Could You Not Write Otherwise?

Alan Paton

Africa, South Africa

Could you not write otherwise, this woman said to me,

Could you not write of things really poetical?
Of many-coloured birds dipping their beaks
Into many-coloured flowers?
Of mine machinery standing up, you know,
Gaunt, full of meaning, against the sky?

Must you write always of black men and Indians,
Of half-castes and Jews, Englishmen and Afrikaners,
Of problems insoluble and secret fears
That are best forgotten?
You read the paper, you post your letters,
You buy at the store like any normal being,
Why then must you write such things?

Madam, really, since you ask the question,
Really, Madam, I do not like to mention it
But there is a voice that I cannot silence.
It seems I have lived for this, to obey it
To pour out the life-long accumulation
Of a thousand sorrowful songs.
I did not ask for this destination
I did not ask to write these same particular songs.

Simple I was, I wished to write but words,
And melodies that had no meanings but their music
And songs that had no meaning but their song.
But the deep notes and the undertones
Kept sounding themselves, kept insistently
Intruding themselves, like a prisoned tide
That under the shining and the sunlit sea
In caverns and corridors goes underground thundering.

Madam, I have no wish to be cut off from you
I have no wish to hurt you with the meanings
Of the land where you were born.
It was with unbelieving ears I heard
My artless songs become the groans and cries of men.
And you, why you may pity me also,
For what I do when such a voice is speaking,
What can I speak but what it wishes spoken?