Stabroek News
December 13, 2003

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On December 13th six years ago Martin Carter died. It seems hardly any time at all since he died and yet it seems a long, long time. When death seems like that it is because every day the death is still heavy in our lives and because simultaneously the time before the death seems agonizingly far and irretrievably lost. It is the feeling anyone has when someone close and deeply loved for a long time dies and you know at once and forever with a thud of dreadful loss that the world will never be the same again, never so good, never so true, never so comprehensible. Some essence, some pith, has gone and will not return.

Martin's death was one of those rare deaths when the loss is seen to grow heavier as time passes. Heavy for the nation it certainly remains. He was Guyana's greatest poet. In his poems he always told the truth about himself and his people and the world so we all came to trust his words beyond all others. Why do you think Martin Carter was, and is, quoted by every sort of person in every kind of situation? The truth is that his poetry verified all manner of things.

There are many aspects to the poetry of Martin Carter. Perhaps he was best known as a political poet and certainly his Poems of Resistance was a collection of unforgettable anthems for those who fought for independence. Caught up in turmoil in another time, the early 1960s, he wrote the bitter and extraordinary sequence of five poems entitled Jail Me Quickly.

However, there were other voices in Martin Carter, strains of tenderness, love poems of moving fervour, agonies expressed that have nothing to do with politics, insights into all of human nature. Here are three poems by Martin Carter revealing very different aspects of his art.


After today, how shall I speak with you?

Those miseries I know you cultivate

Are mine as well as yours, or do you think

The impartial bullock cares whose land is ploughed?

I know this city much as well as you do,

The ways leading to brothels and those dooms

Dwelling in them, as in our lives they dwell.

So jail me quickly, clang the illiterate door

If freedom writes no happier alphabet.

Old hanging ground is still green playing field.

Smooth cemetery proud garden of tall flowers.

But in your secret gables real bats fly

Mocking great dreams that give the soul no peace,

And everywhere wrong deeds are being done.

Rude citizen! Think you I do not know

That love is stammered, hate is shouted out

In every human city in this world?

Men murder men, as men must murder men,

to build their shining governments of the damned.


I must repeat that which I have declared

even to hide it from your urgent heart:

No easy thing is it to speak of love.

Nor to be silent when it all consumes!

You do not know everywhere I go

You go with me clasped in my memory:

One night I dreamed we walked beside the sea

And tasted freedom underneath the moon.

Do not be late needed and wanted love

What's withheld blights both love itself and us:

As well as blame your hair for blowing wind.

As me for breathing, living, loving you.


Look, look, she cried, the poems man,

running across the frail bridge

of her innocence. Into what house

will she go? Into what guilt will

that bridge lead? I

the man she called out at

and she, hardly twelve

meet in the middle, she going

her way; I coming from mine:

The middle where we meet

Is not the place to stop.