Nelson Mandela died on Friday, 5 December 2013 after a period of illness.
One of the most powerful tributes came from Maya Angelou, the American poet, writer, actress and civil-rights activist who performed this tribute poem for Nelson Mandela, “His Day is Done”:
His day is done.
The news came on the wings of a wind
Reluctant to carry its burden.
Nelson Mandela’s day is done.
The news, expected and still unwelcome
Reached us in the United States and suddenly
Our world became somber.
Our skies were leadened
His day is done.
We see you, South African people
Standing speechless at the slamming
Of that final door
Through which no traveler returns.
Our spirits reach out to you
Bantu, Zulu, Xhosa, Boer
We think of you
And your Son of Africa,
Your One More Wonder of the World.
We send our souls to you
As you reflect upon
Your David armed with
A mere stone facing down
The Mighty Goliath,
Man of strength Gideon,
Although born into the brutal embrace of Apartheid
Scarred by the savage atmosphere of racism,
In the bloody maws of South African dungeons.
Would the man survive?
Could the man survive?
His answer strengthened men and women
Around the world.
In the Alamo in San Antonio, Texas
On the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco,
In Chicago’s loop
In New Orleans Mardi Gras
In New York City’s Times Square
We watched as the hope of Africa sprang
Through the prison’s doors
His stupendous heart in tact
His gargantuan will
Hale and hearty
He had not been crippled by brutes
Nor was his passion for the rights
Of human beings
Diminished by twenty-seven years of imprisonment
Even here in America
We felt the cool
Refreshing breeze of freedom
When Nelson Mandela took
The seat of the Presidency
In his Country
Where formally he was not even allowed to vote
We were enlarged by tears of pride
As we saw Nelson Mandela’s
Former prison guards
Invited, courteously, by him to watch
From the front rows
We saw him accept
The world’s award in Norway
With the grace and gratitude
Of the Solon in Ancient Roman Courts
And the confidence of African Chiefs
From ancient royal stools.
No sun outlasts its sunset
But will rise again
And bring the dawn
Yes, Mandela’s day is done,
Yet we, his inheritors
Will open the gates wider
For reconciliation and we will respond
Generously to the cries
Of the Blacks and Whites,
The Asian, the Hispanic,
The poor who live piteously
On the floor of our planet
He has offered us understanding
We will not withhold forgiveness
Even from those who do not ask
Nelson Mandela’s day is done
We confess it in tearful voices
Yet we lift our own to say
Thank You, Our Gideon.
Thank You, Our David.
Our great courageous man
We will not forget you
We will not dishonor you
We will remember and be glad
That you lived among us
That you taught us
That you loved us
The text for her poetic tribute can be downloaded here.
If you have not heard of Maya Angelou before can I recommend that you watch her perform her own poem “Still I Rise” which Nelson Mandela recited at his presidential inauguration in 1994:
Here is the published text of the poem which is different from her presentation in the video.
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.
You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.
Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
The text for this powerful poem can be downloaded here
Both powerful tributes to the human spirit.