An African Elegy eText - eText

Text of the Poem

In the groves of Africa from their natural wonder the wildebeest, zebra, the okapi, the elephant, have entered the marvelous. No greater marvelous know I than the mind’s natural jungle. The wives of the Congo 5 distil their red and the husbands hunt lion with spear and paint Death-spore on their shields, wear his teeth, claws and hair on ordinary occasions. There the Swahili open his doors, let loose thru the trees 10 the tides of Death’s sound and distil from their leaves the terrible red. He is the consort of dreams I have seen, heard in the orchestral dark like the barking of dogs. 15

Death is the dog-headed man zebra striped and surrounded by silence who walks like a lion, who is black. It was his voice crying come back, that Virginia Woolf head, turnd her fine skull, hounded and haunted, stopt, 20 pointed into the scent where I see her in willows, in fog, at the river of sound in the trees. I see her prepare there to enter Death’s mountains like a white Afghan hound pass into the forest, 25 closed after, let loose in the leaves with more grace than a hound and more wonder there even with flowers wound in her hair, allowing herself like Ophelia a last pastoral gesture of love toward the world. 30 And I see all our tortures absolved in the fog, dispersed in Death’s forests, forgotten. I see all this gentleness like a hound in the water float upward and outward beyond my dark hand. 35

I am waiting this winter for the more complete black-out, for the negro armies in the eucalyptus, for the cities laid open and the cold in the love-light, for hounds women and birds to go back to their forests and leave us our solitude. 40

Negroes, negroes, all those princes, holding cups of rhinoceros bone, make magic with my blood. Where beautiful Marijuana towers taller than the eucalyptus, turns within the lips of night and falls, 45 falls downward, where as giant Kings we gathered and devourd her burning hands and feet, O Moonbar thee and Clarinet! those talismans that quickened in their sheltering leaves like thieves, those Negroes, all those princes 50 holding to their mouths like Death the cups of rhino bone, were there to burn my hands and feet, divine the limit of the bone and with their magic tie and twist me like a rope. I know 55 no other continent of Africa more dark than this dark continent of my breast.

And when we are deserted there, when the rustling electric has passt thru the air, once more we begin in the blind and blood throat 60 the African catches; and Desdemona, Desdemona like a demon wails within our bodies, warns against this towering Moor of self and then laments her passing from him.

And I cry, Hear! 65 Hear in the coild and secretive ear the drums that I hear beat. The Negroes, all those princes holding cups of bone and horn, are there in halls of blood that I call forests, in the dark and shining caverns where 70 beats heart and pulses brain, in jungles of my body, there

Othello moves, striped black and white, the dog-faced fear. Moves I, I, I, whom I have seen as black as Orpheus, 75 pursued deliriously his sound and drownd in hunger’s tone, the deepest wilderness.

Then it was I, Death singing, who bewildered the forest. I thot him my lover like a hound of great purity 80 disturbing the shadow and flesh of the jungle. This was the beginning of the ending year. From all of the empty the tortured appear, and the bird-faced children crawl out of their fathers and into that never filld pocket, 85 the no longer asking but silent, seeing nowhere the final sleep.

The halls of Africa we seek in dreams as barriers of dream against the deep, and seas disturbd turn back upon their tides 90 into the rooms deserted at the roots of love. There is no end. And how sad then is even the Congo. How the tired sirens come up from the water, not to be toucht but to lie on the rocks of the thunder. 95 How sad then is even the marvelous!