Maya Angelou’s Poetic Tribute to Nelson Mandela

In our generation, there are very few people who have received the same worldwide recognition and respect as Nelson Mandela. His recent death in the past week caused me to be inquisitive of his life; and I had to sit and ask myself, “How much do I really know about him at all?”. I believe that the average person doesn’t know his true life story, nor the real story of how he became all that he was: respected politician, philanthropist, President of South Africa, South African anti-apartheid revolutionary, and Nobel Peace Prize winner. Well, at least I know that I don’t know that much about him; except for the fact that he was imprisoned “unjustly” (maybe) for years and then was released, and afterward became the President of South Africa. And, that is very little; because if you can sum up a person’s life in one sentence then that means you don’t really know their life at all.

The recent death of Nelson Mandela stuck a cord in hearts all around the world. It was like the whole world had to stop for a moment and respect his absence. And that says a lot.

Anyway… as I was researching the life of Nelson Mandela I came across this beautiful poem written by Maya Angelou called, “His Day Is Done”, written as a tribute to his life. You have to realize that her words about him should be held in greater respect, because she knew him personally; I read that Maya Angelou first met Nelson Mandela before he was imprisoned in 1962. Nevertheless, I read her poem and I loved it, so I have to share it. I hope you take the time to read it, and in reading receive a new perspective on the life of Nelson Mandela and what he meant to our generation.

His day is done.
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 father, 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.

Your man of strength, Gideon, emerging triumphant.

Although born into the brutal embrace of Apartheid, scarred by the savage atmosphere of racism, unjustly imprisoned 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 intact, 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 Presidency in his country where formerly 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 his inauguration.

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 it 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 Blacks and Whites, Asians, Hispanics, 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.

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, and that you loved us all.

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