Under The Clear Moon
A literary giant, Mengistu Lemma was born in Harar, where his father was the aleqa in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.He studied religious music and classical poetry or qene.He completed his secondary education in Addis Ababa at Haile Selassie I Secondary School.He then went to London where he studied at the Regent Street Polytechnic, London School of Economics, and University of London.He participated in the Ethiopian Students Society and served as editor of its publication, The Lion Cub.
After returning to Ethiopia, his first job was in the Ethiopian Civil Aviation Department.Mengistu moved to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, served in New Delhi, and returned to the Ministry as director general of the division of social and economic affairs in the United Nations Department.He then became secretary general of the Amharic Language Academy in the Ministry of Education.A good socialist, he stayed on there after the Derg seized power (1974) and later moved to the Ministry of Culture.
Mengistu’s real love was literature, poetry, and play-writing.Always writing in Amharic, he is especially known for his plays Marriage by Abduction and The Marriage of Unequals.Although his early work tended to be comedies, after the 1974 revolution he published more serious plays and poems.He died in Addis Ababa on 27 July 1988. Here is one of his poems as translated by Michael Coke.
Under the clear moon deep in the night,
While like the star her eyes shone bright,
‘Kiss her!Kiss her!Embrace her!’ they said;
His purpose was this, and the youth was compelled-
Her waist and her neck in his arms he held,
And his lips drew up to her mouth in dread.
Although her pointed thorn-like breasts were firm,
He felt her slap across his temples burn.
As her whip-like hand began to fight-
Under the clear moon, deep in the night:
Woe to the beginner,and to the learner woe,
Oh, to carry out orders, and advice to know!
Source, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African studies, University of London,1972, xxxv, p706.
(Biography,Historical Dictionary of Ethiopia, David H.Shinn and Thomas P.Ofcansky, 2004)