HIS BROKEN GROUND: Edward Brathwaite’s trilogy of Poems

That final line leads nicely into the caged leopard – the subject, the image – of the poem that follows. The leopard was not always caged: “There was a land not long/ ago where it was other-/ wise; where he was happy.” But it was there, nevertheless, that he was trapped. Transported and caged he is (like a Black Panther) a powerful symbol of the angry New World black. Either he can be restored to the kind of life to which he is accustomed (“Give him a tree to leap from/ liberator”) or he can be allowed to express his anger by rending the hunter who, himself, needs to be set free from guilt. (James Baldwin often makes the point about white guilt.) The alternatives are presented in contrasting images and subtly contrasting rhythms:

Give him a tree to leap from,

liberator; in pity let him

once more move with his soft


spotted and untroubled splendour

among the thrills and whispers

of his glinting kingdom;

or unlock him and now let him


from his triggered branch

and guillotining vantage, in

one fine final falling fall

upon the quick fear-


footed deer or peer-

less antelope whose beauty,

ravaged with his sharp brutality,

propitiates the ancient guilt


each feels toward the other.


The black man eats white meat, the victim seduces the hunter: clearly this is part of the point. But the beauty may be moral also; the fear-footed deer and the peerless antelope arc, broadly, the white liberal, his guilt shading into a death-wish:

by this sacrifice


of strong to helpless other,

healed and aneled;

both hurt and hunter

by this fatal lunge made whole.


The repetition of three stanzas taken from Rights serves once more to link Islands with the earlier book. But the main purpose is to lead into a reconsideration of Tom, whose attitudes contrast with those symbolized in the leopard. Although “hurts of history flicker”, Tom does not wish “to be a beast.” He could “have smashed / the world, or made it” but he has preferred not to act positively: he “made/ nothing, un-/ made nothing.” Instead of anger he has terror, but like the leopard he remains caged. A challenge is thrown out to the doubters, the mere spectators, who would question the appropriateness of violent action. Who among them will return – go back, retrogress – to that cage and dare (the spoken emphasis falls naturally on that word) to let out Uncle Tom? Who dares to be so reactionary as to prefer that future symbolized by Uncle Tom to the future the leopard represents?

As the Uncle Tom stereotype is a regular church-going Christian we move naturally into “The Stone Sermon”. A Jamaican preacher is working on his flock. Once again, the poem re-jects the Christian church; the rhythm of “Sammy Dead-Oh” returns:

Keep ya Cross

Keep ya Christ

Keep ya nun dem

(We recall “drown the three nuns of fear” from earlier in the volume.)

Father faith

Mother faith

all-a drownded.

Christ and God are imaged as predatory animals picking at the body of poor Sookey. God is a shark, and finally a gaulin.


The alien (European) God given the treatment once again, the poem moves towards its positive close. The final Part (V) is called “Beginning”. Domino-playing, woman-rucking hard-back Tizzic, the father of uncounted fatherless children, is a “free man”. He owns his little piece of land; It. is this fact that make him “free”. No more begging dollars from the manager. It is good to know that

you fist

an’ you back, an’ the sole o’ you foot

that you got pon the ground, is you own,

though you got to work like a mute.

But Tizzic’s drinking and promiscuity suggest pyschological problems. His freedom is not yet complete. No more so than the slave in the next subsection who finds release in Carnival festivity. The festivities end.

After the bambalula bambulai

he was a slave again.


The title “Veve” is of special significance. In Muntu Jahn writes: “Every loa [god] has. its veve, or coat of arms, but the different symbols such as circles, triangles, zig-zag designs and other signs … can also be combined. The out-lines or symbols of the animals one intends to sacrifice are also painted in, and so one gets a Iarge veve, a figured, symmetrical composition, which one might call the programme, the artistic plan of the corning ceremony.”? We expect, then, that this section will be about the poet’s art, the sources of his power and the way he chooses to work. The blind fisherman (a poet-image) is re-introduced.He throws the net

and the seine holds the sun

and the line in his hand

tightens steady.

The poet seems to be aware that he has been getting better with each new book. He must work in spite of reversals and discouragement to catch the depths and the subtleties.

The net drifted downward,

through tides and reversals

of shell-clinking water,

through time and the hopes

that were drowned in the deep

sleeping sound of the bay.


The fan sifted slowly

through cobwebs of light

catching softly the moons of his green

spreading opening day.


The poet is not ready yet to conclude with the optimistic image; his “spattered breast must undertake one more incision.”

The black eye travels to the brink of vision:

look, the fields are wet,

the sea sits gentle on the dawn

of sand; but voices fill the green with