Greatness and Bitterness'
Letters by :- A. J. Senymour. Peter Andersen. Frank Thonmason
Out, Out the Fire --
On Writing History --
Six Poems --
The Dancer --
.. Martin Carter
Jacqueline de Weever
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The theme of Greatness and Bitterness hung on the peg of
Yeats' poem is one of the main items of this issue. I hope that the
debatelwill continue in the minds of readers after they have read
these letters, and deliberately I have omitted to draw any con-
I wish to draw attention to the wealth of poetic imagery
implicit in the religious customs of the East and coming out in the
poems of Milton Williams whose work I welcome warmly here.
From New York Jacqueline de Weever sent her tale and from
London Joy Allsopp sent her review of the latest Mittelholzer
novel, while at home Allan Young tells us of the urges that moved
him to write his forth coming book and Martin Carter contributes
an extract from one of his long short stories. Good Fare.
A. J. S.
Vol. 8 No. 23
Poem for Princess Margare
I Wifeless; Sometimes
Here there's a War O0
Iron Punts Laden with
A. J. SEYMOUR.
A. J. S.
t .. Ivan G. Van Sertima ..
Milton Williams .. 3
a Man ; O Prahalad;
n; Pray for Rain;
First Impression .. W. A. McAndrew .. 7
Sun Poem XV .. .. Wilson Harris .. 7
Poem .. .. A. J. Seymour .. 8
Three Petals .. .. A. J. Seymour ..
Muse Without Music ,. Ivan G. Van Sertima 9
Volcano .. .. Ivan G. Van Sertima ..
Lines on a Little Girl Drowned Alex. Best ..
In the Cavern of My Blood .. Alex. Best 12
The Falling Leaf .. .. Alex. Best ..
Greatness and Bitterness 14
Correspondence; A. J. Seymour; Peter Andersen;
Martin Carter ; Jocelyn D'Oliveira ; J. G. ;
Wilson Harris; Frank Thomasson; J.A.E.Y.
The Dancer .. .. Jacquelene de Weever .. 27
On Writing History-An Administrative View.. Allan Young .. 3
Life and Death (A Dialogue) .. Ivan G. Van Sertima .. 35
Out Out the Fire .. .. Martin Carter .. 37
Kyk-Over Anthology of W.I. Poetry .. L. Keates 43
Kaywana Blood by Edgar Mittelholzer .. Joy Allsopp .. 46
Contributions and all letters should be sent to the Editor "Kyk-
Over-Al", 2,3, North Road, Bourda, Georgetown, British Guiana,
Ivan G. Van Sertima.
POEM FOR PRINCESS MARGARET
When you see us
standing in the streets
shouting as you pass,
waving a forest of limbs
in the spontaneous frenzy of the massive welcome
know that we love you, our princess,
know that our Guiana's
one with the brotherhood
webbing the far-flung fragments of the grand empire.
When you hear the murmurous rumble of our drums,
see us dancing the wild dance,
screaming our bronze throats dry,
tumbling to the tortuous rhythms of the tempestuous
know joy intense in us
is moving, incensing us
joy at your nearness, our princess,
joy at your coming.
When you see us
massing in the streets
thronging round your car,
gazing on your face,
know that we hunt for the golden glimmer
half-hidden in the jungle of your auburn hair:
know that it makes us remember
the long lost golden city
half-hidden in the jungle of our ancient hope.
know when we look into the blue interior of your eyes
we shall see the blue main
o'er which the galleons of Sir Walter Ralegh rode,
tempting a trek of bold empire-builders,
transplanting here new visions and a culture:
turning our idle swamp and forest patch
into town, plantation, settlement, and village.
know that as we stand here in the streets
basking in the ivory brilliance of your gracious
we shall be looking back across the centuries
and from the carib altars of our heart
offering a silent prayer:
not only for the language that we speak,
but for the laws and institutions,
the customs and traditions that we cherish,
your nation's legacy
and our heritance
our mutual treasure and possession.
So when you see us
standing in the streets,
waving when you pass
adding our joyous cries
to the tumultuous thunder of the glorious welcome.
Know that we love you, our princess,
know that our Guiana's
one with the brotherhood,
webbing the far-flung fragments of the grand empire.
Six Poems by Milton Williams
In the afternoon when there are
no songs in the air, in the dull
grey afternoon when the sky's in shroud
And people to their houses withdraw
To fire up the silences with fermented-brew.
And men cuddle to their wives
In the same strange ancient way, I, Wifeless
And she husbandless, the Indian girl
with the big red cherry for face,
the girl that moved me to Oh!
Prahalad, stood by her window,
her cherry-coloured face
more illumined in the dull afternoon.
She smiled and her teeth were balls of
white clouds amongst purple tinged ones.
She waved, a compulsion for me
To realise her cognizance of me.
She spoke words,
Words that from across the silences
Like the music of rainfall on zinc sheets:
That lighted me up like fermented brew:
Transforming the dull grey songless
afternoon into one of birds'
and sun's music.
SOMETIMES A MAN
Do you inquire of me stranger?
Because you always see me staring in the blue
Because you always see me in raptures with my visions
Do you inquire who I am and what I want to be?
I will tell you then, stranger,
I will tell you
Even though I never told my mother
Even though I never told my father
I will tell you.
Sometimes a man, like my own father
With six, or even nine children,
Gets a whole fourteen dollars-a-week.
And he has to pay rent, stranger,
He has to eat food
He has to wear clothes,
His children have all got to go to school.
Then they grow up
Must endure the same, suffer mutely, or rebel.
They, when they grow up,
Will graduate out of suffering
Into more suffering.
This is why
You always see me staring in the blue,
This is why
You always see me in raptures with my visions
The shrine of my heart
Longs only for the beautiful things man is capable of,
To prevail over all the earth.
Each time I see my people
At labour in the fields, factories, offices.
Each time I see the whore in despair
Barter her body for survival:
I am determined to be like a crow:
To fly as high
And cleanse the land.
OH! PRAHALAD DEDICATED DAY
On the eve of this, Prahalad Dedicated Day,
Abeer drench'd you come to me, Oh Indian girl
With your face and hands all turned crimson,
With the previous colour of your dress
And all your form reverberating an atmosphere of
You come and you sit and you sing for me, playing on the
The golden sound of your voice sending sweet stinging
darts to my heart
Then leaving it in exquisite jets clothed on wings of
The very voice felled star-apples and sapodillas from
The very voice ripenedthe cherries and gooseberries all
I took you and placed you under the cherry tree
On its crest a red breast was warbling her song.
Oh the sacredness of the sight!
I dare not utter a word to you
For suddenly it came upon me like the wind ruffling the
This was the very meaning of "Phagwah."
HERE THERE'S A WAR ON
Here there's a war on.
Not like the war that stalked London:
Clouding it in sheets of angry dark smoke
Crumbling its buildings with rock-like hails
Driving pink and white temporal travellers
Into the impregnable walls of air-raid shelters,
Leaving a waste of tears desolation and broken hearts
Implanting in the minds of youth in their formative
The bitter misery of the bitter horror!
But a war rages here.
A war waged by tanned men in defiance
Dooming them to be condemned for their rebellion
Churning into ashes their miserable dreams and
Leaving them like trees shed of their green branches
To endure stoic-like perpetual horror of the
Or else, to fall, bewildered stragglers on the side line
PRAY FOR RAIN
In seasons of drought the dry land cracks
Leaves turn from green to pale yellow.
On streets the asphalt reflects
The furious energy of its crystalled-burden.
It is seasonal," the people say,
"Pray for rain."
Drought is not only an affectation
By nature to men and crops!
It is the living lie of all of us:
Young men green-vitalled
Withering to absurd anonymities....
O comrades, perpetual drought is our heresy!
Like garbage on the downheap
We are piled: forced to exhaust
Ourselves, be divested of all our purity,
Crack, decay, and burn.
IRON PUNTS LADEN WITH CANE
Iron puns laden with cane
Come gracefully like pregnant women into harbour.
Iron punts laden with cane
Make me see strong tanned men
Labouring under the sun's invigoration:
If blood instead of sweat could flow
It would rain from their backs -
And if ever life through over labour
Surrendered its mortal clay
It would theirs
W. A. Mc.Andrew
In and out among the souls
who had crossed the river
she came floating towards me -
a dark wraith of a woman
whose mode of progression was
not so much a walk
as a titillating suppleness of hips......
I was aware as she passed me only
of a wrist flexed in fragility
a crown of curls like saman flowers
with the same Lethe of perfume
the dark mark that Love left and
eyes which looked without seeing
and without speaking made it
clear that she had set out to see
life and seen too much.....
Then she was gone
gliding down the sidewalk
like a humming-bird
flitting with a whirring of wings
in the interval between
SUN POEM XV
Blue is the journey I long to go
White is the gate I open
the sun my face.
Brown is the road that leads to space
where the sky falls down like the highest
Dark is the river
where green trees sail,
where nothing learns to stand quite still
on the visionary road across the hill.
Lofty is the spirit that waves on high
Like a flag of wind that is flown awry:
it is visible now to my naked eye
to my naked eye and my naked mind -
the flag blows out and the wind blows in -
they are one and the same like flesh and
My wood and my bone are burnt in the sun
I wave like smoke, crackle like gun
March to meet the starry ground
Where the camps are lit and the spirits sound
Their bugles for burning bone and tongue.
You vast primeval word
You gave the eyes
For You the rose's red
Leaps from the night
And You transluce from dark
The pearl of dawning.
The circling alphabet of the stars.
You daze the lovers' eyes
With inner stars of ecstasy
Your seeing clasps all lovers' heart beats
And You link and seal
The beauty of the world
You looked on Mary
You uttered Him within the womb
And in one great event
Your meaning sears
The page of Time
The dead God sagging in love upon the tree.
A. J. Seymour
Seal the door, quench the light,
Prudent housewife, it is night.
Cave, or Greek or Latin homestead,
Or bungalow opposite in Church Street,
The duty is ageless.
Where neck and the shoulder join
Above the line of attire
The body will yield perfume
If the lover will breathe desire
O body, yield perfume,
My heart is quick with desire.
Handmaid to the stars
Laying your soft dew on men's minds
To make them a child again.
Come to me with images
Borrowed from her
That I may couch with thoughts
Laid aside with her dress.
Ivan G. Van Sertima
MUSE WITHOUT MUSIC
(the poet in search of a tongue)
Last night while the world slept,
I came down to the sea,
lured by the mounting call of an inner music:
Down to the sea,
down to the sea I came,
through the tunnelled lanes of the brain's grey
through the million streets of the mind's dark
to the sea I came,
searching for a voice, searching for a voice.
Last night while the world dreamt,
I came down to the sea,
I could not sleep though I was in search of a dream.
Time has etched a million wave-marks,
like a mosaic of wrinkles
upon the sand-face of my soul:
And I come down to my sea in the long dark nights,
looking at the waves, looking at the sands,
searching for a voice, searching for a voice.
A million waves, unthawed,
gush from the frozen channels of forgotten time,
vomiting the silt of my past,
Flooding my sands with the fossils
of two sepulchred decades of the heart's dark
And I come down to the seas of my soul,
taking the living plastic into my hands,
warm with the vital essence of a million hours,
trying to mould,
out of the ten thousand faces and places,
voices and images,
forms and fancies,
thoughts and impressions,
a voice for the soul's release
and total revelation.
I have gone down like this
to the oceans of men,
sounding their depths,
forging a link to my spirit,
with the echoes that ring out from the deep dark hollows
But their songs have not quenched me,
their tongues do not speak me,
their patterns are alien to the webwork I seek
And I must still go down to my sea in the long dark
searching for a voice, searching for a voice.
Would that the flame of my thought
fanning so faintly now over the far waters,
may from a flicker foment,
flare to a furious force,
full to a fountain of fire,
and from the fevering ferment of forms,
forge me a frame,
fording the fathomless!
Would that the voice that I seek
could like the winds of my soul
breathe me a music
milked in the multi-mooded murmurings of the
A voice, broad and deep,
broad and deep like the river of time itself,
bearing upon the sensitive stream of its subtle symphony
all the vague and vivid etchings
that the waves have made.
Ivan G. IVan Serthina
When I speak now
there are no urgent rumblings in my voice
no scarlet vapour issues from my lips
I spit no lava:
but I am a volcano
an incandescent cone of angry flesh
black brimstone broils within
the craters of my being.
When I speak now
no one can hear me
the thunder lies too deep too deep
for violent cataclysm:
is nothing but a memory now:
a terror of the long forgotten:
Time heaps high snow upon my passive flanks
and I stand muted with my furnace caged
too chilled for agitation.
But mark me well
for I am still volcano
I may disown my nature, my vesuvian blood,
so did my cousin Krakatoa
for centuries locked his fist within the earth
and only shook it when his wrath was full
and died to rock the world.
So, mark me well
pray that my silence shall outlive my wrath
for if this vomit ventures to my lips again
old orthodoxies village on my flanks
shall face the molten magma of my wrath
submerge and perish.
LINES ON A LITTLE GIRL DROWNED
There in the sea
by the side of the groyne,
Little girl drowned.
Back into the umbilical cradle
her bloated body, stiffened, rock-carved
like some old Sumerian figure-
mother-type in embryo-
knows no awakening,
Safely sleeping in sea-sanctuary
Current-guarded, no ebb nor flow will affect
tension of desire and fulfillment
sea changes of fortune
Nor fate blot out.
As silently as stars return to water
In the wake of the churning ship
Life creeps back to its home;
And the Great Sea-Mother fondles
Millions of years in six;
a little girl sleeps
softly swayed by womb-water.
"IN THE CAVERN OF MY BLOOD"
Dedicated to The Society of African Culture
Centuries of black blood
pulsate my heart
and pound a weird ancestral rhythm
on a soul
stretched across the abyss
between my yesterdays and today-
Drumbeats of words
to twist a shock of recognition;
to awaken ancestral ghosts
and the centuries' madnesses.
In labyrinthian tunnels of my being dark dancers
stamp votive offerings
to stir the ju-ju man....
I must emerge to rape memory-
If I could withstand the birth-pains-
that this page where
today and yesterday
strain in the sweat of copulative exercise
may deliver my song.
(Around that hallowed mound
Undulating anthropoids dance
in welcome of conception).
THE FALLING LEAF
The falling leaf gently twists its shape
in vain to veil the sudden sun.
Death turns the streams
that cleans life's filth
Or the moon's inquisitive eyes hunt hidden lovers
Or distance spread outstretched palms
to impede an inflow of love-
No leaf nor cloud could blot out
the radiance of a half-shy smile
nor death erase memory
nor moon seek out where
hidden caresses cling in hesitant ecstacy.
Love will outdistance distance
To dance together on a star.
Greatness and Bitterness.
A. J. SEYMOUR
W. B. Yeats in one of his poems asks a question which I
find has been echoing in my mind for years. The question is in
the section on Ancestral Houses in the long poem "Meditations in
Time of Civil War" written in 1923, and the section ends with those
"What if those things the greatest of mankind
Consider most to magnify or to bless
But take our greatness with our bitterness."
Yeats had spoken of "violent and bitter men who called architect
and artist in, that they, bitter violent men might rear in stone
the sweetness that all longed for night and day. The gentleness
none there had ever known", and he mused "what if these things
take our greatness with our violence". So I ask the question.
Is the artist respected in his community ? Is he respectable by
the community's standards ? Must he not preserve his bitterness
in one form or other if he wants to achieve greatness ?
Traditionally the artist, the poet, the musician, is a rebel.
His role is to place his new vision sharply in contrast with the old
community views. In older societies like the United Kingdom,
there is a considerable body of culture, so the rebel tendencies of the
artist represent a reaction against some established view and move to
modify them. In a young and emerging society like the West Indies
and British Guiana where there is no body or established view,
the rebel tendencies are relatively stark and the murmur arises in
the minds of people "why is the artist so bitter ? It would be more
helpful if he were a nicer person". They don't understand Yeats'
muttered fear of "taking greatness with out bitterness".
Actually I believe that this conflict is a necessary source of the
imaginative life of the artist. Heaven forbid he should be a nice
person, that he should cease to be a rebel. And yet I can see the other
point of view, that the society will move forward best if its prime
movers have balanced minds and temperaments combined with
thrust. This means does it not, that the artist becomes respectable
and is tamed into responsibility.
They say that a pint of practice is worth a gallon of theory.
One mark of the political leader in all times is a gift of phrase
and a talent for the compelling image. In former generations in the
West Indies these abilities served only in literature because of the
restricted political climate. Shall we risk a few examples ? Someone
has pointed to Albert Gomes of Trinidad, a literary figure in the
early thirties who was converted to the more exciting pastime of
politics. What of the latest star in the West Indian political heavens,
Eric Williams, who hammered out the massive literary style of the
historian and then graduated into political life via extra-mural
lectures in Woodford Square. It was the encouraging political
climate which provided a larger arena for their talents, and their
image-making intelligence work in a more practical field. Or take
the way in which a mind like Philip Sherlock's harnesses itself to the
tremendous job of being unofficial ambassador for the West Indian
University. So many of his speeches owe their bite and their
memorableness to the fact that the man is a poet.
I begin to over simplify here. It seems to me that there is a
type of public figure in our West Indian life based on those literary
qualities, this type is very much in the van, leading the intel-
lectuals of the region, and also catching the imagination of the
masses in the surge towards nationhood. To make a nation, the
leaders must create new values and mirror the society in such
a way that it improves upon itself. The leaders must write the
books to feed the national spirit, and give the young people a sense
Like the favourable political climate, the foundation of
the University provided another nursery for leadership and for
the cultivation of minds of the first intellectual rank. The strenuous
discipline of research in academic matters encourages the emergence
of figures like Elsa Goveia, Rawle Farley and Roy Augier. Ac-
cording to the records, Dr. Walter Rankin was the same type of
mind in his field of Latin studies, but the era in which he developed
led his steps so far away from Guiana and the West Indies that
on his return he was almost a stranger, although a legendary one.
But after I have said all this, there still remains the need to
produce and preserve the intellectual who is neither politician, nor
academic figure, and who will be free to act as a responsible yet
critical agent in his society. His role will be, it seems to me, always
to deepen the discussion privately or publicly, always to take the
arguments further so that eternal principles are seen to be involved,
always to suggest in prose and verse, that a new point of view is
possible and that the shell of conformity may be a stifling and
restricting prison we should escape from. His opportunities, to
question community assumptions and to state that they are false or
inadequate will occur in the home, in the club, in the social group,
and in the lecture room. Part of the repressive atmosphere of the
Colonial scene is its intellectual poverty, and one of the main
advances towards independence is the discussion of intellectual
ideas with the assurance of standards of 'judgment and taste';
and the proper marriage of the Genius of the Place with the Human
I've been thinking on the reasons for the intellectual poverty in
a colony and there are one or two more obvious pointers. First of all
generally, there is only a high school education and the leaders of the
community who are born and bred there tend to accept too easily as
necessary to get by and even hold important office, a superficial grasp
of ideas and a merely functional ability to make things and organ-
isations work. This complacency is apparent to outsiders coming
into the country and recruited in the administrative, commercial
and industrial fields. They have no deep loyalties to the territory so
they work for their living and make the most of the limited means of
recreation and enjoyment available to them. They reason that it
would irk the egoism of th; fairly decent chaps in the territory and
expose their relative inability to answer if any deep intellectual
issues were brought up. So intercourse remains on the level of
Then there is the shortage of good up-to-date books, related to
the shortage of potential buyers. People don't read much and if they
do, they borrow from the public library or a friend because there is
financial poverty and a low standard of living. The booksellers do not
risk adventurous orders of titles, and the libraries, quite properly
spend their money on meeting the median range of reading needs
which are largely fiction of the undemanding type.
At the International Conference of Artists held in Venice in
1952, Mr. Taha Hussein of the International PEN Club, in his
address on The Writer in the World Today described the need for
"the secondary profession". He said then, "to expect intellectual
activity to provide its author with the means of subsistence is
merely to stultify it," but warned that it was harmful for the
secondary profession to absorb the writer completely. The writer
must be at the service of truth and truth alone. As Dante described
him, the writer must be always a man going forward through the
darkness with a lantern hanging at his back, lighting the path for
those who come after.
I have started a number of possible lines of thought and
arguments and done that deliberately and I should be glad to
have your views on these things. Let us however, come back to
W. B. Yeats and his bitterness as a possible essential for greatness.
And what is bitterness here? Is it not a quality of vision making
for truth, that the writer will see elements in the community's
present and past life which he will condemn as an angry young man ?
Is he not protesting with vigour the complacency and the crust of
acceptance which his community takes for granted ? Is he not saying
"lets leave the gentleness and the sweetness to others, but my
spirit tells me we've got to change this and forge a new kind of
In an emerging society such as we find in colonies, there
is much for the young intellectual to be angry and bitter and
violent about. It is this grit that he must take into his oystersoul
and work into a pearl. He is himself an agent of change and this was
probably one of the thoughts in Yeats' mind as he wrote:
"Oh, what if gardens where the peacock strays
With delicate feet upon old terraces
Or else all Juno from an urn displays
Before the indifferent garden deities!
Oh, what if levelled lawns and gravelled ways
Where slippered Contemplation finds his ease
And Childhood a delight for every sense
But take our greatness with our violence.
What if the glory of escutcheoned doors
And buildings that a haughtier age designed
The pacing to and fro on polished floors
Amid great chambers and long galleries lined
With famous portraits of our ancestors;
What if those things the greatest of mankind
Consider most to magnify, or to bless,
But take our greatness with our bitterness."
I do not agree that it is the artist's function to rebel, to lead, to
reform, to compromise, to seek greatness or respectability in his
community, or even particularly to think. I do not agree that the
terms "artist" and "intellectual" are the same or are interchangeable.
(Although there are artists who are also intellectuals just as there are
farmers who play cricket.) I don't believe that society is indebted to
the artist, or that the artist is indebted to society.
In fact, I am sorry to say that there is little in your open letter
that I do agree with.
To my way of thinking, the main difficulty comes with this
confusion of the terms artist and intellectual.
I should define the different functions of the artist and the
intellectual in this way:
The artist draws direct from human experience in order to
express himself, or as Martin Carter put it recently, beautifully
succinctly people are the artist's raw material; but the
artist draws no conclusion or points no moral. The intellectual on
the other hand is a step away from humankind. His raw material
is not people-human experience-but human knowledge, and of
course, he does draw conclusions and, quite often, points morals.
The artist is in the midst of life, his ideas are expressed
subjectively; the intellectual is one step in front, one to the right of
life, ideas are expressed objectively.
It might seem that I consider the intellectual more of a "pro-
ducer" than the artist, but, of course the very opposite in true.
The artist is a creator, the intellectual an empiricist.
You might call the symbol of the intellectual the mind, the
brain the symbol of the artist is the stomach and the sexual organ
So then, the rebel tendencies of the artist, as you describe them
might represent a reaction against some established view, (although
I would not agree that this is always true), but his concern is not to
change or modify that view. His concern is merely to make an
observation about it.
The artist might say, "The tempo of life in the colonies makes
for intellectual poverty," but he will go no further by drawing the
conclusion that intellectual poverty is undesirable. That is for his
fellow human begins to decide. The artist is never
a leader in this sense. Possibly the intellectual is,
for he will certainly draw the conclusion that intellectual
poverty is undesirable and might try to persuade others
that this is so. This might imply that I think the artist and
intellectual work hand in hand, complementing each other's function
but I do not think this is true either. Should the artist form such an
alliance with the intellectual the artist's role changes and he is
then in the position of following up his observations with a con-
clusion i.e. handing the ball over to the intellectual for analysis
and interpretation. (And in case there is any doubt about this,
artists do not produce work for the benefit of critics!)
To make matters worse, the artist intellectual subject of
your open letter later on becomes involved with the politician and
the national leader. Your politician-artist-intellectual-leader "must
create new values and mirror the society in such a way that it
improves upon itself. The leaders must write the books to feed the
national spirit and give the young people a sense of pride."
I would like to say that I reject this attitude completely.
Society has no right whatever to demand any particular form
of expression from the artist any more than the artist has any
right to expect Society to accept the form of expression be has
As soon as you start dictating to the artist (or intellectual in this
case) what he should aim at you kill genuine expression. You have
only to see what has happened to art and thought in the USSR and
what is beginning to happen in USA to see the results of the
imposition of a policy of national uplift on the artist.
In any case I do not believe that leaders or politicians to
intellectuals or artists create nations. People and people only creare
The same thing is true of the deplorable lack of any but com-
pletely material standards in colonies such as British Guiana.
(Religion seems to be considered sufficient substitute for intellectual
development to most people.) I suggest there is nothing the artist
or the intellectual can do about it except make sure that his intel-
lectual development does not become impaired. Enlightenment can
only come when the people who live in the colonies feel that it is
I have gone to some length in attempting to point out what I
consider the differences between the intellectual and the artist
because when the artist who is the bitter subject of the first part of
your argument is separated from the intellectual who is the potential
saviour of society's minds in the second part of your argument, we
seem to be right back where we started.
The artist can help to raise a particular community's cultural
standards simply by leaving his work where it can be seen, read, or
heard regardless of its content. Eventually people will become
accustomed to having the artist's work around, and they will
eventually come to accept standards of truth, beauty etc., because
they are being confronted with statements. Whatever you think of
the relative merits of Rembrandt and Picasso, Cervantes and Eliot,
Beethoven and Sibelius, you cannot deny that their work exists.
The results of the intellectual's endeavours are somewhat different.
To quote one example only, intellectuals have been commenting
on the Bible ever since it was written and we are no nearer
discovering the truth or otherwise of religious philosophy than
we were two Thousand years ago.
I suggest in conclusion that we do not need more leaders-we
have too many already-we need more ordinary members of society
who can do their own thinking and can make their own decisions.
In the meanwhile the artist will always be with us, (if we are allowed
to survive in an atomic age), just as the farmer and the fisherman will
always be with us. I suggest that his role is at least as important,
although not more important than these other useful members of
In your letter you seem particularly preoccupied with what you
call "bitterness". I see too that you associate "bitterness" with the
"rebel", claiming that the condition of rebellion and bitterness is a
necessary source of the imaginative life of the artist. I don't' know if
I agree altogether. And I am reminded of Thomas Mann's point
about the artist being so much disturbed internally that he some-
times has to make out quite the opposite, externally.
The core of your argument is that the "artist" is a "rebel".
Don't you think we might do better to say that the "artist is an
artist", and then proceed to tell what being an artist means ? This
idea about the artist being a rebel seems a romantic notion to me, a
notion the philistines love. Because it immediately absolves them
from self-criticism. For when they do in fact encounter an artist,
all they do, with this notion well behind them, is to pretend to be
interested and curious and "cultured" while deep down inside they
tell themselves that this animal is an artist only because he is a
rebel, transferring in this context, whatever suits them to transfer.
Thus they excuse themselves and sink gently back into complacent
As I say I feel it might be more fruitful to discuss the artist as
artist. If a given human being is an artist and a rebel, at one and the
same time, then being a rebel is either a consequence of being an
artist, or, it is a parallel situation. On the other hand a person may
very well be a rebel without being anything like an artist. So there-
fore that which goes into the making of a rebel is not necessarily the
same as that which goes into the making of an artist. But by saying
that the artist is a rebel, you are implying the opposite, with which
I strongly disagree.
The other part of your letter deals in a way with the intellectual
atmosphere of the West Indies. You say "part of the repressive
atmosphere of the colonial scene is its intellectual poverty". May I
extend this condition of poverty to everything ? And may I say too
that the job of the artist and intellectual in the West Indies is no
different from the job of the artist and intellectual in every part of the
world. We are concerned always with the human condition and the
establishment of value. Everything is to be taken in the hand and
transformed and given meaning. Other jobs belong to the others.
I agree generally, but these points occur to me. I would
divide artists roughly into those who aspire to be the "mirror" of
their society, the extollers of all that is good in it, and the "Con-
science" of their society, those who see the faults in their society in
stark perspective and, perhaps consciously, perhaps not, try to
lead their society on to better things.
As an example of the first type may I suggest Tennyson
(at least the later Tennyson) and Kipling. Were they bitter? Such
artists can be conforming; "nice chaps" in other words. No example
need to be given of the second type, but here again we've got to
watch two special varieties of the "bitter great". First, those who
have a personal grudge against society and pay off their grudge in
vitriol e.g. Swift who, it is said, would have been sweetness itself if
he had got the Bishopric he craved, and Pope whose deformity
made him a laughing-stock. Second: watch out for the poseurs who
cultivate bitterness as the badge of their profession and delight to
"epater les bourgeois" as the French say.
I haven't had time to digest the points you make in regard to the
emerging society, but I'll think about it and we'll talk it over some
In what tradition is the artist, the poet and the musician
traditionally a rebel? Not for instance in the Persian tradition
The Persian miniaturist's vision of the garden is what it always
was the tree, the reclining figures, the running water. The
intermingling of cloud and mountain peaks in a Chinese
landscape transcends any historical situation. This divine
restlessness with what exists, the demoniac urge to create
something always new belongs particularly to Western Europe,
and indeed, to get the time perspective right, is a fairly
recent event. We might say it gets under way with the
Renaissance, and crystallizes into a spirit of revolt about the time of
the French Revolution. The age of revolt is now, in an extended
Western world. If we are to talk of the artist, the poet and the
musician as a rebel, we are conceiving him in this tradition. We are
accepting limitations to our conception imposed by the conditions of
the Western world.
Of course there may be nothing else for it. All prisoners
of our society, we have no choice but to be rebels. But if that is
so, we are in an impasse which is ridiculous. We have to say that
the artist is patterned by the society in which he exists; he conforms,
and at the same time rebels. To escape from the paradox we shall
have to go further. It is not sufficient to say that the statement "the
artist is a rebel" can only be made in the context of the Western
world. Something is said about artists in the Western tradition
they are commonly rebels. But nothing is said which distinguishes
them from politicians, crackpots or businessmen. Some help in
thinking about the problem can be gained from a deeper analysis of
"L'homme revolt" is seldom compounded solely of revolt.
In each expression of rejection there is an assertion. The rebel
is not a maniac whose only joy is in destruction. In the moment
of his protest he asserts that something else (and presumably
something finer) should take the place of what is. In his heart
whilst firing the shot from the barricades, he is a creator. Whether
the artist be rebel or not, the true rebel is usually in a manner of
speaking an artist, because what he really wants is to create. But
the rebel and the artist are not brothers, though they might be found
together on the barricades. They are not interested in the same kind
of creation. The rebel wants to bring the kingdom of heaven onto
earth. The artist divinizes the earth. He takes what he finds around
him, and this may be the stuff of revolt, and transmutes it into
something which satisfies a different kind of laws. His material
exists here and now. He does not create it. He uses what is to
hand. A tree, a man suffering, an emotion or an idea-which he may
borrow from the rebel "de Carriere". These continue to exist and
do not change, under his hand. The tree remains and the man
suffers, continues to suffer, for eternity. The artist puts them into a
new pattern which is made of paint or stone or words
or sounds, and which is just right, so that the pattern
seems to contain its own justification. The artist has
created a new and permanent way of looking or listening
which is durable. A song or a play may be used to start a national
movement, but that's no concern to the writer as an artist. A
monument may set patriotic blood tingling, but as an artistic
creation is must stand a test of another kind. The writer and the
sculptor are not sociologists or politicians. Their measure is timeless.
The song and the play may last when revolution has become ancient
history, and when the cheek flushed with patriotic pride is chap-
In primitive societies a man painting a motto on his boat
might be carpenter, priest and artist all at one time. Later in time.
the boat may cease to be a useful economic tool and the motto
become a meaningless symbol of an outworn creed, yet the pattern
may retain its vigour as art and be active in new creations. In
modern societies the artist has become a specialist, but not to such
an extent that he ceases to be a man politician or priest. He
cannot help but live with other men, eat, drink, share their labours
and problems, but in so far as he is an artist he creates from his
experience something which is no longer reducible to its original
elements. Once the paint is dry, it can no longer be rendered
tractable by mixing it again with oil.
The poet may sing a song of protest, or of sixpence, or record a
paeon of praise. The essence is not the bitterness or the thanks-
giving, but the genius of creation.
The artist, the poet, the musician may be rebels, may well
be rebels in the Caribbean sector of the Western world, but they
need not be. They may also, in the same way, be intellectuals or
leaders though I don't like to think they could be both. A leader
is versed in the ways of the world; he can give guidance to keep his
followers from going astray. "Intellectual" seems to me a word
which has an underlying pejorative meaning. Like the artist he is
removed from hurly-burly; unlike the artist he is remote. The
artist is rich in experience which he transmutes by an act of creation.
The intellectual avoids experience. He does not live so much as
reflect life. He is a mirror, or rather a prism which analyses life into
its separate parts. He does not create. He dissects. A poet may be
wise. But let him rebel fiercely against becoming an intellectual.
Yet in spite of what he is not neither rebel nor leader the
artist does make a contribution to his society. This contribution
stands in its own name. Art is an integral part of culture, is not
present by proxy nor as the agent of economics, religion or politics.
The artist freezes the transient and formless moment into a snow-
flake, thereby creating a pattern which memory preserves. Without
him there would be no certainty the pattern ever was. The artist is
the true chronicler of our suffering and achievement.
Yeats' wonderful "greatness with bitterness" does not, it seems
to me, apply to the rebel. It would apply if rebellion were a part of
fate and loaded with peculiar destiny, as it were, rather than being,
as I understand it, a mere pretence of history. The rebel is very
often an ordinary puritanical person magnified out of all
proportion by superstitions such as the political super-
stition, the moral superstition, caste and race superstitions
Think of the famous Dreyfus case. Dreyfus was a little man, no
hero or anything of the sort. Think of the numerous dictators that
crop up from time to time all over the world, so petty, so mean, so
cruel and still as ignorant as the Haitian Soulogne who ruled his
country for eleven years with incredible violence and cunning.
The artist then in the high fateful sense of "greatness with
bitterness" must not be confused with the rebel in history. The
balance between greatness and bitterness is bound to be struck
sooner or later as sure as the clock strikes and the gong echoes.
Not the drumbeat of rebellion but the heartbeat of fate.
Remember Troy. Father Zeus surveys the scene. It is Hector's
last struggle. The balance is falling against him. A bitter
moment even for Zeus, the father of the gods, who loves
Hector. But that bitterness, the bitterness of death, is
necessary to establish a greatness. The scales fall lower and
lower, and Hector knows he is alone and there is no succour
anymore for him from living men or gods.
The problem that agitates my mind, out of all this, takes a
different murmur and form to that whispering gallery which asks or
seems to ask why is the artist so bitter, why cannot he be a nicer per-
son, why is he so irritable and upset.
What agitates me is not these questions the whispering gallery
asks. It is the burdensome sensibility the individual artist constantly
carries and bears like a scarecrow before the world. Here is no
rebel but a sacrifice and victim. It is almost too comical to be true
the punishment some men inflict on themselves, or allow to be
inflicted upon themselves which transcends by far anybody's
little irritations and murmurs. Comical but true. Give this punish-
ment whatever artistic label you like: the Hunchback of Notre
Dame, the Phantom of the Opera, the Blue Angel, Rimbaud's
'derangement of the senses', Goethe's Faust, Eliot's "Murder in the
Cathedral", Brinnin's "Dylan Thomas", Laocoon and his remark-
able serpents and snakes. Any label you like.
I wonder whether the whispering gallery as it murmurs
of the artist's bitterness would not stop and reflect on the comic
side, the delightful rape, as it were, of human nature which all
are privileged to enjoy even in small doses.
There appear to be two assumptions running through your
'Open letter to the Intellectual' which should not be accepted
entirely at their face value. One is the linking of the intellectual
with bitterness, and the implication that a real intellectual cannot be
free of bitterness. Strictly speaking, an intellectual is simply a
person of superior mind, that is, someone who, through no fault of
his own, lies towards the upper end of the distribution of intel-
ligence. Such people usually have a number of particular abilities, or
at any rate, have them to a greater degree than their ordinary
fellows. The ability to think more clearly and objectively, to think
through a problem or situation, the ability to handle a larger
number of concepts at one and the same time, the ability to
visualise and create.
Is it not the ability of the intellectual to think with greater
clarity that enables him to strip a situation, or for that matter an
idea or a way of life, of all its frills, convention and tradition, and to
see it stark and unadorned. Perhaps it is the revulsion at what is
left that tends to lead to bitterness.
Since the intellectual begins to submit everything to this
'stripping' process at an early age, he is unlikely to be in a position to
make any active contribution to corrective action, except to talk
about it. The frustration this causes only increases the bitterness.
There are, on the other hand, a considerable number of people
who have an equal degree of intellectual ability, but whose use of it
does not lead to bitterness. Perhaps it leads to impatience instead,
which may be a better basis for action than bitterness. It is possible
that any improvements which result from action by this group are
accredited to the 'bitter ones' simply because they are or make
themselves, more obvious in society.
Is your assumption merely an unfortunate generalisation or are
you in fact saying that a highly intelligent person only becomes 'an
intellectual' when use of his intelligence results in bitterness ?
Is it not possible that bitterness may arise for other reasons ?
The creative ability or at least the creative urge is a feature of the
intellectual mind; however, quite frequently the results of the urge
do not find ready acceptance or reward. Isn't it possible that bitter-
ness may appear simply as a result of the writer, artist, poet finding
that his work is not accepted. And again, in respect of the intel-
lectual's ability to handle larger number of concepts or ideas
than the ordinary man, it may lead to him having difficulty in com-
municating himself to the mass of the people. Only a very small
percentage of the population, consisting of similar 'superior minds',
are likely to be able to understand. Possibly the intellectual often
overlooks this fact, and mistakes the inability to understand for an
unwillingness to understand, and his consequent disappointment
leads to bitterness.
Finally, in this connection, is it not true that the bitterness is
greatly diminished by the time an intellectual achieves even a
measure of greatness, or even recognition, except perhaps, where the
bitterness has already become a pathological state.
The other assumption is that a writer, an artist, or a poet is
automatically an intellectual. This is to credit some of them with
belonging to the 'superior mind' group merely by reason that they
have given evidence of possessing one or two of the attributes and
abilities associated with this group. It is possible to have and to
demonstrate creative ability and at the same time be relatively
unintelligent in other respects. On the other hand, a writer or an
artist may simply be an extremely good technician and nothing
more. The assumption requires qualification.
These two assumptions are commonly accepted as facts. This
is unfortunate, since it is under their umbrella that a large number of
pseudo-intellectuals, literary fakes, artistic cranks, and poetic
licences creep in and become accepted as intellectuals by the
unthinking and uninformed. This is even more likely to happen in
the colonial territories to which you have drawn attention, because
of the lack of informed opinion which would be able to set reason-
able standards in these matters.
I will not attempt to debate the reasons you suggest for
intellectual poverty in colonial territories, except to point out that
there is a natural numerical limit to the number of superior minds,
and this is commonly accepted as being in the region of 4% to 5%
of any population, so one cannot expect any large number of
intellectuals to be thrown up. The number is less than can be
expected on this basis, partly because of the reasons you give for
intellectual poverty, and partly because there has been a trend in
past years for such intellectuals as there were to leave the land of
their birth and go elsewhere.
Your phrase 'intercourse remains on the level of triviality' is
attractive in a literary sense, but the reason you give for it is super-
ficial. There are a number of other points which appear to have a
bearing on it. Firstly, it is not many years ago since there was no
intercourse at all between the 'outsiders' and local people. When
opportunities did arise, they were purely social where, inevitably,
the level is one of triviality. It is only very recently that the climate
has been such that more serious discussion has had an opportunity
to flourish. That it hasn't flourished to the extent that one might
have hoped may be due mainly to the fact that only a very small
number of the 'outsiders' would lay any claim to be intellectuals in
any event, and for those who are the difficulties of full and frank
discussion and criticism being personalised, arising from latent
inferiority, have to be braved.
Finally, to return to bitterness. Undoubtedly, the intellectual
has a considerable part to play in the development of an emerging
society, and undoubtedly there is much to be angry and impatient
about to act as a spur to action. But, must there be bitterness,
it's such a negative emotion and the intellectual in these circum-
stances needs to be more responsible and more positive than he
need be in a more stable society. There is so much to do.
J. A. E. Y.
Congrats on an excellent and very thought-provoking article.
It takes a great deal of courage to write the 9th paragraph.
What I find very marked is the absolute universality of your
concept of the artist. It covers a whole range of chaps you make
no distinction, for example, between poets, versifiers and hack-
writers. Purely from a personal viewpoint I would have liked to
see you have a go at an all-embracing definition of the artist. As I
say, however, this is purely personal.
I am not sure that I agree with Yeats that bitterness is an
essential ingredient to the artist. What I expect rather is the testiness,
the impatience that the head-boy in the class would have with his
less enlightened comrades. The essential ingredient to high art
is, I think, a mighty theme such as the Western world has been
lacking ever since the Jesus-theme became worn thread-bare by the
poets. Perhaps the assaulton outer space will provide such a theme.
If so, will the West Indian artist be in a position to stake his claim
before the subject is monopolised by world-art? As a foot-note I
might add that if the West Indian artist finds his inspiration-
bitterness in our socio-economic oppression in the past and our
political repression in the present, when we shall have progressed
so far from our past that it ceases to bite, and we will have achieved
political independence, then the outlook for the West Indian
artist will be gloomy indeed.
I have already suggested that you include examples of outstand-
ing achievement in fields other than the academic.
What you say about the intellectual and his role in an
emerging society I find so utterly indisputable that it gives me a
queer, familiar feeling as though I myself might have written it.
BY JACQUELINE de WEEVER.
In the land of the dead, the tall dancer paused awhile in his
restless roaming. From where he stood in eternity, he could see a
beautiful girl, still in time, as yet alive, as yet untouched by love.
And his heart opened, and he loved her. Love gave him a brief
respite from his eternal pain, and in that short moment he resolved
to save her from the fate which was his, the fate of those who have
never loved. For with knowledge peculiar to the dead, he knew that
she was one of those who dedicate themselves to an ideal, and thus
forswear to love. He would become again the man he was before he
had taken of the potion of death, and he would win her love.
He spun round and round in the darkness, so quickly that he
could hardly be seen, although his dancer's tights were of such a
brilliant yellow that he seemed to shine with light. He stopped
abruptly, his arms stretched out in a pleading gesture, and as he
crumpled to the ground, he slowly disappeared behind a thick mist.
Marguerite opened her eyes. It had been like this for the past
week. Every night she dreamed of the tall man, almost as slender as
bamboo, and whose skin was the golden bronze of the sun, He
danced passionately, his movements full of a vitality more powerful
because of its restraint, and altogether giving the impression that he
had come from another world. Never had she seen such dancing,
full of longing and desire, so perfect, and so utterly beautiful.
Now the longing of his eyes, his limbs, his every gesture, troubled
her, for as yet she had not known love for any man.
She was herself a dancer. She danced for the sheer joy of
stretching her limbs, feeling the music flow through her, spreading
her lovely arms upon the air. She was not strikingly beautiful, and
yet it seemed that she was clothed in loveliness, particularly her hair,
which seemingly carried within its strands a thousand tiny lanterns.
She carried herself with quiet dignity and grace, and was, on the
whole, a delight to look at. Men had vowed to love her, and she
had listened to them, but her heart remained untouched, for she
was dedicated to the dance, and felt that she could never love.
And now, suddenly, she had begun to dream of this vibrant
dancer who filled her thoughts completely, whose eyes spoke so
eloquently of his desire for her, with whose movements she was
intoxicated as with wine. Was it because he danced ? The anguished
dancing of the night before troubled her, and she went to her work,
imagining she could see the brilliant yellow fall in front of her on the
pavement. His finely sculptured features seemed to appear before
her as she practised with the other dancers of the troupe, and she
could pay attention neither to the music nor to the directions
of the choreographer. She became alarmed when she realized that
he was actually drilling her, and he kept her at her work after
the others had gone, until she felt that she would collapse. from
sheer exhaustion. When he did allow her to stop for the day, he
was clearly puzzled by her apparent lack of concentration.
"What is happening, Marguerite?" he asked. "You're not
in your usual good form today. What's the matter? Ill ?"
"I am very sory," she replied in confusion, "and I promise to
do better tomorrow. I will try harder. I really will." She was so con-
trite that he let her depart without further questioning.
After that day she dreamed no more of the strange dancer,
and as the days wore on into weeks, she kept her promise, and
danced so well that she astonished the choreographer. He gave
her the leading part in a new ballet on which he had been working,
and the whole troupe began practising on the dances.
At the end of three weeks, Marguertie's dancing was almost
perfect, and she was much heartened by the praise she received.
Her dreams of a month ago no longer disturbed her, and she had
almost forgotten them.
Then one day, as she entered the practice room, she saw him -
tall, slender as bamboo, and as bronze as the sun, with his back
toward her, he was talking with the choreographer. She could hardly
believe her eyes, and as she went towards them, her heart seemed
to have stopped beating.
"This is our new dancer, and he is going to be your partner
in the new ballet. His name is Stephen." The voice seemed far
away. She saw recognition in the dancer's eyes, and she was
suddenly standing very still, outside of time, her whole physical
world had been rolled up like a blanket and thrown aside. From
a distance she heard the clap of hands, music penetrated her
being, and gradually she regained her conscious world. Practice
The ease with which the new dancer danced, the strength
as well as the beauty of his movements, his gracious attitude,
together with the ethereal atmosphere he created, all these things
produced a complete bewilderment among all the dancers. When the
dancing needed brilliance, his technique was as dazzling as the
tropic noon-day sun, and yet he knew how to temper tenderness
with melancholy, making it more moving. As for Marguerite, she
found that when she stretched her arms to him she felt as if she were
the dance itself, welding the lines of her body to the fluid lines of the
The weeks passed. Instead of dreaming of him at night,
she was dancing with him during the day. He was a silent man.
Always she could read the knowledge of infinite sorrow in his
eyes, and although she felt an impulse to comfort him, she dared not
speak to him. There were times, however, when it seemed to her
that he wanted to tell her something, and at these times she was so
afraid that he changed his mind. After dancing, he seemed to leave
before everyone else, and in the morning he simply appeared in
the room. And then she began to dream of him again.
His expressive eyes were sad as he leaned against the wall,
"Why are you afraid of me ?" he asked, and the sound of
his voice was like the whispering of the wind through a hollow
cave near the sea. She could not answer him, and in the silence
he straightened himself and began to dance. Quietly, almost
inaudibly, music filled the room, and as she felt a strong desire
to dance with him, she got out of bed and matched her steps
with his. Gradually the room changed, and she seemed to be
dancing up a familiar street with Stephen. The moon was very
new, just the barest cresent, and the pale moonlight cast shadows of
the leaves on the ground making them look like a rich embroidery.
The music became agitated as shadows of dancers floated down
from the tree-tops. Their dancing was fierce and full of passion, so
much so that it seemed that the passion of many ages had been
waiting for this one chance of expression. They beckoned to
Marguerite, but Stephen held her fast. She felt that she wanted to
join them, to forget all else in the fire of the dance, but she could not.
She looked at Stephen. His face wore a hollow, haunted expression,
his eyes were filled with the agony of intense suffering. Seeing
that their efforts were in vain, the dancers floated back up to the tree-
tops, and the music once more became soothing and gentle. All
night they danced, and she did not know when the music stopped, or
how she got back to her room, but she awoke very tired. She
knew that this time it was no dream, that she had actually danced,
and the sight of the shadow dancers, Stephen's agonized expres-
sion, were still vividly in her mind.
For two days after that night Stephen did not appear for
practice, but on the third day he came. Marguerite had gone to
the studio a little earlier than usual to do a little private work,
and no one was there except the cleaning woman who opened the
doors. As she danced, she leaped into the air, and as she came down,
she was caught by a pair of strong hands and guided to the end of
the movement. Whirling around, she looked into Stephen's eyes
black eyes full of tenderness and yearning, eyes full of sorrow.
Before she could speak, he said in his infinitely beautiful voice:
"Where I have been, I cannot tell you, but I had to see you
once again before I leave you forever."
"Where are you going," she asked in a frightened whisper.
"If you cannot tell me that, take me with you."
He looked at her steadily. "You do not know what you are
saying, Marguerite," he answered gently. "Where I go, you cannot
come. Shall we dance together now?"
She no more wanted to question him, because of the expression
on his face. It was the same haunted look she had seen in her
dream. The music of the ballet filled the room, although there
was no orchestra to play it, but stopped abruptly as the dancers
began to come into the room.
At the end of the day, he left before everyone, as was his
way, but when Marguerite got home, there was light in her room,
and when she opened the door, he was sitting on her bed.
"How did you get in ?" she asked in surprise, but he did not
answer. She sat beside him and he said,
"I cannot tell you anything about myself. It is forbidden.
But I am allowed to love you." He took her in his arms, and held
her face against his. "You have never loved, I know, and how I
wish you would love me!"
She wanted to tell him that she did love him, but the magic
of his voice had cast a spell on her and she could not speak. She felt
the weight of his head on her breast, and now the desire of his limbs
against hers was like thirst that had to be quenched, the desire of
that first haunting dream of so long ago. The desire became a
beseeching, and she felt her body slowly unfold itself, as do the
petals of a bedewed hibiscus under the wooing of the warm insistant
He did not go away immediately. For the rest of the week
she practised and rehearsed with him in the studio. She did not
realise whenever she danced with him, the exactness he demand-
ed of her was gradually taking its toll of her slight frame. She
hardly ate, for she seemed to draw strength from her love for him.
At last the first night arrived, the curtain went up, and the
ballet began. The whole piece was full of a power and a beauty of
which the critics had never dreamed, even in their wildest dreams.
Marguerite had become the music, and the dance dominated her
mind. As the curtain fell to the thunderous applause of the audience,
she began to feel the fatigue of the endless weeks of hard work.
By the time she got home, she seemed almost overcome with
weariness, but her love for Stephen was stronger than her body,
and she would not let him leave her.
As she took him to her bosom she told him: "This is too
much of joy, Stephen. I cannot bear it. Perhaps it is because I am
He did not answer, for his heart was heavy. She could feel
the violent throbbing in his breast, and as she put her hands in
his hair, she said at last, "I love you, Stephen." As the words
left her lips, the throbbing became less violent. She knew he had
opened his eyes because she could feel the delicate brush of his
eye lashes against her throat, like the brush of a moth's wing.
Then he raised his head, and looked at her with eyes clear and calm,
and free from pain at last.
"It has not been in vain," he said, "and now my suffering is
over. How I have worked to save you from the fate of those who
have never loved, who howl with the wind in winter, who roar with
the sea in summer, who are forever without rest. I love you, and
this is too much of joy, and I cannot bear it, my beloved!" and he
covered her face with a thousand kisses.
The next morning the housekeeper found her dead, and
found also a pair of brilliant yellow tights on the floor of her room,
On Writing History--An Administrative
BY ALLAN YOUNG
The sector of history-writing with which I am most concerned
is the sector in which I myself have recently been operating. I shall
therefore begin with a few observations on my own approaches
to The Approaches to Local Self-Government in British
To begin with, how is it that the book came to be written ?
The answer to this lies in a single word encouragement. I was
persuaded by a number of knowledgeable persons into believing
that the material utilised for my B. Litt. thesis has some historical
value that is practical and not wholly academic. With this encourage-
ment I embarked on the additional work of re-vamping, of ampli-
fying and simplifying, of whittling down and amending the original
thesis, to bring the book into its ultimate form, but it is a fact, as I
have mentioned in the preface to the book, that the work was
conceived primarily as an administrative and not as a historical
study. This is a point to which I will be returning.
The question may well be asked, why is it that an ex-land
surveyor/civil servant, currently concerned with communications
and works, should aspire to producing a work on the subject of
local government what are the factors that influenced the choice
of subject ? The answer this time is not so simple.
The foremost reason, I think, is the fact that my Civil Service
apprenticeship was served with the Local Government Board.
This was my baptism in the practicalities of village administration
from the inside. Several years later, as Chairman of a village
council and later still as a District Commissioner, I was to come to
grips with the realities from the outside.
My early duties demanded direct intercourse with village
councillors and village overseers. Among these duties, I was as-
signed the responsibility for the printing of all village estimates.
From these I gained a direct and useful insight into the entire scope
of the activities of the many village councils and country authorities.
Every Friday a swarm of village overseers would descend
upon the office with their pay-lists for the week's village works. As
assistant pay-master, it was my duty to see that the work was
within the approved estimate, to check the arithmetical accuracy and
to verify that every one of these pay-sheets was certified by the
village chairman and at least one councillor, or not less than two
councillors. I then had to examine the appropriate ledger, to see
In course of publication by Longmans Green & Co., Ltd., in association with
the Extra-Mural Department, U.C.W.I., and scheduled for release in June,
whether each village was 'in funds' from its rate collections, to the
extent of the sum required, before writing a cheque for issue to the
overseer to cover the amount.
I later had to check the correctness of the stamp duties where
these were required, and such other details as the correspondence of
the signature at the receiving end with the name of the worker
It was at this period that an event occurred that created in my
mind a lasting interest in village affairs. This event was my first
reading of the memorandum on village administration in British
Guiana prepared in 1903 by Mr. A.M. Ashmore, the then Colonial
Secretary. The memorandum itself is brief for such a document
compared with many of the official memoranda I have since seen
and it was quite unpretentious to look at, but the tale it told of bands
of ex-slaves combining to purchase abandoned plantations, out of
which they moulded so many of the villagers for which I was
processing the pay-sheets, caught and held my imagination.
My next stimulus in this direction was to come in 1937 with the
publication of Clementi's "Constitutional History of British
Guiana".Though a constitutional work, Clementi quite gratuitously
threw in two chapters on local government, Chapter IV of
Part II on The Municipality of Georgetown and Chapter XV on
Village Administration and Local Government. Clementi's two
hundred thousand words on the history of the Colony's constitution
made it quite unnecessary for me to adopt his pattern in reverse and
devote a chapter to constitutional history in my short history of
village administration. Thanks to Clementi, I could confine myself
to the occasional reference needed to make some point, and to
resuming the constitutional record where Clementi left off, but again
merely for the purpose of argument.
Clementi's chapter on village administration shed much more
light on village history than did Ashmore's memorandum. Even so
however, it is understandably a bald outline and what set my mind
racing was not so much what Clementi said as what he left unsaid.
I found myself asking myself a number of questions. I was curious
to know a great deal more as to how the successive systems of village
administration actually worked while they lasted, exactly what it was
they has each tried to accomplish and the precise reasons why, and
the way in which, they each had failed.
A decisive moment came in 1951 when, like more than a
score of other Guianese civil servants over a number of years, an
opportunity came my way to do some intensive work in admin-
istration, including research in some particular aspect. For the
research, my natural choice was village administration in British
Guiana, but I must confess that I had a moment of weakness. This
came when I read for the first time Burn's "Emancipation and
Apprenticeship in the British West Indies." The plight of the poor
Stipendiary Magistrate, pressured between Parliament and Planter,
striving heroically nevertheless to do the right thing as he saw it,
awakened my interest. The Apprenticeship came of course a century
before the phrase "continental destiny" had been popularised by
Sir Gordon Lethem. Burn clearly intended this book to cover
British Guiana, and like a good Guianese I was incensed to find that
it was confined almost entirely to the Jamaican scene, that in a book
of 4oo pages the references to British Guiana number only eight, all
adding up to a total of less than three pages. The urge to make a
similar study for British Guiana was strong. But I soon reflected
that our Stipendiary Magistrates had survived for more than a
century beyond the end of apprenticeship and that in the meantime
the apprentices themselves had graduated into full-fledged
villagers. The post-apprenticeship relationship between stipendiary
Magistrate and ex-apprentice was wholly unexplored. This was
clearly tied in with village development. Everything pointed to the
need for a history of village administration.
I was not long in discovering too that the curious pattern of
supersessive legislation outlined by Clementi was characteristic not
only of pure village administration. It was evident in several other
allied spheres. What was behind it all? There was only one way of
finding out. I was back where I had started. For me historical
research into village administration in British Guiana was quite
inescapable. So much then for the existence of the book and the
choice of subject.
One of the most exciting features of historical writing on
British Guiana is the struggle for material. Generally speaking the
problem is not so much a dearth of material as the difficulty of
locating what there is, the maddening uncertainty as to exactly
where some link of vital information might be hiding itself the
question may be at times, on which side of the Atlantic ? For the
general historian some authentic work is now coming to hand,
Clementi on Chinese Immigration and again on the Constitution,
Nauth on the East Indians, Raymond Smith on Negro Social
Evolution and my own work on the Villages. A history of sugar has
been published in several volumes.
In my own chosen field I was far less fortunate. Clementi's two
chapters, a chapter in the Report to the Fabian Colonial Bureau on
Local Government in the Colonies, scattered references in Profes-
sor Simey's "Welfare and Planning in the West Indies", two
articles in Timehri and the published literature on my subject
was exhausted. Dr. Marshall's report was not available until I had
reached the concluding stages.
I was thrown back on the primary sources of material, always the
most reliable in the end. Successive legislation against the back-
ground of the Court of Policy and Combined Court debates, and
correspondence between the Governor and the Colonial Office
proved the most fruitful and dependable source, and one hitherto
virtually unexplored, and, so long as I was in the United Kingdom
a source that was readily available through the Public Record
Office and the Colonial Office Library. For those who may be
interested perhaps I might mention that in the latter library there
appears to be a gap of several volumes in the Court of Policy
I was to discover too that in British Guiana the complete
hansard was introduced only from 1880. Prior to this only minutes
of the proceedings were kept. Fortunately however, it was the
practice to reproduce the debates verbatim inthe daily newspapers
of the time, of which a good supply is to be found in the Archives,
I said earlier on that "The Approaches ..." was conceived
primarily as an administrative and not as a historical study. Perhaps
I should now remove any possible misimplication by glancing
briefly at the respective roles of history and administration.
What is history ? It is, in my view, the progressive total record
of the efforts of mankind in its upward striving towards the fuller
life. The raw material of history is human behaviour and human
achievement. Human failure will also find a place, and the record
will include such milestones as migrations and conquests, treaties
and laws, discoveries and disasters. Each achievement, every
failure, every effort in short, is born of a prior decision.
We must add to the record too the triumphs over the challenge
of natural disaster, the challenge of flood and famine, earthquake
and pestilence, but where disaster is concerned, it must be noted
that a natural occurrence, however cataclysmic, is never in
itself history but only the germ of history, only a scientific fact in the
physical evolution of the inanimate region. A volcanic eruption in
the Gobi desert or the Antarctic wastes is a matter not for the his-
torian, but for the scientist. "The event itself is as pure water from
the pitcher of Fate". What makes history is not disaster itself but
the effect of disaster on human beings. What makes history out of
an Act of God is the action taken by man to meet and deal with its
effects. Here again action must be prefaced by decision in every case.
Achievement, failure, the coping with disaster, these are born alike
of decision. The history of a people is therefore to be found in its
national decisions, and what is public administration concerned
with but the making of national decisions ?
This relationship between history and administration is not
always apparent, for in the making of these decisions there must be
in each case some head of State vested with the ultimate respon-
sibility, and in the pageant of world-history the untrained eye sees
little evidence of public administration, but only, at the summit
of the nation, a varied procession of High Priest and President-
Dictator, King-Emperor and Cabinet Minister, a procession in
which the Colonial Governor very nearly finds a place, mutatis
mutandis. To these leaders are passingly entrusted this ultimate
responsibility, irrespective of the number of individuals who might
each make a contribution towards the decision made on behalf of
This then, in essence, is the administrative view of history -
the record of the successive national decisions of a people, in its
upward striving on every front towards the attainment of the
Ivan G. Van Sertima
LIFE AND DEATH
(Dialogue on man's mortality and significance)
Man's life is a mere adventure of nervous matter,
a futile fever of the flesh,
a gross melodrama of a billion bacillae.
spirit of man
is material essence of material substance,
god electricity, the blind kundalini,
mechanical motor-root of the accidentally animated
Man is an ant in space,
a speck of dust on a speck of dust,
his world is only a dot on the map of the cosmos.
Life of man
is the inconsequential murmur in a themeless
of what vital significance
the pin-point flicker of flame
against the immense and engulfing darkness of
the inaudible patter of the water drop
bursting amid the colossal cataracts
in a chaotic and cataclysmic cascading ?
Death of man
is a total disintegration,
inglorious dissolution of cellular formation,
end to an integral awareness of being.
death is the absolute totality of effacement
the awful precipitation
into a vacant and hollow-socketed
it is time's final liquidating trample
upon the worm's ineffectual wriggling.
and the essence passes
spirit of man
sinks down into the earth
in fresh unrelated moulds of fermenting substance.
and the frail concoction of marrow and corpuscle
is lowered like carrion
into the maggoted mud
to manure the flora and fungi on the star's epidermis
when death comes.
but man transcends it
mounting triumphant from the trammels of the tomb
mocking the meanness of matter,
the magnitude of space,
earth's pain and the flesh's darkness,
and the relative mortality of the stars.
and the flesh collapses
matter of man
falls back onto the earth like mud
but the essence never passes
the river in man
surges to life anew
nursing upon the natal currents of divinity.
Flesh is the university of the unsculptured spirit,
mint of the ethereal germ,
material experience, the evolutionary plastic
for the casting of independent divinities.
death of man
is mere metamorphic dropping of the shell-cell,
end to the gross caterpillar,
shackle-striped acendancy of the angelic essence.
Life of man
is a vital movement in the grand universal symphony:
Man is an ant in space,
a speck of dust on a speck of dust,
yet bigger and brighter
than the brightest and biggest of
for what are a million worlds of gas and fire
to five thought-tingling ounces of magically animated
what are all the chronicles of comets
or the sagas of the suns
to the history of one human heart?
or what the grandeur of a moon
or the intensity of a star
to the subtleties and profundities
the glory and magnificence of the human spirit?
One infinitesimal man,
one lilliputian image of divinity,
is a cosmos in the flesh,
a colossal creature of immeasurable magnitude!
Man's life is the expression of divinity in matter,
a glorification of the flesh,
a million-mooded manifestation of the master spirit:
spirit of man
is eternal essence in ephemeral substance,
god, the genius of the cosmos,
superconscious intelligence throbbing at the heart of all
Out Out the Fire.
By MARTIN CARTER
(In this extract the description of the street in the city is followed by the
discovery in the alleyway of a decomposing foetus, obviously
thrownthere by someone who had undergone an abortion
Outside, in the city the, sun burns madly upstairs in the sky.
The streets blaze white near green grass, and galvanised iron roofs
shimmer like vapour. When the sun is high the city lies rigid,
tense and trembling in the stark light. And the sky is far away like
a foreign country, and the clouds are like new sails on old ships
Every street is straight and white like a chalk line. On either
side houses stand up on stilts like angular insects, reaching for
something to eat. The fronts of the houses are separated from the
green parapets by fences made of wallaba paling staves. But some
are broken and jagged like splintered teeth, dirty and discoloured
The fronts of the houses are like open mouths and the stumps of
the paling staves are like the stained stumps of broken teeth. And
just as down a human mouth, the food of life goes everyday, just
so into this broken mouth of the houselot, life goes everyday,
passing forward and backward as if some giant face were eating
with a morbid relish, spitting out the more tasteless morsels and
swallowing all the rest.
The street is wide and full of dust. In the white sunlight it
lies down passively. From the wide world come motor cars, lorries
and vans, making a lot of noise, shaking up the white dust and leav-
ing the air full of the smell of fume. Wooden donkey carts, creaking
and shaking, rattle over the pieces of white marl lying all about.
Dogs fight in the grass, snarling and snapping angry white teeth
until they lock into each other, twisting violent muscles. And little
naked black children, with rags for shirts, run about with discarded
bicycle tyres, jumping over the furious dogs, the grass and the
stones. Sometimes, but sometimes only, the whole street goes
suddenly quiet, as though everything has stopped for a moment to
listen to itself. But then it begins all over again, iron wheels turning,
sun wheels turning, sky wheels turning, life wheels turning, hub
and rim, centre and circumference, point and limit, core and boun-
And when the sun goes down the whole yard becomes a slab
of darkness, like a block of black ice. In the night-wrapped city,
where the streets intersect, the light from lantern posts falls into
yellow pools on dust and pebbles. Trees grow tall above the roof
tops and some of them look as if they were trying to go to sleep.
Crapauds in the damp grass begin to rattle and whistle like birds
who can never fly. And even the dogs bark with a different meaning.
The night is like a door that closes in the afternoon locking every-
thing into a black room. And as it comes down, the sky seems to
rise high up into space, only to come down again. Below, in the
streets, boys and girls on bicycles ride past men and women walking.
And a donkey cart would appear around the corner moving slowly.
The cartman droops over the donkey's rump, half asleep. In his
fist he clutches a bottle from the narrow spout of which protrudes a
tonge of yellow fire. And as the donkey walks, the cartman rolls
forwards and backwards in rhythm with the hooves. And in the
yards, the women sit on their doorsteps looking out at the street,
spitting at the night, gossiping with their neighbours and laughing
at themselves, in strange and secret amusement.
4. Miss Agnes always sat out on her front steps watching the
street after dusk. She would sit down and look at the people passing
for an hour or two before going in to prepare for sleep. But as some-
body from the yard would come to look out too, she invariably had
a companion to talk to.
That night she was sitting on her front step in the dark as
usual when she suddenly heard a voice from the shadows behind
"Like you looking out", the voice said.
"Eh heh", Miss Agnes replied, turning her head to see who
it was. She recognized Old Katie's voice and repeated, "Eh heh,
ah looking out lil".
Old Katie came up and stood beside Miss Agnes.
"But wait! Was to ask you. Is wha' kind of shrimp shells you
throw away in the alley dis morning."
Miss Agnes started. The sudden question surprised her. She
did not reply at once but wondered why Old Katie had asked the
question at all. Before she could say anything else Old Katie con-
"If you only smell the place now. It smell like some dead
ramgoat bury with rotten eggs. I never smell nothing so bad in all
me life." As she spoke she grimaced as though something was
stuck up in her nose. In the dark her flabby face twisted around her
nose like a mask of soft rubber.
"But is wha' you mean at all" Miss Agnes asked her after a
moment. "Is only today I throw 'way dem strimp shells in de
alley. You never smell shrimp shells before ? she demanded, turning
fiercely on Old Katie.
Old Katie sighed. She was not a quarrelsome old woman so
she said quietly. "I custom to smelling strimp shells yes, but I
ain't custom to smelling strimp shells like dem at all. I telling you,
Miss Agnes, dem shrimp shells really smelling bad. But you must
come with me and tek a smell for yourself."
Miss Agnes did not reply. She was wondering how the few
shrimp shells she had thrown away that morning could ever smell
as bad as Old Katie was making out.
"You sure is shrimp shells you smelling in de alley", she
asked quietly, looking at Old Katie.
"Is wha' den" the old woman replied. "Is only you use shrimps
today and throw way de shells in de alley. It didn't smell so last
night, so it could only be you strimp shells that got de place smelling
"Well", said Miss Agnes. "Well ah really don't feel like smell-
ing no nasty'ting tonight. But if you sure is me shrimp shells smell-
ing so high in de alley, I going to come down in de morning and
tek a smell foh myself."
Old Katie turned away, grumbling to herself. "Just fancy,
she don't feel like smelling no nasty thing tonight! But I who living
in de backhouse got to sleep with it, and bathe with it cook with it,
As she walked back through the yard to her house at the back
she continued grumbling in her mouth.
"But look at me trial" she grumbled. "Dey come and dey
throw way dey nasty things all about the place and when you talk
to dem about it dey bex. People like them should live in de pasture
where dey could do what dey like."
She walked up her step and entered her little shaky house.
Across the alleyway she could see the lights in the other houses
giving off a sickly yellow glow as though the lights was weak and
anaemic with living in all the darkness.
And when midnight comes and every light is out except the
street lights, all is quiet as a grave yard. In the silence the beat of the
wind on the sea comes gently, floating over the sleeping roofs. In
the grass near the land crickets and candleflies exchange places on
hidden leaves. Dogs snarl and bark out suddenly. And somewhere
in the world of night, a man lies on top of a woman closing his eyes
and emptying himself into the invisible depths of her body. And
then when is quite empty, he becomes light like a feather and floats
through the black silk cotton of sleep like a seed on wings. And far
away to the North of the city the sea surrounds the world, dark
under the keen stars. Up and down, forever and forever, the broken
waves run from shore to shore, from night to night and from man to
5. In the morning, bright and early, Miss Agnes went down
to the alleyway. The sun was lifting itself over the city and the sharp
light made clean shadows on the earth. The wind was fresh andmoist
and the sky sparkling like wet glass.
"Ah come foh smell de ting you was telling me about last
night", she called out as she came up to Old Katie's house.
Old Katie looked through the window.
"Wha' happen" she asked, "you mean to say you ain't start
smelling yet." She looked at Miss Agnes suspiciously.
Miss Agness took a noisy sniff, holding up her nose to the air.
"You ain't got foh do all dat", Old Katie cried out, "just come
round by the back step and you gin know."
Miss Agnes walked around and took another loud sniff.
"Oh Jesus Christ!" she exclaimed suddenly, "Oh Jesus
Christ, but is true. But is wha got dis place smelling so bad!'
As she stood up there she could see the shrimp shells she had
thrown away lying on the ground. Surely those few shrimp shells
could not be giving off that smell. And yet, she reasoned, it had to
be the shrimp shells. There was nothing else lying about that
could possibly give off such a cloud of stink.
Miss Agnes stood up looking about her. She could'nt say any
thing to defend herself. And all she did was to cry out again and
again about the smell.
Behind her at the window Old Katie was waiting to hear what
she would say.
"You believe now ?" Old Katie asked, "you believe now about
what I was telling you last night. And you only smelling it now
you deh here standing up. But if you was like me living in dis
house you would dead long ago. Last night the smell was so bad
that I dream I was living in a latrine, not no clean big shot latrine,
but one of dem brum down nasty latrine some people got in the
yard where dey say dey living. And dis morning when ah wake up
and smell the smell, ah know de dream was not no dream at all.
Because up to now ah got one splitting headache."
Miss Agnes turned around sympathetically.
"Ah know how you must be feeling wid dis nastiness so near
you." She walked away slowly wondering what she should do.
As she turned around she noticed a piece of cloth sticking out from
under a pile of old boards lying half in the yard and half in the
alleyway. She walked over and looked at it curiously. As she bent
down to inspect it, the smell rose in her face like a dense spray of
water. She put her hand over her mouth and bent lower.
"But is wha' dis ?" Miss Agnes asked again. She looked around
on the ground and picked up a short piece of stick and started to
probe at the half-hidden cloth.
As she poked at it a piece of pinkish fabric broke away.
"Eh Eh" she remarked aloud. "But dis look like blood."
The smell was stronger than ever and Miss Agnes kept her mouth
tightly closed so as to prevent any of the bad smell going down her
Suddenly she jumped back as though something had leaped
from the ground straight into her eyes.
"Oh Gawd" she screamed, "Oh Gawd". She spun around to
face Old Katie. "Is a dead baby, is a dead baby." She bawled,
"An' was dat got the place smelling so bad an' got me blaming
Miss Agnes shrimp shells", Old Katie told Policeman. Policeman
was writing in his notebook standing near the spot where the bundle
showed under the wood. Around his black uniform the women
from the adjoining houses were discussing the pitiful discovery.
They had all come running when Miss Agnes gave the alarm,
leaving their pots cooking on the fires in their kitchens.
"But why you all people don't go home and cook you husband
food," Policeman asked them nudging one of the women with his
elbow. They were all grouped around him listening as he spoke
with Old Katie, and from time to time they interrupted him.
The woman he had nudged sucked her teeth loudly.
"But like you is a anti-man nuh ?" she asked, cutting her eyes
at Policeman. All the women laughed out boisterously, and Police-
man looked back into his book writing industriously so as to appear
as busy and official as possible. He knew he dared not attempt to
exchange remarks with the women and so he tried to ignore them.
The policeman was a young man with a dark brown skin and
a very serious expression on his face. The women knew that he
was young in the police force and that he felt he had one of the
most important jobs in the world and that he meant to live up to
the dignity of it. He had been sent out from the Station when Old
Katie went and gave the report. And now he was taking a
statement from Miss Agnes, who all the time had remained on the
spot watching the bloody bundle that shownd under the wood.
"Is somebody living around here throw way dat thing", one
of the women said.
"But ah wonder is who", another asked, leaning forward as if
to inspect anew and discover some clue as to its origin.
"Is somebody living round here", the woman who has spoken
first repeated again, emphatically.
"Like you know is who", Policeman said suddenly, turning
to look directly at the woman.
"Oh me Jesus", the woman cried out in alarm. "What I know
about anything like dat. And to besides, leh me go and see what
happening to me pot before it boil over."
She bustled away hurriedly, leaving Policeman looking be-
hind her inquisitively.
He turned back to face the women.
"Now listen", he said "if anybody here got any information
about who throw away this ting in dis alley, dey bettah come for-
ward right away. Because if you know and you don't tell is an
He spoke proudly aware of his authority. But nobody answered.
"Alright, alright", he warned. "You all people want to lie
down wid man when the night come and enjoy yourself. But when
you get ketch you don't want to mind pickney. You don't think
about the consequences. All you want is the sweetness. Ah know,
ah know, but we going to see what is going to happen. Somebody
looking for trouble and is one of you."
As he spoke he frowned. The women, who a few minutes be-
fore were laughing at him, now watched at him with troubled eyes.
"And this is a serious offence" he continued. He saw that he
had them frightened and he was happy.
"Last year in the country", he said, "a woman get baby and
when the baby dead she wrap it up in an old newspaper and throw
it away in de alley. And you know what happened? Was only be-
cause the Magistrate sorry foh she that she didn't get jail."
"Is true" one of the women said. Every eye was fixed on Police-
man. Standing in his black uniform stiff and erect, he seemed to
tower over them. Suddenly Miss Agnes took a step forward.
"But boy", she said, without warning "But boy, is wha' you
name ?" She had been listening to Policeman while he was speaking
and her sudden irrelevant question fell like a bucket of cold water
"Constable Cecil Joe No. 4914" Policeman almost shouted,
almost saluting. But as quickly he caught himself and relaxed.
He glanced at Miss Agnes.
"Like you is a botheration woman", he said softly with cold
anger in his eyes. The question had really caught him and his im-
mediate parrot like recitation of rank, name and number made him
feel ashamed. He realized how stupid he looked and he knew that
the women who only a few moments ago were looking at him with
awe, were now more or less normal again and ready to laugh at him.
Just then another policeman came up to the crowd with an
old toffee tin in his hand.
"You tek down the statement and everything" he asked Con-
"Yes ah got it."
"Well alright then, leh we pickup dis thing and carry um down
to the station one time.
The second policeman picked up the bundle and put it in the
"I am going to have to ask you some more questions", Con-
stable Joe told Miss Agnes as he started to leave. "This investiga
tion only now start'
Miss Agnes stared at him for a moment, then she laughed out,
with a forced bitterness.
"Bur hear he!" she shouted at his back. "But hear he! You
could start anything like investigation!"
She turned to the women. But they had all begun to walk
away and so Miss Agnes went back alone through the yard to her
room. And on the grey ground beneath her feet as she walked, the
hard little brown ants journey through the dust leaving no trail.
In the yard the lean chickens scratch with impatient feet at mounds
of dirt, searching for a worm, a shrimp shell, a grain of rice. Green
blades of grass choking beneath weeds, lean back their clean points
to the land in a mute repudiation of light and sun. Only the winged
marabuntas and the slender tailed pond flies dance through the
air, flitting from earth-floor to roof-top and darting from cool shade
to cool shade like memories seeking a place to rest. And high above,
beyond the tall interruption of coconut palm heads, the unsympa-
thetic sun burns out its white insistence, contemptuous of ant or
chicken, grass or weed, roof top or dust, memory or wing.
The Kyk-Over-Anthology of West
(Editor A. J. SEYMOUR, 1957.)
There are many kinds of anthologies. I have seen polyglot anthologies. There are
anthologies made from the works of a single poet the Third Anthology of Jimenez
Nobel Prize of 1956, springs to the mind. But the majority of anthologies belong to
one of three main groups. First, the personal anthologies in which the poems have
nothing in common but the anthologist's partiality for them. The most common kind
of anthology is more conscious of its duty to literature, or perhaps to literary history;
it attempts to give a representative selection of the poetry of a national culture through
the centuries ,- the Oxford Books of Verse in various languages are among the best
examples. And the last kind is what I may call the partial representative anthology
- the anthology that strives to present to us the poetry of a particular school or of a
particular period. The various books of Modern Verse, Faber, Penguin, Oxford -
are obviously of this kind.
It is to this last group of partial representative anthologies that our book belongs
most. I say 'most' because, in the first place, it is evident that the personality of the
anthologist must always influence the choice of poems for inclusion, and perhaps more
strongly, the choice of poems for exclusion.
A. J. Seymour, the editor of 'Anthology of West Indian Poetry' (Kyk-over-al No.
22), is well aware of this problem. One of the questions he asks
himself is whether he made 'a fair attempt to correct his own
proclivities and see the best'. It is well nigh impossible for a
reviewer to criticise Mr. Seymour for his inclusions or omissions since
one of the declared objects of this anthology is to make known the work of Caribbean
poets to a larger public for the first time. 'There are few who have seen the poems'
I quote from the editor's Preface to the First Edition of the Anthology'.... and of
these fewer still have attempted to collect the individual booklets and the magazines
in which they have been printed.' In such circumstances, I am quite prepared to
accept Mr. Seymour's anthology, with the reservations he himself makes, as a
representative collection of contemporary West Indian poetry. And with this premiss,
it seems logical to assume that the collection must represent faithfully the quality of the
cultural matrix of the poems.
I am well aware that the question 'Is there a West Indian culture'-Culture .
with a West Indian C' is how Lamming puts it I know that this question has been
widely, and often hotly, debated in West Indian circles in recent years. Most of those
who affirm that there is, quite apart from the amusing circumstances of seeing them-
selves as the high priests of such a culture, seem to me to be guilty of the same sort of
fallacy as those who see a University degree as the completion of an education, rather
than the completion of the foundations. I should describe a culture as a 'significant an
characteristic flowering of the human spirit in a particular society'. This is my own
definition; it is much more limited and exigent than the definition of the anthro-
pologist, and necessarily implies a significant flowering of the liberal arts.
How truly may we say that there is a flowering of the liberal arts in the West
Indies ? Painting must be dismissed, in spite of Guianese claims for Denis Williams;
Music has all the elements, but no great work as yet; prose literature has its Roger
Mais and its Mittelholzer and poetry boasts the works of George Campbell, E. M.
Roach, Harold Telemaque, Derek Walcott and of A. J. Seymour himself, five poets
picked almost at random from the twenty-eight names represented in this anthology.
Let me be positive about this. I think that these poems image
forth only the beginnings of a culture. That this should be so
is nothing to be surprised at, even less to be ashamed of. A comparison
with the culture of Latin America should, I think, be more
illuminating than that made with other Commonwealth countries by the editor.
Cultures are not propagated by seed, but by layering. The layers of Spanish culture in
America were struck over four centuries ago with the foundation of the first Universities
in the Islands, in Peru and in Mexico.And yet it is only in this century that new cultures
have grown, in Dario, Neruda and Gabriela Mistral, to triumphant maturity and
independence. The cultural record of the British Caribbean makes a sorry comparison.
There is not yet, as we are well aware, one single fully independent University; the
placental layer cannot yet be severed. And the system of slavery was largely
effective in destroying those elements of native culture, in the looser sense of both
words, that were, and are, used to such effect in Mexico and Peru.
This sense of being despoiled of native culture wells up into the sullen protest of
E. M. Roach's I am the Archipelago'
The obeahman infects me to my heart
Although I wear my Jesus on my breast
And burn a holy candle for my saint.
I am a shaker and a shouter and a myal man;
AMy voodoo passion swings sweet chariots low.
I believe that this sentiment, expressed in one of the most moving poems of tha
collection, is negative. In this poem, Roach does not, as Mr. Seymour suggests
a poet should, create 'out of his sensibility the positive and encouraging view of
human life necessary for the development of the community. 'There is nothing
positive in dwelling on the ruins of slavery, any more than there is in the cry
'Back to Africa.' More positive by far is Telemaque's approach in the poem
'Roots', an attempt to create an identity in a setting:-
Who with the climbing sinews
Climbed the palm
To where the wind plays most,
And saw a chasmed pilgrimage
Making agreement for his clean return..
Was heaviness of dreams,
From drowsy gifts.
Telemaque's also is the successful identification of poet with local habitation in. In
In our Land
We do not breed
That taloned king, the eagle,
Nor make emblazonry of lions;
In our land,
The black birds
And the chickens of our mountains
Speak our dreams.
One of the editor's assumptions I must challenge. It is this: that West Indian
culture is the exclusive concern of the Negro, whereas it is a fact
that in two of the important territories the Negro is in a minority.
Mr. Seymour is well aware of the fact, as his own poem The
People not in this anthology -shows. It would seem, however, that
he chooses to ignore the main implication, which is that a definitive West Indian culture
and literature must be founded on a wider basis than at present .The contribution of the
non-Negro elements to the common culture may well be highly significant.
I should like to see signs of a forthcoming common culture based on the essential
unity of the human race, and on the absolute worth of the human person, in George
Campbell's poem 'Holy', which I shall quote in full;-
Holy be the white head of a negro
Sacred be the black flax of a black child.
The golden down
That will srteam in the waves of the winds
And will thin like dispersing cloud.
Heads of Chinese hair
Sea calm sea impersonal
Deep flowering of the mellow and traditional.
Heads of people fair
Bright shimmering from the riches of their species;
Heads of Indians
With feeling of distance and space and dusk:
Heads of wheaten gold,
Heads of peoples dark
So strong so original:
All of the earth and the sun!
Highly interesting are the poems that try to evoke a tradition. Keane's Fragments
and Patterns' and the editor's. For Christopher Columbus' and 'The Legend of
Kaieteur'. Interesting too are the celebrations of things very specifically Caribbean -
Sherlock's 'Pocomania' and Keane's 'Interlude Calypso'...
There are many faults in the.poets of this anthology, Too many affect an outmoded
idiom, measures too pat or free verse too free. Banalitycreeps in,as in Una Marson's
'I thought the sight/might tear my heart/to pieces.' and the ludicrous, as in George
'Today I would remember you whom birth brought no lucky dip
From which to pluck a permanent privilege,..'
Very often, poetry seems to be lacking completely I am thinking especially of W.
Adolphe Roberts' Gray-like verse. And pretentiousness mars most of Lamming.
But there is much genuine feeling in these poems. I have already mentioned E. M.
Roach. Una Marson's 'Where Death is Kind', in spite of the fault I have mentioned,
achieves poignancy. And there is genuine poetry. I shall conclude my examination of
these poems by quoting the impetuous clanging music of George Campbell's short
Women stone breakers
Hammers and rocks
Tired child makers
Hard white piles
Under hot sky
In the gully bed.
Women child bearers
Wilful toil sharers
Hammers and rocks.
The editor makes a strong plea for the building of a building of a 'bridge of
communication' between poet and people, 'so that a unique way of life may be won and
a culture made in which they may all rest.' It is well to remember that 'poet' is a Greek
word meaning 'maker'. Whether the poet's function, as Mr. Seymour suggests, is
to make a culture, or only to make poems, is debatable. What is quite sure is that Mr.
Seymour has, in this anthology, built a good bridge to the poet, so that we may see
exactly what he is making, and how he is making it. And for that we must be very
grateful to him.
LAURENCE W. KEATES.
by Edgar Mittelholzer
It must be, I suppose, more difficult to write a historical novel where the characters
live in recent times, within living memory of so many people, because there is then
room for contradiction. Nevertheless Edgar Mittelholzer has produced such
a work in his latest book, KAYWANA BLOOD, the last of the trilogy dealing
with the lives and loves of the van Groenwegel family, a stirring tale.
As in the two previous novels, the story of the family is interwoven with an
account of the history of British Guiana. This book, dealing as it does with the period
from the nineteenth century to the present, has as interesting a historical background
as the others. In the hands of this excellent storyteller it becomes easy to understand
the frustration of the planters in whose memory the colony had passed unconcernedly
from hand to hand, being in turn Dutch, French, Dutch, British, and at one time nearly
achieving Swedish nationality. The story of the growth of the city from Longchamps,
chastely laid out in squares by the French, to the Dutch Stabroek, then Georgetown
with its recurring ravishments by fire, would fascinate anyone.
For those who are on one side or the other of the old argument about heredity and
environment, there is much food for further debate. The 'Old Blood' comes out again
in very much the same way as in the former generations. In every generation of the
family there is the son or daughter who becomes intense either in love, politics, or
simply in defence of the old family motto 'The van Groenwegels never run'. In the end,
very neatly, the family name dies out as there are no more sons to bear
it, but the old blood continues in the many branches who, for
various reasons, use a different name, and who now, have in their veins
not only the blood of their common ancestor Kaywana, but also that
of just about every race which has settled in British Guiana African, East
Indian, Chinese and Portuguese. The family has spread itself in another direction also,
and can now be traced in every level of society, from English aristrocacy to the most
despicable of small shopkeepers.
Mr. Mittelholzer's favourite views concerning religion and sex are once more
given an airing, and he presents another facet of the picture of Rev. John Smith, the
famous missionary and martyr, one which is not usually told to children in Sunday
Anyone reading Mr. Mittelholzer's books must be aware of his sensitivity to the
beauty of trees, to the various moods of the weather, to the music of nature. He paints
nostalgic pictures of a part of the country with whieh he is obviously intimately
The story ends at the time of the 1953 elections, just at a point when the reader
would ask eagerly, 'And what happened next'. After following the fortunes of the van
Groenwegel family through all the generations and through three centuries, it would be
useless to suppose that everyone could live happily ever after. They could not, not with
the 'Old Blood' spread around in so generous a fashion. The only
hope is that in this ever new and modern environment the family traditions
will speak in gentler tones, and that the new blood intermingled with the
old will modulate the same old themes into new and richer harmonies.
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