line:

Yakiviringika, yakigongana na kutoa povu
Kama fahari wehu katika bonde lisomajani.

I translate it:

swirling, crashing and foaming.
Like mad bulls in a grassless valley.

The “grassless” is intentional. “Lisomajani” is uncommon Swahili phrasing, perhaps archaic and certainly formal-sounding. The context allows you to grasp its meaning. Here, uncommon yet formal-sounding “a grassless valley” works.

Ranne translates it splendidly. She uses “a field with no grass” — precise, yes, but in my humble opinion it misses the nuance of how uncommon “lisomajani” sounds to the Swahili-native reader:

swirling, churning and spuming foam
like mad bulls in a field with no grass.

(Her “spuming” is quite delightful here).

I seesawed between translating “kama mtoto/na picha ya bandia” as either “like a child/to a plaything” or “like a child/to a mirage.” I also considered “like a child/to a false image” which would be the most functional literalist take. “Mirage” had the advantage of being both a good reading of “picha ya bandia” and poetic. “Plaything” is contextual and pictorial. A child does cling to their plaything. It is similar in that sense to Ranne’s translation: “the way a child grips a doll.” It would, however, necessitate moving his ideas around to fit the phrasing; while throughout I endeavored to do the opposite.

It is for the same reason I start off the poem preserving Kezilahabi’s narrative placement:

Juu ya mlima mdogo
Siku moja nilisimama


On a small hill
I stood one day
looking down at the lake;…

Rather than the more common/proper English sounding of Ranne:

One day I stood on a small hill
looking down at the lake

The more common spoken Swahili would have been: “Siku moja nilisimama/juu ya mlima mdogo.” Kezilahabi flipped this and wrote it in the storytelling switch a lot of Swahili poetry sounds like: “Juu ya mlima mdogo/Siku moja nilisimama.”

I chose to preserve this nuance of language use in my translation.

The wind of time, not the winds:

In the same vein, I have preserved his original title. Rather than the common English cliché of “the winds of time” Kezilahabi writes of time as a singular wind. “Upepo wa Wakati” not “Pepo za Nyakati”. And this wind is pushing things about, rather than driving them as in Ranne’s translation — driving is a little more foreign to me than a strong gale pushing things about. He was a lover of sitiari. And for sitiari to work it has to be understandable in the cultural context.

None of this is to say that this translation is better, merely that it is different in the specific nuances I chose to preserve.

The two precisions:

I theorize that there are two precisions at play in translating Kezilahabi (perhaps just in translation more broadly), only one of which the Western translations I read seem concerned with. The first is a precision of meaning/authorial intent, this they capture quite masterfully. The other is a precision of language-as-being, of essential Swahiliness, which any translation destroys but which a Tanzanian lens might recontextualize a little more precisely. The nuance of what the Swahili would sound like to a native. Not just what the author wanted to say to said native.

I tried to pay attention to this second precision. We move!

With the intuitive/Afro-essentialist nature of his onto-criticism theory, I imagine Kezilahabi considering a quest for this second precision by non-African translations of his work to be nigh impossible. (Whether I agree with this imagined position of his or not is a different matter.)

The non-Africans can know what he meant, I imagine him saying, but the Africans can understand. The language he used wasn’t intended simply to signify certain ideas. It was meant to embody them. The language itself was the thing. It didn’t merely represent the thing.

“Language is more than a signifying system. Language is the ‘house of Being. By writing in foreign languages we allow the Western world to be the center of value of our Being.’” — Euphrase Kezilahabi (1985)

While Kezilahabi’s lines were purposefully simple, they certainly were not simplistic. Additionally, while he does address the “destructive” powers of translation (in fact, I believe he argues for destructive contextualizations of Western ideologies into functional African forms), I found many of the translations simplistic and, quite frankly, boring to read.

In praise of the Western scholars (the shock, the horror 😛):

This is not to poo-poo on the important work more scholarly Western translators have done on Kezilahabi. Far from that! Katriina Ranne’s translations strike that precision-function balance quite well at times. Some Annmarie Drury translations are delightful and sparse. I am indebted to them (in fact, we should be) for these translations since they quite literally are most of what you can find easily online of Kezilahabi thought. Tafsiri zao zimetukuza mawazo ya Mtanzania huyu ambaye sisi wenyewe pengine tusingeweza, na kwa uhakika hatujaweza, kuyaheshimu ipasavyo.

Take their work more seriously than you take mine. This is, after all, an end-of-day challenge to myself, and a desire to honor and spread the word on a brilliant Tanzanian mind.

I am no essentialist. I do not think Africans have a from-birth deeper understanding of other Africans’ poetic intentions than, say, a non-African scholar. The scholars know their job far better than my midnight translation here does. (Most of my translation and interpretation experience coming as years in the oral world of live translating at churches. And self-translation.) But there’s likely a flavor to add (or to extract and bring to the fore) that being a Tanzanian poet myself comes with. At the risk of sounding like late Heidegger (a Kezilahabi favorite and “one of those who cleared the mist”), there’s a Tanzanianness I bring with me to my readings of Kezilahabi that a non-Tanzanian does not. I hope to have brought this to this translation.

So why translate this again?

I translated this primarily for myself. A challenge. I translated it hoping to intuit and inhabit his perspective from 21st century Tanzania (rather than meticulously study his intentions from the perspective of an other). I also hoped to use my experience as a Tanzanian poet in the service of a man whose ideas we do not appreciate loudly enough — perhaps because we do not understand them. And we do not understand them perhaps only because we do not read them. Familiarity breeds comprehension, not just contempt.

A secondary (though perhaps more important) reason I am writing this is so that my small audience of Tanzanian writers, thinkers, young people… can find Kezilahabi then seek him for themselves. I spent most of yesterday and today reading everything I could find on him, from him, by him. More Tanzanians need to find him. And I hope I’ve done some justice to his inventive work. Inventive is the word. The reverence I afford him is not because he is some great ancient to whom we owe automatic respect (he might be) but because he was inventive, and an encourager of destructive inventiveness.

I am not inspired by him because he came before me, or even because he is a great. I am inspired by what inspired him: language, expression, ideation, existence, experience: Being with a capital B.

At the very beginning of this note (that has turned into an unedited essay), I added a quote from Matsuo Bashō, the 17th Century Japanese poet. Kezilahabi has a similar reminder:

“The oldest is not necessarily the nearest to our true Being, neither does it have a mandate to rule the present.”

When I started writing this note, I thought it would be a two paragraph expression of why I felt the need to translate his already-translated work. Why not just share it? I did not expect it to turn into this meandering tome. I do hope this more detailed perspective is useful to you. I have an inkling it is.

Ironically, Kezilahabi might have not even approved of his work being retranslated into English (doubly ironic if done by a Tanzanian). Again:

“By writing in foreign languages we allow the Western world to be the center of value of our Being.” — Euphrase Kezilahabi (1985)

But here we are.

In any case, this poem is one of his “Poems of the Beginning” which he himself translated. If anyone has access to this original (was it ever published in English?), I’d love to see it and compare.

To Kezilahabi! 🥂

Further reading:

I was immersed in these readings yesterday and today. I add them here so I can return to them, and so you can check them out yourself.

  1. Katriina Ranne’s brilliant and extensive : “The Image of Water in the Poetry of Euphrase Kezilahabi” (2016)
  2. Alena Rettova’s: “Translation as destruction: Kezilahabi’s adaptation of Heidegger’s ‘Being’” (2018)
  3. Annmarie S. Drury’s foundational PEN translations. Sampled here — Euphrase Kezilahabi: Selected Poems
  4. Mikhail D. Gromov’s: “Blowing the Summoning Horn”
  5. Benedetta Lanfranchi’s “Daring to be Destructive: Euphrase Kezilahabi’s Onto-Criticism”
  6. Katriina Ranne’s translations of Kezilahabi on the Poetry Translation Center website.

The original poem

Upepo wa Wakati

Imeandikwa na Euphrase Kezilahabi (1974)

Juu ya mlima mdogo
Siku moja nilisimama.
Nikatazama chini ziwani, siku
Ya dhoruba. Halafu niliona mawimbi
Yakipanda na kushuka. Yakivimba,
Yakiviringika, yakigongana na kutoa povu
Kama fahari wehu katika bonde lisomajani.
Yalivyofifia na kuanza tena!
Kamwe sikuona.
Lakini niliyaona yakishuka kwa nguvu
Na kupanda haraka, yakisukumwa
Na upepo wa Magharibi na Mashariki.
Hivyo ndivyo ulimwengu ulivyo.
Na hivyo maisha ya binadamu.
Wanapanda na kushuka
Wakisukumwa na upepo na wakati.
Tazama wanavyojinyakulia madaraka
Kama mzamaji, mguu wa rafikiye, ashikavyo!
Wanavyoshika pesa kama mtoto
Na picha ya bandia
Au asikari mwehu na bunduki yake
Na kutunyamazisha!
Watapanda na kushuka
Na wataanguka kweli!
Wakisukumwa na upepo wa wakati!



Princely H. Glorious

African. Creator. Video essayist. Exploring the intersection of “Africa” “Mobile” “Information” and “Futures” | Bird-of-passage | Follow @onastories everywhere