Resources for Loss

“For A.L.” by Douglas Livingstone, contributed by Kathleen Coleman (Course Head, 2023)

Weep, O weep, you Zulu hills:
A matchless Man is dead.
His pulse, his lungs, his brain are dead.
Weep, O weep, you Zulu hills
As this new drought appears.

Weep, O weep, you Zulu hills:
Your Nobel Son is dead.
His arms, his legs, his hands are dead.
Weep, O weep, you Zulu hills
Dry cemeteries of tears.

Weep, O weep, you Zulu hills:
A might Chief is dead.
His eyes, his ears, his mouth: all dead.
Weep, O weep, you Zulu hills
Of bitter aloe spears.

Rejoice, rejoice you Zulu hills:
Such a One is never dead –
His heart, his mind, his soul: not dead.
Rejoice, rejoice, green Zulu hills:
Feel how his Spirit nears.

This poem, composed in Douglas Livingstone’s characteristic five-line stanzas, was written upon the death of the anti-apartheid leader, Albert Luthuli (hence the “A.L.” of the title). Luthuli, born in 1898, was elected chief of the Umvoti River Reserve at Groutville in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, in 1935 and became a leader of the anti-apartheid movement, serving as the President-General of the African National Congress from 1952 until his death. Like Mahatma Gandhi, he was dedicated to peaceful resistance against racial segregation and injustice. In 1960 he was awarded the Nobel Prize.

Livingstone’s poem is built around the refrain, “Weep, O weep, you Zulu hills,” repeated twice in each of the first three stanzas, where Luthuli is characterized successively as Man, Son, and Chief, his organs, limbs, and facial features are all pronounced dead, and the natural environment is identified with drought, dryness, and bitter aloe. In the fourth stanza, the refrain is altered to convey the opposite instruction, “Rejoice, rejoice you Zulu hills.” When it is repeated, after Livingstone replaces his references to Luthuli’s dead body with the conviction that his heart, mind, and soul endure, the hills acquire the adjective “green,” transmuting the dryness of the mourning environment into verdure and fruitfulness. This poem is a reminder that the good that people have done lives on after them. We lose them physically, but their influence survives.

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