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Kingdom Poets: Alan Paton

Alan Paton (1903–1988) is a South African writer who saw himself as a poet who wrote novels. He is best known for Cry, The Beloved Country (1948). It is the story of a Zulu pastor’s search for his missing son, in a land where racial injustice had become the norm.

As the principal of Diepkloof Reformatory for young black offenders, from 1935 to 1949, Alan Paton was able to introduce significant reforms–enabling inmates, who had proven themselves responsible, freedom to work and often live away from the reformatory. He was so opposed to his country’s apartheid policy, that in 1953 he founded the Liberal Party of South Africa.

The international success of Cry, The Beloved Country, kept him financially independent and protected him from government prosecution, although his passport was confiscated in 1960 for about ten years. The following poems are from his collected poems, Songs of Africa.

My Lord has a great attraction…

My Lord has a great attraction for the humble and simple, they delight in his conversation,

The insane stop their frenzies and look at him unsurely, then they crowd round him and finger him gently,

Their wistful eyes capture something that was lost, they are healed for a moment of the hurts of great institutions.

The half-witted press their simple thoughts upon him, and he listens with attention to the babbling of imbeciles.

He knows their meanings, and they observe him trustfully.

He passes through the great gates of Alcatraz, and there is no searching machine that can prevent him,

He goes into the cells that have the iron doors, where the wild men are shut in completely,

They put their wild teeth on his hands, but take them away again from his wounds with wonder.

Oh Lord teach us your wisdom, and incline our hearts to receive your instructions.

Then the maniac would stay his hands from the small girl, and the drunken man from the throat of the woman,

And the father from the growing son, and the son his hands from the father.

And the wild boys could be brought out from the cages, and the wild men from behind the unutterable doors.

No Place for Adoration I saw the famous gust of wind in Eloff Street It came without notice, shaking the blinds and awnings Ten thousand people backed to the wall to let it pass And all Johannesburg was awed and silent, Save for an old prostitute woman, her body long past pleasure Who ran into the halted traffic, holding up hands to heaven And crying my Lord and my God, so the whole city laughed This being no place for adoration.


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