“Vanity” depicting regret
This is a poem of regret. Diop reveals that the speakers only realized their mistakes years after their fathers who had warned them had gone. It concerns the African experience with the European invasion. When the Europeans came, the older people knew they did not come with all good. They warned their children not to give in to their tricks but the children did not listen. Now, the truth is revealing itself. Things are not getting better, but worse by the day.
If we tell, gently, gently
All that we shall one day have to tell,
Who then will hear our voices without laughter,
Sad complaining voices of beggars
Who indeed will hear them without laughter?
In “Vanity”, it comes to a point the persona becomes so pathetic with growing self-pity that they become humble with regret. They now behave gentle as they tell their sad stories. It happens in the cause of life when they realise their mistakes and begin to call for help like beggars. But at this time, no one is willing to share their predicament. In fact they will be laughed at instead of getting help.
If we cry roughly of our torments
Ever increasing from the start of things
What eyes will watch our large mouths
Shaped by the laughter of big children
What eyes will watch our large mouth?
They now see so well how they have missed it perhaps out of their stubbornness that they now cry out as they are being tormented. There is no hope of a better future because it seems the sad experience is increasing always. Because it is their fault, they now insult themselves as they refer to themselves as people with large mouths. Though they are no longer children but they cry like children and their mouths look really large. Imagine an adult crying like a child. It is all vanity.
What hearts will listen to our clamouring?
What ear to our pitiful anger
Which grows in us like a tumour
In the black depth of our plaintive throats?
No matter how hard they try to attract pity, nobody will be willing to give them any attention; hence, “what hearts will listen to our clamouring?” they shout in agony but no heart is touched to help them. They speak in anger but no one is willing to listen- vanity.
When our Dead comes with their Dead
When they have spoken to us in their clumsy voices;
Just as our ears were deaf
To their cries, to their wild appeals
Just as our ears were deaf
They did not listen to their ancestors
Their ancestors had warned many years before they were gone, about the looming danger, but the children had given deaf ears. The older people had pleaded even to the extent of crying but this people won’t listen. Now they are in trouble, and there is no one to turn to; nowhere to run.
They have left on the earth their cries,
In the air, on the water,
where they have traced their signs for us blind deaf and unworthy Sons
Who see nothing of what they have made
In the air, on the water, where they have traced their signs
The ancestors have done all that is needed to make the people understand. Because of how clearly and how vividly they have sounded the warnings, it could be said that they wrote on water, air and everywhere. But the people refused to listen. Their stubbornness was like blindness and deafness to all the warnings. Now they regretfully consider themselves as “unworthy Sons” of their parents.
And since we did not understand the dead
Since we have never listened to their cries
If we weep, gently, gently
If we cry roughly to our torments
What heart will listen to our clamouring,
What ear to our sobbing hearts?
They bear the consequence of their actions
Now they just have to bear the consequence of their actions. If only they have listened to the pleas and cautioning of their parents, they would have survived the present predicament. Because they did not listen, even if they cry who will listen? They have lost the opportunity. It is too late to cry when the head is off. It is all vanity.