Honouring Martin

The Moray House Trust, set up in memory of David de Caires to help nurture the cultural and intellectual life of the nation, was launched this week at the de Caires family home in Camp Street. The launch featured the poetry of Martin Carter rendered outstandingly by seven young Guyanese – Kojo McPherson, Maryam Bacchus, Rochelle Christie, Tivia Collins, Kencil Banwarie, Chontelle Sewette and Jamila Whittaker – with one recorded poem sung by Paloma Mohamed. Prefacing these renditions I gave a tribute to Martin.

“I am delighted to be here for the launch of the Moray House Trust. David would have been extraordinarily pleased at the concept and particularly at the sponsoring of small and valuable events like these which serve to keep our minds open to intellectual challenge and our spirits attuned to what is going on, beyond the ordinary, in the worlds of art and literature and culture and scholarship.

“The great cultural festivals and grand occasions are all very well but the fostering of Moray House scale events on a regular basis will help keep us awake intellectually and excite our senses beyond the customary five. Many congratulations to Doreen, Isabelle and Brendan for initiating this idea and many congratulations and thanks also to those who have brought the idea to fruition. The Moray House Trust is in very good hands and will grow in their imaginations and with our support until its activities become a treasured part of the nation’s life.

“It is appropriate that the launch of the Moray House Trust should feature Martin Carter. David loved Martin and Phyllis and Martin’s poetry was part of his intellectual life. Martin was often here and I imagine his poetry was quoted in this house more than any other. Martin’s spirit and his gleaming words are hovering near I am sure.

“I also knew Martin well for a long time and I am glad to say a few words about him on this very special occasion. Martin died 14 years ago.

It seems hardly any time at all since he died and yet it seems a long, long time. When death seems like that it is because every day the death is still heavy in our lives and because simultaneously the time before the death seems agonizingly far and irretrievably lost. It is the feeling anyone has when someone close and deeply loved for a long time dies and you know at once and forever with a thud of dreadful loss that the world for you will never be the same again, never so good, never so true, never so comprehensible. Some essence, some pith, has gone and will not return. Martin’s death was one of those rare deaths when the loss is seen to grow heavier as time passes.

Heavy for the nation it certainly remains.

“He was Guyana’s greatest poet. That is simply said but somehow not half enough is said in saying it. In his poems he always told the truth about himself and his people and the world so we all came to trust his words beyond all others. Why do you think Martin Carter was, and is, quoted by every sort of person in every kind of situation? The truth is that his poetry verifies all manner of things.

“There is a poem by Rainer Maria Rilke about an antique marble torso of the god Apollo the beauty of which impresses on the onlooker for all time the need to change one’s life forever.

The poem’s central line proclaims, “You have to change your life.” To this day I read Martin’s poetry remembering he once told me about that poem and that line.

“At the time of Martin’s death I thought about the man I had known for so long and tried to capture for myself the aura which surrounded him, the unique impression which all who met him felt in his presence. It was not just the effect of the unforgettable poetry he had written. I cannot find better words than I used then to express my sense of Martin’s presence:

‘There was an unique seriousness in Martin which captured one’s attention and love. It was a deep seriousness about his tasks in life, about life itself, about life’s meaning, that went beyond anything I have felt in anyone else I have known. The task of the poet is sacred, one’s integrity is sacred, the loyalties of love and friendship are sacred, the rights of men are sacred and are too often abused, the wonder of the world is sacred and why is it that it is so often neglected?

‘A counter-aspect of his abiding seriousness about such things was the bitterness and despair he felt and often expressed about the brutishness of men, the extraordinary superficiality and hollowness of public affairs, the spiritual desolation that seems to have entrenched itself everywhere, the plunge of the world into hatred and ignorance. All this may make him seem a heavy and humourless man. Far from it. He could laugh and carouse with the very, very best of the laughers and carousers. But there was that core of seriousness about the sacred, the sacredness of the word, the sacredness of the works of man in the world, that never left him and that I will never forget.‘

“And now l will add a memory which is very vivid to me. It is of dining one night with Martin in the company of David de Caires, Miles Fitzpatrick, Lloyd Searwar and Rupert Roopnaraine. It was not long before Martin died.

He had not fully recovered from the stroke he suffered some years before but still he could be eloquent and now he gave us a magnificent burst of talk in praise of the Irish poet W B Yeats.

He ended by calling for someone to read Yeats’s poem Among School Children which he said was perhaps the greatest poem ever written. Miles went to get Yeats’s Collected Poems from his library and Rupert found and read the great poem most movingly. And forever I have this picture of Martin in his seat leaning forward thumb pressed to his cheek and forefinger at his forehead tears coming to his eyes as the poem came to its marvellous end.

O chestnut-tree, great-rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?

“And now I would like to read a poem which is not I think one of Martin’s most famous but which is one of my favourite of all.

Tomorrow and the World

I am most happy
as I walk the seller of sweets says “Friend”
and the shoemaker with his awl and waxen thread
reminds me of tomorrow and the world.

Happy is it to shake your hand
and to sing with you, my friend
smoke rises from the furnace of life
red red red the flames!

Green grass and yellow flowers
smell of mist the sun’s light
everywhere the light of the day
everywhere the songs of life are floating
like new ships on a new river sailing, sailing.

Tomorrow and the world
and the songs of life and all my friends –
Ah yes, tomorrow and the whole world
awake and full of good life.

“Long may Martin’s spirit and the spirit of our friend David live among us.“

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