Poetry
3:00 pm
Fri December 13, 2013

Poem: Nelson Mandela, 'An Ordinary Man'

Originally published on Fri December 13, 2013 5:56 pm

On Sunday, South Africans will lay to rest the remains of Nelson Mandela.

The legacy left by the activist and political prisoner who transformed a nation and became president is being remembered by politicians, historians and artists.

Among them is Thabiso Mohare, a young South African spoken word artist who performs under the name Afurakan. He wrote a poem for NPR about Mandela called "An Ordinary Man."


"An Ordinary Man"

In the end he died an ordinary man
Only rich in wrinkles from where the spirit had been
It would be the saddest days
And we watched the world weep
For a giant bigger than myths
A life owned by many
Now free as the gods

Some cried as though tomorrow was lost
Some celebrated, questioned freedom and its cost
Some seized the chance to stand on his shoulders
While others cursed his grave and scorned wisdom of the elders

Stadiums were littered
And those in the know spoke their fill
Mourners paid tribute
Monarch to President made the bill
But still
Where do I we begin
In telling our children where these old bones have been
And that we as next of kin
Have inherited his struggle
And he forever lives through our skin

And on his last day
When the earth reclaims what's hers
We will surrender his body but reignite his spirit
We will write all we know and let history read it to our children
And remind both scholar and critic
That there once was a prisoner of freedom
Who gave the world back its heart
But in the end
He died an ordinary man.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

Nelson Mandela will be buried on Sunday in his childhood village. For the past week, people the world over have celebrated the man who transformed South Africa and inspired the global community with his courage and selflessness. We asked South African poet Thabiso Mohare to write a few words remembering Mandela. He composed this poem, called "An Ordinary Man."

THABISO MOHARE: In the end, he died an ordinary man, only rich in wrinkles from where the spirit had been. It would be the saddest days, and we watched the world weep for a giant bigger than myths, and a life owned by many, now free as the gods.

Some cried as though tomorrow was lost. Some celebrated, questioned freedom and its cost. Some seized the chance to stand on his shoulders, while others cursed his grave and scorned wisdom of the elders.

Stadiums were littered, and those in the know spoke their fill. Mourners paid tribute. Monarch to president made the bill. But still, where do I we begin in telling our children where these old bones have been, and that we, as the next of kin, have inherited his struggle, and he forever lives through our skin?

And on his last day, when the Earth reclaims what's hers, we will surrender his body, but reignite his spirit. We will write all we know and let history read it to our children and remind both scholar and critic that there once was a prisoner of freedom who gave the world his heart back. But in the end, he died an ordinary man.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

That's South African poet Thabiso Mohare, reading his poem titled "An Ordinary Man." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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