Sunday Salon: Poetry of the Jamaican Peasantry
Posted December 9, 2007on:
11:27 PM: I’d given a mere hint at how I’d often found McKay’s descriptions of the local “natives” …inappropriate somehow, not quite fit for a Jamaican novel, with his affection for the word *”peasantry” and this very tight, very defined class structure, in which a move from farmer’s daughter to seamstress meant you couldn’t do dance at “secular” parties. But perhaps he reflected the times. At the library I happened upon a tiny book entitled The Orange Grove and Other Poems of the Jamaican Peasantry by Hurlburt Stafford. It was published by the Saint James Press (I never knew such a thing ever existed in Montego Bay) in 1927. I can’t find any information about either the book or the author except for descriptions on antique book sites.
The poems are very…quaint. Rather like McKay’s novel. There’s the predictable image of the “peasant” woman walking through the forest “queenly” with a basket on her head, odes to market day, a long, long one on an orange grove and, to my delight, an Anancy story. Nothing very revolutionary or eye-popping here but it does have a high curiosity factor. Most of them are of a decent length, at least 3 pages, so I’ll only type the first one, which is short, to leave you with tonight.
A Pretty Pimento Picker by Hurlburt Stafford
Her bosom and her rounded arms are bare,
And through the dark green foliage on the hill
She slowly ranges in the morning still,
While o’er her brown cheek falls her loosened
A heap of broken branchlets are her care,
Beating off the berries green with woodland skill
Into the perfumed baskets as they fill
With warmest breath of spicery on the air.
Her basket, poising then upon her head
She walks with all the bearing of a queen,
Back where the barbecue, sun-heated, lies:
A nymph Arcadian in her kirtle red,
With glimpses of the girlish form between,
And far-away look in her lovely eyes.
*The more I read, the more his perspective becomes clearer. What a bit of historical knowledge can do.