April 11: Kevin Young's "Ash Wednesday"

Kevin Young’s Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels, is an epic retelling in verse of the mutiny by fifty-three Africans, illegally sold in Havana, on board the slave ship Amistad in 1839. As Young reminds us in a preface, “The rebels, mostly men from the Mendi people of Sierra Leone, killed the captain and the cook but spared their masters to help steer toward the rising sun and Africa. For nearly two months, the would-be slaveowners rerouted by night until a navy brig captured the ship off the coast of Long Island.” While the Mendi were in jail, white abolitionists took up their famous case, preparing them for trial by teaching them English and converting them to Christianity. In this musical, multi-faceted retelling, we hear first from James Covey, the 20-year-old African interpreter for the Mendi, and then from the Mendi themselves, whose letters and speeches now sound exquisitely American (“All we want is make us free,” one writes to John Quincy Adams), but the centerpiece of the book is a libretto spoken/sung by Cinque, the leader of the rebellion, whose voice we hear below.


Ash Wednesday

Once I thought everything
has a soul

Then I learnt only
the fool fears the tree—

It is empty—

So too the wind
that sends it which

way & that—

Now I know God
is such a wind

from which we
are rent—

The heavens take
the tree

from the tree—
leaf by leaf—

Being gone, taken,
is what means Heaven—

It is full—of wings—

A music of what
is missing

since nothing
but men have souls

tho, it appears,
not many.

Learn more about Ardency by Kevin Young

Listen to Kevin Young read “Ash Wednesday”

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