19 May 2010

Voices and Soul

18 May 2010

by Justice Putnam,
Black Kos Tuesday's Chile, Poetry Editor

João da Cruz e Sousa was the son of freed slaves, born on the island side of what is now Florianopolis, in Southern Brazil. A pioneer of Symbolism in Afro-Brazilian literature, he was nonetheless shunned by his late 19th century peers. Fluent in French, Greek and Latin; and also a graduate of Math and Science taught by Fritz Mueller; Cruz e Sousa's intellectual contemporaries did not understand him and he held their work with contempt and disdain.

A racist mediocrity and the Parnassian Criticism that was currently en vogue, elicited the following anonymous "poetic review" of two collections he released in 1893, "Missal" and "Shields":

"A spiritualizing,
half-wit dunce
brought up
in distant Mozambique
has picked at true Art
with his beak

Swaying sickly,
with sonorous grunts.

And all the blacks from Senegal
do a buck-and-wing
as they caterwaul

and hail him
with rockets exploding in the air."

It's not hard to wonder why then, this little-studied Modern Renaissance Man, this Abolitionist Man of Letters harbored a...

Sacred Hate

I bore,
like corpses lashed
lashed to my back
and incessantly
and interminably rotting,
all the empiricisms of prejudice,
the unknown layers
of long-dead strata,
of curious
and desolate
African races
that Physiology
had doomed forever

to nullify with the mocking papal
laughter of Haeckel!

All the doors and passage-ways
along the road of life are closed to me,
a poor Aryan artist-yes,
because I acquired,
by systematic study,
all the qualities of that great race.
To what end?
A sad black man,
detested by those with culture,
beaten down by society,
always humiliated,
cast out of every bed,
spat upon in every household
like some evil leper!

But how?
To be an artist and black?

O my hatred,
my majestic malice
my sacred,
pure and benign
anoint my forehead
with your pure kiss
so that I may be both
proud and humble

Humble and generous

to the meek
but haughty to those lacking Desire,
lacking in Goodness and faith,
who know not the lamp of the gentle,
fecund sun.

O my hatred,
my blessed emblem
which flaps in the wind
of my soul's infinity
while the others' banners
droop Hearty,

benign hatred be my shield!
against those villains of love,
whose infamy resounds from the
Seven Towers of Mortal Sin.

-- João da Cruz e Sousa

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