Derek Walcott – Eulogy to W.H. Auden

11 February 2014, 7:29 am

Eulogy to W.H. Auden

(Read at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine,
New York, October 17, 1983)

I

Assuredly, that fissured face
is wincing deeply, and must loathe
our solemn rubbish,
frown on our canonizing farce
as self-enhancing, in lines both
devout and snobbish.

Yet it may spare us who convene
against its wish in varnished pews
this autumn evening;
as maps remember countries, mien
defines a man, and his appears
at our beseeching.

Each granite feature, cracked and plain
as the ground in Giotto, is
apt to this chancel,
the wry mouth bracketed with pain,
the lizard eye whose motto is:
Opposites cancel.

For further voices will delight
in all that left the body of
the mortal Auden
centuries after candlelit
Kirchstetten freed its tenant of
Time and its burden;

for what we cherish is as much
our own fate, stricken with the light
of his strange calling,
and, once we leave this darkened church
and stand on pavements in the night
to see a falling

leaf like a seraph sign the arc
made by a streetlamp, and move on
to selfish futures,
our footsteps echoing in the dark
street have, for their companion,
his shadow with us.

Autumn is when small wars begin
drunken offensives; the skies spin
with reeling scanners;
but you, who left each feast at nine,
knew war, like free verse, is a sign
of awful manners.

Tonight, as every dish deploys
from sonar peaks its amplified
fireside oration,
we keep yours to ourselves, a voice
internal, intricately wired
as our salvation.

II

In your flat world of silence
the fissures made by speech
close. A sandpiper signs
the margin of the beach.

Soon, from whistling tundras,
geese following earth’s arc
will find an accurate Indies
in the lime-scented dark.

Our conjugations, Master,
are still based on the beat
of wings that gave their cast to
our cuneiform alphabet,

though shredders hum with rage through
the neon afternoon,
and dials guide earth’s marriage
to an irascible moon;

not needling Arcturus,
nor Saturn’s visible hum
have, on their disks, a chorus
of epithalamium;

the farther the space station
from the Newtonian self,
the more man’s conversation
increases with himself.

Once, past a wooden vestry,
down still colonial streets,
the hoisted chords of Wesley
were strong as miners’ throats;

in treachery and in union,
despite your Empire’s wrong,
I made my first communion
there, with the English tongue.

It was such dispossession
that made possession joy,
when, strict as Psalm or Lesson,
I learnt your poetry.

III

Twilight. Grey pigeons batten
on St. Mark’s slate. A face
startles us with its pattern
of sunlit fire escapes.

Your slippered shadow pities
the railings where it moves,
brightening with Nunc Dimittis
the city it still loves.

O craft, that strangely chooses
one mouth to speak for all,
O Light no dark refuses,
O Space impenetrable,

fix, among constellations,
the spark we honour here,
whose planetary patience
repeats this earthly prayer

that the City may be Just,
and humankind be kind.
A barge moves, caked with rust
in the East River wind,

and the mouths of all the rivers
are still, and the estuaries
shine with the wake that gives the
craftsman the gift of peace.

(from Derek Walcott, The Arkansas Testament, Faber&Faber, 1987, 1988)


A Manuscript belonging to a girl whose body tasted so sweet – Aslan Abidin

5 February 2014, 7:52 pm

A MANUSCRIPT BELONGING TO A GIRL WHOSE BODY TASTED SO SWEET – Aslan Abidin (transl. from Indonesian by Mikael Johani)

—circa 1789
what could be crueler than our own beaches?
they ran many ships aground, stuffed with
colonialists, missionaries and rats.

—they once greeted speelman* and
palakka** who came to destroy
the kingdoms of gowa and tallo.—***

i remembered this
beach, which has never ceased to
produce traitors. i was born
on the sand of this beach
that night, before i said:
“your body is as sweet as aren juice.”#

i got drunk on your body,
i could not find my way home.

“it destroyed me, trying not to remember you,”
you said one morning, as you were packing to leave.

—dutch flotillas came
to take away slaves, to sell them
alongside pigs at the cape of good hope.—

then foot soldiers brought you to baron
van reede tot de parkelaar, exiled ##
far away at the palace of the surakarta sunan.###
the senior resident loved to read the bible
while you sucked him off.

what could be crueler than our own beaches?
these ports have destroyed our bay
these ports have forced us to say too many goodbyes
these ports have shed many tears.
“it destroys me, trying to forget you,”
you said, as if suffering can have an end.

Makassar, 2008-2010

Notes
* Cornelis Speelman, governor of colonial Dutch East Indies, 1681-1684
** Arung Palakka, Speelman’s Buginese ally.
*** Gowa, Tallo: places in Southwestern Sulawesi (formerly known as Celebes), where Makassar is situated. The rebel, Sheikh Yusuf, as well as many slaves were brought from there to the Cape, thus Macassar in the Cape, where Yusuf was buried.
# aren – feathered palm
## Van Reede tot de Parkeler – Dutch colonial merchant
### Surakarta Sunan – Sunan = ruler

Poem taken from What’s Poetry – Antologi Puisi, Henk Publica 2012, pp.240-241


Love Poem – Kelwyn Sole

2 February 2013, 1:28 pm

LOVE POEM

I am a coward. Away from a suffering homeland
I feel very little and can tell you even less.
What would you need to know? That the sun squeezes up
like a pip in a pale blue bowl, regularly? I yawn
and rub gum from my eyes as I watch it.
There is the stumble of lightning
in the distance.

I build myself a house in the desert,
white and tiny, where birds flirt and tangle
and thunder on the tin roof: here I weld poems
under the vast sky that mocks me,
kick sloughed adders’ skins out of the way,
get drunk, fall monotously in love.
My thighs wrinkle into shadow

I cannot think of a precision of ideas
brighter than lovers’ teeth, and undending generation
from their dark cavities.
It’s not that I fear touch – it’s easy to fall in love -
it is easy to fall in love…

Everything is quiet in the village. Girls weep over
unforseen pregnancy and take brutal husbands.
Their speech, mine, is full of consequences.
All this has happened before.

We find time for beauty simply in the violence of the rain.
People die quickly from alcohol
or being stood upon by snakes:
these and adultery our only pastimes,
the burgeoning pumpkins we tend. And shudder
at the thought we may already have surrendered.
To what, nobody knows.

Kelwyn Sole, The Blood Of Our Silence (Ravan Press, 1987)


Derek Walcott, A Far Cry from Africa

17 December 2012, 11:23 am

A Far Cry from Africa

A wind is ruffling the tawny pelt
Of Africa. Kikuyu, quick as flies,
Batten upon  the bloodstreams of the veld.
Corpses are scattered through a paradise.
Only the worm, colonel of carrion, cries:
“Waste no compassion on these separate dead!”
Statistics justify and scholars seize
The salients of colonial policy.
What is that to the white child hacked in bed?
To savages, expendable as Jews?

Threshed out by beaters, the long rushes break
In a white dust of ibises whose cries
Have wheeled since civilisation’s dawn
From the parched river or beast teeming plain.
The violence of beast on beast is read
As natural law, but upright man
Seeks his divinity by inflicting pain.
Delirious as these worried beasts, his wars
Dance to the tightened carcass of a drum,
While he calls courage still that native dread
Of the white peace contracted by the dead.

Again brutish necessity wipes its hands
Upon the napkin of a dirty cause, again
A waste of our compassion, as with Spain,
The gorilla wrestles with the superman.
I who am poisoned with the blood of both,
Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?
I who have cursed
The drunken officer of British rule, how choose
Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?
Betray them both, or give back what they give?
How can I face such slaughter and be cool?
How can I turn from Africa and live?

(Derek Walcott, from Collected Poems, 1948-1984 (1986/1992); originally from In A Green Night (1962))


It has been such a long road – Alfred T. Qabula

6 November 2012, 8:31 am

This poem is one of the last pieces composed by Alfred T. Qabula (1942-2002), a poet from the trade union movement in Durban in the 1970s and early 1980s, famous for “Praise poem to FOSATU” and as one of the poets of Black Mamba Rising (1986). “It has been such a long road” was published in World Literature Today in 1996 and it is thus interesting to note this early critique of former comrades, now become moneyed government functionaries, from a worker and trade unionist’s perspective. (Here is an obituary and commemoration of Qabula by Ari Sitas.)

It has been such a long road

It has been a long road here
with me, marking the same rhythms
everyday.
Gentlemen, pass me by
Ladies, pass me by
Each one greets me, “eita!”
and adds:
“comrade, I will see you on my return
as you see I am in a hurry
but do not fear, I am with you and
understand your plight.”

“Do not worry
no harm will greet you
as long as I am alive.
We shall make plans with the guys
and we for sure will solve your problems.
You trust me don’t you?
I remember how hard you struggled
and your contribution is prized.
In fact everyone knows how hard it all had turned
when you were fighting for workers and for the community’s emancipation.”

Nothing lasts forever
and our friends now show us their backs
and they avoid eye-contact
pretending they never saw us.
Even those whom by chance our eyes did meet
would rush and promise and leave behind
a “see you later.”

“What is your phone number comrade?
I will call you after I finish with the planning
committee on this or that of the legislature
and then we shall work something out for you, be calm.”
Days have passed, weeks have passed
years have also passed
with us waiting like the ten virgins in the bible.

I remember the old days
when we had become used to calling them
from the other side of the river.
Some of them were in the caves and crevices
hiding when we called
but we hollered loud
until they heard and they responded to our voices.
As they came to us dust sprang up
and spiralled high all the way up to the sky.
When the dust of our struggle settled, there was no one there.
The dust covered my body
it cursed me into a pathetic fate
disguising me, making me unrecognisable
and whoever recognises me
is judged to be deluded, deceived
because the dust of their feet still covers my body.

And now we, the abominations, spook them
as the dust of their feet covers our bodies.
And they run away
each one of them saying: “hold up the sun
dear friend, doesn’t the fog cover each and every mountain?”

Although you don’t know us, we know ourselves:
we are the movable ladders
that take people up towards the skies,
left out in the open for the rain
left with the memories of teargas, panting for breath.

Winter and summer come and go and leave us the same.
The wind or the breeze has not changed us. Here is a summary of our praises -
the iron that doesn’t bend, even
Geneva has failed to bend it,
the small piece of bath-soap about which
meetings and conspiracies were hatched
to catch and destroy it.
It still continues to clean men and women
who desire to be cleaned.

It has been a long road here
see you again my friends
when you really need us
when the sun clears the fog from your eyes.

Alfred T Qabula, 1942-2002


Three from Kelwyn Sole, The Blood of Our Silence

5 December 2011, 8:52 am

The following three poems are from Sole’s debut, The Blood of Our Silence (Ravan, 1987).

SEXUAL POLITICS

Tony, a friend, clinches
many a warm night
with the right phrase from Althusser

and Mohammed munches women
with his monologues
for dinner

and melting hearts
with judicious use
of Cabral and/or Laclau

I get to parts
a stated lust
never would allow

*

Barbara beds those who organise
word uprisings in her kitchen

Trish makes love to unionists
and Mpeo, to a theoretician

their alliances are swift, and follow
Marx’s writhings on class snuggle

when social forces lock, they know
there’s bound to be a struggle

Read the rest of this entry »


Peter Horn on Censorship, 1979

23 November 2011, 2:39 pm

Peter Horn, 1979, “The right of the people to censor the arts”,  In National Union of South African Students (Ed.), Dead in One’s Lifetime, Cape Town: NUSAS (1979) pp.92-105

The state which does not censor the arts, does not take the arts seriously. The state which does censor the arts, regards its citizens as minors, incapable of making rational choices. Any discussion of censorship and the relation of the state to the arts, which does not deal with both horns of this dilemma, will not come to grips with the complexity of the subject, and will end up with the irreconcilable dichotomy between the liberal stance of laissez faire and the authoritarian imposition of censorship.

Read the rest of this entry »


Peter Horn on Censorship, 1989

23 November 2011, 2:25 pm

Peter Horn, 1989, “Censorship: Creating pockets of ignorance”, in South, 22 June 1989, p.18

(South [Weekly] was an independent newspaper generally aligned with the UDF and ANC, edited by Moegsien Williams, 1988-1991.)

Any form of censorship assumes that there is one group – usually a minority – which is wiser, more intelligent, more moral than another, which protects another group which is prone to be seduced, led astray, outraged or insulted by some form of writing, painting, music or other form of self-expression. Any form of censorship therefore denies the full equality of all the members of a society. The censors depict themselves as adult and responsible, and insinuate patronisingly that the rest of humanity, the majority, is in a childlike state of irresponsibility.

Read the rest of this entry »


Derek Walcott, Sainte Lucie, parts I and II

10 November 2011, 6:28 am

Sainte Lucie

I
The Villages

Laborie, Choiseul, Vieuxfort, Dennery,
from these sun-bleached villages
where the church bell caves in the sides
of one grey-scurfed shack that is shuttered
with warped boards, with rust,
with crabs crawling under the house-shadow
where the children played house:
a net rotting among cans, the sea-net
of sunlight trolling the shallows
catching nothing all afternoon,
from these I am no nearer
to what secret eluded the children
under the house-shade, in the far bell, the noon’s
stunned amethystine sea,
something always being missed
between the floating shadow and the pelican
in the smoke from over the next bay
in that shack on the lip of the sandspit
whatever the seagulls cried out for
through the grey drifting ladders of rain
and the great grey tree of the waterspout,
for which the dolphins kept diving, that
should have rounded the day.

II

Pomme arac,
otaheite apple,
pomme cythère,
pomme granate,
moubain,
z’anananas
the pineapple’s
Aztec helmet,
pomme,
I have forgotten
what pomme for
the Irish Potato,
cerise,
the cherry,
z’aman
sea-almonds
by the crisp
sea-bursts,
au bord de la’ouvière.
Come back to me,
my language.
Come back,
cacao,
grigri,
solitaire,
ciseau
the scissor-bird
no nightingales
except, once,
in the indigo mountains
of Jamaica, blue depth,
deep as coffee,
flicker of pimento,
the shaft light
on a yellow ackee
the bark alone bare
jardins
en montagnes
en haut betassion
the wet leather reek
of the hill donkey.

Evening opens at
a text of fireflies,
in the mountain huts
ti cailles betassion
candles,
candleflies
the black night bending
cups in its hard palms
cool thin water
this is important water,
important?
imported?
water is important
also very important
the red rust drum
the evening deep
as coffee
the morning powerful
important coffee
the villages shut
all day in the sun.

In the empty schoolyard
teacher dead today
the fruit rotting
yellow on the ground,
dyes from Gauguin
the pomme arac dyes
the earth purple,
the ochre roads
still waiting in the sun
for my shadow,
Oh, so you is Walcott?
you is Roddy brother?
Teacher Alix son?
and the small rivers
with important names.

And the important corporal
in the country station
en betassion
looking towards the thick
green slopes of cocoa
the sun that melts
the asphalt at noon,
and the woman in the shade
of the breadfruit bent over
the lip of the valley,
below her, blue-green
the lost, lost valleys
of sugar, the bus rides,
the fields of bananas
the tanker still rusts
in the lagoon at Roseau,
and around what corner
was uttered a single
yellow leaf,
from the frangipani
a tough bark, reticent,
but when it flowers
delivers hard lilies,
pungent, recalling

Martina, or Eunice
or Lucilla,
who comes down the steps
with the cool, side flow
as spring water eases
over shelves of rock
in some green ferny hole
by the road in the mountains,
her smile like the whole country,
her smell, earth,
red-brown earth, her armpits
a reaping, her arms
saplings, an old woman
that she is now,
with other generations of daughters flowing
down the steps,
gens betassion,
belle ti fille betassion,
until their teeth go,
and all the rest.

O Martinas, Lucillas,
I’m a wild golden apple
that will burst with love
of you and your men,
those I never told enough
with my young poet’s eyes
crazy with the country,
generations going,
generations gone,
moi c’est gens Ste. Lucie.
C’est la moi sorti;
is there that I born.

 

(from Derek Walcott, Collected Poems, 1948 – 1984, Noonday Press, 1986/1993; originally from Sea Grapes, 1976)


Robert Lowell, “To Speak of Woe That Is in Marriage”

22 August 2011, 7:36 am

“To Speak of Woe That Is in Marriage”

“It is the future generation that presses into being by means of these
exuberant feelings and supersensible soap bubbles of ours.”
– Schopenhauer

“The hot night makes us keep our bedroom windows open.
Our magnolia blossoms. Life begins to happen.
My hopped up husband drops his home disputes,
and hits the streets to cruise for prostitutes,
free-lancing out along the razor’s edge.
This screwball might kill his wife, then take the pledge.
Oh the monotonous meanness of his lust…
It’s the injustice… he is so unjust–
whiskey-blind, swaggering home at five.
My only thought is how to keep alive.
What makes him tick? Each night now I tie
ten dollars and his car key to my thigh…
Gored by the climacteric of his want,
he stalls above me like an elephant.”

from Life Studies, Noonday, 1959


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