Arthur Nortje, A Christmas Mass Message

I’ve been reading some South African poetry from the last 3 decades of the 1900s, re-reading many favourites. I’ve also been working my way through Arthur Nortje’s Anatomy of Dark: Collected Poems (edited by Dirk Klopper, 2000). Nortje was a fascinating poet, weird, strange, feverish. I get the sense, always when reading him, of a level of impenetrability: you can see what’s going on, but there are also major parts of the engine, the pistons, say, that you can hear, throbbing like some diesel engine on a trawler bobbing somewhere on a gentle but significant swell, but which are hidden. But he also liked ‘talking terms’, using words that are a bit too poetic or smart. Anyway, I’ll come back to him, but here’s a likkle sometin’ fram him:

A Christmas Mass Message

Jesus, wave-walker and world-master,
Preacher of patient faith and peace,
Give us the faith to follow faster
Charles Parker’s music and [the] message of Joyce.

Give us upright power of a fish-fin,
Mind-peace that makes peace possible,
Pray, be in our blood when we make the in-
accessible accessible,
When we wrestle with our heart’s thieves.

We adore you Christ, this morning, this day-birth,
And we cannot ignore your being a man,
Your being baptised a man in your blood-bath,
Help us to help in our freedom then
The thieves we must drive from our holy den.

Help freedom’s disciples feed the mass hunger
With the minimum of anger.


6 Responses to Arthur Nortje, A Christmas Mass Message

  1. Peter Horn says:

    Good that somebody remembers Arthur Nortje.

  2. Good that somebody does because others like myself discover him, to get some of that “upright power of fish-fin”. Startling.

  3. Dingaan Mookudi says:

    Can you please email me the in exile poem by arthur Nortje, I need it urgently as I have to complete my assignment.

  4. RK says:

    Uhm, sorry, you want me to type out a poem and email it to you?

  5. Mervyn Rousseau says:

    I knew Arthur better than most, as friend and ‘brother, his remonstration had much to do with his mixed birth! Jew father and çoloured’ mother! She raised him sinle-handedly, he never met his father! He grew up in a country where one’s race bedeviled one’s life!

  6. RK says:

    Thanks for dropping by, Mervyn.

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