Wednesday, November 13, 2013

GLADYS MAY CASELY HAYFORD: PIONEER AFRICAN FEMALE POET OF HARLEM RENAISSANCE AND CULTURAL LUMINARY OF HER DAY

"I did not know that you had the power to
    hurt me,
I think I must have bequeathed it to you
    unknowingly
One starlit night when I read the secret in
    your eyes." Gladys May Casely Hayford aka Aquah Laluah, (from her poem,Realization)

Gladys May Casely Hayford whose African name was "Aquah Laluah" was the first Gold Coast (Ghanaian) and Sierra Leonean female poet/writer. She was one of the first African women to to write poetry and was Harlem writing influenced. She was the daughter of the fante-Gold coast  visionary nationalist and solicitor and writer joseph-ephraim-casely-hayford and his wife adelaide-casely-hayford, the Anglo-Fante and Krio famous cultural nationalist and feminist. Her mother described her as an "accomplished writer, musician, dramatist, painter, and storyteller."  Yema Lucilda Hunter the Ghana-based Leonean writer  and author of Gladys` new biography, " An African Treasure, in Search of Gladys Casely-Hayford, 1904 - 1950,"  described her as "cultural luminary of her day."
Gladsy May Casley Hayford (Aquah Lalauh)
ladys May Casely Hayford is the first Gold Coast (Ghanaian) female poet/writer. She was the daughter of the fante-Gold coast nationalist and solicitor and writer J E Casely Hayford and Adelaide Casely Hayford.She was born in 1904 and died in 1950.

Gadys was born in Axim, Gold Coast (Ghana), West Africa on May 11th, 1904. As a child, Gladys aka (Aquah LaLuah) did not like textbooks or arithmetic; but she was a voracious little reader, devouring Kingsley's "Heroes" from cover to cover at the age of seven.  Gladys could sing, dance, and write poetry at an early age. Due to her upbringing she could speak fluent English, Creole and Fante (the language of her father). She had her primary and secondary school education in Ghana and went to Penrhos College, Colwyn Bay in Wales, after turning down two other really good colleges that wanted her for her talented writing. Gladys stopped her education there and joined a Jazz, danced with a Berlin jazz band, and stayed with them for a long time but she started having break downs and had to go home. Back home in Africa  she taught at her mother's Girls' Vocational School in Freetown
J E Casely Hayford. the Great Gold Coast Pan Africanist and celebrated lawyer, the father of Gladys May Casely Hayford  aka Aquah Laluah, in his traditional beautiful Kente cloth.

Acquah Laluah then got married. At the school she taught African Folklore and Literature. She lectured extensively by dwelling on her pet messages that native Africans are not inferior to any race. She was bold in declaring this because she has been privileged to live among the Caucasians.  That messages of racial equality found it way into her poetry writings. She had very deep African roots in her poetry and Anthologists of the Harlem renaissance loved her work. Hayford was very energetic and free in herself as well as in her writing. Gladys May used her energy and kindness to make better poetry. She used her self-expression to make a change in the world through her writing. Gladys May was not part of the talented tenth, but she did write about subjects that were more controversial at the time. Many of her poems emphasis women freedom and pride and others reflected her life.
She created many inspiring and great writings; Her first poems were published in the Atlantic Monthly and The Philadelphia Tribune. Her poetry has been widely anthologized such as Nativity (1927), and The Serving Girl (1941) and Creation (1926). She lived in Freedom, Sierra Leone for much of her life. Gladys May Casely-Hayford (Aquah LaLuah) died of black water fever in 1950. Gladys had a son, P.D Casely Hayford who is also a prolific writer.
jembe the journey home book cover
 P.D. Casely-Hayford`s first novel in the Kembrekki Trilogy is "Jembe the Journey Home," which follows the journey of the Ancestors, and their influences over their descendents. The first book explores how identity is changed when people adopt new cultures, and the subsequent challenges that occur when traditional cultures and beliefs are re-visited.
In the United States of America, there has been a resurgence of interest in the creative writing of Gladys Casely-Hayford. Her published work has appeared in recent anthologies. Some readers believe she was part of the great cannon of African-American women writers.
Ghana-based Sierra Leonean writer  yema-lucilda-hunter has published a new book about Gladys Casely Hayford. Its is a biography, " An African Treasure, in Search of Gladys Casely-Hayford, 1904 - 1950." (Purchase this book from the author.). With regards to Gladys, Yema Lucilda says, "her place in the cultural history of Sierra Leone and Ghana seems to have been lost. This book is an attempt to remedy that situation as well as tell her life story."

Below is her profile by her mother:
Click to open larger image
delaide Casely-Hayford, Pan African Cultural Nationalist, educator and a feminist, mother of Gladys May Casely Hayford  aka Aquah Laluah

            PROFILE OF GLADYS - By Adelaide Casely-Hayford
We had quite a lot in common, my darling one gial pickin and I. We were both premature, utterly negligible, puny little infants causing our parents a lot of anxiety and trouble. We were both Wednesday's children - -full of woe. At an early age we both learned to suffer, but we possessed such iron constitutions that we survived. When Gladys was only three, she contracted bronchitis, then pneumonia and ended up with whooping cough, without any cessation whatsoever. We both had a keen sense of humour. Even when she was about to be stricken down with her short fatal illness in 1950, she wrote us a letter which was full of jokes and fun, radiating her joyous personality. I received that letter a few hours after the cable announcing her death.

She was a lonely little girl and I fully realised how inadequate I was as a playmate. When we played 'follow my leader,' she was disgusted with my leadership and would ask whether she might not take my place. Sometimes, with her spade and bucket, we would go down to the seashore together and she would watch with envious eyes some practically naked little boys with whom she longed to play. When I allowed her to do so, keeping an eye on them all the time, it did make her so happy. In her childhood days in England she found great solace in her imaginary friend, Peggy, whom we were admonished to treat with the utmost respect. When riding a bus, we were cautioned not to sit on Peggy and to allow her plenty of breathing space, much to the amazement of the other passengers.

She didn't like textbooks and hated arithmetic; but she was a voracious little reader, devouring Kingsley's "Heroes" from cover to cover at the age of seven. I tried to teach her, but not very successfully. Some ideas stuck in her brain, however, because one evening we were watching a beautiful sunset and she said, "Oh, mother, do look at that lovely archipelago in the sky."

To a child of her temperament, loneliness may have been an asset. It gave her unlimited time for meditation and her talents plenty of scope to develop. It may also have been the means of increasing her love of companionship, making her a most amazingly sociable little girl.

At the age of fifteen, she left me to go to Penrhos College, Colwyn Bay. The Headmistress, Miss Rose Hovey, had been my school friend and was quite prepared to take her. "Ma," as she was affectionately called, once wrote to tell me that Gladys had written a poem on "Ears" which was the finest ever written by a Penrhos girl. It would have been greatly to her advantage to have remained there, but without my knowledge, her father made other arrangements which were just as expensive and not nearly so effective.

After some years in England and the Gold Coast, she came back to help revive our little school, which was in a critical condition, and between herself and our white American teacher, wonders were performed.

Gladys was no respecter of persons and some of her guests were downright disreputable. As long as you were a human being in need, you could count on Gladys for help. Invariably she brought home these lame dogs and I, with my meagre income, had to extend hospitality sometimes quite grudgingly. She insisted that whatever we had must be shared. This outstanding capacity for love and kindness swallowed up her many eccentricities.

One day, she was walking along the thoroughfare near the market when she saw a man lying in the middle of the road. She pulled him to the kerb and seeing that he was still breathing, rushed into a shop for brandy and milk to revive him. By this time, quite a crowd had gathered, and one woman shouted out, "Nor make norbody tiff dah lili missis in poss oh! You nor see waitin e day do?" Gladys then realised that she was carrying her bag under her arm, so she looked all round the crowd and spotted one man. "Oh, " she said., handing it to him, "Please take care of it for me." After her ministrations., the sick man revived and an ambulance came to take him off. The crowd dispersed and Gladys suddenly realised that she had parted with her hand-bag. The man was still standing there and came up to her at once. "Missis," he said, "here is your bag." It transpired that this was a man, in and out of prison the whole time, but after the look of confidence and trust Gladys gave him, he admitted that he could not possibly steal from her.

Although there were times when I secretly felt that Gladys was inclined to be irreligious, I realise now how grossly I misjudged her. Whatever their appearance, she was everlastingly seeking for people's good qualities rather than condemning them. As Carlyle often pointed out, it is "this gift of tenderness and understanding sympathy that gives the measure of our intellects." Having definitely conquered fastidiousness, Gladys was a spiritual aristocrat.

It was only at her death that I realised what a place she had made for herself in the affections of the community. I went to my window about two hours after the radio had announced her death in Accra, and saw a group of market women looking up at the house disconsolately and utterly woe-begone.

In spite of my help, she was in a chronic state of financial embarrassment, largely brought about by her marriage (without my knowledge), to a man I had never even seen, and who was never able to support her and their little boy. Consequently, she suffered untold hardships.

She had no sense of values and never could discriminate in any way, either with human beings or commodities. Then too, she utterly lacked determination and perseverance. These traits were a great handicap throughout her life. Yet, on the other hand,, she could sit down and in a short time, write a poem which was a joy and inspiration to read. Once she casually posted some specimens of her work to Columbia University and immediately received an invitation to migrate there without delay. She left me to go, but never reached America, because of financial difficulties. As usual, her lack of discrimination prompted her to join a coloured jazz troupe with headquarters in Berlin. She bitterly regretted her decision in after years.

Meanwhile, her considerable literary talents continued to develop by leaps and bounds. She expressed herself chiefly in poems. Knowing that Cambridge, a suburb of Boston, was the supreme educational centre of the States as it sheltered Harvard University, with its Female section, Radcliffe College, I took some of her poems to a friend there. She was so impressed that she sent them to the editor of the Atlanta Monthly. To our great surprise, three of them were accepted and immediately appeared in this very literary American publication. Their appearance resulted in an offer for Gladys to enter Radcliffe College at once, but through my dear daughter's own action, another splendid opportunity was lost.

Life did not seem quite fair to her somehow and I must take my share of the blame. She wanted both her parents. Had her father lived., I know she would have been his right hand. Her optimism however always came to the rescue as in this poignant little verse:

With Pa, I feel so lonesome, 'cause
    Mammy she ain't there.
With Ma, I feel like crying', cause of
    Daddy's empty chair.
Then when I start a-straining at
    the leash to go away,
Ma wants a savoury omelette -- so I
    cook it and I stay.
Pa respects a person’s feelings an'
    he up and says to me
That as an individual, I had certain
    rights you see,
And he'd not encroach upon them;
    Thus we struck a friendship true,
That will go on enduring so long as
    skies are blue.
And when he says quite casual,
    "Would you like some ginger beer?"
I just unpack my box again and say,
    "Yes, Daddy dear!"

She was a patriot through and through, as her poem "My Africa" will show. In this she was her father’s own daughter, because undoubtedly, the Honourable Casely spent all his time, his talents, his energy and money on laying the fundamental structure of self-government in the Gold Coast, which is now almost an accomplished fact.

MY AFRICA

Oh land of tropic splendour, engirded by
    the seas,
Whose forest-crested mountains lift heads
    unto the breeze;
May patriotism render its praise on sea
    and shore,
Till Africa, great Africa becomes renowned
    once more,

May God walk on her mountains and in her
    plains be peace,
May laughter fill her valleys and may her
    sons increase:
Restored be strength and beauty and visions
    of the past;
Till Africa comes once again into her own
    at last.

Destroy race prejudices, break down the
    bars of old.
Let each man deem his brother of far more
    wealth than gold,
Till tribes be merged together to form one
    perfect whole,
With Africa its beating pulse and Africa
    its soul.

O Lord as we pass onward, through evolution
    rise,
May we retain clear vision, that truth may
    light our eyes,
That joy and peace and laughter be ours
    instead of tears,
Till Africa gains strength and calm,
    progressing through the years.

From Mother and Daughter: Memoirs and Poems. By Adelaide and Gladys Casely-Hayford. Ed. Lucilda Hunter. The Sierra Leone University Press, 1983.
Source:http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/casely/profile.htm
http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/gladys-hayford-was-harlem-writing-influence

Additional Poems by Gladys May Casley-Hayford

Dawn
Dawn for the rich, the artistic and the
    wise,
Is beauty splashed on canvas of the skies,
The brushes being the clouds that float
    the blue,
Dipped in the breeze for paint, and washed
    by dew.
But dawn to those who bathe the night in
    tears,
Squeeze sustenance from hard unyielding
    years,
Is full of strange imaginings and fears.
The dawn renews the terror of the day
Where harassing uncertainties hold sway;
And pain held in surcease through brief
    hours of rest
Roars up its head in its unceasing quest
To wear out body, brain and mind and soul
Till death is a resolve, and death a goal.
For those life holds no beauty, dawn no
    light,
For day is hopeless, dawn is struck with
    blight.
Analysis:
The poem "Dawn" is very sad as it show how a good day for one person can be so sad for another this is not upbeat and having the key of togetherness like most of the things she writes in the Harlem renaissance style. This theme of continuing to better them is a theme of the Harlem Renaissance. Many people may think that death would be a good verses life but is just a pretend resolution. Also, the African Americans were being mistreated, even the popular artists and musicians. That "living through another day" is the key. The poem has lots of imagery that shows how bad life is but it shows how they are still living every day despite the problems. The connotative meaning that comes with dawn are things like beginning, and that is what the people that have pains are searching for that new beginning. It is hopeless, but they keep fighting.
The theme of the poem seems to be hopelessness and difference as shown in and in the words like "terrors" and "uncertainty", there are still other messages in the poem. Hayford shows how in the first stanza life is good for the rich whites with “dawn for the rich the artistic and wise.” However, the speaker also shows us the pain of the African Americans seeing another dawn, and how they see it as a symbol of sadness and how for day is hopeless dawn is struck with blight they feel that they cannot get any word in and they cannot compete for a good life. The African Americans only know fatigued, and hunger, etc. They need to just keep going and show they are as good as everyone else.

Rainy Season Love Song
Out of the tense awed darkness, my Frangepani comes:
Whilst the blades of Heaven flash round her, and the roll of
    thunder drums,
My young heart leaps and dances, with exquisite joy and pain,
As, storms within and storms without, I meet my love in the
    rain.
"The rain is in love with you darling; it's kissing you
    everywhere,
Rain pattering over your small brown feet, rain in your curly
    hair;
Rain in the vale that your twin breasts make, as in delicate
    mounds they rise;
I hope there is rain in your heart, Frangepani, as rain half fills
    your eyes."
Into my hands she cometh, and the lightning of my desire
Flashes and leaps about her, more subtle than Heaven's fire;
"The lightning's in love with you darling; it is loving you so
    much
That its warm electricity in you pulses wherever I may touch.
When I kiss your lips and your eyes, and your hands like twin
    flowers apart,
I know there is lightning, Frangepani, deep in the depths of your
    heart."
The thunder rumbles about us, and I feel its triumphant note
As your warm arms steal around me, and I kiss your dusky
    throat;
"The thunder's in love with you darling; it hides its power in
    your breast,
And I feel it stealing o'er me as I lie in your arms at rest.
I sometimes wonder, beloved, when I drink from life's proffered
    bowl,
Whether there's thunder hidden in the innermost parts of your
    soul."
Out of my arms she stealeth, and I am left alone with the night,
Void of all sounds save peace, the first faint glimmer of light.
Into some quiet, hushed stillness my Frangepani goes.
Is there peace within the peace without? Only the darkness
    knows.
From Caroling Dusk, ed. Countée Cullen (1927)
My Lips
My lips were buds of innocence until you
    came one day
And drew a fountain from my heart and
    careless went your way,
My lips were hungry, eager flowers curved
    in ecstatic bliss
To gather the soft sweetness of my next
    lover's kiss.
My lips were luscious ripeness of a crushed
    and poisoned vine
When you bent your lips upon me and my soft
    ones clung to thine
My lips are withering fading flowers, full
    weary unto death
Dew without moisture is thy kiss; wind
    without heat thy breath.
A fugitive tear wells up from my eyes and
    is secretly, silently shed.
Are lips that once were innocent, so
    withered, so parched, so dead?
Realisation
I did not know that you had the power to
    hurt me,
I think I must have bequeathed it to you
    unknowingly
One starlit night when I read the secret in
    your eyes.
Did you read mine? I know now that you did.
Use your power gently, beloved, for in your
    hands it becomes a merciless whip.
I did not know that you had the power to
    make me happy,
I think I must have bequeathed it to you
    unconsciously
In the warm darkness when your lips met mine
    and pressed their weight of love on them.
Did your soul leap to meet mine? I know now
    that it did.
Use your power gently, beloved, lest in your
    hands it grows too great for me.
The Cart-Horse
When blue becomes intense and dusks to grey,
Grey unto darkness shrouding the worn day,
I like to lie awake and gaze upon the
    cloudless sky
And hear the song of the cart-wheels as the
old cart-horse goes by.
The squeaking boards,
The rusty chains,
The clank of steel and brass,
The intermittent hoof-beats as the old
    cart-horse goes past.
When darkness turns to grey again and grey
    to light,
When little wrens awake prepared for flight,
I like to lie awake with the warm sun
    streaming in,
And try to understand the tune the good old
    cart-wheels sing.
The squeaking boards,
The rusty chains,
The clank of steel and brass;
Oh, I love to hear the music of the cart-
    horse going past!
The Chief of Kitchom
Down to the Government Wharf
The Chief of Kitchom came,
Direct descendant of the line
That reigns in Kitchom's name.
His face was like a hawk,
His eyes were bright and keen,
His mouth, a twist of irony,
His smile, swift cut and clean.
His pride sat on his brow
Like broad philactery,
His royalty like bands of steel
Girt round his dignity.
His gown was gara blue,
His red fez bound with white;
Nested each charm and prayer encased
In leather from our sight.
He looked a tower of strength,
His muscles easy played,
Rippled beneath his jet black skin
With every step he essayed.
His fingers gleamed with rings,
His feet were sandal-shod,
Girdles and chains hung round his neck,
His strong hand held a sword.
Thus Kitchom's naked blade
Gleamed in the setting sun,
And Kitchom's drums with throbbing beats
Mingled their tones as one.
Thirty slim, dark brown girls
stepped to the water's side,
'Behold the great-chief's wives,’ they said,
For each had been a bride.
A great crowd pressed about
Whilst from the boat's shaped stern,
Soft music poured from balanges
As water from an urn.
Put out, away to the west,
We breast the open main;
The Chief of Kitchom has been from home
And now returns again.
The boat is a tiny speck,
We stand on the quay alone;
While the sun breaks its red aureole
O'er the Chief that is going home.
[gara = indigo dye]

 Children's Poems by Casely-Hayford

The Vulture
The vulture's the untidiest bird that I have
    ever seen;
His nails are always dirty, his mouth is
    seldom clean.
He wears his waistcoat crooked, then he
    forgets his tie.
He wears his top coat inside out, and winks
    a lazy eye,
Then ogles up with flattery, whenever you
    pass by.
One sees from the whole jumble of clothing
    that he wears,
He sleeps without undressing, and he never
    says his prayers.
The vulture never has the time for a
    refreshing bath,
But muddles through its filth and dirt and
    never has a laugh.
The vulture's the unhappiest bird that ever
    lived, I ween.
No home, no friends, no people, and a heart
    unclean, unclean.
Nancy
"Nancy, Nancy, where are you going?"
"Down to the brook to wash my clothes."
"How will you know the direction, Nancy?"
"I shall hear the brook singing and follow
    my nose."
"'What will you do when you got there, Nancy?"
"Wade into the stream, when I've climbed
    down the slope."
"And what will you do in the stream then,
    Nancy?"
"Soak the clothes well; then I’ll rub them
    with soap."
"But what will you do when you've soaped
    them, Nancy?"
"I shall beat them with my patta; I shall
    rub them,
Dub them, scrub them and bleach them in the
    Sun!"
"Then what will you do when you've done that,
    Nancy?"
"Rinse them and dry them -- then my work is
    done!"
[Patta = A kind of short paddle used for beating clothes clean]
The Ant
I met the daintiest little ant,
Her waist was slim and narrow --
    "I wonder if you've bones?" I asked,
    "And are they filled with marrow?
    Where are they situated,
    Is what I'd like to know?
    And are they lubricated
    Like people's bones or no?
    Surely you must have a skull,
    Protection for your brains,
    To know the rate and the exchange
    Of market goods and gains?"
But by the time I'd finished
My wonderful oration,
My dainty ant, distinctly bored,
Had changed her situation.
The Lizard
I met a handsome lizard upon the gravel walk,
And so I stopped politely and asked him for
    a talk;
He nodded once, he nodded twice to make his
    meaning plain,
Glanced up at me with wee bright eyes and
    nodded once again.
I said, "You live on flies. Do you eat them
    alive or dead?
And when you eat them, do they still keep
    buzzing in your head?"
He shrugged, then very haughtily inclined to
    me his ear
Insinuating it was time I made my meaning
    clear.
"I'm sorry," I began, "but please, this
    question if I may;
Do you, Sir, shake your head for no and nod
    your head for aye?"
He glanced at me with cold disdain, ignoring
    me, until
He slowly and deliberately climbed on the
    windowsill
He turned, he nodded once, twice, thrice to
    make his meaning plain,
Glanced up at me, with wee bright eyes and
    nodded once again.
Questions
Said Baby Rat to Father Rat, "Why are you
    doing that?"
"To make another tunnel, son, away from
    Pussycat."
Said Baby Rat to Father Rat. "Say, Pa,
    whatever for?"
"Tradition says of exits, a rat should have
    quite four."
Said Baby Rat to Father Rat, "There's a
    fragrance on the breeze."
"It's nothing much, my son" Pa said, "but
    good odiferous cheese."
"Say, Pa, are you a carpenter?" enquired
    Baby Rat;
"My whiskers! What impertinence? Take
    this -- and that -- and that."
The squealing, yells and scampering feet,
    had their own tale to tell.
Pa Rat was thrashing Baby Rat, and he
    deserved it well.
The Leaf
"I am still alive, I cling to my parent
    branch,"
A young leaf was crying.
    "I am still
                Flying,
                        Flying,
                                FLYING."
But the night wind caught her and held her
    soft sighing;
He had chilled her heart.
She was
                Dying,
                            Dying,
                                        Dying.

 http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/casely/childrens.htm

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