Nobel Prize for Literature 1992
"for a poetic
oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the outcome of a
Trinidad, and Boston
University, Boston, MA, USA.
Felicity is a village in Trinidad on the edge of the Caroni plain, the
wide central plain that still grows sugar and to which indentured cane cutters were
brought after emancipation, so the small population of Felicity is East Indian, and on the
afternoon that I visited it with friends from America, all the faces along its road were
Indian, which, as I hope to show, was a moving, beautiful thing, because this Saturday
afternoon Ramleela, the epic dramatization of the Hindu epic the Ramayana,
was going to be performed, and the costumed actors from the village were assembling on a
field strung with different-coloured flags, like a new gas station, and beautiful Indian
boys in red and black were aiming arrows haphazardly into the afternoon light. Low blue
mountains on the horizon, bright grass, clouds that would gather color before the light
went. Felicity! What a gentle Anglo-Saxon name for an epical memory.
 Under an open shed on the edge of the field, there were
two huge armatures of bamboo that looked like immense cages. They were parts of the body
of a god, his calves or thighs, which, fitted and reared, would make a gigantic effigy.
This effigy would be burnt as a conclusion to the epic. The cane structures flashed a
predictable parallel: Shelley's sonnet on the fallen statue of Ozymandias and his empire,
that "colossal wreck" in its empty desert.
Drummers had lit a fire in the shed and they eased the skins of their
tables nearer the flames to tighten them. The saffron flames, the bright grass, and the
hand-woven armatures of the fragmented god who would be burnt were not in any desert where
imperial power had finally toppled but were part of a ritual, evergreen season that, like
the cane-burning harvest, is annually repeated, the point of such sacrifice being its
repetition, the point of the destruction being renewal through fire.
 Deities were entering the field. What we generally call
"Indian music" was blaring from the open platformed shed from which the epic
would be narrated. Costumed actors were arriving. Princes and gods, I supposed. What an
unfortunate confession! "Gods, I suppose" is the shrug that embodies our African
and Asian diasporas. I had often thought of but never seen Ramleela, and had never
seen this theatre, an open field, with village children as warriors, princes, and gods. I
had no idea what the epic story was, who its hero was, what enemies he fought, yet I had
recently adapted the Odyssey for a theatre in England, presuming that the audience
knew the trials of Odysseus, hero of another Asia Minor epic, while nobody in Trinidad
knew any more than I did about Rama, Kali, Shiva, Vishnu, apart from the Indians, a phrase
I use pervertedly because that is the kind of remark you can still hear in Trinidad:
"apart from the Indians".
 It was as if, on the edge of the Central Plain, there
was another plateau, a raft on which the Ramayana would be poorly performed in this
ocean of cane, but that was my writer's view of things, and it is wrong. I was seeing the Ramleela
at Felicity as theatre when it was faith.
 Multiply that moment of self-conviction when an actor,
made-up and costumed, nods to his mirror before stopping on stage in the belief that he is
a reality entering an illusion and you would have what I presumed was happening to the
actors of this epic. But they were not actors. They had been chosen; or they themselves
had chosen their roles in this sacred story that would go on for nine afternoons over a
two-hour period till the sun set. They were not amateurs but believers. There was no
theatrical term to define them. They did not have to psych themselves up to play their
roles. Their acting would probably be as buoyant and as natural as those bamboo arrows
crisscrossing the afternoon pasture. They believed in what they were playing, in the
sacredness of the text, the validity of India, while I, out of the writer's habit,
searched for some sense of elegy, of loss, even of degenerative mimicry in the happy faces
of the boy-warriors or the heraldic profiles of the village princes. I was polluting the
afternoon with doubt and with the patronage of admiration. I misread the event through a
visual echo of History--the cane fields, indenture, the evocation of vanished armies,
temples, and trumpeting elephants--when all around me there was quite the opposite:
elation, delight in the boys' screams, in the sweets-stalls, in more and more costumed
characters appearing; a delight of conviction, not loss. The name Felicity made sense.
 Consider the scale of Asia reduced to these fragments:
the small white exclamations of minarets or the stone balls of temples in the cane fields,
and one can understand the self-mockery and embarrassment of those who see these rites as
parodic, even degenerate. These purists look on such ceremonies as grammarians look at a
dialect, as cities look on provinces and empires on their colonies. Memory that yearns to
join the center, a limb remembering the body from which it has been severed, like those
bamboo thighs of the god. In other words, the way that the Caribbean is still looked at,
illegitimate, rootless, mongrelized. "No people there", to quote Froude,
"in the true sense of the word". No people. Fragments and echoes of real people,
unoriginal and broken.
 The performance was like a dialect, a branch of its
original language, an abridgement of it, but not a distortion or even a reduction of its
epic scale. Here in Trinidad I had discovered that one of the greatest epics of the world
was seasonally performed, not with that desperate resignation of preserving a culture, but
with an openness of belief that was as steady as the wind bending the cane lances of the
Caroni plain. We had to leave before the play began to go through the creeks of the Caroni
Swamp, to catch the scarlet ibises coming home at dusk. In a performance as natural as
those of the actors of the Ramleela, we watched the flocks come in as bright as the
scarlet of the boy archers, as the red flags, and cover an islet until it turned into a
flowering tree, an anchored immortelle. The sigh of History meant nothing here. These two
visions, the Ramleela and the arrowing flocks of scarlet ibises, blent into a
single gasp of gratitude. Visual surprise is natural in the Caribbean; it comes with the
landscape, and faced with its beauty, the sigh of History dissolves.
 We make too much of that long groan which underlines the
past. I felt privileged to discover the ibises as well as the scarlet archers of Felicity.
 The sigh of History rises over ruins, not over
landscapes, and in the Antilles there are few ruins to sigh over, apart from the ruins of
sugar estates and abandoned forts. Looking around slowly, as a camera would, taking in the
low blue hills over Port of Spain, the village road and houses, the warrior-archers, the
god-actors and their handlers, and music already on the sound track, I wanted to make a
film that would be a long-drawn sigh over Felicity. I was filtering the afternoon with
evocations of a lost India, but why "evocations"? Why not "celebrations of
a real presence"? Why should India be "lost" when none of these villagers
ever really knew it, and why not "continuing", why not the perpetuation of joy
in Felicity and in all the other nouns of the Central Plain: Couva, Chaguanas, Charley
Village? Why was I not letting my pleasure open its windows wide? I was enticed like any
Trinidadian to the ecstasies of their claim, because ecstasy was the pitch of the sinuous
drumming in the loudspeakers. I was entitled to the feast of Husein, to the mirrors and
crepe-paper temples of the Muslim epic, to the Chinese Dragon Dance, to the rites of that
Sephardic Jewish synagogue that was once on Something Street. I am only one-eighth the
writer I might have been had I contained all the fragmented languages of Trinidad.
 Break a vase, and the love that reassembles the
fragments is stronger than that love which took its symmetry for granted when it was
whole. The glue that fits the pieces is the sealing of its original shape. It is such a
love that reassembles our African and Asiatic fragments, the cracked heirlooms whose
restoration shows its white scars. This gathering of broken pieces is the care and pain of
the Antilles, and if the pieces are disparate, ill-fitting, they contain more pain than
their original sculpture, those icons and sacred vessels taken for granted in their
ancestral places. Antillean art is this restoration of our shattered histories, our shards
of vocabulary, our archipelago becoming a synonym for pieces broken off from the original
 And this is the exact process of the making of poetry,
or what should be called not its "making" but its remaking, the fragmented
memory, the armature that frames the god, even the rite that surrenders it to a final
pyre; the god assembled cane by cane, reed by weaving reed, line by plaited line, as the
artisans of Felicity would erect his holy echo.
 Poetry, which is perfection's sweat but which must seem
as fresh as the raindrops on a statue's brow, combines the natural and the marmoreal; it
conjugates both tenses simultaneously: the past and the present, if the past is the
sculpture and the present the beads of dew or rain on the forehead of the past. There is
the buried language and there is the individual vocabulary, and the process of poetry is
one of excavation and of self-discovery. Tonally the individual voice is a dialect; it
shapes its own accent, its own vocabulary and melody in defiance of an imperial concept of
language, the language of Ozymandias, libraries and dictionaries, law courts and critics,
and churches, universities, political dogma, the diction of institutions. Poetry is an
island that breaks away from the main. The dialects of my archipelago seem as fresh to me
as those raindrops on the statue's forehead, not the sweat made from the classic exertion
of frowning marble, but the condensations of a refreshing element, rain and salt.
 Deprived of their original language, the captured and
indentured tribes create their own, accreting and secreting fragments of an old, an epic
vocabulary, from Asia and from Africa, but to an ancestral, an ecstatic rhythm in the
blood that cannot be subdued by slavery or indenture, while nouns are renamed and the
given names of places accepted like Felicity village or Choiseul. The original language
dissolves from the exhaustion of distance like fog trying to cross an ocean, but this
process of renaming, of finding new metaphors, is the same process that the poet faces
every morning of his working day, making his own tools like Crusoe, assembling nouns from
necessity, from Felicity, even renaming himself. The stripped man is driven back to that
self-astonishing, elemental force, his mind. That is the basis of the Antillean
experience, this shipwreck of fragments, these echoes, these shards of a huge tribal
vocabulary, these partially remembered customs, and they are not decayed but strong. They
survived the Middle Passage and the Fatel Rozack, the ship that carried the first
indentured Indians from the port of Madras to the cane fields of Felicity, that carried
the chained Cromwellian convict and the Sephardic Jew, the Chinese grocer and the Lebanese
merchant selling cloth samples on his bicycle.
 And here they are, all in a single Caribbean city, Port
of Spain, the sum of history, Trollope's "non-people". A downtown babel of shop
signs and streets, mongrelized, polyglot, a ferment without a history, like heaven.
Because that is what such a city is, in the New World, a writer's heaven.
 A culture, we all know, is made by its cities.
 Another first morning home, impatient for the
sunrise--a broken sleep. Darkness at five, and the drapes not worth opening; then, in the
sudden light, a cream-walled, brown-roofed police station bordered with short royal palms,
in the colonial style, back of it frothing trees and taller palms, a pigeon fluttering
into the cover of an cave, a rain-stained block of once-modern apartments, the morning
side road into the station without traffic. All part of a surprising peace. This quiet
happens with every visit to a city that has deepened itself in me. The flowers and the
hills are easy, affection for them predictable; it is the architecture that, for the first
morning, disorients. A return from American seductions used to make the traveler feel that
something was missing, something was trying to complete itself, like the stained concrete
apartments. Pan left along the window and the excrescences rear--a city trying to soar,
trying to be brutal, like an American city in silhouette, stamped from the same mould as
Columbus or Des Moines. An assertion of power, its decor bland, its air conditioning
pitched to the point where its secretarial and executive staff sport competing cardigans;
the colder the offices the more important, an imitation of another climate. A longing,
even an envy of feeling cold.
 In serious cities, in gray, militant winter with its
short afternoons, the days seem to pass by in buttoned overcoats, every building appears
as a barracks with lights on in its windows, and when snow comes, one has the illusion of
living in a Russian novel, in the nineteenth century, because of the literature of winter.
So visitors to the Caribbean must feel that they are inhabiting a succession of postcards.
Both climates are shaped by what we have read of them. For tourists, the sunshine cannot
be serious. Winter adds depth and darkness to life as well as to literature, and in the
unending summer of the tropics not even poverty or poetry (in the Antilles poverty is
poetry with a V, une vie, a condition of life as well as of imagination) seems
capable of being profound because the nature around it is so exultant, so resolutely
ecstatic, like its music. A culture based on joy is bound to be shallow. Sadly, to sell
itself, the Caribbean encourages the delights of mindlessness, of brilliant vacuity, as a
place to flee not only winter but that seriousness that comes only out of culture with
four seasons. So how can there be a people there, in the true sense of the word?
 They know nothing about seasons in which leaves let go
of the year, in which spires fade in blizzards and streets whiten, of the erasures of
whole cities by fog, of reflection in fireplaces; instead, they inhabit a geography whose
rhythm, like their music, is limited to two stresses: hot and wet, sun and rain, light and
shadow, day and night, the limitations of an incomplete meter, and are therefore a people
incapable of the subtleties of contradiction, of imaginative complexity. So be it. We
cannot change contempt.
 Ours are not cities in the accepted sense, but no one
wants them to be. They dictate their own proportions, their own definitions in particular
places and in a prose equal to that of their detractors, so that now it is not just St.
James but the streets and yards that Naipaul commemorates, its lanes as short and
brilliant as his sentences; not just the noise and jostle of Tunapuna but the origins of
C.L.R. James's Beyond a Boundary, not just Felicity village on the Caroni plain,
but Selvon Country, and that is the way it goes up the islands now: the old Dominica of
Jean Rhys still very much the way she wrote of it; and the Martinique of the early
Cesaire; Perse's Guadeloupe, even without the pith helmets and the mules; and what delight
and privilege there was in watching a literature--one literature in several imperial
languages, French, English, Spanish--bud and open island after island in the early morning
of a culture, not timid, not derivative, any more than the hard white petals of the
frangipani are derivative and timid. This is not a belligerent boast but a simple
celebration of inevitability: that this flowering had to come.
 On a heat-stoned afternoon in Port of Spain, some alley
white with glare, with love vine spilling over a fence, palms and a hazed mountain appear
around a corner to the evocation of Vaughn or Herbert's "that shady city of
palm-trees", or to the memory of a Hammond organ from a wooden chapel in Castries,
where the congregation sang "Jerusalem, the Golden". It is hard for me to see
such emptiness as desolation. It is that patience that is the width of Antillean life, and
the secret is not to ask the wrong thing of it, not to demand of it an ambition it has no
interest in. The traveler reads this as lethargy, as torpor.
 Here there are not enough books, one says, no theatres,
no museums, simply not enough to do. Yet, deprived of books, a man must fall back on
thought, and out of thought, if he can learn to order it, will come the urge to record,
and in extremity, if he has no means of recording, recitation, the ordering of memory
which leads to meter, to commemoration. There can be virtues in deprivation, and certainly
one virtue is salvation from a cascade of high mediocrity, since books are now not so much
created as remade. Cities create a culture, and all we have are these magnified market
towns, so what are the proportions of the ideal Caribbean city? A surrounding, accessible
countryside with leafy suburbs, and if the city is lucky, behind it, spacious plains.
Behind it, fine mountains; before it, an indigo sea. Spires would pin its center and
around them would be leafy, shadowy parks. Pigeons would cross its sky in alphabetic
patterns, carrying with them memories of a belief in augury, and at the heart of the city
there would be horses, yes, horses, those animals last seen at the end of the nineteenth
century drawing broughams and carriages with top-hatted citizens, horses that live in the
present tense without elegiac echoes from their hooves, emerging from paddocks at the
Queen's Park Savannah at sunrise, when mist is unthreading from the cool mountains above
the roofs, and at the center of the city seasonally there would be races, so that citizens
could roar at the speed and grace of these nineteenth-century animals. Its docks, not
obscured by smoke or deafened by too. much machinery, and above all, it would be so
racially various that the cultures of the world--the Asiatic, the Mediterranean, the
European, the African--would be represented in it, its humane variety more exciting than
Joyce's Dublin. Its citizens would intermarry as they chose, from instinct, not tradition,
until their children find it increasingly futile to trace their genealogy. It would not
have too many avenues difficult or dangerous for pedestrians, its mercantile area would be
a cacophony of accents, fragments of the old language that would be silenced immediately
at five o'clock, its docks resolutely vacant on Sundays.
 This is Port of Spain to me, a city ideal in its
commercial and human proportions, where a citizen is a walker and not a pedestrian, and
this is how Athens may have been before it became a cultural echo.
 The finest silhouettes of Port of Spain are
idealizations of the craftsman's handiwork, not of concrete and glass, but of baroque
woodwork, each fantasy looking more like an involved drawing of itself than the actual
building. Behind the city is the Caroni plain, with its villages, Indian prayer flags, and
fruit vendors' stalls along the highway over which ibises come like floating flags.
Photogenic poverty! Postcard sadnesses! I am not re-creating Eden; I mean, by "the
Antilles", the reality of light, of work, of survival. I mean a house on the side of
a country road, I mean the Caribbean Sea, whose smell is the smell of refreshing
possibility as well as survival. Survival is the triumph of stubbornness, and spiritual
stubbornness, a sublime stupidity, is what makes the occupation of poetry endure, when
there are so many things that should make it futile. Those things added together can go
under one collective noun: "the world".
 This is the visible poetry of the Antilles, then.
 If you wish to understand that consoling pity with
which the islands were regarded, look at the tinted engravings of Antillean forests, with
their proper palm trees, ferns, and waterfalls. They have a civilizing decency, like
Botanical Gardens, as if the sky were a glass ceiling under which a colonized vegetation
is arranged for quiet walks and carriage rides. Those views are incised with a pathos that
guides the engraver's tool and the topographer's pencil, and it is this pathos which,
tenderly ironic, gave villages names like Felicity. A century looked at a landscape
furious with vegetation in the wrong light and with the wrong eye. It is such pictures
that are saddening rather than the tropics itself. These delicate engravings of sugar
mills and harbors, of native women in costume, are seen as a part of History, that History
which looked over the shoulder of the engraver and, later, the photographer. History can
alter the eye and the moving hand to conform a view of itself; it can rename places for
the nostalgia in an echo; it can temper the glare of tropical light to elegiac monotony in
prose, the tone of judgment in Conrad, in the travel journals of Trollope.
 These travelers carried with them the infection of
their own malaise, and their prose reduced even the landscape to melancholia and
self-contempt. Every endeavor is belittled as imitation, from architecture to music. There
was this conviction in Froude that since History is based on achievement, and since the
history of the Antilles was so genetically corrupt, so depressing in its cycles of
massacres, slavery, and indenture, a culture was inconceivable and nothing could ever be
created in those ramshackle ports, those monotonously feudal sugar estates. Not only the
light and salt of Antillean mountains defied this, but the demotic vigor and variety of
their inhabitants. Stand close to a waterfall and you will stop hearing its roar. To be
still in the nineteenth century, like horses, as Brodsky has written,
may not be such a bad deal, and much of our life in the Antilles still seems to be in the
rhythm of the last century, like the West Indian novel.
 By writers even as refreshing as Graham Greene, the
Caribbean is looked at with elegiac pathos, a prolonged sadness to which Levi-Strauss has
supplied an epigraph: Tristes Tropiques. Their tristesse derives from an
attitude to the Caribbean dusk, to rain, to uncontrollable vegetation, to the provincial
ambition of Caribbean cities where brutal replicas of modern architecture dwarf the small
houses and streets. The mood is understandable, the melancholy as contagious as the fever
of a sunset, like the gold fronds of diseased coconut palms, but there is something alien
and ultimately wrong in the way such a sadness, even a morbidity, is described by English,
French, or some of our exiled writers. It relates to a misunderstanding of the light and
the people on whom the light falls.
 These writers describe the ambitions of our unfinished
cities, their unrealized, homiletic conclusion, but the Caribbean city may conclude just
at that point where it is satisfied with its own scale, just as Caribbean culture is not
evolving but already shaped. Its proportions are not to be measured by the traveler or the
exile, but by its own citizenry and architecture. To be told you are not yet a city or a
culture requires this response. I am not your city or your culture. [. . .]
 A boy with weak eyes skims a flat stone across the flat
water of an Aegean inlet, and that ordinary action with the scything elbow contains the
skipping lines of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and another child aims a bamboo
arrow at a village festival, another hears the rustling march of cabbage palms in a
Caribbean sunrise, and from that sound, with its fragments of tribal myth, the compact
expedition of Perse's epic is launched, centuries and archipelagoes apart. For every poet
it is always morning in the world. History a forgotten, insomniac night; History and
elemental awe are always our early beginning, because the fate of poetry is to fall in
love with the world, in spite of History.
 There is a force of exultation, a celebration of luck,
when a writer finds himself a witness to the early morning of a culture that is defining
itself, branch by branch, leaf by leaf, in that self-defining dawn, which is why,
especially at the edge of the sea, it is good to make a ritual of the sunrise. Then the
noun, the "Antilles" ripples like brightening water, and the sounds of leaves,
palm fronds, and birds are the sounds of a fresh dialect, the native tongue. The personal
vocabulary, the individual melody whose meter is one's biography, joins in that sound,
with any luck, and the body moves like a walking, a waking island.
 This is the benediction that is celebrated, a fresh
language and a fresh people, and this is the frightening duty owed.
 I stand here in their name, if not their image--but
also in the name of the dialect they exchange like the leaves of the trees whose names are
suppler, greener, more morning-stirred than English--laurier canelles, bois-flot,
bois-canot--or the valleys the trees mention--Fond St. Jacques, Matoonya,
Forestier, Roseau, Mahaut--or the empty beaches--L'Anse Ivrogne, Case en Bas,
Paradis--all songs and histories in themselves, pronounced not in French--but in
patois. [. . .]
 It is not that History is obliterated by this sunrise.
It is there in Antillean geography, in the vegetation itself. The sea sighs with the
drowned from the Middle Passage, the butchery of its aborigines, Carib and Aruac and
Taino, bleeds in the scarlet of the immortelle, and even the actions pf surf on sand
cannot erase the African memory, or the lances of cane as a green prison where indentured
Asians, the ancestors of Felicity, are still serving time.
 That is what I have read around me from boyhood, from
the beginnings of poetry, the grace of effort. In the hard mahogany of woodcutters: faces,
resinous men, charcoal burners; in a man with a cutlass cradled across his forearm, who
stands on the verge with the usual anonymous khaki dog; in the extra clothes he put on
this morning, when it was cold when he rose in the thinning dark to go and make his garden
in the heights--the heights, the garden, being miles away from his house, but that is
where he has his land-- not to mention the fishermen, the footmen on trucks, groaning up
mornes, all fragments of Africa originally but shaped and hardened and rooted now in the
island's life, illiterate in the way leaves are illiterate; they do not read, they are
there to be read, and if they are properly read, they create their own literature.
 But in our tourist brochures the Caribbean is a blue
pool into which the republic dangles the extended foot of Florida as inflated rubber
islands bob and drinks with umbrellas float towards her on a raft. This is how the islands
from the shame of necessity sell themselves; this is the seasonal erosion of their
identity, that high-pitched repetition of the same images of service that cannot
distinguish one island from the other, with a future of polluted marinas, land deals
negotiated by ministers, and all of this conducted to the music of Happy Hour and the
rictus of a smile. What is the earthly paradise for our visitors? Two weeks without rain
and a mahogany tan, and, at sunset, local troubadours in straw hats and floral shirts
beating "Yellow Bird" and "Banana Boat Song" to death. There is a
territory wider than this--wider than the limits made by the map of an island--which is
the illimitable sea and what it remembers.
 All of the Antilles, every island, is an effort of
memory; every mind, every racial biography culminating in amnesia and fog. Pieces of
sunlight through the fog and sudden rainbows, arcs-en-ciel. That is the effort, the
labour of the Antillean imagination, rebuilding its gods from bamboo frames, phrase by
 Decimation from the Aruac downwards is the blasted root
of Antillean history, and the benign blight that is tourism can infect all of those island
nations, not gradually, but with imperceptible speed, until each rock is whitened by the
guano of white-winged hotels, the arc and descent of progress.
 Before it is all gone, before only a few valleys are
left, pockets of an older life, before development turns every artist into an
anthropologist or folklorist, there are still cherishable places, little valleys that do
not echo with ideas, a simplicity of rebeginnings, not yet corrupted by the dangers of
change. Not nostalgic sites but occluded sanctities as common and simple as their
sunlight. Places as threatened by this prose as a headland is by the bulldozer or a sea
almond grove by the surveyor's string, or from blight, the mountain laurel.
 One last epiphany: A basic stone church in a thick
valley outside Soufri , the hills almost shoving the houses around into a brown river, a
sunlight that looks oily on the leaves, a backward place, unimportant, and one now being
corrupted into significance by this prose. The idea is not to hallow or invest the place
with anything, not even memory. African children in Sunday frocks come down the ordinary
concrete steps into the church, banana leaves hang and glisten, a truck is parked in a
yard, and old women totter towards the entrance. Here is where a real fresco should be
painted, one without importance, but one with real faith, mapless, Historyless.
 How quickly it could all disappear! And how it is
beginning to drive us further into where we hope are impenetrable places, green secrets at
the end of bad roads, headlands where the next view is not of a hotel but of some long
beach without a figure and the hanging question of some fisherman's smoke at its far end.
The Caribbean is not an idyll, not to its natives. They draw their working strength from
it organically, like trees, like the sea almond or the spice laurel of the heights. Its
peasantry and its fishermen are not there to be loved or even photographed; they are trees
who sweat, and whose bark is filmed with salt, but every day on some island, rootless
trees in suits are signing favorable tax breaks with entrepreneurs, poisoning the sea
almond and the spice laurel of the mountains to their roots. A morning could come in which
governments might ask what happened not merely to the forests and the bays but to a whole
 They are here again, they recur, the faces, corruptible
angels, smooth black skins and white eyes huge with an alarming joy, like those of the
Asian children of Felicity at Ramleela; two different religions, two different
continents, both filling the heart with the pain that is joy.
 But what is joy without fear? The fear of selfishness
that, here on this podium with the world paying attention not to them but to me, I should
like to keep these simple joys inviolate, not because they are innocent, but because they
are true. They are as true as when, in the grace of this gift, Perse heard the fragments
of his own epic of Asia Minor in the rustling of cabbage palms, that inner Asia of the
soul through which imagination wanders, if there is such a thing as imagination as opposed
to the collective memory of our entire race, as true as the delight of that warrior-child
who flew a bamboo arrow over the flags in the field at Felicity; and now as grateful a joy
and a blessed fear as when a boy opened an exercise book and, within the discipline of its
margins, framed stanzas that might contain the light of the hills on an island blest by
obscurity, cherishing our insignificance.
© Nobel eMuseum
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