HIS BROKEN GROUND: Edward Brathwaite’s trilogy of Poems
“Jou’vert”, the final section of the trilogy, evokes rhythms of steel band. But this is not a band for Carnival. When Christian- based festivitiess have ended these begin; this Jou’vert is in Lent, and
Christ will pray
As the “ping-pong/ dawn comes/ riding” men are waiting:
in the Lent-
no longer bound
to black and bitter
ashes in the ground
We have recently encountered “After the bambulala bambulai, he was a slave again”; when the festive “sounds recur, the irony is revived. The hurts, we know, will be remembered soon.
Moving through the trilogy in its published sequence. We have found that the order of books and of sections has been meaningful. There are kinds of coherence to which cant attention has been given in this account. In Critical Quarterly Vol. 12 No. 2 (Summer 1970) Damian Grant has traced in detail the important themes of “retained memory and rediscovered voice” and of “silence and speech”. There are other insistent concerns, in particular, fear: it is a weakness we must overcome and it is part of our common humanity. Fire is seen as useful and as dangerous or hostile; butterflies are used ambivalently, sometimes suggesting fragile ideals, sometimes shallow hope. Many recurring images relate to slavery (whip, lash, iron, shackle, clink, clank); some relate to Africa (drum, mask, gods); some are of more universal currency (dust, sand, dryness, water, sun, moon, dawn, morning, night, dark – the last two often complicated by ironies of skin colour).
Another sort of coherence has been achieved through rhythms. Each Volume is given a specific sound-character. The main references in Rights are to the music of the dislocated New World black, to jazz, work song, Negro spiritual, blues, calypso. We hear Akan drum rhythms in Masks, the African book. Islands, centred in the Caribbean, signs itself with sounds from steel band, limbo dancing, Haitian drumming, Jamaican folk song. Running through all three books are allusions to jazz. Brathwaite is interested in relating verse rhythms to music as well as to speech.