A writer's reflections
Alan Paton kindly accepted our invitation to pause in his novel-writing and contribute an essay to The Home Forum. We could hardly anticipate that this elder statesman of international literature would offer such rare personal reflections, including even a reference to our newspaper. We thank him very much.Skip to next paragraph
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Rabindranath Tagore wrote these words in his ''Gitanjali'':
On the day when death will knock at thy door, what wilt thou offer to him?
Oh, I will set before my guest the full vessel of my life - I will never let him go with empty hands.
All the sweet vintage of all my autumn days and summer nights, all the earnings and gleanings of my busy life will I place before him at the close of my days when death will knock at my door.m
Words such as these moved Yeats to the depths. Yeats could never have written them, just as Tagore could never have written like Yeats. What they had in common was their love of the word.
I have had a love of the word since I was very young. I also have had a love of the Word, the one that was in the beginning. The first love has been almost perfect, the second imperfect. But even at the age of eighty I still ask that the imperfect love could be perfected. Then I shall give my guest the full vessel of my life.
There are some things that I could read for ever. The 23rd Psalm, George Herbert's ''Love,'' Francis Thompson's ''Hound of Heaven,'' A. E. Housman's ''Loveliest of trees . . .'' Blake's ''Tiger, tiger, burning bright,'' some of the stanzas of Tagore's ''Gitanjali,'' some of the stanzas of Fitzgerald's ''Rubaiyat,'' Shakespeare's ''The quality of mercy . . .'' Yeats's ''The Lake Isle of Innisfree.'' I often read Vachel Lindsay's ''General William Booth Enters Into Heaven'' in public, but I don't trust it, because my voice tends to break down when I come to the last seven lines. I apologize for all the things I have left out. I must mention two things more - the ''Holy Mountain'' of Isaiah, and the ''New Heaven and New Earth'' of John on Patmos.
Why could I read these poems for ever? I suppose it is because they evoke some deep response from the soul. Perhaps I should exclude the ''Rubaiyat'' on that account, but it has a beauty all its own, which atones for its philosophy of ''let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.'' There are many miracles in man's evolution, but one of the greatest is the word, the beginning of language, and the beginning of literature.
When I look back on my past life, I often marvel at the fact that for my first forty-five years I was a model public servant, honest, industrious, and with a great respect for the authority of the state. For the next thirty-five years I decided that I could not accept the new laws that poured out of the parliament, the laws of apartheid, the laws that were to separate the races of South Africa, and in particular the white race from all others, in every conceivable place and on every conceivable occasion, in trains, buses, hospitals , hotels, schools, universities - the list is endless. Mixed racial marriages are unlawful. In l953 we founded the Liberal Party of South Africa, which decided to oppose these laws by every possible means, except those of violence; and also to oppose the harsh new security laws, which were ostensibly intended to control communism, but in fact were intended to control and destroy any kind of opposition to apartheid.