Online Texts for Craig White's Literature Courses

A Far Cry From Africa



Derek Walcott

white ibises

A wind is ruffling the tawny pelt
Of Africa. Kikuyu, quick as flies,           
[Kikuyu = ethnic group in Kenya associated with Mau Mau uprising, 1952-1960]
Batten upon the bloodstreams of the veldt.       [veldt / veld = Germanic "field"; low scrub or grasslands in South Africa]
Corpses are scattered through a paradise.
Only the worm,
colonel of carrion, cries;                5
"Waste no compassion on these separate dead!"

Statistics justify and scholars seize
The salients of colonial policy.                                      
[salients = incursive military actions]
What is that to the white child hacked in bed?
To savages, expendable as Jews?                     

Threshed out by beaters, the long rushes break
In a white dust of ibises whose cries                         
[ibis = wading bird, sacred in ancient Egypt; photo above] 
Have wheeled since civilization's dawn
From the parched river or beast-teeming plain.
The violence of beast on beast is read                
As natural law, but upright man
Seeks his divinity by inflicting
Delirious as these worried beasts, his wars
Dance to the tightened carcass of a drum,
While he calls courage still that native dread:      
Of the white peace contracted by the dead.

Again brutish necessity wipes its hands
Upon the napkin of a dirty cause, again
A waste of our compassion, as with Spain,   
[Spanish Civil War, 1937-39]
The gorilla
wrestles with the superman.     
25   [Gorilla = African primate; superman = Nietzschean "Ubermensch"]
I who am poisoned with the blood of both,
Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?
I who have cursed
The drunken officer of British rule, how choose
Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?      
Betray them both, or give back what they give?
How can I face such slaughter and be cool?
How can I turn from Africa and live?