Thursday, 20 April 2017

Obeah Night - Jean Rhys

A night I seldom remember
(If it can be helped)
The night I saw Love's dark face
Was Love's dark face
“And cruel as he is”? I've never known that
I've tried my best you may be certain (whoever asks)
My human best

If the next morning as I looked at what I'd done
(He was watching us mockingly, used to these games)
If I'd stared back at him
If I'd said
“I was a god myself last night
I've tamed and changed a wild girl”
Or taken my hurt darling in my arms
(Conquered at last. And silent. Mine)

Perhaps Love would have smiled then
Shown us the way
Across that sea. They say it's strewn with wrecks
And weed-infested
Few dare it, fewer still escape
But we, led by smiling Love
We could have sailed
Reached a safe harbour
Found a sweet, brief heaven
Lived our short lives

But I was both sick and sad
(Night always ends)
She was a stranger
Wearing the mask of pain
Bearing the marks of pain -
I turned away - Traitor
Too sane to face my madness (or despair)
Far, far too cold and sane

Then Love, relenting
Sent clouds and soft rain
Sent sun, light and shadow
To show me again
Her young face waiting
Waiting for comfort and a gentler lover?
(You'll not find him)
A kinder loving? Love is not kind
I would not look at her
(Once is enough)
Over my dead love
Over a sleeping girl
I drew a sheet
Cover the stains of tears
Cover the marks of blood
(You can say nothing
That I have not said a thousand times and one
Excepting this - That night was Something Else
I was Angry Love Himself
Blind fierce avenging Love - no other that night)

“It's too strong for Beke”
The black woman said
Love, hate, or jealousy
Which had she seen?
She knew well - the Devil!
- What it could mean

How can I forget you Antoinette
When the spring is here?
Where did you hide yourself

After that shameless, shameful night?
And why come back? Hating and hated?
Was it Love, Fear, Hoping?
Or (as always) Pain?
(Did you come back I wonder
Did I ever see you again?)

No. I'll lock that door
Forget it. -
The motto was “Locked Hearts I open
I have the heavy key”
Written in black letters
Under a Royal Palm Tree
On a slave owner's gravestone
“Look! And look again, hypocrite” he says
“Before you judge me”

I'm no damn slave owner
I have no slave
Didn't she (forgiven) betray me
Once more - and then again
Unrepentant - laughing?
I can soon show her
Who hates the best
Always she answers me
I will hate last

Lost, lovely Antoinette
How can I forget you
When the spring comes?
(Spring is cold and furtive here
There's a different rain)
Where did you hide yourself
After the obeah nights?
(What did you send instead?
Hating and hated?)
Where did you go?
I'll never see you now
I'll never know
For you left me - my truest Love
Long ago

Jean Rhys (1890 - 1979) Dominica
Source: LATE-IMPERIAL LITERARY LONDON

  • Obeah is a form of sorcery that can be either good or bad (voodoo is one form). It's practised throughout the Carribbean
  • This poem was written while she was also writing her novel The Wide Sargasso Sea... in a letter to her editor, she explains: “I have tried to show this man being magicked by the place which is (or was) a lovely, lost and magic place but, if you understand, a violent place. (Perhaps there is violence in all magic and all beauty - but there - very strong) magicked by the girl - the two are mixed up perhaps to bewildered English gent, Mr R, certain that she's hiding something from him. And of course she is. Her mad mother. (Not mad perhaps at all)”

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