Gideon Cecil is from Guyana.He is a prolific poet,fiction writer and freelance journalist.He holds a bachelor and a master’s degree in divinity also a degree in freelance journalism.He has won several literary awards at home and abroad.
‘My poem focuses on the sunken head of the African in the foreground of Turner’s picture. In Turner’s seas (and in those of other painters) it has been drowned for centuries. When it wakes up, it can only partially recall the sources of its life, so it invents a body, a biography, and it populates an imaginary landscape.’ David Dabydeen
We are contemplating another emancipation celebration in Guyana. Our illustrious poets and writers in Guyana and around the world have reflected on their ancestors and cultures that were taken away from them by their slave masters. One of our major poets and novelists is Dr.David Dabydeen, whose poetry and novels reflected a great deal about slavery and indenture ship. Dabydeen’s two major works of poetry Slave Song and Turner are two of his major books of poetry depicting the struggles of slaves, their torture and dehumanization.
Slave Song is unquestionably one of the most important collections of Caribbean/Black British poetry to have been published in the last twenty years. On its first publication in 1984 it won the Commonwealth Poetry Prize and established Dabydeen as a provocative and paradigm-shifting writer.
At the heart of Slave Song are the voices of African slaves and Indian labourers expressing, in a Guyanese Creole that is as far removed from Standard English as it is possible to get, their songs of defiance, of a thwarted erotic energy. But surrounding this harsh and lyrical core of Creole expression is an elaborate critical apparatus of translations (which deliberately reveal the actual untranslatability of the Creole) and a parody of the kind of critical commentary that does no more than paraphrase or at best contextualizes the original poem.
Turner is a long narrative poem, written in response to JMW Turner’s celebrated painting, Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead & Dying. Dabydeen’s poem focuses on what is hidden in Turner’s painting, the submerged head of the drowning African. In inventing a biography and the drowned man’s unspoken desires, including the resisted temptation to fabricate an idyllic past, the poem brings into confrontation the wish for renewal, and the inescapable stains of history, including the meaning of Turner’s painting. Turner is Dabydeen’s Magnum Opus to date is a book of poetry written in classical language like the Georgics of Virgil.
A poem from Turner below:
Stillborn from all the signs. First a woman sobs
Above the creak of timbers and the cleaving
Of the sea, sobs from the depths of true
Hurt and grief, as you will never hear
But from woman giving birth, belly
Blown and flapping loose and torn like sails,
Rough sailors’ hands jerking and tugging
At ropes of veins, to no avail. Blood vessels
Burst asunder, all below – deck are drowned.
Afterwards, stillness, but for the murmuring
Of women. The ship, anchored in compassion
And for profit’s sake (what well-bred captain
Can resist the call of his helpless
Concubine, or the prospect of a natural
Increase in cargo?), sets sail again,
The part – born, sometimes with its mother,
Tossed overboard. Such was my bounty
Delivered so unexpectedly that at first
I could not believe this miracle of fate,
This longed-for gift of motherhood.
What was deemed mere food for sharks will become
My fable. I named it Turner
As I have given fresh names to birds and fish
And humankind, all things living but unknown,
Dimly recalled, or dead.
Dabydeen’s magnificent Homeric imageries and symbolism in this poem depicting the brutal treatment of slaves is testament of his immense knowledge about slavery.
Though slaves are free and men think that they are free from their past, we still live in contemporary slavery where rich nations exploit the poor and downtrodden nations. Our country is a classic example of the sugar and rice industry collapsing gradually by contemporary slave masters but we are too politically naïve to comprehend the true essence of the word slavery.
Modern slave masters no longer control us by the whip and chains, they use modern methods by offering us useless prices for our commodities thus push us to commit gradual suicide by killing our economy with their draconian laws.
Martin Carter wrote:
I come from the nigger yard of yesterday
leaping from the oppressors’ hate
and the scorn of myself;
from the agony of the dark hut in the shadow
and the hurt of things;
from the long days of cruelty and the long nights of pain
down to the wide streets of to-morrow, of the next day
leaping I come, who cannot see will hear.
This is just the first stanza of a very long poem I come from the Nigger Yard.’ I think Carter is politically correct when he wrote about the ‘oppressor’s hate’; we can see a great deal of hatred in our nation and all over the world. It’s no wonder Bob Marley’s lyrics from his greatest song below should inspire us all:
Let’s get together and feel all right.
Hear the children cryin’
(One Love! );
Hear the children cryin’
(One Heart! ),
Sayin’: give thanks and praise
To the Lord and I will feel all right;
Sayin’: let’s get together
And feel all right.
What is Brother Bob telling us here? He is telling us in very vivid language to live a life of peace, love and harmony ,then he invokes God by giving him thanks and praise for him to feel alright, also the world around him.
Slavery and indentureship has been a literary vehicle for most writers in the Caribbean of African and Indian descent. I call them writers and poets of emancipation.
The African slave poetess, wrote some great poetry. She died aged thirty one but was well educated by her slave master. She happened to be one of the finest poetesses in the slave era since she herself was a slave. I believe because of racial discrimination she is merely heard of in this century but her poetry is of exquisite beauty. She was trained in the classics and was well versed in Greek and Latin. Very few of her white contemporaries matched her linguistic and poetic skills. Let’s examine the lyrical and Shakespearean beauty of her poem below.
A Hymn to the Evening
SOON as the sun forsook the eastern main
The pealing thunder shook the heavenly plain;
Majestic grandeur! From the zephyr’s wing,
Exhales the incense of the blooming spring.
Soft purl the streams, the birds renew their notes,
And through the air their mingled music floats.
Through all the heavens what beauteous dies are
But the west glories in the deepest red:
So may our breasts with every virtue glow,
The living temples of our God below!
Filled with the praise of him who gives the light,
And draws the sable curtains of the night,
Let placid slumbers sooth each weary mind,
At morn to wake more heavenly, more refined;
So shall the labours of the day begin
More pure, more guarded from the snares of sin.
Night’s leaden scepter seals my drowsy eyes,
Her poems are loaded with imageries of nature depicting God in his Majesty and wonders of nature.
Poets such as Maya Angelo, Langston Hughes, Wole Soyinka are some of the greatest African Poets writing poems about freedom, liberation and emancipation. I close with a few lines from the poets I have mentioned:
Hold fast to dreams
For if dreams die
Life is a broken-winged bird
That cannot fly.
Hold fast to dreams
For when dreams go
Life is a barren field
Frozen with snow.
By: Langston Hughes
You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may tread me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.
Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.
Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.
Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.
These two immortal poems of unsurpassed philosophy and beauty have been quoted thousands of times and will be quoted until the end of time.
(Sources of Reference: pepaltreepress.com the best in Caribbean writng.Poemhunter.com. Some quotes from works by Phyllis Wheatley in the public domain.