Wilson Harris as a poet: confronting conventions

Studies in Realism

                (ii)

The Tragic Muse

O God

This is my meditation now, before I pray.

I think of Mozart,

in the heart of his civilization,

deserted, not even accorded the dignity

of decent burial.

I think of Christ crucified

Dying in agony, crying aloud to his God –

Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?

I think of the others,

the others who are also the sons of God,

contemptuous of their divinity,

living and dying today in the slums.

I think of the strange and moving spectacle of man overcome

by the inanimate earth that covers him

or the deep waters in which he drowns

or the bullet that comes unerringly

travelling through eternity to its ultimate destination.

The voices of the living pray to God.

The voices of the dead

treasured in the beautiful books in the libraries

pray to God.

Men suffer and pray to God

and thereby acquire stature

like Jesus Christ and like Mozart.

They wait for the ultimate mockery

or the ultimate justification,

in the meantime piling up new and unlearned accents of tragedy

upon their human story, while they wait on God.

Wilson Harris, 1947

The invaluable reprint of the early volumes of Kyk-Over-Al in the Guyana Classics Series, edited by David Dabydeen and published by the Caribbean Press (2013) allows a good, convenient survey of Guyanese literature during its crucial period of growth between 1945 and 1951. It also underlines the important role of the young Kyk-Over-Al in the shaping of West Indian literature.  Of equal force is the introduction to the reprinted volumes by Michael Niblett and the contributing editorial work of Lynne Macedo. Additionally, Ian McDonald is associated with the series.

The great advantage of these reprints is that the whole spectrum of the poetry, short stories, the contemporary sketches, historical vignettes and short critical contributions are all available at a glance within easy reach of the researcher as well as those who read for pleasure. One recalls the amazing fact that Edward Baugh paid considerable attention to Arthur James Seymour’s several discussions on “what is West Indian poetry”, and in studying these old volumes of the “little magazine” he edited, one can easily see why. Seymour made numerous interventions not only with his poems, but with his unending commentary on literature and culture. These all helped tremendously in demonstrating the state of the literature at the time.

Among the many things made possible by all this is the excellent measure of the place of writers like Wilson Harris as a poet at the time. We can see that he was among the foremost Guyanese poets in the pre-independence period, in addition to the short stories he also had published in Kyk. But it was as a poet that he was important, and his commanding significance may be seen when placed beside others such as Seymour, James W Smith, Cleveland Hamilton, and Edgar Mittelholzer. Useful comparisons are afforded with Walter Mc A Lawrence who went just before them, as well as Peter and Joseph Ruhomon, Ramcharitar Lalla, and RW Chinapen…..

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