A cry from Africa


A wind is ruffling the tawny pelt 
Of Africa, Kikuyu, quick as flies, 
Batten upon the bloodstreams of the veldt. 
Corpses are scattered through a paradise. 
Only the worm, colonel of carrion, cries: 

‘Waste no compassion on these separate dead!’ 
Statistics justify and scholars seize 
The salients of colonial policy. 
What is that to the white child hacked in bed? 
To savages, expendable as Jews? 
Threshed out by beaters, the long rushes break 
In a white dust of ibises whose cries 
Have wheeled since civilizations dawn 
From the parched river or beast-teeming plain. 

The violence of beast on beast is read 
As natural law, but upright man 
Seeks his divinity by inflicting pain. 
Delirious as these worried beasts, his wars 
Dance to the tightened carcass of a drum, 
While he calls courage still that native dread 
Of the white peace contracted by the dead. 

Again brutish necessity wipes its hands 
Upon the napkin of a dirty cause, again 
A waste of our compassion, as with Spain, 
The gorilla wrestles with the superman. 
I who am poisoned with the blood of both, 
Where shall I turn, divided to the vein? 

I who have cursed 
The drunken officer of British rule, how choose 
Between this Africa and the English tongue I love? 
Betray them both, or give back what they give? 
How can I face such slaughter and be cool? 
How can I turn from Africa and live?

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