Reading a poem a mosaic of comment.
Lulu & the Camoodi folktale in creplese..
The Lost & the Lonely Ivan Van Sertima.
(from an unpublished novel)
"Amalivaca" (Work in Progress)-"Leafing through
"Of Age & Innocence" "Dr. Zhivago" "To Sir With Love"
and other reviews.
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Caviglioli won the third prize in the recent History & Culture Week
Literary Competition with a Guianese folk tale uhich was popular
up the Berbice River when she was a child. This story of Lulu and the
Camoodi is reproduced in creolese in this issue of Kyk, and I would
encourage readers to persevere through any difficulty they may find
for the surprising sophistication of feeling and thought so subtly
shaded in the story.
For the rest, the mosaic of anonymous comment on "Funeral
Rites" by Wordsworth McAndrew continues in print the discussion
of issues to which this magazine is dedicated, an intellectual habit
greatly needed in British Guiana today. The Madrigal is a conscious
return to the manner of the Gothic fairy tale, and Leafing through
Schomburgk presents us with facets of our history that we can
Vol. 9 No. 26
A. J. SEYMOUR
Amalivaca (Work in progress) -
(Translated by Miriam
The Thursday Poetry Club
A. J. S. .. ..
Aime Cesaire .. 3
Jacqueline de Weever 6
Milton Williams .. 8
- A Mosaic
Leafing through Schomburgk -
The Lost & the Lonely -
Lulu an de Camoodi -
Poet in a Slave Arena -
N. E. Cameron (a profile) -
Of Age & Innocence -
To Sir with Love
Weather Family -
Tinkling in the Twlight -
The Imperial Idea
Jacqueline de Weever
Ivan Van Sertima
Contributions and all letters
should be sent to the Editor "Kyk-
Over-Al", 23, North Road, Bourda, Georgetown, British Guiana.
Work in Progress on '"Amalivaca"
by A. J. Seymour
Conceived as a long epic, "Amalivaca" has been in the back
of my mind for many years now. In another place. I have written
at length on what it proposes to say, as the poem already has a life
and existence of its own, but many things have been acting against
its rapid progress. Like Wordsworth. I can say that getting and
spending we lay waste our powers, and always there is that visit
by the gentleman from Porlock.
However, in the past few months, a little progress has been
made by the poem, in spite of myself, and it occurs to me that I
should publish that progress, partly for the sake of the poem itself,
and partly to share with readers the new sections now drafted. This
is not to say that there will be no textual emendation, but it is the
function of a little magazine to act as experimental literature.
AMALIVACA BROODS UPON KAIETEUR
Seven days now this womb of sacred waters
Has made its marriage with oblivion
Over the sounding cliff of rock, and I,
Amalivaca, in this tiny wedge
Driven between the witness centuries,
Have drowned my mind within the moving flood,
Married my human to watery particles
Searching the smoothness secret of its power,
But when I disengaged myself again
Resuming my old flesh and thoughts once more,
A truth wrung from the rock and waters rose
And made a shrine within the risen me,
The truth of how our people lived and worked
And the vast doom hooded above our heads.
These waters write that for a distant sin
Our spirits shall loosen in their scabbards and
Rust into nothingness, our hearts shall fail
In their cohesive substance, and a death
Consume the marrow of our minds until
We forget everything except the lore
How to win food from soil-but all these thoughts
That wing us now above the animal,
This yearning for the Almighty and His signs,
Shall come as the vague fingers that a child
Remembers once had held a glittering treasure
And only twitch now, empty, lost, distressed,
THE MUSIC THAT AMALIVA MADE
There is a drum upon the plains of Maita
Outside the cavern where he lived-a stone
Hollowed to beat the mutter of the thunder
Moving within the deep Brazilian sky.
There is a season when the wind will blow
Until the branches sway like grass-skirt dancers
And the trunks tremble to a low ground music
The rush of waters swollen by the rains,
Often at evening when the winds had gone
And sky was once again a baby blue,
They heard Amalivaca beating rhythms
First haltingly, and then with surer power,
To capture sound the forest had made before,
Moving its way up thro' the hollow stone.
This was the orchestration of the storm
When all the forest world is weeping tears
On earth from leaves, from branches and from sky,
And to the families in the neighboring tents,
Caught by the echoing, crisp and darkening air,
It seemed the tears flowed down the forest face
Again, etching the streams to random rivers,
Giant for the sea.
Who knows the forest knows its violins,
The soaring singing of the water birds,
The plaintive call of bird seeking a mate,
The throbbing accents speaking his desire.
And, melancholy, when a tribe had failed
To catch his meaning, and recalcitrant
Like a strong rebel calf braced from the pull,
Then from a bamboo cut mature with care,
And cunningly contrived with whistle stops,
He pulled the soul of all these forest calls
Until it seemed that he had beckoned forth
All drowsed benignant spirits to consort
And heal his heart again with music.
HOW AMALIVACA LEFT THE TRIBES
A flick of wrist upon the heavy oar,
And the canoe moved easily from the bank
To leave the weeping tribes behind. For now
They knew that they would see no more
Amalivaca who had been their guide
And counsellor these many happy moons
And showed them how to win a better life
From their beloved forest. They would not hear
His voice speak with the little stranger ways
They've grown to listen for and love so well
Nor see his eyes so suddenly retreat
Back to his spirit, as he brooded on
The questions they had brought to him,
And blaze again to life. No more those hands
Would rest upon the children's heads in blessing
Nor, easy with their power, crush unguent balm
Cut a tree trunk to grace upon the stream,
Nor lift the inturned oalms to Makonaima,
These things they knew would be no more, no more
(from Soleil Cou Coupe)
I have embalmed my cut-off head in a very fine skin
its absorbed strength ought to be calculated
worms! thread! cocoons!-on the other end packice or angels
Look I am so smooth you could believe nobody ever has seen me
Of course I got away from the dogs
is it in vain
that sirens scream the roll call of the cities
that men never expect the pioneers of nothingness
and that bewildered priests silently laugh
all your measures are in my dismeasure
in the pyramidal orbits
the ability to cry and to breathe
and the dungeon which my heavy steps design
is always mirrored in each polar star
No good-bys (my tongue is boorish)
a huge bird sits on my bedside he deigned to reverse for me
the phrases of the priests and the dreadful feast far from here
my gesture well hidden
designs a lapse of the parallaxe
the earth dissolves like an icezube in urine
and the innocent sound of its echo feeds a beryl
Some Miles Nearer The Sun
The tip of the shadow cone on our Brazilian like cheeks
when the sun is eclipsed
laughing with happiness like the long coitus
between a tree and a sailboat
in the hall of a cyclone, one of the greatest
give me your eagle eyes your glorious eyes of a bird
your firebird eyes soulsearching eyes
and how I love the bloodcirculation of the disaster
in the veins of a house ten floors high at the glorious moment
which proceeds its collapse exactly at three in the afternoon.
Since Akkad Since Elam Since Sumer
Master of the three roads a man stands before you who walked much.
Master of the three roads a man stands before you who walked
on hands who walked on feet, who walked on the belly who
walked on the behind.
Since Elam. Since Akkad. Since Sumer.
Master of the three roads a man stands before you who has carried
And truly friends I carried since Elam, since Akkad, since Sumer.
I carried the body of the commander. I carried the railway of the
commander. I carried the locomotive of the commander, the
cotton of the commander. I carried on my wooly head which
is such a suitable pillow God, the machines, the road,-the
Master of the three roads I have carried under the sun, I have
carried in the fog wild ants over burning embers, I carried
the umbrella I carried explosives I carried the ironcollar.
And as one sees in the soft mud on the Nile's border the spur
of the ibis, I have left on the banks, on the mountains, on
the shores the grigri of my squeaking feet.
Since Akkad. Since Elam. Since Sumer.
Master of the three roads, Master of the three trenches, may it
please you just once-for the first time since Akkad since Elam
since Sumer-apparently the snout is more sunburnt than
the callus of my feet, but really gentler than the beak of the
crow and as supernaturally draped with biting folds which
my greyloaned skin gives me (the color which men impose on
me each winter)-that I may walk just once through dead leaves
with small sorcerer-steps
there, where the inexhaustible order of men triumphantly menaces
which one hurled at the knotted sneering of the hurricane.
Since Elam since Akkad since Sumer.
We shall beat the air with our armoured heads
we shall beat the sun with our wide open hands
we shall beat earth with the naked foot of our voices
male blossoms will fall asleep in the creeks of the mirrors
even the shells of the trilobites
will open themselves in the twilight of eternity
over the tender breasts swollen sources of milk
and we should not cross the threshold
the threshold of perditions?
A vigorous road crisscrossed with yellowish cracks
holds back where the buffalos leap in untamed anger
running on and devour the reins of mature tornadoes
into the sounding reeds of flaming dusk
The wheel is the most beautiful invention of men and his only one
there is the sun which turns
there is the earth which turns
there is your face which turns on the axle of your neck when you cry
but your minutes will not coil the licked up blood around the spool
the art to suffer is as sensitive as the stump of a tree under the knife
of the winter
the hind weary from not drinking
puts for me unexpectedly upon the well's edge
your face of a dismastered schooner
like a village asleep at the bottom of a lake
to be reborn on the day of grass and the year
Jacqueline de Weever
Foreign 1 morning
The morning comes:
but here no coral blushes creep
along the calm and placid cheek
of the expectant sky.
The morning comes:
but here no art of kiskadee
no thread of winging melody
draws veil from sleeping eye.
The morning comes:
but no bewitched perfumery
wooed from the night's distillery
enchants the passer-by.
The morning comes:
and here the grass knows poverty
no crystalled dew-drop jewelry
her hair to beautify.
The morning comes:
no lovely trembling with delight
in expectation for the sight
of lover, gentle one:
He waits besides the amber sea,
wrapped in the golden sun.
As I watch the day awaken
The morning glories shine
With pearls of magic dew-drops
Delicate and fine.
I, too, am rich in jewels-
Pearls, rubies, amethysts,
Upon my hands and on my breasts
Where his mouth has kissed.
Richer than a sage in learning
Richer in wealth than a queen
His love has taught me and crowned me
And my heart is at peace and serene.
In the land of eternal summer,
The kingdom of the golden sun,
The brazen wonder becomes the lover
For earth his precious one.
Her garment is woven of sunlight
Lavishly splashed with colour-
Brilliantly weaved embroideries
Of tree and bush and flower.
When she closes with humble blushing
To hide from his garish might
Her petall'd eyes, in moon-and-star guise
He comes to woo with delight.
But first from the day he departs,
To the golden fanfare of sunset
In a crimson splendour, blue and lavender
And the mut:d song of the cricket.
And the heart knows a fearful longing,
To be marked with his brazen brand,
Enchantedly singi g, eternally burning,
In the grip of his powerful hand.
Your sweet brown fingers weave for me
Garments of gold and filigree;
Robes of buttercup brocade,
And girdles of roses that shall not fade;
A veil the silver of moonbeams new
Before the cresent comes into view.
And who shall touch these garments rare
Frail as columel, light as air?
Naught but your lips, and then, not much,
They are invisible to your touch.
But at your touch the nectar flows,
Swells to my heart and overflows.
And that is why my limbs are fleet,
My eyes lanterns, my laughter sweet.
My heart was like a Kiskadee,
Perched upon a cassia bough;
Possessed of yellow melody,
Rich with glorious sun-gold flower.
Because my love had come to me
And blessed me with his gentle touch
My heart was singing joyfully,
Intoxicated quite too much.
But now my heart no longer sings
The Kiskadee's abandoned air;
Nor shall the sun-gold petals cling
Around the black thorns of despair.
Because my love has gone from me
A crepe of burial shrouds my heart
And death instead rings mournfully
A farewell, since my joys depart.
(Son of Sorrow)
Like the dead you are gone.
Unlike some living I do not mourn
but I am left to bear
your patented burden.
When I saw you straightway
I marked you down.
Like the sun and rain
the earth on which to shine and fall.
As the moon and stars
their resplendence bequeath,
I gave to you my heart's sun
and my eyes' rain
and the beautiful star of myself.
By the sea on a cliff
it stood, washed by fresh winds
more vital air
and waves' ever-recurring lap.
In the blood-red pulse of your days
stained here there everywhere is me.
Then you left and went away
I remained an helpless tenant
landlorded by nailed days.
You were my moon.
Before you my tides
ebbed and flowed.
Oh I will wrap you
in a mould of forever
then stamp you
with my living sky.
I will spend the rest
of my needle-lengthened-days
scraping away your fungus'd-residue.
For when you came
between this droughted-coast
and the majestic mountains
my heart ruminated.
In bloomtime I gave you my heart
to pluck and to keep for our ripening.
Instead you ground and crushed it dry.
Oh you are cold and cruel
like a jagged block of stone.
I sowed you with my seed.
You killed it before
the season of its sprouting
now we have no harvesttime.
You are cold and cruel
like a jagged block of stone.
You are an army marching
against me in sleeptime.
I will put heels to sleep
and let her run away.
For when you came
warm all the way
was every corner of my home
then you left the fires raging.
I'm on fire. Oh
all consuming, I burn.
I am of the sun's element
I am like the sun
I am the only sun
in this ice-box of a world.
Before me all
to water and to nothing turn.
Behind me all
is razed and black.
The time has come for me to speak
words granite-hard and cold and sharp
like knives of steel.
For me to fertilise the desert
and clear the land of carrions.
No man of wealth or country backs me.
Only thunder-voiced Walt and proud
obdurate Pound fathers me.
Like them I speak through the explosion
of a spirit too long flaggelated.
I burst upon the scene like "Ulysses"
come home: quickwitted tigereyed
pantherfooted. Ready to do battle
with the lechers of time.
Not Death I fear
Only you native leeching
on the wall of time's decay
slouched in the slush of your importance
broken like a slave on the wheel.
Upon your back I slash
water for blood run at our feet
and you collapse to live.
Not Death 1 fear
Only you woman, flower
of the nails of the world.
Like a child in a crab's tentacles
You sleek in your own slime of abstinence.
At nights in your sleep 1 seek you
and like a hawk I shred
leaving only bones to walk away.
Not Death I fear
but castaway from the North is you.
Most imperious of all maggots
scuffling in my stool
You are lord of the cesspool
Out of my sight you are flushed
to drown to life.
The sky of their day is no more.
Broken and shattered
the lamps of their homes
they come for changes.
Out of the fields of dross and shambles
Bright blossom of their night
holy mother of their flowered strife
rose, at the dawn of their dying,
Day's shroud of sundown
is night's herald.
The lax will and cased desires.
Canals of longing sealed and stamped
feet of hope broken at the thighs
is man's night his living death
a broken limb hanging in the wind
the lone stump drifting in a void.
O on the promontories of consciousness
surface the unsought for...
Black and chained and naked ones
scorned and kicked and whipped and seared ones
broken on wheels.
To find is to lose
and loss is discovery.
This recognition of extremes
is rasped-grounds and walls
towards and on which
man soot-eyed journeys.
Predestined for peril.
Ah, the imperilled self:
pitting mane and breath and limb:
windrecklesswash of washing tides.
Glory of the eternal bonedeep
dances down his stonetime.
This time has never been time at all
is disintegration and death.
For the unliving there can be no time
only graves tombs walls horizons.
From the timeless to time
Feathertopped and spikebottomed-
herald of the indomitable Will
of man's vision father Herculean.
Forcing the timeless horizons
to their verge
and unhorizon'd time.
tremendous and annihilating
the soul's hallowed acres.
The Thursday Poetry Club -A Mosaic.
For several years now, a small group has been meeting on
Thursday evenings at 7.30 to talk poetry. We have met in a variety
of places, and the character of the group and their attitude to talk
have changed over the years, but the group keeps meeting and
talking about poetry.
There are two great shadows thrown by the centuries over
the group as we talk, one from the Mermaid Tavern where Walter
Ralegh, Shakespeare, Beaumont, Jonson and Donne had met
and talked in the Friday Street Club, and from the Literary Club
of Samuel Johnson where Reynolds, Goldsmith, Burke were mem-
bers. But it doesn't really matter to us that we challenge comparison
with the great dead for we enjoy ourselves talking of Pasternak
and Housman and the Rubaiyat and that is what matters.
It's difficult to say now just when the group began. Let us
say from a desire to discuss poetry and the things of the spirit at
our own place and in our own way. In the old days we talked more
philosophy, reviewing the position and work of the artist against
the world situation, deploring the changes of the world spirit,
emphasising the opportunistic American tradition we wanted to
create over against the death wish of Europe. Now that the average
age of the group is much younger, we are more like a creative
workshop in an American University. We talk about principles
of criticism and creation, we read and talk about the old masters
or the contemporary Atlantic writers, we face the problems of the
young enthusiast who brings his own work and wants to have
comments upon it.
I can recall we have had visitors-an Irish Trade Adviser
who was Secretary to a Yeats Memorial Fund Committee; a Govern-
or of Sadler Wells and the Old Vic and a member of the L.C.C;
a successful novelist; the editor of a vigorous American quarterly
magazine-and they have entered in their varying degrees into the
intense discussions we conduct of Life and Art and Philosophy
and the place of the Artist in Contemporary Civilisation, because
they and we believe that discussion is necessary to build a deeper
and richer spiritual life in our country if we are to pin foundations
in the marvellous resources of the spirit, and they participated
in the light and sometimes the heat we engendered in the analysis
of the B.G. creative effort. I can't help thinking that the creative
writer is at a relative disadvantage here, compared with the creative
musician and the playwright and the artist. They can compose
their work and it seems that an audience is readymade almost,
to appreciate and discuss what they have produced. But it is only
now that the young writer can produce his work and hope to have
a comment upon it, and we certainly need more of the intelligent
discussions of a poem, if the country is to build up a discriminating
and critical audience.
In other issues of Kykoveral, we have published mosaics of
comment and reaction to a piece of verse, and one is always seeking,
perhaps, to enlarge, even if temporarily, the group of critical people
who will read poems and be unself-conscious about saying what
and why they like or dislike. It may be in a radio discussion to start
you talking on the ideas behind books, or a series in the press
setting out ideas for discussion in that public forum; or it may be
the request like this to read a poem and send your reaction or
criticism of what it purports to say.
Here is a poem I'd like you to read and drop me a line about
it. That line can take several forms, ranging between approbation
through distrust into violent disapproval. But what your reaction
may be, I hope you will consider yourself free to put it down so
thatwecanrecord the mosaic of comment and put it (anonymously
as usual) in the forthcoming issue of Kykoveral. -A. J. S.
The cloaked figures crowded around the corpse
Seem hardly aware of the tiny drops of rain
That nip noiselessly at the impervious black fabric
On their backs
And run reverent rivers
Down the grey, jumbie-bead pallor
Of their vulturine features,
Poising, poising for an instant
On the high cheekbones
In silent simulation of tears.
Their bare heads are bowed in beatitude,
But behind the busy eyebrows
Bloodshot eyeballs beam baleful thoughtwaves
On the centre
Where Cathartes Ruficollis,
Vitiating funereal blackness
Of sacerdotal garments,
As he consecrates the pentecostal.
In sweetest sacrosanctity
He leads the Benediction
And these preprandial prolegomena
Mirror the Christ of the Last Supper
Who, in the same night that He was betrayed,
And when He had given thanks,
He brake it and gave it to them, saying:
'Take, Eat. This is my body, which is given for thee.
Do this in remembrance of me...'
W, A, McAndrew
The first two verses of this poem, in their humorously macabre
vein, create a mood of enjoyment for the reader. There is an air
of mystery, a suggestion of the occult, and the reader pauses in
suspense as he wonders whether the figures mentioned therein are
human, subhuman, or supernatural. With the aid of a dictionary,
the reader identifies Cathartes Ruficollis and continues his reading
only to come to a jolting on the third verse where the carrion feast
is compared to the Last Supper of Christ. His first impression is
"Sacrilege!" It sends him back to the first verse for a second reading
with the feeling that perhaps he had misunderstood or misinter-
preted. But the simile in the third verse rears up again, if not sac-
rilegiously, then irreverently and irrelevently. The comparison is
neither logically nor emotionally apt; it destroys the mood of en-
joyment created in the first verse.
The poet's use of words is sometimes original and provokingly
descriptive, other times strained. The phrases "silent simulation of
tears" and "bloodshot eyeballs beam baleful thoughtwaves" deserve
honourable mention, but "preprandial prolegomena" suggests
too much lexicon labour.
Had the poem ended with the second verse, or with the first
two lines of the third, its effectiveness would have been strengthened.
Let Cathartes Ruficollis lead his dinner guests in sacrosanctity-
a well-chosen word befitting the mood in the first two verses-but
let not the irony go further into sacrilege.
My reaction to "Last Rites"? First-what, generally speaking,
does the reader have the right to expect from a poet? What, in
other words, do we accept as the fundamental role of the poet
If we regard the poet as being still primarily the troubadour,
the teller of tales, the graphic artist, then the writer of "Last Rites"
has done a fine piece of word-painting. Irrespective of the parti-
cular school of painting for which we might have a personal pre-
ference, the fact is that he presents us with a picture in bold outline
with just the detail needed for a vivid reproduction of the scene.
The choice of language is slightly marred perhaps by the use of the
word "jumbie-bead", which seems to me rather too deliberately
and self-consciously Guianese. Incidentally, there are bits and pieces
in the poem that remind me strongly of Urn Burial.
But where the painter must perforce leave his picture to speak
for itself and its inner message is thus susceptible to a subjective
interpretation, from the poet we have come to demand something
more. What is this something? It is this. The poet can and must
convey in words, and therefore more unmistakably, the nature
and extent of the emotion that his subject is intended to awaken,
for we must remember that emotional response is the ultimate
yard-stick for all forms of high art. The poet as artist must therefore
exploit this advantage he possesses over every artist whose medium
of expression is less unmistakable than words, and therefore
susceptible to the subjective interpretation. As I see it, then, your
question in this case is what is the nature and what the extent of
my emotional response to "Last Rites"?
"Last Rites" portrays a scene from one of those major ex-
periences that are common to humanity. Who is there among us
that has not witnessed the last rites over some relative or friend?
The subject is one therefore that is pregnant with emotional poss-
ibilities. But it is not so much our own memories that we wish to
refresh. We do not read a poem primarily to revive an old exper-
ience. We do so to learn from the poet his own personal emotions
when faced with a memorable situation. We expect him to communi-
cate to us his own emotional response. His greatness as an artist
therefore hinges upon two things. First, the quality of his own
emotion, then his ability to communicate this emotion compellingly.
One captures readily the emotional atmosphere of the scene
in this poem, heightened as it is by the use of metaphor in which
common-place detail is transformed and blended to form part
of the occasion. Drops of rain, in silent simulation of tears, become
reverent rivers. The features of the cloaked figures crowded around
the corpse are seen as vulturine and assume a grey, jumbie-bead
What of the poet's own emotional reaction to the scene?
The last rites remind him of one of the earliest, and even today,
one of the most important of the rituals of the Christian religion,
the original last supper. But then for the majority of mankind the
last rites are always religious, be they Christian or pagan. For me,
however, the emotional climax of the poem was already past.
As far as I am concerned the entire poem lies wrapped up in the
two words "preprandial prolegomena" which at once bring back
the image of Francis Thompson's carrion-worm. The communion
prolegomenon that follows merely rounds off the poet's emotional
And what of my own emotional response to the poet's emotional
reaction? Deep down in us all lies a streak of the macabre that
makes the shock not altogether unpleasant when we come face
to face unexpectedly with an experience such as the word pre-
prandial in a context such as this. The old citizenesses of the French
Revolution did their knitting in the shadow of the guillotine not
because of hatred for the aristos but because of the macabre pleasure
it gave them to see the falling heads, and it must be difficult for the
mind of the poet to resist the lure of the macabre when face with a
scene such as that described in "Last Rites". This is a far cry from
Wordsworth's emotion remembered in tranquillity, but Baudelaire
had his moments of greatness.
I wonder whether his obvious fascination with the sounds
of words has not swept Mr. McAndrew off his feet and made
made him overdo the alliteration. Is it not too much that there
should be examples of this playing with words in more than one
third of the twenty-nine lines of this short poem? Surely the effect
is diminished and the meaning obscured.
That was my first impression. Then I read the poem, again,
and was conscious of a feeling of bathos. Why, I asked myself.
Because the mourners are not human as I first thought? Because
of the shock of realising the link made between the meal of carrion
and the familiar words of the Communion Service? Both, probably.
I read the poem again and began to feel a sneaking admiration.
Even if there's too much alliteration, some of it is very good, part-
icularly in the first verse. A group of crows in a drizzle of rain,
crowded around some carrion-that's all the poem is about. But
now this common enough sight has become in my mind 'bare
heads bowed in beatitude' with the rain 'in silent simulation of
tears'. At least it is some triumph to be able to translate a moment's
experience into words so that the reader cannot help but share it.
Is it not true though, that in some of the best-loved poetry
in the English language, wonderful effects are obtained by the use
of the familiar word in an unusual way, rather than unusual words
to express something quite ordinary? I think at once of Ruth amid
the 'alien' corn. For instance, take 'preprandial prolegomena'.
Preprandial is allowable perhaps, but would 'preparations' instead
of 'prolegomena' have altered the meaning, or the alliteration?
Of course, it is always a presumption to try to alter a work of art.
When it's finished we must take it or leave it.
I think of all my favourite poems, and there's something
common to them all. I didn't have to look up the meaning of any
of the words used. They were basic enough English so that the
average reader could grasp their meaning at first reading. Surely
this is important unless one is writing for a select audience. Yet
perhaps it is one of the functions of poetry to shock, to stimulate
thought, and if so, this poem is a success. But I don't like it. I won't
put it in my personal anthology.
Thank you for your invitation to comment on 'Last Rites!
It has been remarked that 'If you don't understand a poem that
doesn't mean it's bad, but if you don't want to understand it, it
means that it probably is bad'.
Frankly, on first reading I didn't understand 'Last Rites' and
I am not really sure that I wanted to. This placed me in a dilemma,
However, I thought my dictionary might help. It did. It con-
firmed my worst fears.
POEM A metrical composition especially
of elevated tone.
PROSE POEM Description etc., resembling poem
PROSE Unversified language, especially
as a form of literature, plain
speech, humdrum experiences.
POETASTER A potty poet, a writer of inferior
or contemptible verse.
My first impression, you see had been twofold. Firstly, that
Last Rites was in fact Prose cunningly laid out to give the appear-
ance of a metrical form but omitting a few essential verbs, commas
and full stops, and giving the first word of each line a capital
letter. Secondly, that the author had successfully attempted to
crowd the largest number of long words into the smallest possible
Having consulted the dictionary, I tried again more objectively.
Is it a Poem? (your description). I think we should try to establish
this. I don't really think it is either a 'metrical composition' or
'of elevated tone', unless perhaps elevated can be taken in its colo-
quial meaning-slightly drunk. We could I think give it the bene-
fit of the doubt and classify it as a Prose Poem, i.e. a humdrum
On further thought too, I realized that I didn't understand
it because I didn't understand some of the words, and that I didn't
want to understand it because I didn't want to admit, even to my-
self, that I didn't understand some of the words.
What he has done, I think, is to throw an incisive search light
on our hypocrisy at the time of the death of friends and loved ones.
In that respect Last Rites succeeds. I feel unable to suggest any
valuation of the work since I cannot rid myself entirely of those
I shall have to leave it to your other more knowledgeable con-
tributors. I do feel however, that he leans too heavily on alliterations,
almost as though it is important for him to get an arty alliteration
rather than anything else. I don't really think poetic licence should
allow the misuse of words in order to get this effect. In this connec-
tion I would question the use of beatitude and sacrosanctity. I
don't really object to prolegomena but I wonder if it might have
better as 'this' p.p. rather than 'these'. I am more worried about
Pentecostal which is an adjective placed here as a noun and in any
event would not seem appropriate to this particular ceremony.
On balance I don't think I would suffer unduly if you asked
me to attend the last rites of Last Rites.
so sorry I did not send comments on the poem, but I felt I
was not able to make any judgment. Quite honestly I did not like it.
This is probably entirely due to prejudice and ignorance. Even in
T.S. Eliot I do not like quotations from the scriptures. With him the
S. sentence can often carry it off but there is always the danger
that the rest of the poem will look cheap beside the quotation.
Then I was in some confusion about whether crows were being
likened to a funeral party or a funeral party to crows. The former
seemed the more likely but do your crows have eyebrows and cheek-
bones, and the crows here are incapable of sibilating. And why
pentecostal in line 19. Surely the last supper was just before passover,
pentecost is whitsum. But this is really quibbling and it may well
be that if I had seen such an event the poem would have been vivid
enough to carry me with it instead of leaving me plodding behind
with Philistian mutters of 'What's it all about'.
This poem mystifies me somewhat. The writer obviously is
trying to be clever with his material-a cleverness which, I must
say at the outset seems to get in the way of what he is trying to
convey. It exemplifies so clearly the tendency of some young poets
of the modern school to force their material into patterns which
will not respond to such treatment.
It is not easy to discover the intention of the writer. But one
must presume in order to discuss the poem at all. In the first place
there is an unmistakable attempt to create the sombre, funereal
atmosphere that surrounds the last rites of burial. But this is subor-
dinated to what seems to the author a greater purpose. He strives
to link these last rites of a modern sect with the Last Supper of
Jesus and to give a universal significance to the particular funeral
rites he is describing. This significance stems presumably, from
he twin association of life and death, sad remembrance and deep
joy, disruption and continuity which were present at the last supper
and which are supposed to be present at the sombre burial scene.
There is something in this poetic concept which, if carefully worked
out, could express a deep and commonly shared human experience.
But this is precisely what is wrong with the poem. The reader has
to force his way into meaning. There is none of the intensity which
we expect of poetry dealing with these themes. But I must not be
entirely critical. There are parts of the first stanza which show some
promise of a possible future development. Here the author is
trying to conjure up the atmosphere of the burial scene. The figures
are cloaked and suitably anonymous. Nature in the form of rain
is used to symbolise the mood of the mourners, the rain-drops
themselves making "silent simulation of tears". The death-like
pallor" of the mourners' faces is described as "jumbie-bead pallor"
with the sharp and eerie connotation of death which the word
"jumbie" conveys in this country. In the drops of rain "that nip
noiselessly at the impervious black fabric" the sense and the sound
are cleverly knit together; but he spoils the imagery by the use
of the words vulturinee features" which give an all too sinister
suggestion of crows gathered round a decaying corpse. In general,
however, the first stanza can stand scrutiny-it just achieves its
effects and there is little that is meaningless or pretentious.
The same cannot be said for the other two stanzas. It is obvious
that in the second stanza the sound is more important than the
sense. In fact the words now dominate the writer to a baleful ex-
tent. Alliteration now disguises cliche and lines like
"Bloodshot eyeballs beam baleful thoughtwaves"
are almost without meaning in their context. The name of the priest
is equally preposterous but worse yet is to come. The lines
"Vitiating funereal blackness of sacerdotal garments"
is a clear indication that rhetoric has been called in to function
where poetic intensity has failed.
The last stanza has the most tenuous links with anything
that has gone before; The words of Christ at the last supper seem
forced on to the poem to give it a greater significance by the use
of Christian symbolism. But they do not belong there. There is no
logic in the imagery of the first two stanzas which would lead us
to these words. They are prefaced by pompous cliche and pretenti-
ous phrase. Preprandial prolegomena is priceless!
No, this is not poetry. There is no development of imagery,
no intensity, and little control. The delicate fusion of thought and
feeling which make poetic experience is not to be found here.
There is plenty of "clever" alliteration and echoing sound which
go to make the rhetorical.
Death as a theme in the work of a creative piece can be com-
pelling. I find this quality in Mac Andrew's "Last Rites", which
he wraps in his heavily-garbed cynicism. Tolerant of his style,
I would have read the whole poem without any reservations, but
I find too strong an irreverence in Cathartes Ruficollis and Christ
being placed in such intimate company-even if death is a stark
fact in the rites of the Last Supper and in those of this preprandial
flock-and in the sibilance of the poised scavenger bearing associa-
tion with Christ's words as He broke bread on the eve of his be-
by Jacqueline de Weever
On a clean crisp morning, the young musician Auberi was walk-
ing on the seashore enjoying the sea air as his habit was whenever
he was holidaying in the country. Today the sea was calm and of a
deep, rich amber colour, the waves, as they lashed against the shore,
topped with their salty, crusty foam. He always yearned after the
sea, and loved to sit alone on the stone jetty, watching the waves
lash against it, drawing back, gathering force, and lashing again,
always in perfect timing to the rhythm of the sea, until he felt him-
self become a part of the rhythm of the waves and the sea. This
morning the tide was going out, and he walked down to the very
edge of the water, listening to the sea, with the taste of the fresh
morning in his mouth, the sky fused into an intense blue by the sun
whose fires were beginning to gather strength, flecked with little
white clouds like handfuls of sheep's wool, flung out over the blue
by a careless hand. The wind, too, was crisp and very clean, as if
in its travels over the sea it had met with nothing unpleasant, so
pure it was. Auberi stretched his arms out to the sea, filled his
lungs with the wonderful air, and if he only knew how, he would
have willed himself to dance on the white foam of the amber waves.
It was on such clear mornings as this that the strange mood took
hold of him, and as he stood there with his bare feet on the warm
sand, it came over him. It was a mood in which the sand on the
sea-shore became the sand of the desert, the distant capstan on the
jetty loomed into Cheops' pyramid, the wind as it blew against his
face full of the whisperings, the singing, of Arab voices, the whole
atmosphere charged with the breath of Egypt. In the grip of these
powerful sensations he found himself trying to fit together the pieces
of a very ancient existence, but each time the mood slipped away
like the sand slipping through his toes, and he was left with the
feeling that he had not resolved the melody of this existence into its
final cadence. He now sighed heavily as the mood slipped away
once again, and looked up the beach to continue his walk. He
could not move however, for his feet refused to carry him; what his
eyes saw commanded his feet to stand still. For not many yards
away lay the shape of a human being.
After the initial shock had worn away a little, he forced his
benumbed legs to take him to the body, and as he bent over it, he
saw that it was a young woman. Her wet clothes clung to her body,
her hair coiled around her throat like a black snake; yet as he bent
over her, Auberi saw her lips move, her eyelids flutter and close
again, and a moan oozed from her throat. Quickly he picked her
up in his arms, and as fast as he could he returned to his little house
which was not far from the beach.
He carried her into his study and put her on his couch, but her
clothes were so cold that he decided to dry her., He peeled off her
dress, made of such coarse brown cloth that he thought perhaps she
was a fisherman's daughter, and when she lay before him, clothed
only in her hair, his heart trembled at her loveliness. She was
small, but withal, finely built. As he remained lost in contemplation
of the wonder, she turned her head a little and moaned again, a
moan which cut through his contemplation as a sharp rapier cuts
through a piece of silk. Realising again that she was cold, he
poured a little brandy down her throat, wrapped her up in blankets,
and removed her from his study, preferring to give her his bed
where she would be more comfortable. Although she did not
awaken, her state gradually changed from unconsciousness to sleep,
and as he watched her sleep, she seemed to grow more beautiful;
her hair, which was now dry, was like strands of black silk, her ever
breath was like the clean crisp air at the seashore. He felt his
heart quicken with desire, so he left the room, closing the doon
Whenever he needed help or advice, he had always gone to his
friend, Richard, the writer who lived next door. Now he felt he
needed advice, for he was bewildered by the finding of the girl, her
beauty, and his own desire. Perhaps he ought to fetch a doctor, for
he could not understand why she should continue to sleep. She was
all so still; and as he stood hesitating in front of the door, Richard
himself came from the front porch.
"Oh, how glad am I to see you!" exclaimed Auberi. "I've
found a precious jewel." At this Richard raised his left eyebrow,
a habit he had when he was sceptically amused. Auberi told him
how he had found a girl on the beach, about an hour and a half ago,
and how he had tried to resuscitate her; and although he believed
that she was past all danger, yet he was disturbed that she should
sleep so long. Richard looked at her, and while he conceded that
she was alive, and breathing regularly, he urged Auberi to call a
doctor. But this idea no longer appealed to Auberi. He felt that
the doctor might take her away, and although he had had the girl
with him only such a short time, his heart pricked him at the thought
of a separation from her. Instead of sending for a doctor, he asked
Richard to remain with him, to wait with him while she slept, until
she should wake up, and this Richard agreed to do. The whole
day passed while they waited; evening came, deepened into night,
and at last Richard went home.
"If you need me during the night, I'll be working, you'll see my
light from my study. This is a very curious thing, and I think you
should call a doctor. You won't? Well, good luck." With that
he was gone.
Auberi was distressed. He gave her a last look, before he
curled up on the couch in the study, hesitating between calling the
doctor and leaving her alone. The excitement of the day had tired
him, and since he was sure she was alive, he decided to wait until
the morning. If she still slept, then he would call the doctor. He
put out the lamps and went to sleep.
About midnight he thought he heard music, but he was always
hearing music in his dreams, for was he not a musician? It sounded
as if someone was quietly humming a quaint melody to the accom-
paniment of a lute. He decided that he was dreaming, turned over,
and tried to sleep, but the song continued. He could hear the
fingers plucking the strings of the instrument, and the voice had the
deep rich notes of a violoncello. He opened his eyes. The silver
bow of a crescent moon was sending fine streaks of golden light
through the window; and now the music was very near, so he turned
slowly in its direction, enchanted by the sound and a little afraid by
its beauty. Now he was stupified, for he was face to face with the
girl he had rescued, but how marvellous she now was! She was
sitting in the moonlight, wearing a gown of gentian and gold silk,
a gown moulded to her bosom, billowing out in deep folds of blue
and gold, and long sleeves of blue slashed to show the gold lining
underneath. She seemed poised for flight out of her gown as a
butterfly is poised on the brink of the cocoon before flying off into
the world. Her throat was a finely wrought pillar set between a
handsome pair of shoulders, her face was soft and smooth, and when
she smiled, the smile reached from her full ripe lips to the depths of
her magnificent black eyes, eyes full of mystery and a vague longing,
into which Auberi found himself longing to gaze. She was lovely,
exquisitely and wonderfully made. As Auberi gazed at her, giving
his eyes time to drink in her beauty, she continued to hum softly,
her fingers plucking the lute, now and then lifting those eyes to
Auberi's face. His heart and his eyes were enchanted, and when
she came nearer to his couch, put her head against his knees and
continued her song, the enchantment grew stronger, and again he
felt the desire he had experienced earlier in the day. Gently he took
the lute from her, and tilted her face up to his.
"You are lovely," he said, "Where do you come from? What
is your name? You know I found you on the beach this morning,
and I have been waiting all day for you to wake up."
"My name is Arianne," she answered softly, "and I belong to
you. But, my Auberi, why not take the beautiful things in your
life gratefully, without asking questions?" He was surprised that
she knew his name, and before he could ask her any more quest
she put her arms around him, kissed him on the lips, and as his own
arms tightened about her, all his senses rushed out to discover her.
His vision, touch, taste, smell, even his hearing, embarked on a
voyage of discovery of this unknown mysterious gift.
The next morning when Auberi opened his eyes, he found himself
alone, and his heart stood still in fear lest it had been deceived by a
dream or hallucination. He got up slowly, pricking up his ears,
and crossed the room to the window on the other side, almost
expecting to find his house in a strange setting; but when he looked
out the window he saw Richard bending over his rose bush. He
smiled at his own fear, turned from the window, making up his
mind that the events of the night before could very well have been a
dream, when he saw the lute on a table nearby. The sight of the
lute evoked all the delight, and his heart trembled with the remem-
being, of the night before. As his thoughts formed the name
"Arianne" she came into the room, in a frock the pale yellow of
buttercups, which lighted up every contour of her face and body.
"There is one question I must ask you," Auberi said as casually
as he could. "Last night you were dressed in a marvellous blue
and gold gown, today you are wearing a yellow dress. When I
brought you here, I brought only you. Am I dreaming, or are you
"Touch me," she said in her deep rich voice. "What does your
hand tell you? This is real, is it not?" she asked, drawing his head
to her full bosom.
A few days later Auberi and Richard were sitting in the shade
of the lime trees, drinking lemonade from tall glasses frosty with ice,
for it was midday, the sun was at its zenith; they were a little tired
with digging vegetables in Richard's vegetable garden. "Your
Arianne is truly beautiful, Auberi. But it is strange to me that she
has no home to go to, but is content to stay with you." Richard
was doubtful, and full of misgiving. "Her loveliness makes me
think of the sea, the sea creatures. Has she told you how she
happened to get herself half-drowned? Perhaps a jealous lover
tried to kill her."
Auberi was silent a few moments before answering; he swung
himself in the hammock for a moment or two, running his hand over
the place where he had stitched a piece of the coarse brown cloth of
Arianne's old dress to the inside of his shirt, and when he spoke he
gazed into the blue and green distance before him. "I love her,
Richie, and I am afraid of my love for her. When she speaks, I feel
that she has spoken to me before, somewhere, long ago. I feel
transported to another place, another age, and I feel that all the
music I have written have been puny attempts to recapture the music
of that time, the music of that voice. I feel as if I have been carrying
within me the desire for that sound for a very long time."
Sometimes, at night, while he was working on his novel, Richard
would hear Arianne singing to her lute, and many times he felt a
strong desire to sing with her. Her songs were quaint and delicate
pieces, and as he listened to them, Richard thought of blue waters
lashing against marble steps, gardens filled with heavily scented
flowers, ladies in rich gowns of silk and brocade, gentlemen in tights
and cloaks with silver daggers hanging from belts of beaten gold.
He would shake his head and blink his eyes to shut out the visions,
but as long as she sang they persisted. One day he mentioned it to
Auberi. "Auberi," he said, "what do you think of when Arianne
"What do you mean?"
"Sometimes at night I hear her. singing, and I find myself think-
ing of brocades and silks, silver daggers."
Auberi smiled indulgently. "You think that strange? She
loves sixteenth century music, and I have been thinking of asking
you to learn a part so that you can join in a madrigal with us. Of
course we need at least four voices, but since it is just to enjoy our-
selves, three will have to do. I'll teach you what you have to sing."
When Richard knew his part, they decided to sing the madrigal
together one evening after supper, but Arianne stopped them after
the first stanza. "We don't do justice to the master's music like
this, Auberi," she said softly. "I think I'll sing two parts, and you
and Richard sing your own parts as before." The men exchanged
glances, and their heart beats quickened as if in anticipation of the
beauty that was to follow. She sang the upper and middle voices,
the soprano and the alto, while Auberi sang the tenor and Richard
the bass, her voice weaving itself into the men's like the gold and
silver threads in a wine-red brocade. Her voice was indeed marvel-
lous. Auberi got the impression that it had been carved, moulded,
and shaped by the music of the madrigal for centuries, so that the
melting flowing lines, the pathos as well as the perfection, had been
left clinging to the voice as gold dust clings to the cloth over which
it had been spilt. As they sang together, the harmonies gradually
went to their heads like wine, intoxicating them delicately and
delightfully, and when the song was finished, there was silence for a
full minute, their minds held by the music as with strong but fine
threads of silk, held as much prisoner as the silk worm is held by its
silken bonds. But as Arianne played a little coda on her lute, they
felt the bonds loosen, the silence fade, and the music take possession
of the room.
Soon they were singing together every evening. Arianne made
the most delicious honey and rice cakes, and provided sapodillas
with wine added to delight the taste. Auberi fell more and more
in love with her, his whole being stirring and growing with one
glance from her black eyes. She filled his days with tender care
and his nights with delight, while he drank in her loveliness at
every turn. The very air he breathed seemed to be a part of her,
because she moved in it, Especially did her grace in playing the
lute move him, so filled with music were her fingers. One day he
examined the lute, and found that it was made of finely polished
wood, inlaid with ivory and mother-of-pearl. Like everything about
her it was exquisite, but in spite of its beauty, it showed signs of
"Arianne, I like your lute, but I don't remember finding it
She took his face between her palms and a shiver of sweetness
ran through him. "It was given to me a very, very, very long time
ago, and he who gave it to me promised me that whenever I sang
with it, I would be able to sing in as many voices as I chose. Touch
me, Auberi, I feel I am living only when you touch me. You are
going to ask me who gave me the lute, and I will tell you. An old
man, whose name I do not know, gave it to me when I was quite
a small child, and he is long since dead. Perhaps my lute is a magic
one," and she ran her fingers lovingly over it. "Is it not enough for
you that I am here, my Auberi? When your hands caress me, I care
only to be clothed with the garments your fingers can weave for me.
Kiss me," and when he kissed her, it was as if he was in a wine press
and the sweetest grapes were being pressed into his mouth so that
the juice ran down his chin.
There now occurred a change in Auberi. He had been on holiday
six weeks already, weeks which had been spent in reading, roaming
the countryside with Richard, lying in his hammock under the lime
trees, with not even a desire to write a single note. Now he found
himself working, creating such wonderful sounds that his music
took on a glowing richness, and he composed more easily than
before. He worked ceaselessly while Arianne watched him anxiously.
Many times in a night she would get up and make him hot chocolate
which he loved to drink when he was working, or she would sit
under his desk and hug his knees until he stopped working from
sheer exhaustion. Once in bed, he would cradle his head in her
bosom and fall asleep immediately, while her desire was left to
tread the darkness alone. She poured her tenderness for him over
his curly head, kissing his hair and running her fingers through it,
longing for him in the very tips of her fingers, the palms of her hands,
in the edges of her lips.
The last week of his holiday arrived and Auberi allowed him-
self time to relax. He closed the piano, put up his manuscripts,
held out his arms to her. "Come, my Arianne, come down with
me to the sea before we go. Oh, it's been such a long time since
I really held you in my arms; come with me to the sea." As they
walked along the shore, he told her how he had been enjoying the
fine morning when he found her nearly dead. "How did that happen?
Did a jealous lover try to drown you?" he asked, remembering
Richard's explanation. For answer, she leaned her head against
his shoulder and whispered:
"Auberi, I love you. It seems to me that I have loved you
before, once upon a time, and that I lost you. Now that I have
found you again I won't lose you, although you ask me questions
the answers to which I do not know. Look how calm the sea is,
and how beautiful!"
After that, Auberi forced himself to swallow any questions
which begged for utterance. Instead he revealed in her beauty and
took his fill of her love.
The next week they returned to the city with Richard, and
Auberi began rehearsing the new compositions with the orchestra.
Arianne continued her tender care of him, and also undertook
to care for his garden, for the only things which grew well in Auberi's
garden were his roses. He neglected everything else. She cut away
the vines which were killing the jasmine and mimosa, removed
the anthuriums and put them in the damp cool and shade under
the front stairway, pruned the frangipani, and soon the garden
was filled with the fragrant perfumes of the flowers, the night air
filled with their scents. On such nights, love was a lovelier thing
because of the flowers.
One evening there was a ball given to honour the composer
whose music everyone was enjoying, as the concerts had begun
and people were flocking from far and near to hear the music which
Auberi had written. For it turned out that his music was so well
received that everybody was talking about it. He took Arianne
to the ball, and she wore a dress that took his breath away every
time he looked at her. It was made of white gossamer silk, moulding
the contours of her exquisite shoulders and bosom, and billowing
out from under the bosom in deep, rich folds of white and gold;
it was the same style of dress as the one she had been wearing after
she had waked out of her long sleep, but a more magnificent one.
Over her hair she wore a little cap embroidered with seed pearls
and diamonds, and her elegance created quite a stir among the
ladies present. As they went up the broad staircase, a tall ascetic
man passed them. His face showed that he was almost middle-
aged, yet he had a head of unusually black and bushy hair; on the
little finger of his left hand he wore a ring with a gigantic stone
of black jade. On his way down the stairs, he paused for a moment
to gaze after Arianne. She shivered.
"Do you know him?" asked Auberi, when the gentleman
"No," she replied, in a too-frightened whisper.
"Then why do you shiver? Tell me, my love, are you afraid?"
"No, Auberi, it is nothing. Let's not talk about it."
About half way through the ball, the stranger appeared and
asked for a dance with Arianne. Auberi looked straight into his
eyes. Those eyes held just a hint of mockery of him and all the world.
Arianne gave Auberi's hand a frightened squeeze, and for a long
as he was able, Auberi kept an eye on them while they danced.
When they were swallowed up in the crowd, and when the music
for three sets of dances had been played and they had not returned,
he went to look for them. In the course of his search he met Richard,
who was, in his turn, looking for Auberi, for he had seen Arianne
leave with the gentleman, but he had no idea where they had gone,
and this piece of news upset Auberi very much. Could it be that
his Arianne was being unfaithful?
The two friends left the ballroom, hurried into the street where
Auberi took the direction to the left. He thought he heard singing
in four parts calling his name, but in his deranged state of mind
he could not believe his ears. Nevertheless the singing continued,
and he followed it. It took him out of the city, down to the sea shore,
with Richard following him. Where the sea lapped against the shore
there were two figures wrestling with each other, and from the belt
of one of them a silver dagger gleamed in the moonlight. As they
hurried toward the figures, Arianne's voice called out; "Take his
dagger away from him, slay him, and then plunge the dagger into
my breast." Auberi froze in horror on the spot, and as Richard
rushed forward to get the dagger, the voice called out again. "No,
Auberi must do it."
The thought of killing his Arianne chilled Auberi's blood,
but the voice cried again. "Do it, or you will never see me again.'
In despair and rage, Auberi attacked the man, who was a
skilful and strong wrestler, and only after a dreadful struggle did
the musician, half-crazed with his love, succeed in driving the dagger
into the breast of the man. As the body sank into the sea, the waves
bore it away swiftly, taking Arianne with them. At this, Auberi
tried to pull her out, but the sea had a strange force and con-
tinued to bear her away. "Do it now, Auberi, or you will drown,
and I shall never be free. Someone else will find me on the beach,
thousands of miles from here, someone else will love me in the
night, and I shall be forced to love him. Do it now, Auberi, for
the sake of the jasmine-scented night of our love."
Auberi raised his arm and plunged the silver dagger into the
bosom which had cradled his head a joyful night. As Arianne sank
into the waves, a change came over her. In the light of the full moon,
the beautiful girl shrivelled and shrank, her skin became as wrinkled
as a crocodile's skin the eyes beady like those of an old bird, the
nose like an eagle's; beneath the skin on the brow could be clearly
seen the shape and bones of the skull. This was age such as no man
had ever seen, for even the limbs, which a while ago were young
and strong and perfect, were now crooked and bent like the limbs
of an old tree. And the waves did not carry it away any further;
they had lost their power. And while the two men watched like men
bewitched, the old skin continued to shrink and to curl up, and at
the last to peel away, and like a snake shedding its old skin, a fresh
new Arianne emerged while the sea suddenly gathered force and a
gigantic wave heaved her and threw her heavily onto the shore.
Here Auberi's strength failed him and he fell down in a faint.
He woke in his own bed, in his own house, to find a woman
leaning over him. It was Arianne, as lovely as ever, but now dressed
in his old blue bathrobe. He grew limp with joy when she took
him in her arms, and as he pressed his lips to her breast, he felt
the mark he had made with the dagger. He opened his eyes, bewil-
dered, and saw Richard leaning against the door.
"Richie, tell me that it has been a dream. But it could not
have been a dream, for there is the mark." He closed his eyes for
the memory gave him pain.
"Touch me, Auberi, my dear love," said Arianne. Her voice
now had a new quality in it, it was a little husky, but still rich and
sweet. Auberi looked at her again. She was still lovely, but in a
different way. She no longer shone brilliantly like a diamond, the
light seemed to have been softened, there was a new vulnerability
about her, she was now like a rich ruby which asks not only to be
enjoyed but also to be cherished.
"Auberi," she said in her soft husky voice, "now I shall grow
old along with you; now you will have to clothe me," and here
she smiled a little implishly, for now there will be no more lavish
and magnificent gowns to set questions in your mind. I shall no
longer remain young and beautiful, as I have for centuries; for four
centuries have 1 been the lovely Arianne, because I once though that
to be young and beautiful forever to be the thing I wanted most.
"My father was an Egyptian merchant who had a shop in
Florence, where we lived quite comfortable. He had a friend, a
Netherlandish composer of madrigals, who dined often at our
house, and who taught me to sing. It was all such a ling time ago
that I have forgotten his name, but he gave me a lute one day as a
gift, and promised me that as long as I was young and lovely, I
would be able to sing his madrigals in all their parts, the three-part
ones as well as the six-part songs. I loved music very mush, es-
pecially his madrigals; I was also very much in love with a young
composer, a pupil of the Netherlander, who was admired me be-
cause of my sweet voice. I wanted to win his love completely, to
bind him to me, but he eluded me at every turn. Now if I could
contrive to remain young forever and to sing in as many voices as
I choose, one day he might fall in love with me. But how to do this,
1 could not tell. My father was a scholar as well as a merchant,
and 1 set myself to studying all his books to find out if they could
tell me how to achieve my desire. After months of studying I came
across an old papyrus, which had written on it an ancient Egyptian
ritual for remaining young and beautiful. It said that if a young
girl were prodigal enough to unveil her beauty to the new moon,
when it was just a thin silver bow in the sky, and walk backwards
three steps, repeating at each step. "I want to be young forever,
and 1 now renounce forever those things that are most precious
to me,' If a young girl did these things, she would have the secret
of remaining beautiful forever. I thought of all the things which
were most precious to me, my father, my home with the fountains
in the marble hall, my books, my horse, but never once did I think
that the love of my young composer was to be added to these things.
So one morning, in the very early dawn, I carried out the instructions.
I stood naked facing the very new moon, took the three steps back-
wards repeating the words, and then walked back to my room.
The years passed, I still sang beautiful with my lute, my father grew
old and died, the young man I loved turned his heart away from
me, my friends remarked that I kept the secret of youth to myself
and would not share it with them. A time came when everyone I
had known grew old and died, andmy youth began to cause me em-
barrassing moments. Everybody remarked about it, some jealously,
some suspiciously, until it began to be rumoured that I was a witch
So I left Florence and went to France, where no one knew me. I
stayed there for some years, when the same whispers began to
reach my ears. My friends would grow old and die, while I remained
young, and people rumoured that I was a witch. When I had had
this experience three more times, in Spain, in Morocco, in Egypt,
I tried to commit suicide by pumping off a cliff into the sea, but the
sea washed me up on the shores of West Africa, someone found
me, grew to love me, and I was somehow forced to love him. Then
one day a tall ascetic gentleman began following me around, and
again I jumped into the sea. Again I was washed up on the beach
of an island, a man found me, and the same thing happened all
over again. I longed for the power to love, which I had thrown
away, and I began to long for death, but through the centuries I
have been denied both. All this time I had not sang with my wonder-
ful voice, I had forgotten about my gift, I was in such despair. It
was only when I saw Auberi, sleeping so peacefully like a child
that I suddenly remembered the words of the old Netherlander,
and I longed to hear the old melodies and harmonies. Whenever
I sang for you I found peace. Now one day I shall grow old, and
I won't be able to sing anymore, but while I have this last chance of
youth, I can still sing in many voices. And what is any gift, however
wonderful, compared to the gift of being able to love?"
Leafing Through Schomburgk
by Joy Allsopp
At a time of political confusion when the colonies of Demerary,
Berbice and Essequibo were being occupied in turn by English
and Dutch troops, a single, very ordinary event took place in Frei-
burg. Saxony, which was to mean a great deal to British Guiana.
This glad event was the birth on June 5th, 1804, of Robert Herman
Schomburgk. We know little of his early life, but I like to think
think he was an inquisitive boy, always asking 'why?' and that at
an early age he must have shown signs of the boundless energy
an d determination which were his characteristics in later life.
When Robert Schmburgk came to B.G. thirty years later. that
great traveller Baron von Humbolft was writing-'...the whole
interior of Dutch, French and Portuguese Guiana is a terra in-
cognita.' Most maps of South America at this time-the early
1830's-still retained the mythical lake called Parima, said to occupy
most of the interior of B.G. This lake is believed to be the source
of the famous legend of El Dorado.
The Royal Geographical Society of London, adventurous
then as now, commissioned Robert Schomburgk to do some ex-
ploration in B.G. His terms of reference were explicit. He was to
investigate the physical astronomical geography of B.G., and connect
the positions thus ascertained with those of Humboldt on the
Upper Orinoco. To the achievement of these endeavours the Society
contributed the considerable sum of 900. It was expected that the
Government would bear part of the expenses of the expedition.
Robert Schomburgk arrived in B.G. on 5th August, 1835.
After twenty years of steady British rule the planters-and the Court
Policy-were able to turn their attention from European wars
and threats of wars. They could now think of internal affairs.
The old unsatisfactory lighthouse was replaced in 1830 by the present
imposing structure. On the amusement side was the opening of
D'Urban Race Course in 1829 And now, money was forthcoming
to help finance the Schomburgk expedition.
Robert Schomburgk spent four years carrying out his task,
and to say that he fulfilled his terms of reference would be an under-
statement. Quite literally, he put B.G. on the map. For where
there had been vague lines and great blanks, he drew in authentic
rivers and winding tributaries. To give vital statistics, he is re-
ported to have determined the latitudes of 174 points by 4,824
altitudes of heavenly bodies. In one of his books, which he calls,
and it's a mouthful- 'A description of British Guiana, Geographi-
cal and statistical exhibiting its Resources and Capabilities, together
with the Present and Future Condition and Prospects of the
Colony'-he says this-'The purity of the air is so great, in the
interior, that the planets Venus and Jupiter may be seen in the
Who knows but that our tourist brochures will one day tell
of 'new-found' wonders in B.G. as they describe some of the natural
phenomena discovered by Robert Schomburgk over one hundred
years ago. In the same book mentioned above, he describes Ataraipu
as the greatest geological wonder of this country. This is what
'The greatest geological wonder of Guiana is no doubt Ataraipu,
which, with full right, may be called a natural pyramid. far sur-
passing in height and grandeur the Egyptian piles constructed by the
labour of man. The Ataraipu is on the Western bank of the river
Guidaru in 2"55' N. latitude. Its base is wooded for about 350
feet, from thence rises the mass of granite, devoid of all vegetation,
in a pyramidical form for about 550 feet more, making its whole
height about 900 feet above the river.'
Another possible tourist attraction of the future is what the
Amerindians call Taquiare or Comuti, which means water-jug
in the Arawak language. This 140' high pile of granite is described
as a huge boulder of stone on which rests an oval piece of granite.
A third stone resting on this is in the shape of a jar, and on the top
is a fourth piece shaped like a cover.
Although not a botanist like his brother Richard, Robert
could not travel through the new unexplored country of Guiana
without taking note of the strange trees, birds and flowers. He
did more than take idle notice, he brought to the attention of the
Admiralty in London the valuable timber in the forests. He actually
suggested that the Demerara River from its mouth to Hababu
Creek should be made a vast harbour, a naval arsenal, where mora
and greenheart could come into their own as shipbuilding materials.
On 1st January 1837, Robert discovered the water lily which
he named Victoria Regia Schomb. This plant he describes as 'the
most beautiful specimen of the flora of the western hemisphere.'
With tremendous enthusiasm and imagination, he made
many other suggestions fo the advancement of B.G. Why not
grow grapes on the slopes of the mountains? What about pro-
ducing cocoa, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmegs and other spices?
After his return to England late in 1839, Robert organised an
exhibition in London which he called The Guiana Exhibition.
It was held at 209 Regent Street, and perhaps has not been sur-
passed since. To make an authentic forest scene, the walls of the
room were decorated with scenic foliage. There was a model of an
Amerindian benab, and last but not least, three Ame-indiansto
demonstrate the use of the bow and arrow and the blowpipe. These
envoys from the forest came from three different tribes. They were
Corrienow, a Warrau, Samarang, a Macusi, and Sororeng, from
the Parawano tribe. Unfortunately for them, the exhibition room
was not very well heated, and they complained bitterly of the cold
during those winter months.
In the same book, the 'Description of British Guiana etc.'
which was published in 1840, Robert/Schomburgk drew attention
to the fact that the boundaries of the colony, especially on the
west and south, were not at all clearly defined. As a result of this
much valuable territory was in danger of being lost. Accordingly,
a Boundary Expedition was arranged and Robert S. was asked to
lead the party. On this second occasion he was accompanied to
B.G. by his brother Richard, who had been commissioned by the
National Scientific Institute to make collections for the Royal
Museum and Botanical Gardens in Berlin.
It is to Richard than his brother that we can look for a full
account of the adventures of this second expedition. He published
his record in three volumes which were translated into English
by Walter E. Roth. Volumes I and II of his 'Travels in British
Guiana' contain a straightforward account, complete with maps,
of this expedition into the interior. Volume III contains a list of
flora and fauna.
Richard is, of course, mostly concerned with trees, flowers
and birds, and his descriptions of these sometimes border on poetry.
Here is his description of the voice of the bell-bird.
'... there fell upon my ear from out of the near forest some
wondrous note such as I had never before heard. It was as if someone
were striking several harmonically tuned glass bells. I now heard
again, and after a minute's pause, once more and yet again: there
was then a longer interval of from six to eight minutes, when the
clear full harmonic notes rang out afresh. I stood a long while
spell-bound in the hope of hearing the fairy-like cling-clang sound
just once more-silence alone followed, and I anxiously turned
to my brother from whom I now learnt that it was the voice of the
Chasmarnynctos carunculatus or Bell-bird as the coloured people
call it. It took me but a minute to get my gun out of the boat and ask
Sororeng to accompany me, because his sharp eyes would certainly
discover the bird amidst the green foliage more easily than mine:
the latter, however, smilingly intimated that I might just as well
remain quiet where I was because all attempts to kill the lovely
songster would be fruitless, owing to its perching only upon the
extreme tree tops, where it was well out of range. My attempt
even to find it was in vain, for the limbs of the trees were so inter-
laced with one another that my view was already blocked by the
first branches.No song, no note of any one of the feathered residents
of the Guiana forests, not even the goat-sucker's voice, so dis-
tinctly articulate, had set me in such astonishment as the tintinna-
bulary peal of the bell-bird. I had already learnt when first stepping
upon this remarkable portion of the globe that the birds of Guiana
possessed the gift of speech, but a voice such as this had hitherto
remained absolutely unknown to me. My attention was now wholly
and solely directed upon this marvellous songster: it could not be
withdrawn from it by anything else,...When the magic song was
heard anew my eye rambled around into the thickly-leaved tree
from which it appeared to come, but in vain. I heard the lovely
song, yet never saw the singer."
It remains for one of our poets to produce something worthy
of this beautiful bird-sound, a poem that will become as familiar
to us as the well-loved 'Hail to thee, blithe spirit'.
He writes however about everything of interest, whether it be
the thrill of his first night in the forest, or an Amerindian divorce
case. On this occasion the husband, on being fined two dollars
for beating his wife, this being the punishment, hewas told, that the
Great Queen had ordered to be inflicted on such offenders, ex-
claimed-'Had the Great Queen known of the existence of such
lazy women as my wife (he had earlier compared her with a sloth),
she would certainly never have such a law, but would allowed the
men to beat at least the lazy ones'.
And here is what Richard Schomburgk has to tell us about
the marriage customs of the Warrau tribe.
'Polygamy is commonly indigenous among the Warraus. Every
Warrau takes as many wives as he can support, or rather believes
to be necessary for looking after and attending to him. The chiefs
mostly possess a regular harem. Wedlock takes place at a very
early age, and I have often seen mothers who could hardly be eleven
or twelve years of age and yet possessed children of from one to
two years old. Marriage is not consecrated by any religious cere-
mony. The girl's parents make a choice of bridegroom already of
tenderest age and later on hand her over to him without further for-
mality. From the day that the daughter is destined for him, he has
to work for her parents until his entrance into manhood. In this
interval he showers every attention on his youthful bride, decorates
her with beads, and brings her the best of what is procurable in
the chase. As he becomes a man, he takes her to where he thinks
of building his house. When such a mutual arrangement on the
part of the parents has not taken place, the young people follow their
own inclinations. A visit to the house of the girl of his choice and a
few presents are the first distinctive signs of awakened or already
long-cherished love. If the plans of the parents are in full agree-
ment with the wishes of the wooers, the daughter will either become
his for a fixed present or be handed over to him by the parents
upon the fulfilment of services to be performed for them. In the
latter case, according to the value set upon the bride, he has to
work for a year or still longer for her parents.
On completion of this term the young husband clears from
bush and trees a sufficient piece of land, and hands it over to the
young woman as her provision field which she now further cul-
tivates and tills. The man acquires his second, third, and fourth
wife by means of gifts. When the wife gets old, and this usually
takes place already by the twentieth year, the husband looks for
another among the little girls of seven to eight years of age: he
hands this child to his eldest wife to bring up, and the latter teaches
her everything in the way of domestic duties until she arrives at
maturity, when she enters upon all the rights and duties of the
marriage state. But whatever number of wives a Warrau may possess,
yet the one first taken unmistakably sways the sceptre before
which all her successors have to bow in matters of domestic
concern. The house-master usually has one or two favourite wives
whom he never lets away from his side but who accompany him
on all his excursions.'
The two brothers left B.G. for the last time in May, 1844.
Robert spent some time in Barbados, and wrote a history of the
island. He later was appointed British Consul at St. Domingo,
and after that, in Siam. He died in 1865. The same year his brother
died, Richard accepted the post of Director of the Botanical Gardens
in Adelaide, Australia, where he had emigrated many years before.
In that city he founded a Museum of Economic Botany, and his
friends subscribed and commissioned a portrait of him which
probably still hangs there.
Although there is no record of a portrait of either of the Schom-
burgk brothers being hung in B.G, there appears to have been
no lack of appreciation of their services, particularly those of
Robert, later Sir Robert Schomburgk. The following is an extract
from the Guiana Herald of January 24, 1843.
... .however general the opinion may be of the utter
uselessness, if not inexpediency of mooting the question respecting
the Boundary line between ours and the Brazilian territories, and
however justifiable economists may deem the legislature of this
Colony in refusing to contribute any pecuniary aid to forward the
settlement of this matter, still we think there are few who will not
readily admit that Mr. Schomburgk has rendered the most essential
services to this colony....'
Mention must be made of the fact that Richard S. wrote
his 'Travels' in German, and were it not for the able translating
done by Mr. Walter E. Roth, the majority of us in B.G. would
not be able to read these two volumes. Mr. Roth has succeeded in
producing a translation which reads, as Pasternak has said a trans-
lation should,-'in a natural and lively way.'
Both Robert and Richard Schomburgk believed firmly in
a bright future for British Guiana. But I wonder whether Sir Robert
might not have been surprised to find that this paragraph, written
by him more than one hundred years ago, has still for us in B.G.
the same wishful tone?
'Guiana bids fair ere long to become a focus of colonization,
and with her fertility, her facilities of water communication, she
may yet vie with the favoured provinces of the eastern empire,
and become, as Sir Walter Ralegh predicted, the El Dorado of
Great Britain's possessions in the West,'
The Lost and the Lonely
by Ivan Van Sertima
In which Da-Da after tragic failure and frustration in both
private and public life withdraws himself completely from the
world and seems resigned to a long slow agony of dying. Stefan
tries to draw him out of his shell but to no avail. A profound and
curious intimacy develops between father and son Stephan's life
for a long time to come is twisted and darkened by the shape and
shadow of his father's spirit.
During those last days he began to walk away from his shell,
walk slowly away out into an untouchable farness and silence.
It pained me to look him fully in the eyes. I could see the flight
and exile there, that dry dark fathomless stare that spoke of utter
disinterest, withdrawal and abandonment. His were the eyes of the
blind, of the new dead: a dull blunt blaze of glass that held and
mirrored nothing. The shell continued to eat, to speak, to push its
arms and legs about, driven through all the idiotic repetitions of
living by the momentum of habit. But I could feel the flatness,
the falseness, the hollowness of the thing he had left behind. Only
a phantom reality of flesh that had to be jilted and jettisoned because
it was still too young, too instinct and pulsant with power to die
with him. How it had stood up to the nervous assault and burden
of the years I could not tell. Instead of growing feeble it had toughen-
ed to a gnarled hardness, a raw bronze-brittle strength. It would
take another fifty years of brutal motion on the earth, perhaps, be-
fore life wore it down, made it grow old and sick and rot to a
leprous foulness like his essence.
He kept to the house all the time, pacing up and down, up
and down, but never adventuring out into the yard or street for a
single moment. And he kept entombed in his night-clothes too,
a thick white dirty pyjama-gown that looked like the sheet they
pulled over bodies when they gave no pulse. All other clothing
was boxed away, discarded, and to see him stride across the floor
in this death-cloth made one think of a man buried alive in a casket
on the top of the earth in some fantastic ritual of slow torture and
execution. The house had become that kind of a tomb for him,
and the sentence of doom was written heavily on his face. He paced
behind panes of glass, looking out on the yard and street, seeing
the living close and near, knowing he could live no more, and know-
ing too with the same terrifying certainity, that until the shell was
smashed he could not die.
Some nights I would turn over and fall out of my sleep at the
sound of his voice and I would hear him cry a thousand times,
Oh, what to do, what to do? What to do, what to do, what to do?
"0 Good Lord!" I would scream beneath my breath, feeling every
jagged shock of sound in the silence "0 God, God, if you have
anything to do with this man's pain, or any man's pain, stop tor-
turing him, stop torturing him. Kill him outright and be done,
0 God, but don't' drag it out like this. Kill him tonight in his sleep
and never let him wake up to this horror anymore. 0 God, kill
Da-da, kill Da-da. Kill him tonight in his sleep, I beg you, please."
And when a long pause came and that hysterical anthem
seemed lost in a deep stillness 1 would weep my heart out for relief
and mutter gratefully to the night: "Thank you, God. Thank you
for killing him."
One evening as I came up the pathway to the house I saw
his head upon the window-sill, mounted on a crooked platter of
arms, staring at the street. I had never seen him look so crushed and
broken before, so wretched and lonely, so old and lost and sad. No
more the glazed withdrawal in the eyes. They had suddenly become
the most expressive eyes I knew. All the anguish in his life, all his
horror and hopelessness seemed to stir to instant and to total life
inside of them. Somehow in one terrible flash he had come back,
out of the farness and silence. All of a sudden the death-mask had
been lifted and shattered and the spirit had come bounding back,
bursting the shell with its fist, and startling the cold dry eyes with
the essence and memory of all his hideous hours.
A heaviness fell upon me as 1 entered. It seemed as if the
whole place was stuffed and overflowing with this man's feeling and
no one could move in his presence for long without falling victim to
the curse of darkness on his soul.
"Da-da," I said in an urgent voice, throwing an arm on his
sunken shoulders, "you must get out of this house, man. Go for a
walk, look up your old friends, meet people again, try and do some-
thing. You've got to get out of this house, Da-da. It's come like
a tomb, it's come like a tomb. You must get out. You must get
out of this house."
He turned on me as I spoke, breaking into a wild hysterical
"Get out and go where? See who? Go where? See who? No-
body wants to see me. All these months 1 stay home. Ten months
I stay home. Away from the city, away from friends, away from
everybody, everything. Nobody even sends to ask for me. Whe-
ther I'm sick, whether I'm dying, whether I'm dead. Nobody
notices. No one, O Christ, no one, no one at all. Nobody cares.
Not a soul in the world cares what happens to me. Better I stay
here and die, man. Better I stay here and die."
"But you can't sit around like this," I cried, on the verge of
tears, "you can't just sit around like this waiting to die, Da-da. You
can't just sit around like this, waiting to die."
"Ten months," he raved again, ignoring me. "Ten months
now and nobody visited me once. Not once, O Christ, not once.
What kind of friends I had, what kind of friends I had, O God, O
God. I want to know. I want to know. Why, why has everyone
deserted me? What have I done, O God, what have I done? What
have I done to deserve all this, O God, what have I done? Not a
friend in the world, not a friend, not a friend. Not a friend in the
whole wide world, not a friend, not a friend. A man has to bear
his pain all alone in his hell of a world, O God! O what a hell of a
world, hell of a world, hell of a world, O God, O God! What to do!
What to do!"
On and on, and on and on he raved like this, repeating himself
again and again, raving louder and louder, hoarser and hoarser,
charged to fury and madness by his pain. For what seemed like an
hour he raved, shouting at the top of his voice until the sound came
like sand in his choking throat and all his nervous energy was ex-
hausted. Then he broke down, cried as if he would never stop and
threw himself like wood across the bed.
He was up earlier than usual the following morning. He had
a long bath too, which was so strange for him on Wednesday morn-
ing. He had only bathed at the beginning and close of the week for
the past ten months. A greying growth of beard, which had been
dark only a year ago, paled off his hollow cheeks and ended in a
thready stubble at the chin. This he began to weed out at the hall-
mirroe that morning, bleeding his wrinkled skin every now and then
with his awkward reversion to a long-forgotten habit.
I watched intently from the breakfast table. Karl and Dianne
never noticed the change at all. Ot at least they showed blank faces
as though they didn't. They never seemed to notice whatever their
father said or did, avoided his eyes at table, and avoided speaking to
him whenever they could. I watched and waited and wondered, for
it was nearly a full year now since he had shaved like this on a mid-
The shaving done, he disappeared in his bedroom for about half
an hour and when he came out again the dirty white pyjama-gown
was gone. He emerged in a white sharkskin suit, something he had
worn in the brief heyday of his glory the year before. Somehow
the months had not moth-marked and yellowed it. It came out of
a thick celluloid shelter as glossily white and fresh as the first day he
wore it. But it was a most unfortunate shoice. To both of us as
we looked at it came back the image of the man he was, the image of
the day he first wore that suit, the image of the cheering crowds, the
city's booming guns, all the pageantry and colour, the glory of that
first day he stood to take his oath in the parliament and assembly.
He was so full of life and hope then, so vigorous and eager,
jubilant and proud. Now he looked a built-up scarecrow of a man,
a crucifix of bones with a mockery of clothes flung on. Grief had
sucked him dry, down to the ossal fabric, the rude skeletal necessity,
leaving only a bloodless skin drawn with a rubber-band tightness to
the core and frame. 1 had never seen anything so ghastly and in-
congruous, so startlingly illustrative of death-in-life as that dried up
and wasted shell-thing wrapped up in a smart and stunning suit of
clothes. It was like the blaze of hard white light clothing a lone
backstreet, promising a gay city life that was not there.
He looked at the mirror for a long time and I shuddered under
the violence of his thought and feeling as he stood there. I had
become open and vulnerable to all of him, it seemed, and in moments
of such tortured twisting I felt it like it came from inside of me, felt
it like one feels the tug, the spasm, and the burning of one's own
smarting guts and heart. A big ball of air came up in my throat an
I ached to vomit the tea and the butterless loaf of weak white bread.
Suddenly I sprang up, almost knocking the wares over in my
haste. Da-da ran his fist straight into the full-length mirror and it
came splintering down in a cascade of fragments all over the floor.
I threw my arms around him and tried to hold him down but he
pulled away from me like a lunatic, stamping on the glass and kicking
it about with his boots and screaming the place down.
"Karl, Dianne, come quick," I shouted, "Da-da's going mad.
Come quick, I say. Da-da's going mad."
They both rushed out to work as though nothing had happened,
as though the mirror had been broken and lay shattered in another
house, and the raging sobbing man was a total stranger. I threw
my arms again around him and I began to cry and scream myself as
though infected and caught up in his delirium. I cried as if a long-
growing geyser had burst inside of me. Cried like a child dragged
from the milk and warmth and motherhood of the earth, cried for
the whole loss and tragedy in both our lives, for all the waste, the
endless, brutal, meaningless drama of pain. Eventually we both
grew quiet and my father returned to his room. When he came out
of it he was back in his bedroom slippers and the dirty white
The next few weeks he walked right back into himself. A
shell-man paced the house once more, deadened and distant, lost to
the world in a farness and silence 1 could not hope to bridge or
breach or door. Only at night a fever of life returned, returned as
always in a grotesque and frightening shape of nervous horror.
"Come sit and read for me, Stefan," he would say some nights
and I would ask: "What would you like me to read, Da-da, what
would you like me to read?"
"Anything," he would cry impatiently, "anything, anything at
all. Justread, read. I want to hear somebody talking to me.
Somebody must talk to me. Nobody wants to talk me anymore.
Everybody's shutting me out. This silence O God, this silence is
I would sit by his bed for hours on end, reading. Far into the
night I would sit and read, sometimes reciting long narrative poems
or sections of some favourite novel, and he would just lie there
staring blankly at the ceiling while the voice ran on and on. Sud-
denly, somewhere along the way he would shake all over with a
great convulsion of sobbing, clutching at the pillow and pounding
his face in it. He would cry in a strange dry way then as if there
were no more rivers to bleed out his heart. His eyes remained dry,
and hard as glass. And the sounds were dry too like a man
being strangled, gasping sandily for the breath of life.
"What is wrong, Da-da," I would stop and ask, "What is
"Read boy, read, you go on reading.'
I would go on but my heart no more in it I too would become
like a shell, voice-distant, eye-distant. I would withdraw my spirit
from the book, keep spinning the sounds out like magnetic tape, and
rise a voiceless phantom from the chair. In that moment of mutual
distance and withdrawal I would know a mutual intimacy and near-
ness. I would go out and meet my father in a miraculous mingling
of mind and essence, I would go out and entangle myself into the
webwork of this man. A heaviness, as of all his years, would fall
upon me and I would take on his nervous load and shape, remem-
berng as I had lived it, the vital moments of those fifty years. I
would become my father, my lost mother my young mistress, my
time not only during but before my life, losing my familiar and single
identity into a strange and dual world and self.
THE LOST AND THE LONELY
Is the title of the 80,000 word novel upon which Ivan van
Sertima is at present working. The scene is laid in Guiana's capital
city in a contemporary setting and the novel depicts the tragic
crisis of a young man who finds himself an exile in his own country.
The chapter portrays the closing stages of the life of Stefan's
Lulu an the Camoodi
by Florence Cavigholi
Dis was a gurl, she live far in de faress wid she muddah, she
faada an a parrat dat deh use to call Lora.
Now dis gurl did name Lulu, an she faada did love she so much,
dat he use to treat ee wife baad fu Lulu. If Lulu head hut she, e seh
Lulu muddad en tekkin good care a she, an wah evva Lulu tell e
against she muddah e use to believe she, an so sometime e would
beat up de wife baad baad, so Lulu poar muddad live in dread all de
Lora now, was a talking parrat an very sensible, she did like Lulu
muddah, an use to sarry fuh she wen she getting baad treatment, an
Lulu muddah use to treat Lora good, causen som times she use
to warn Lulu muddah bout any a Lulu tricks dat she would play
fuh get she in trouble. But Lulu din like Lora atall an of course
Lora return de compliment.
By dis you know of course dat Lulu was a very wicked gurl, an
she eye did pass she muddah so much, she nat only use to tell lie
pan she, but she woan hear wen she muddah talk to she. She use
to do all de tings she muddah tell she she mussin do, an cause de
poar ooman to get beat up. Dis was fun fuh Lulu.
Wan dey now, de faadah go to work as usual cutting wood in
de faress, an lef Lulu an she muddah at home. So de muddah do
she house work, tidy up she bed an ting an set about fuh cook
she husband food fuh wen e come home in de nite, causen de faadah
use to carry e brekfus fuh eat during de day; but wen she open she
safe she seenutten en deh fuh cook. She seh to she self, "Lawd is
wah dis pan poar me now, you mean me gah fuh guh til a village
now fuh buy provision? An is so far to de village?" An she suck
she teet, vex wid sheself fuh lettin dis happen to she. Dis time she
trying fuh figure out how de provision done suh soon, causen all
a dem does go pan a Satiday to de village, an like so she does feel
at ease, causen she husband wid she fuh protect she, but she doan like
to travel wid Lulu in de faress widout she husband causaen you nevah
can tell wha Lulu will do nex. She had dat experience wance an
she pay de consequence, dear enough. Dis time she en know dat
Lulu tek she provision an play dally house and feed up de burds
an pigs wid it, an causin she muddah a big set a trouble.
Anyway de position still de same anyhow she put it to sheself, so
she decide she an Lulu will guh to de village, "at lease" she tink to
sheself "wah evah happen, me husband will get e food tinite."
So she turn to Lulu an seh, "Lulu gal awee na gat nutten fuh
cook fuh you faadah dinna tinite. Come leh awee guh ah village
fuh buy provision". Lulu seh "Moomah, nutten na deh a house
fuh eat?" Moomah seh "No gal, put an you hat and you shoes
an leh awee go ah village.
Lulu glad fuh de chance fuh gie she muddah worries now, right
away she gwine lie. She staat fuh groan an mek up she face an hole
ann to she foot. Hear she now, "0, Moomah, me foot a hut me,
me caan walk suh far". Lulu moomah see right away dat is mo
worries dis gurl gwine give she suh she seh to sheself, "If me wan
guh a village me guh come back mo quick dan if awee two guh.
If me carry she, she guh gie me worries all de way an me nah guh
reach back in time fuh cook me husband food. An if me lef she home
lack up in de house she gwine too friken fuh come out side by is she
alone, an no tigah or camoodi can trouble she if she lack up in de
house, so me betta try quick if me wan fuh reach back in time fuh
cook me husband food."
So she turn to Lulu an seh "Awright chile, you staan me guh
run guh quick an come back, but you do jus wah me tell you, or
else you might fine yourself in trouble, mo dan yuh, able wid, you
might get kill"? an she add dis piece, "an you know how you faadah
love you." Causen she know how Lulu wun want to grieve she
faadah, an den she tink again, "is no use tellin she me love she to,
causen she doan kay. Ah only pray to Gaad dat every ting guh right
till a come back."
Dis time Lulu siddown in de chair swinging she fat lil legs,
an she lil mine wukkin how much mischief she can do by de time she
muddah come back.
"Lulu, you gwine do wah a tell you?"
"Yes Moomah, me gwine do every ting wah you tell me."
"Do Lulu, doan get in no mischief."
"No Moomah, ow! you self to."
"Awrite gal." Lulu moomah seh. She turn an tek up she basket,
an she money an she lack up all dem windah an doh an bolt dem good
den she come back to weh Lulu did sitten. Dis time Lulu watching she,
an she seh, "Now Lulu, wen me guh tru de doh, you mus bolt it good
an turn de key in side. An you mussin open none a dem windah nor
de door, causen anything or anybady can come inside an harm yuh,
doan open de doh to nobady but me."
"Awrite Moomah guh quick an come back."
Lulu moomah seh "Hm, it look like she gwine behave she self,
causen de danjah is mo dan she."
Den Lulu tun an seh, "But Moomah how me gwine know is
you rappin at de doh, me caan see tru de wood?"
De muddah seh, "Gal you na known you own muddah vice?"
Lulu seh, "Moomah anybady can imitate you vice."
"Awrite den Lulu, wen me come to de doh me gwine sing a song
dat nobady gwine taink bout singin to a doh."
"Da is a good idea" Lulu seh.
"Well awrite now lissen to de saang" de muddah seh, an she
sing dis saang:-
Is me Lulu gal,
You muddah come home,
Looloo open de doh,
Yuh muddah come home.
She sing it ova and ova suh Lulu can know it good.
Dis time dey en know data Camoodi dehundah de house hearing
everything wah goin on upstairs, an dat e tekkin in dis saang good,
good, causen dis Camoodi is a smaat Camoodi, an e know fuh
imitate anything or anybady, an is suh e does get'e food. Won e
imitate de animals dey does come to e an e does jus gobble dem up.
Anyway Lulu muddah gie she a las warning, den she step out-
side on de varandah an she hear Lulu bolt an lack de doh. She give
it a good shakin an pushin fuh see if it can budge, but de doh was fas.
So she turn to Lora an seh, "Lora gal, you is me only friend,
watch ovah Lulu wen a gaan an tell she if you see anything wrang;
do fuh me sake. Remembah a love you an does treat yuh good.
Doan mine Lulu baad, do it fuh me sake." Lora watch she good
but she en ansah Lulu muddah, causen she did glad if anything
happen to Lulu, dat will put she out a de misery she does suffer
at Lulu han. So she en mek no pramis, but she jus cack she head
wan side an lissen good.
Lulu muddah turn an guh down de steps an start pon she laang
journey to de village praying to Gaad in she hart dat everything be
arwrite. She en tink bout peepin undah de battam house fuh see
if anything undah neet deh, an of course Lora din see de camoodi
causen e come fram de back a de house an crawl undahneet it.
Eh! Eh! Lulu Maddah gaan now, she hustlin down de road,
dis time de camoodi watching she, e wait till she reach a good distance,
den e crawl out an mek e way to do bush behine de house; e guh a
good distance weh Lulu caan hear e. Now Buddy is wah you tink e
gwina an do? E gwine an practice fuh sing dis saang,causene did
larn de wods good wen e been lissenin undah de battam house.
Wen e reach de spat now, e staat fuh practice fuh sing, man, fus
time e try e vice too case, suh e seh"mmm dis won do, Lulu mus
know is nat she muddah vice". E try again, dis time e vice too hoase.
E seh "Gawd! is wah dis. A know is wah wrang wid me! de las time
a swalla a cow, it lef me treat too slack, is dat's wy ah caan sing like
Lulu muddah. But a must get dis gurl causen she fat an nice, ah
ent want she muddah an she faadah yet causen deh ent fat an
jiucy like Lulu. As fuh Lora, she can even full me teet-hole".
De very taught a Lulu an how she fat an nice mek de Camoodi
decide e cyan wate. So e put aan a frak just like Lulu muddah
own an a hat like she own to, fo comaflage de situation, dene staat
prancing down to de house.
Wen e meet now, e see Lora pan de verandah weh she cage
hanging, right in front de doh an e seh to eself, she mus'n see me
face, she will tek me fuh Lulu muddah, causen a dress upjus like she.
But is betta de Camoodi did come widout a frak, causen e
lang lang tail did still lef outside e close. Lora done know is nat e
mistress, but e glad fuh anything happen to Lulu causen e en like de
gurl attal. So e staan quiet. Dis time Camoodi suh hungry e im-
patient; e fuget to sing, e put out e han an wrap at de doh.
Dis time Lulu inside, up to all saat a mischief, she hear de wrap,
she seh to sheself. "Eh. Eh. is who wrapping at dis time a de day,
Poopah doan come home suh soon an moomah kyan reach de
village suh suh quick an come back, eh. eh. ah wandah is who?
Camoodi wrap mo haad now. Lulu get up from weh she been,
curious fuh know is who. "Is who wrapping deh?" De camoodi
answah, "Is me Lulu darlin open de doh, yuh muddah come home?
Dis time e vice hoase hoase you know.
Lulu seh, "Eh, eh, Moomah, wah happen, who mek you vice
suh hoase." De Camoodi mek ansa, "Ah ketch coal Lulu."
Lulu tinkin all de time, she seh to sheself, "Da en me muddah
vice" suh she seh, "sing de saang moomah."
De camoodi ketch eself den, an e rememba de saang an e
stretch out e neck an staat to sing:-
Is me Lulu gal,
You muddah come home
LooLoo open de doh,
You muddah come home.
Dis time e vice still case but e hopin Lulu en gwine resist de
inclinashun fuh open de doh an peep. Lora watching all dis time. An e
Lulu cyan bear it no, mo. She loose de bolt, tun de key an
befo she can peep tru de doh crease, Camoodi hurl eself pan de
doh an knack Lulu flat pan de floor. Den e punce pan she, an e
wrap eself rung she, Lulu hallah an fighting all de time but she en
able wid de Camoodi. Then she rememba wah she muddah did tell
she. De wods come back to she, "You might fine yourself in mo
trouble dan you able wid." An all de wrang tings wat she does do,
she muddah words come back to she, an she did sarry, she seh,
"Ow, me muddah, if only a did hear you." But was too late den.
De Camoodi bite off she head, and trow it undah de bed, and wen
it did rollin to de bed de hair come off an leff undah de chair, den
e bite aff she navel ann spit it out undah de table. Den e swalla de
ress a she baddy, whole, whole.
Well, Lulu laan she lessen, but hear wah gwine happen to de
Lulu did suh fat, dat wen de Camoodi swalla she, e could'n
budge fram weh e bin, e leff right deh wid e belly swell out big, big.
Eh. Eh. de muddah coming home now, she run all de way tru
de faress till she meet de village, buy she goods an coming home now.
She run she walk, she run, she walk, till de sun did high in de sky
an de journey mo haad now, causen de midday sun mo hat an she
Wen she reach a good distance fram de house, she see de doh
open, she haat leap to she troat, an she staat run mo quick. Dis
time she foot cyan, carry she fas enough. Wen she reach de doh,
wah she gwine see but de big fat ugly Camoodi wid e belly swell
up big, lying down in de middle ah she floor. De house in con-
fusion, every ting upside down, an Lulu nowhere around. "0 Lawd!"
Den she staat fuh bawl, WWaai! 0 me lawd is weh me Lulu deh?
Wah me gwine tell me husband wen e come home? 0 Gawd me,
waan gall pickny gaan inside de Camoodi bely, An so she go an for a
Dis time Lora hearing she mistress how she hallerin and greivin
ova Lulu. Lora din bargain fuh dis paat atall; she glad fuh leh Lulu
dead, but she en glad fuh see she mistress greive. She lissenin to all
wah Lulu muddah hallerin an sehin.
"Aw! me pickny!" an she trow sheself in a chair holin she
head an rackin sheself backward an forward all de time de tears
running down she face like rain pourin fram de sky.
Lora feel sarry fuh de poar woman now, an decide fuh help she.
Suh e staat fuh sing fuh she, an dis is de saang wah Lora sing:-
Lulu, poar Lulu dead,
Undah de bed,
You see Lulu head;
Undah de chair,
You see Lulu hair,
Undah do table,
You see Lulu navel.
Lulu, poar Lulu dead.
Lulu muddah hear de singin an she stap cryin fuh lissen. She guh
to de doh an stan up. Dis time Lora sing it again.
Lulu, poar Lulu dead, etc.
De muddah lissen good an wen de saang done sing, she guh
inside de bedroom an look. Lulu head been undah de bed in trute,
she surch undah de chair an she fine Lulu hair, an wen she hice up de
table claat, Lulu navel been deh to. So she colezk sheself an she tek
all tree a dese tings an she put dom in a caana, den she guh in de
kitchen an bring out ah axe, an she lif it high up in de air an bash in de
Camoodi head. All de Camoodi could do was groan suh, m m mmm
den de dead. An Lulu muddah tek a shap nife an cut open the
Camoodi belly and tek out Lulu baddy, an she siddown wid she
needle an tread an stitch aan Lulu head back pan she baddy, den
she tek lil pase an paseo aan Lulu hair pan she head, den she tek
Lulu navel an stick it back in place wid lil glue, an wah you tink
happen? Lulu come alive again.
Den deh hole aan pan matter an dem cry an dem laff wid joy.
An Lulu tell she muddah she sarry fuh all de baad tings she use to do
anall de trouble she cause de muddah an pramise nevah to be wicked
again an tell no lies, an be dissobedient. An wen she hear how Lora
save she life, she hug up Lora an kiss she too, and Lora an Lulu
was de bes o' friends afterwards an de live happy everafter.
Poet in a Slave Arena
by Milton Williams
To be truly a Poet is to be driven beyond the frontiers of what
is and is possible into the alarmingly impossible and give expression
to the inexpressable. For the True Poet such is to be desired with
all his strength of mind and being. This confrontation in itself
constitutes a rape. It is in itself too, a face to face encounter with
the eternal. This is what the struggle-the deep anguish of spirit, a
consequence of the bi-section of being, the lot of all men, moreso
mutual to the mortal creator-to give expression means: a coming
to grips: a prostration at the feet of that which is the key to man's
existence. The valid road therefore is quest, struggle with life and
limb and brain, the removing of layer upon layer of barriers.
Poetry is not only words (some of which are apparently mean-
ingless) not only means, not only be. A True Poem is substanceless
substance. Contained in it are flickers of imaginary light. A True
Poem is a curious and flexible transmutated intermingling of all
elements contained in the human environment. To use the term
environment I am aware, for certain people, is to juxtapose a valid
delimiting bond. On the contrary, by the term Human environ-
ment, I in no way confine myself to any social class, religious and
political movement. I in no way confine myself to any race, ethics
or geographical surroundings. Rather my concern is with the
whole theatre of the human throughout all time and space." The
social and political, the racial, ethical, religious and geographical
are all barriers to the essential and perpetual problem of man.
The question arises of itself. What is the essential and perpet-
ual problem of man? I answer this: loneliness, mystery. These
are not final answers but frontiers insinuating themselves for
Man in his naked essence is a creature of loneliness eternally
beseiged by the shadows of mystery. So soon as he became aware,
so soon was he confronted with the mystery of his origins and of the
origin of all around him: birds, trees, rocks, rivers, mountains and
the far off distant sun and moon and stars and planets. The True
Poet then is the one most deeply aware of the loneliness and mystery
that is a perpetuation from the beginning. It is that which beleau-
guers, hounds, stamps him like a red hot iron through all the streets
and structures and monuments: sanctuaries from the ravages of the
cruel fascists-nature space and time.
With the exception of one or two (one by commitment more
deeply and tragically aware than the other) no poet of Stature has
ever emerged from this Feudal slave arena. To have asked for one
was to demand the impossible. Precisely what is required of the
The West Indies and British Guiana today is one blown up
plantation. At all levels the pattern of the slave plantation is
reduplicated. On the one hand there is the homage paid to the big
house, the big car, the big job. At another, to the skin, to colour.
Coupled to these are the multiplicity of the weak-minded, the weak-
willed, the spineless and the water-blooded. The True Poet looking
out on all this is petrified with horror; is stuffed up all the way to his
gullet with the filth. For these are the great distractions with which
he must engage. Looking out on all this the True Poet can feel
nothing but sorrow. He is the Tristram of the Feudal slave arena.
What is projected ? What asserts itself as on some lofty screen,
as if daylight's accentuation for the first time thereon is reposed?
Not this: The arena's a pool-a cesspool populated by maggots,
whirling around in endless idiotic ejaculations, without centre, with-
out core, just a bottomless cavity. Is insensitivity and senselessness.
Impotence and abstinence! A chaotic and gutless quagmire. It is
colossal vice wherein no light is permitted only everlasting night.
Wrapped in cesspool's garments, a maggot's glory, our victim
of time circumstances and history in one Amazonic uprootment
creates a severance and sustained impregnability. Grows enormous
and tangible wings while he perseveres the path sketched by his deep
sense of inner certainty and vision which is as old as time and man.
This then is our True Poet. To the mere apprehender of
appearances his actions are designated as a consequence of not-
knowledge-of, at most as blind arrogance. Hearing this he laughs
and his laugh is a vomit that says: "I alone am and will always be
right. The world was and will always be wrong. 1 was present in
the beginning. I lived with man in his caves, tents, villages, towns
and cities. I delved into the ocean, earth, came through the tops of
mountains, walked on air, walked through the sun, moon, stars, and
planets. And I know that this search of man for love, shelter,
comfort and security, for a richness of life both material and spiritual
is a quest that soars over all his agglomerated fabrications and is to
be found in sequestered vaults not of his making.
The True Poet is he who sees through all the facades, and from
that perimeter of consciousness throws down his gauntlet in one
daring and brazen act.
No sooner done than a vision comes: sunhair'd and blueeyed
and fairlimbed; fullbreasted, deepthighed and halo-bedecked the
unknown comes, touches our hero and says, "I come I come. I am
the unknown'thy God. I give thee but a momentary glimpse and I
depart. Will see thee again only when thou dost summon me as
thou did'st today. 0 son. 0 lover. 0 darling and brazen, brave
and dogged one. O strongwilled. O visionary, thee only thee I
love...... kisses lightly his lips..... .In a little while I leave thee
and thou would'st look for me again in every mortal woman but
they will prove empty and insufficient. Worry not. Take only this
charge. Over all men and over all time I thee set. Do my work
and I am thine."
Is the state of our hero to be imagined, nay, much more, con-
veyed? Hardly, too much for inadequate language. Let it suffice
if we say that the apex of this experience was akin to drunkenness;
not stupor'd, but glorious drunkeness, where one rides as upon the
crest of some surging and golden river. Or, to the O holy sexual
moment. Of senses inflamed, most complete: deposition, union,
tranquillity. These, so finite, so fragmentary, are its mortal approxi-
mations. For that other, so lovingly, so richly signed and sealed is
an eternal revolving on the plane of everlasting purity and bliss.
To what ground, what new garden have we come in full ampli-
tude of soul? Is not the metamorphosis complete? In one instant
the aggregation of years is dissipated, falls down a congealed ghost.
For now what previously appeared as fluctuating insinuations is
given obliquity, angularity, becomes the norm. No more can there
be bisections. For actions done no more can there be bad con-
sciences. For our hero functions now as man in the beginning and
with more: the possibility of the possession of knowledge of the
congregated experiences of all men in every civilization throughout
all time. From this unique promontory a significant realization is
projected: he and all men are brothers. All that has passed under
the heavens and on this earth was a fallacy and an irreligious lie.
An irreligious yet a profound and agonising truth that scarred and
emaciated their existences. From henceforward he is given the
right to understand and the framework or the form for his content.
N. E. Cameron
This is the 30th year of Norman Cameron's authorship and I
wonder whether he himself could have visualised the varied literary
styles that lay before him when he published his first book "Evolu-
tion of the Negro" in 1929. In the Postscript to "Thoughts on Life
and Literature," he had indicated the urge to write which began to
gather force when he found himself in Cambridge at the age of 19
as a Guiana Scholar, and gradually the realisation grew that al-
though Christian and Guianese, the fact of his being of African
stock was of great importance. As he points out, it was to dominate
the other elements in his personality and to affect the course of his
thinking over the 30 years between then and now. To pursue what
that meant in Guiana, he found it necessary to become editor of an
important volume "Guianese Poetry-1831-1931" in which he col-
lected the best, to his mind, of the poetry written and printed in
British Guiana culling assidiously from newspaper files, now un-
fortunately destroyed, poring over little known and often decaying
booklets of verse which must have gone from the heart of the author
as lightly as the song of a bird.
This urge led him to scorn delights and live laborious days of
research, and of founding and helping to found groups to fill needs
in the infra structure of the community as he saw it-e.g. the British
Guiana Literary Society (1930-1934), the British Guiana Union of
Cultural Clubs (1943-1950) and the Association of Masters and
Mistresses (founded in 1952). It led him to prepare addresses of
outstanding thought on the future of the people of Guiana-the
farmers and the young people needing education in rural areas (in
1931 there was printed in the New Daily Chronicle a thoughtful and
striking address on Village Continuation Schools which Unions of
Local Authorities may well study now with profit).
It seems to this writer at least that first and foremost Norman
Cameron has fundamentally been a teacher. Having learnt certain
truths about himself and his country, he has always endeavoured to
pass them on to others. There are his History of Queen's College
(1951) and his forthcoming History of Education in British Guiana
to testify to the lore of institutional education, but in his drama he
also made use of the dramatic form to put over home truths he has
learnt, without political fervour, but as an educationist will.
Apart from the sheer dramatic values there are in Balthasar,
Adonya, Sabaco and Ebedmelech, the continuous message that there
are valuable contributions to be made to the community of nations,
by the people of every stock.
Quite properly, in order to drive this message home, Norman
Cameron has written much explanatory prose, in his historical
articles on drama in British Guiana, in the essays and addresses,
some of which have been given more permanent form in Thoughts on
Life and Literature, and also in the original poems, Interlude (1944).
The theme always has been on the didactic but it would be untrue to
say that the intensity of the message has not stimulated the creative
artist in him. Critics have claimed that the creative fire does not
burn as brightly as it does in other writers, but to say that ignores
the strong message which shines sincerely and even passionately
through every page. Here is a searcher after Truth, this is.Diogenes
bearing the lamp for all to see and was it not Keats who postulated
the twin aspect of Truth and Beauty a century or more ago?
Norman Cameron might have remained a writer and thinker
and educator in the forefront of Afro-American endeavour, had it
not been for the events of 1943, centred around the person of the
British Council Advisor in the West Indies Harold Stannard, which
crystallised in the launching of the British Guiana Union of Cultural
Clubs. Norman Cameron became the first President of the Union
and the aims of this body dedicated to the development of Guianese
culture and the things which unite our people and not divide them
forced him to take the large view of cultural endeavour and even
more important, to plan and carry out programmes which would
develop our intellectual interests as a whole. He took a keen
interest in the establishment of the Patrick Dargan Memorial Shield
Debating Competition, and it was he who embarked upon the col-
lection of the valuable library of B.G. books which the Union
succeeded in acquiring. So the man of thought was given a chance
to work out his ideas in convention activities and a Pan-Guianese
attitude was the result.
Of late years, with the arrival of new strong writers, the work
of Norman Cameron has been rather neglected, but to those older
ones among us, the memories are bright of what the man has done
for our nascent culture. Here is a man of intellectual force and
great energy, with the ability to carry out arduous research, undaunt-
ed by praise or blame, using many literary forms to pour out during
these 30 years his message to the young and to those who want to
learn, drumming in lessons of character and method and thought
for the future, applying intelligence to the problems around us and
using his basic, logical approach in everything.
This is not to write finis to the man's work-the activities he
has planned to celebrate his 30th anniversary will at once belie that-
but to take a quick look back over the 30 years and to point out the
evident pattern of his life's work.
-A, J. Seymour.
Of Age and Innocence
by George Lamming
In his third book "Of Age and Innocence," George Lamming
plays the virtuoso, displays an advance in technique and lays a
greater emphasis upon manner than upon matter. This is a distin-
guished book which is hard to read as a novel.
It's easy enough to describe the bare bones of the story. There
is an island in the Caribbean which is awakening from its long sleep
of colonial status into nationalism. Five people arrive in an aero-
plane and become involved in the political changes. A group of
boys do what boys will do, all over the world, make a club or scout
troop and give it a dash of mystery by calling it a secret society.
They too become involved in the story. On the brink of his triumph
the local leader is murdered, and there is a greal trial which stirs the
But the author makes the incidents happen off stage as in a
tragedy by Seneca and because the movement of the book is shrouded
in a deliberate mist of emotion, we are never quite sure what has
really taken place. Perhaps we can say that there is a great deal of
resemblance between the tragedies of Seneca and this book by
Lamming and I'd like to pause for a bit and underline the smiliarities.
There are fine passages of description scattered over the book, and
all composed in the author's best style. He talks of nationalism,
and of the effect of politics upon a community, commonplaces are
raised from a mundane level like night, or the carnival of San Cris-
tobal or the accidental effect of the writing upon a piece of paper
upon the thought processes of a character is pursued with a curious
and nice pen. There is much high morality and philosophical
reflection, as on the relationship between accuracy or error to be
discerned in the nature of figures, or on the urge and reflection to be
found in the travelling of ants; and there are always effective epi-
grams. But the tragedies of Seneca were meant to be recited to a
literary audience who would know the value to be placed upon the
references, and smiliarly this book suffers from an excess of style
and moral disquisition and it is unlikely to appeal to the general
readers who wants a story in the first place and an interesting por-
trayal of character in the second.
This is not a novel in the normal sense. The book is difficult
and, even in a certain sense, unpleasant to read. There is introduced
very early the literary device of the diary, that treasure house of the
abstruse and the esoteric, and even in the first section of the book
the part which traditionally is devoted by an author to catching the
interest and holding the attention of the reader, we are conscious
that there is a deliberate blurring of the issues. Let us look at it
together for a bit. The scene is in an aeroplane and the patho-
logical tone is set in the first sentence-"the airliner had lifted itself
like a cripple grown used to its crutches." The atmosphere is one
of ill-health and the neurotic personality; we look up and the two
small bulbs which give direction to the passengers are recorded as
"stammering a language of red and green flickers." Again the note
of physical disability. This process of slow, complicated analysis
which will pervade the book continues in the mind of Marcia, and as
she thinks about her relationship with Mark she begins to read the
pages of Mark's diary. As we look over her shoulder at the diary,
we are immediately engaged upon a shuttlecock of temporal events
which are entangled in the minds of the characters. This device
makes a nonsense of temporal location and statistics so that we
swing between the time of the mental process and the time embedded
in the process, without our being aware of the shirt until the change
has taken place. Then fairly early comes a remarkable evocation of
the intimation of disaster which the author will realise.
In this airy region of the clouds, we see the figure of Shepherd,
the mad poet, stand up in its place in the plane. He embarrasses
the hostess in the way he asks to be shown to the smallest room and
when he emerges he fills the silence with a thunderous recitation of
the poem "The Hound of Heaven." Sexual overtones appear in
his talk to one of the woman passengers and we are conscious that
this is the language of indecent assault, all the more menacing for
being softly spoken. Remember there are two pistols cocked in his
hands as he keeps the crew and passengers in a state of terror. "You
are beautiful," he says, "and that is why I should like to see you in
another form.... cactus flowering from your hair and clinging only
to your nipples." He doesn't spare her and the girl shrieks with
tears as he wishes her snails in her womb.
It is not polite, it is most unpleasant but I must make this
attempt to indicate the violence in this scene, to show the reader the
degree of premeditated assault upon the imagination with which the
author begins the book. Mind you, later in the book, Shepherd .
seeks to explain to Penelope that it was really himself he had been
attacking because of another woman whom she resembled in every
detail. But it is too much.
The pall of mental illness and malaise hangs over the book, and
the liana of neuroticism trails its tendrils in and around the charac-
ters and the events. Ma Shepherd and Rockey are most sympathe-
tically drawn, Ma Shepherd perhaps because she establishes a
relationship with the boys-shall we suggest that she is Age and
they are Innocence? Rockey is the curious phenomenon of a
creature of the sea as a farmer is a crop and a child of the soil; and
the evidence he leads before the Court is a noble expression of the
unconcern of certain types, shaped by natural process, for the rela-
tively artificial qualities of legal procedure.
The author is happiest with the boys. He describes their hopes
and plans with a lucid pen. For instance he says "they had come
together as a little society which worked in secret, and the unity
which the speakers were urging San Cristobal to achieve was for
them a fact. They had transformed the myth of the political meet-
ings into some reality which no one could question....And here
one boy was thinking "Age is nothing if there ain't no doing. Age
is the Society start young and behaving old without any show of
numbers.... The Society is at work again, doing what the big ones
talk." In the episode with the ants, and the description the boys
gave Marcia and Penelope of the island's mythology, there is a
happy temper which shows that the author can write with an opti-
mistic outlook when he so desires.
But for the general rule, the grownups are poor specimens
troubled or obsessed with one matter or the other, insecure in com-
pany and uncomfortable when alone with themselves. Perhaps this
is a projection of the author, harking back to the hopeful days of
childhood with its intense loyalties and its desire for adult triumphs,
and at the same time disgusted by his perception of the sham and
tawdriness of the grownup world, and the inability of the human
being to shape events the way he would have them go The island,
therefore, does not come to life for this reader. There are clear
vistas of sea life and activity on its shores, the easy garrulous cam-
araderie of the people buying and selling on the waterfront; we see
the machinery of administration; through the eyes of the boys we
catch a glimpse of the natural vegetation and of institutional life
and, more important, we learn the deeper layer of myth in the is-
land's story. But we do not see the island in the round; we are not
And the book is not a study in emergent nationalism. That
quality is finely described in the words used by Mark at the public
meeting. "Nationalism", he said, "is not only frenzy and struggle
with all its necessary demand for the destruction of those forces
which condemn you to the status we call colonial. The national
feeling is deeper and more enduring than that. It is the private
feeling you experience of possessing and being possessed by the
whole landscape of the place where you were born, the freedom
which helps you to recognize the rhythm, of the winds, the silence
and aroma of the night, rocks, water, pebble and branch, animal
and bird noise, the temper of the sea and the mornings arousing
nature everywhere to the silent and sacred communion between
you and the roots you have made on this island. It is the bond
between every man and that corner of the earth, which his birth
and his work have baptised with the name, home". This is not the
mystical entity for which men vote; this is a philosophical and
poetical explanation of the force behind the politicians urgings.
One will not in this book find, even if one had hoped to look for
it here, a sympathetic portrayal and justification of the struggles
of a people for their own doorkey. As one man said to Penelope
"The vote is a key, madam, use it and authority can take any turn-
ing.....I may sell mine madam".
After all this you may well ask why then do we say
that the book is distinguished if we we dislike the
neurotic flavour and it is not a sympathetic study of the national
colonial struggle. The answer is in the quality of the writing
itself. Particularly is he felicitous in the descriptions of natural
states and seasons outside the troubled processes of his characters.
To the boys standing by Rowley's grave, "the air was like acid,
cleansing their eyes and all their years congregated and fled down
a long legendary tunnel that swung a refuge through the dark
volcanic heart of San Cristobal".
Or there is Mark confiding to his diary, "I like it here in the
evening; for the evening in San Cristobal is a final rebuke to all
decision. It does not change places with the day, obediently at
the customary coercion of the season....The evening arrives, It
arrives with a show of militant displeasure and it declares its wish
for solitude and the absence of light. It is arbitrary and firm. It
knows its own mind and its action is prompt. The day hesitates
for a while, tries to put up an argument and slips away meditatively
in an attitude of mild outrage. And the evening quickly surveys its
territory, relaxes its black frown and stretches lightly, lazily over
the land. It is amiable and harmless".
What conclusion then should we draw? That the author is
shadowed with an obsession which makes every prospect pleasant
and only man is vile? That his metier is not the novel, but he is
developing on the side of the philosophical essay and the penetration
of poetry? That he has little personal enthusiasm for the national
struggle of the militant colonial? That his vision is one he shares
with Schopenhauner and Housman, those colonels of the pessimistic
corps? That his imagination is stimulated best by the thought
of men in the mass and the evolution of the social forces which
The conclusion is all of these things. I have no wish here to
link this third book with the other Lamming productions or to
trace a growth in his interests. There isn't time. And we should
add this last point only George Lamming has written his third
book, but he has not yet given us, his readers, the fulfilment of the
considerable literary powers he possesses. He is not an entertainer
in the sense of Mittelholzer, or a satirist like Naipaul; he is not
classicist like Hearne; or a poet of the myth like Vic Reid. It is
his job to tame the spiritual turbulence he depicts and to realise
the philosophical urge in him into a message for the region, which
by his own definition, distils for him the magic of nationalism
in the name of home, "possessing and possessed by the whole
landscape of the place where one is born".
Let us hope that will be soon.
-A. J. S.
To Sir .with Love
by E. R. Braithwaite
The Bodley Head 13s'6d.
Francis Thompson in his 'Hound of Heaven' said,
'I sought no more that after which 1 strayed
In face of man or maid:
But still within the little children's eyes
Seems something, something that replies
They at least are for me, surely for me!
I turned me to them very wistfully:
In his search not only for employment, but also for under-
standing, this is what Mr. Braithwaite did. After demobilisation
from the R.A.F. and equipped with 'a science degree and varied
experience in engineering technology', he applied with a certain
amount of confidence for suitable jobs. But at his very first inter-
view, after encountering the scarcely veiled disapproval of the
receptionist he was told thatin spite of fulfilling all the requirements
of the job. his appointment 'would adversely affect the balance
of good relationship which has always obtained in this firm'. This
theme was repeated with only slight variations as he applied to
fill other vacancies. Eventually, after eighteen months, he is advised
to apply for a job as a teacher. Here he is at last accepted, and is
sent to a school in the East End of London.
A feeling of desperation was quite possibly coupled with
wistfulness as he faced his class for the first time. For this was a
class of teenagers, boys and girls, children who were underprivileged,
underfed, suspicious. He, like these children, had faced many
deprivations and frustrations though for different reasons. Would
children judge him just as another teacher, or would they too,
debit his colour first? Perhaps one could even say there might
have been some sort of kindship between these children from Lon-
don slums and a negro from a little known colony. Both
have feelings of bitterness to be overcome and an eagerness
to wrest something better from life. It is interesting to surmise the
possible differences in attitudes which might have resulted if the
school to which this teacher were appointed had been in a more
select area of London.
At this time in the history of human relationships, when Little
Rock and Netting Hill are fresh in the memories of all those in-
terested in the colour problem, this account of a negro school
teacher successfully winning the confidence and even affection
of a class of English children is like the proverbial spot of blue in a
very cloudy sky. Mr. Braithwaite's fundamental belief in the essential
goodness of people irrespective of colour or creed shines through
the story. He writes with integrity not only concerning his rela-
tionship with his pupils, but also with other people. Through the
unexpected kindness of a Jewish tobacconist, he is helped in his
search for lodgings near the school. He goes to the suggested home
at once, but is told, 'Sorry, I'm not letting'. A voice from inside
calls out, 'Who's it Mum?' and the woman replies scornfully,
'Some darky here asking about the room'. As he turns away the
young voice cries out' 'Oh Gawd Mum' it's Sir, it's me teacher'.
That the mother later visited the school specially to ask 'Sir' to
take the vacant room speaks volumes.
Even as he begins to realise and take pleasure in the hero-
worship the children exhibit, he realises that there can be pitfalls.
The mother of the most attractive girl in his class asks him to have
a word with her daughter who's been staying out late at night.
'She'll take notice of what you say, Sir, she always does'. Although
flattered, the teacher realises the danger of becoming involved
in the family affairs of this good looking widow and her auburn
haired daughter. Someone else is equally conscious of the unfavour-
able gossip that could arise from this situation. Gillian, his best
friend on the staff, warns him to be careful.
A different problem arises when he visits Gillian's parents.
On a completely different social plane from the school children,
Gillian's father is connected with international finance, and often
travels abroad. Her mother is a fashion designer and the family
home is at Richmond. While, with the ease of good breeding, the
parents accept Ricky as a well educated and interesting person, they
are aware that this friendship with their daughter is more than a
passing fancy. They make no secret of their anxiety that she should
be contemplating the difficulties of a mixed marriage. Besides,
they're worried about their grandchildren, 'they'll belong nowhere
and nobody will want them'. But Ricky answers proudly 'I hope
we will have children and those children will belong to us and we
will want them'. He might have added that the children could
happily belong in his own country too.
One wonders what difference it might have made to the story
if Mr. Braithwaite had not been lucky enough to have the constant
friendship and encouragement of his landlord and landlady, affect-
ionately referred to as Mom and Dad. In the evening he could
freely discuss the day's difficulties with them, and enjoy the benefit
of their advice. It must have made a considerable difference to the
bouyancy of his spirit to return each evening to a home, a place
of unclouded relationships, a haven from the cold and unsym-
pathetic vibrations of a large city.,
The children as well as the rest of the staff are sketched in
with bold strokes. The cool viciousness with which these 'force-
ripe' boys and girls set out to 'break' their new teacher is told
with candour. His was no sudden or miraculous victory, a weaker
character would have given in early in the game. Facing the same
class all day of every school day, trying every method of reaching
them, of claiming their interest and attention in spite of themselves,
this must have been a severe physical as well as mental strain.
Only sustained and imaginative effort could have achieved the
dramatic success which led up to the climax indicated by the title
of the book. -J. A.
by Edgar Mittelholzer
THE WEATHER FAMILY by Edgar Mittelholzer (Secker and
Warbug-18/-) is one of the liveliest of the Mittelholzer books.
There is agaiety and freshness, like that of agirl preparing for her
first ball, which recaptures on a larger scale the sheer gamin quality
of Olivia, that little Puck he created in Shadows Move Among Them.
In this recipe for a Book Society choice, he has compounded the
normal ingredients of middle-aged bachelor teacher, a West Indian
family with its teenagers and its tensions and thrown in for good
measure a West Indian hurricane which tosses housetops curlicue
against trees, pours the rain in a liquid eiderdown upon the cane-
fields, unearths a fan mill like a toy machine. The link between
the family and the hurricane is a rain gauge, because the family
is crazy on changes in the weather and has perfected a technique
of plotting these variations. So to them, Janet the hurricane is an
occasion for exhilaration than for fear. To this reader, there is
something Rabelesian about the vast screen of sea and sky and the
antic play of the hurricane, like a kitten with houses and trees.
The intrigue of the love story, or rather stories, and the adolescent
approach of the young heroine are reduced to minor key by the larger
character known to be lurking out in the ocean off Barbados and
suddenly appearing on the stage to bring characters together and
resolve all tensions in a great wave of contiguity. All the poet in
Mittelholzer rises to the surface as he describes the panther wind
smashing the Gospel Hall into splinters ("God's match box" he
calls it). The last few pages of the novel seem the fierce ending
of a tremendous passage of music where no member of the orchestra
draws breath but plays plungingly on like an ordered chaos to the
Tinkling in the Twilight
by Edgar Mittelholzer
A TINKLING IN THE TWILIGHT-by Edgar Mittelholzer
(Secker & Warbug-18/-) The vein of humor which used to
be sardonic in his previous books-I remember the sardonic over-
tones and echoes in Morning at the Office and Shadows! Move
Among Them-seems to be changing from the intellectual to the
earthy in the Mittelholzer canon. Perhaps success is mellowing
the author. However, in this new novel, the author makes his hero,
the retiring bookseller who lives in Paddington, alone with his
Yogi routine, undergo a quietly humorous transformation in per-
sonality which gives release to his suppressed sex life and changes
him from a figure of fun to a figure of sympathy. The change, is, in a
sense, accidental, but it suddenly forces Brian Liddard to look
outwards from his tightly controlled absorption with himself and'
his own states of mind. If we know our Mittelholzer, we know that
he believes sex of some sort is a key to open the cupboards of humbug
and let the roaches and cobweb out and very soon, this is an element
mixed into the unravelling of the plot which then moves with his
usual mastery of suspense to the end.
What is the story? The tale of a man who by brooding upon
changes of time in the past unwittingly stumbles upon a door
which leads him into the future, and to his horror finds that he is
powerless to control the opening and the closing of the door. Edgar
has often described the state of mind of a man going mad, or be-
lieving that he is going mad, but on this occasion we all feel the
sense of fun as Brian describes in his notebook the strange feelings
he has, and the frustrations which come upon him are comic in
situation. Is it not comic for this austere bachelor to be suddenly
faced with the charms of a professional "pedestrian" and to have
to wriggle out to the accompaniment of her mocking laughter ?
Even more entertaining to the reader with any interest in
the future are the glimpses of the world of 2064 into which Brian
breaks through! (I wonder-does Edgar see himself as a reincarna-
tion of George Orwell or the younger, more platinum Aldous
Huxley? Can he resist the temptation to become prophet as well
as professional entertainer?) First of all, music and we hear the
opening chord of Pembroke's Murder Symphony. After the blood-
curdling scream of the music, the audience in its rapt darkness,
with the orchestra in its pit under the floor, responded to the
significant silences, the lovely Howling Hiatuses, the scream and
thunder and the sob and wail.
Then Art. In 2039, it will take the Times critic nearly 21 hours
to find the Yellow Dot in a painting by Charles Partridge. You see,
the painting was in the Dot Obscuro School of Art tradition. "Who-
ever paints human figures and landscapes and still life as they did
in the old days"? The Mittelholzer projection about the novel
of 2064 is of course an interesting one. In that time ahead of us
readers go to creative literature for their sound, not sense. "The
critics praise impact and contact, not content". Of course, as the
historian told him, it was sentimentality which eventually slew the
society of the 1950's. Democracy is a music hall word and the
country is run on the coterie system which evolved in Germany.
But I must stop here.
The Imperial Idea
by A. P. Thornton
Had he the audacity, Professor Thornton would have named
his closely written and fully documented study of British Power
over the period 1850-1956, "The Decline and Fall of the British
Empire". But the ghost of Gibbon must have been looking over
To us in emergent territories, this is a fascinating book. Here
is the rich palimpsest with the imperial slogans and guide rules
of generations of British statesman, engraved upon the minds of
Parliament after Parliament only to be rubbed out and re-stated
to suit the temper of succeeding times.
And now that power is passing via "Suez 1956" and Acts
of Colonial Development and Welfare into the hands of indigenous
people, Thornton pays greater attention to the growth of national-
ism in the Dominions than to its growth in the Colonies, but he
has traced the pattern by which the Dominions evolved from colo-
nial status and treatment. This nationalist argument he says was a
new moral issue, "whether it came from a subject-race impatient
of political restraint, or from dissident and self-interested opinion
within the white self-governing Dominion, (which)..... could not
be written off even by the most convinced imperialist as so much
bubble agitation of a merely traitorous kind".
For Curzon, "Empire was the key to glory and wealth, the
call to duty and means of service to mankind"; Joseph Chamberlain
saw colonial policy as "we are to keep what belongs to us; we are
to peg claims for posterity; if any one tries to rush these claims,
we are to stop them". But there are other views also. Nehru was
struck by the British "calm assurance of always being in the right"
in their approach to Indian problems, while Beatrice Webb could
write bitterly that imperialism is "an impossible combination in
British policy of Gladstonian sentimental Christianity with the
blackguardism of Rhodes and Jameson".
The book begins with the Don Pacifico inquest of 1850 when
Palmerston stated the principle "A British subject must be able
to say that he was a citizen of a Power whose fame and influence
spanned the world". There is in the pages of this book an account
of the long debate on the power of England overseas, her constant
quarrel with France, her desire for trade to be extended, the complex
seesaw of interests in Victorian England, the gradual development
of Empire as a faith in a civilising mission (Disraeli with his sense
of finesse is the high priest of the religion) to keep law and order
in unruly places. Thornton analyses the way in which this dynamic
for Victorian politicians was translated into action and perpetuated
by the upper class traditions of the public schools and the British
Then he traces the reason for the decline. Despite the fact that
the world would take England's position as largely what she thought
it to be, there were certain forces which developed in opposition.
The Boer War proved expensive; the 1914 War left Britain heavily
in debt; the United States of America and Japan grew up rapidly
into Great Powers and became policemen for some of the great
seas where English ships had sailed supreme; the Dominions be-
came increasingly uneasy over the prospect of Imperial commitment
without full and equal consultation; the doctrine of democracy
gathered force in England itself and gradually changed the image
of the country from one shaped by the upperclasses, to one on which
the working class had begun to stamp their characteristics including
those against privilege. Thornton pays attention to the part played
by Shaw and Wells as entertainers in the attacks on the structure
of English society. There was the League of Nations where El
Salvador and Great Britain could be reckoned as equals in political
No wonder poor Imperialism crumpled before the combined
assault of these many powerful forces.
What is Thornton's vision for the future? He suggests that
Great Britain should assume the role of moral leadership and
quotes Gilbert Murray's proposition that always "the privileged
should give up their privileges on grounds of conscience or humane
principle". He sees the liberal tradition (with a small 1) as having
involved all parties in England with this moral suasion and he ends
his book with the sentences "In every generation there is such an
initiative to be taken. To discover what kind of imperial idea should
inform that initiative, and how it should be applied, is the cruel
test that lies in wait for all British statesmanship in the second half
of the twentieth century".
Well written closely argued, to be read by all policy-makers in a
(By Boris Pasternak)
If the novel "Doctor Zhivago" had been written by a poet
living in Denmark or Japan, about the revolution in his country,
there would have been a different reaction to the work by critics
writing in England or America. So at the outset a distinction must
be made between the novel and its political implications.
Anyone reading in the Times of November 7 the texts of the
letter written by Boris Pasternak to Pravda on November 5, 1958,
and of the letter sent in September, 1956 to the author by the editor-
ial board of the magazine Novy Mir will be impressed by the way
these political implications have covered the novel itself like a
funeral shroud. Pasternak in his letter expressed himself in a
rather surprised way as realising the "monstrous consequences
of the political campaign" which arose around the novel after the
award of the Nobel Prize. He refers to the warning given him by the
editorial office of the Novy Mir "that the work might be under-
stood by readers as a work directed against the October revolution
and the foundations of the Soviet System". Pasternak himself
added "I did not realize this and I now regret it".
Pasternak has defined for us what he understood to be the
evils of his novel. He writes "I am supposed to have alleged that
any revolution is a historically illegal phenomenon, that the October
revolution was such, and that it brought unhappiness to Russia
and the downfall of the Russian intelligentsia. It is clear that I
cannot endorse such clumsy allegations. At the same time, my work
which was awarded the Nobel Prize, gave rise to this regrettable
interpretation and that is the reason why I finally gave up the
prize". He had earlier in that letter stated "I have never had the
intention of causing harm to my state and to my people".
The second text to notice is that of the letter sent in 1956 by the
editorial board of Novy Mir to Pasternak at the time of the Soviet
"thaw". The board was "alarmed and distressed at the spirit of
the novel. The letter charges Pasternak as regarding "the story of
Zhivago's life and death as a story of the life and death of the Russ-
ian intelligentsia, a story of its road to the revolution and through
the revolution, and of its death as a result of the revolution". The
board describes Zhivago as "a man bloated with a sense of his
own self-importance.....ready to betray (the people) in time of
difficulty.....a type of highly intellectual philistine", and deals at
length with the desire of the "heroes... to preserve their own lives".
This is not really literary criticism-it is sociological comment;
and perhaps some of the acclaim given by the critics has been based
on similar premises. The board did however, touch on the "artistic
aspects" of the novel. They asserted that there was "general in-
coherence of subject and composition" and that the novel had a
"splintered character". The editorial staff of Novy Mir summed it
up-"You have written a political novel-sermon par excellence".
The editorial board of Novy Mir is right in many of its claims
to Pasternak. Certainly on every page there cries out theassertion
of the individual to be of value and his unwillingness to be reduced
to the vegetative processes of eating and sleeping. Certainly the
poet in Zhivago instinctively desired to get away from the levelling
to the herd which moved in the wake of the revolution. Certainly,
like every one else, Zhivago stole wood from the Moscow street
to warm his family in winter. Certainly, too, he could do little or
nothing to cure the sufferings of the people around him, except
to apply his doctor's art when captured by the partisan army.
But to say that these things is to say that the title hero wa
recognisably a person and not an improbable-ideologically-motivat-
If the shroud is removed from Dr. Zhivago what is disclosed?
A novel written under the shadow of Tolstoy with Russia as the hero
-the Russian of the revolution. There are incredible harbships
stoically undergone as Russians only can endure them. There is the
vast confusion (which Tolstoy found in War), extending over large
areas of the country at this time of civil warfare, and the break-up
of family life. This is biography rather than fiction, seen with the
quick of the poet's eye and it is a picture likely to have moremeaning
outside the borders of Russia rather than for Russian readers.
Because Pasternak has dared to see his period of living from above
and with the heightened and quickened eye of universal poetry,
instead of the particular values of history.
There are times when I wonder whether the main value of the
work is not to drive home the lesson that no matter where a man
lives, he cannot write a novel which does not criticize, implicitly
or explicitly, the Soviet system. The title character is a man driven
by his nature to preserve his life because it is individually his, and
to seek happiness because he is essentially a human being. Zhivago
wants to understand life, and the events going on around him. He
seeks love as an end of living in a society where things fall apart
the centre cannot hold and anarchy is loosed upon the world.
And he will do that whether or not the country has Russia for name,
or America. He will seek to record his impressions whether or not
he holds views different from the voiceless, nameless "herd" of
people about him. He will be true to his gift of quick illumination
and metaphor whether or not his scribblings will be preserved for
anyone else to see.
There is much to find fault with in the novel although this
article is not intended as a review of the novel-rather is it a comment
on its implications. Coinsidence plays too improbably fortunate
a part. Other and greater writers have shown greater skill in the
organisation of more diverse material than Pasternak had to treat
here. The Magic Mountain has an artistic entity which one finds
lacking in this work; the great German novelists are supreme
craftsmen by contrast. The end of the novel falls away and there
is little to account for the disintegration of the title character after
the war, when he had kept his integrity in such bitter circumstances
and crises. The figure of Lara is mythical than realized. Some of the
characters speak in faint echoes of Destoevsky without rising to
their intensity. There is a long-distance focus of the scenes which
prevent the reader from being fully involved in the action and which
remind, him unfavourably, of the incomparable focus and shading
of Tolstoy in War and Peace. Some of the best and most poetical
effects in the work, e.g. the snowflakes "like blanks between the
small black letters, white and endless" of Strelnikor dead near to the
drops of blood in the snow like "iced rowanberries"-they have
no dramatic significance in the later narrative.
But the work is instinct with the vigorous poetry of a major
poet. Who can afford to throw his effects away prodigally because
the life of the next moment is a challenge met as supremely well,
Metaphor is woven illuminatingly into the dense texture of the book
and we are moved to pause on each as if it is the last insight we
will know. The love of Russia shines through the text, the love of
Russia's classics sustain Zhivago in his winter retreat and his
attempt to build a new life away from his Moscow past. The sights
and sounds of Russia live on in the mind after the book is closed,
and the people of Russia emerges as the single hero of which all
persons are but types. The cities and the towns are etched in tones
which convince the readers that they are almost indestructible
and the vitality of Russian life remains as the fact that turned
back and blunted the armies of Napoleon. In this perhaps may be
discerned, despite the editors of Novy Mir, the spiritual outline
of the present Russian system, that this poet in the end, leaves an
impression of the permanence of the people and the brilliant trans-
ience of the individual. The characters are broken and the people
is the great pool where in wornout breeds and clans drop for restora-
This article must be read in conjunction with the recent corre-
spondence in your columns concerning the freedom of the creative
artist. The case of Pasterak is a specific example of the general
thesis advanced by one correspondent after another, and it shows
that today's world will allow not even the pure artist to remain
"uncommitted" and "uninvolved". All his life Pasternak has been
acting as an uncommitted writer pursuing this contradiction of
his art in the most committed country in the world. And it is
ironic that at the very end, with his novel climaxing his life of poetry'
the crown of success involved him in a collision with his country's
by Boris Pasternak
(Collins Harril Press)-15/-.
One of the main points coming out of this smallbut wise and
important book is the fact that Pasternak is 69 and therefore is
contemporary with Tolstoy and Scriabin, those half-legendary
figures in Russia's cultural history. From his experience, that of a
dedicated creative artist, Pasternak is able to tell his reader "One
must live tirelessly looking to the future, and drawing upon these
reserves of life which are created not only by remembrance but also
by forgetting"; or to say "my concern has always been for meaning
and my dream that every poem should have content in itself a new
thought or a new image. And that the whole of it should be engraved
so deeply into the book that it should speak from it with all the
silence and with all the colours of its colourless black print".
Pasternak was preparing to be a musician but when he re-
alised that he had little or no technical skill as a performer and that
he read music like a child learning to spell, he gave up music and
turned to literature.
This book gives readers a peep into Pasternak's and into
Russia's history. His father a painter, his mother a musician, Boris
grew up in an atmosphere where the outstanding figures in his
country's art and literature come and go in his family's house.
Scriabin the composer lived next door at one period and the boy
of twelve then spent days enthralled by the fragments of music
from Scriabin's "Divine Poem" being composed next door and
resounding through the neighboring forest trees. Some of the most
moving pages in this study are devoted to a memory of Tolstoy's
death and funeral and a comment on his poetic vision-"Through-
out his life (Tolstoy) could always look at an event and see the whole
of it, in the isolated self-contained finality of its moment, as a vivid
and exhaustive sketch-see it as the rest of us can only see on rare
occasions in childhood, or at a crest of happiness which renews
the world, or in the joy of some great spiritual victory".
I would have liked to learn more of the translations of Shakes-
peare, and the problems that arose from turning those plays into
Russian, and the comments are understandably guarded where he
speaks of his relationships with Mayakovsky and Yesenin, his
poetic contemporaries, but the book was written after the novel
"Dr. Zhivago" (which incidentally he describes as his "chief and
most important work, the only one of which I am not ashamed
and for which I take full responsibility"). This is a lively picture
of intellectual life in Moscow which it would be impossible to have
from any other hand in Russia today.
The purpose of the book was to act as a preface to a collection
of Pasternak's poems (which have not so far been published) "To
give some idea of how in his individual case, life became converted
into art and art was born of life and of experience".
Those of us who have read "Dr. Zhivago" experienced the
curious focussing of a double vision between the spiritual life of
the poet and of the character in the novel.
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