Winford Devine and his wife, Theresa

Winford Devine and his wife, Theresa around the time he wrote “Progress”.

Part 1 was published on

Sunday September 26, 2021

OLD RIVERS RUN DRY.....

The Blue Basin River, which only recently provided entertainment to our children wading knee-deep in waters replete with guabines, taters and millions, now disappears into the bowels of WASA, not to be seen again.

San Fernando Hill, once a proud landmark visible all the way from the Northern Range, now lies scarred and bedraggled, a sad skeleton laid bare by predators.

And birds and beasts are continuously forced to seek new territory as their natural habitats are decimated by squatting and the insidious fingers of encroaching concrete.

This abuse of Mother Earth is to be recalled later in the biblical allusion to “soil that wouldn’t bear”. But whereas Leviticus speaks about the strictures of a threatening deity trying to keep a wayward people in line, the concern here is with the criminal and deliberate mishandling of resources by man in the furtherance of “ his quest for success”.

And the poet ends his opening stanza with a plaintive question seeking a response to what he sees as a befuddling unfolding of a reality to be examined in the following three.

(Aside #2 . By the end of the first verse, we begin to realise that something special is unfolding. The lyrics,which we would truthfully like to hear again, leave a residue of substance in our minds, and I look at CK on my left, who raises an appraising eyebrow, then at Junior, who splutters, “Wheydismancomeout!?)

The remainder of the work concentrates on a variety of issues considered crucial to an understanding of modern society and the many problems resulting from what is seen as progress.

Several important themes are addressed, not in a deeply analytical manner, but sufficiently suggestive to shake us out of the intellectual lethargy so typical of modern existence.

There is mention of the alienation bred in the bosom of a society that has lost its groundings in meaningful relationships; intelligence and expertise utilised for purposes detrimental to the common good of mankind; the growing cancer of wealth accumulation for its own sake; the divisions deriving from the undermining idiocy of ideologies that eat at the heart of any progressive endeavours that could benefit mankind; and, always present in the discussion, the expressed concern of the spectre of man’s greed as he desecrates the gifts of nature in pursuit of that ephemeral power supposedly bestowed by wealth.

(Aside#3. Austin sings his second verse to an audience by now so enthralled, that not a voice is heard after the vociferous acclamations that followed the first. “Kaiso, kaiso!” resounded through the hall as the young bard, as nonplussed as a true veteran, gathered his resources to launch into another literary and artistic salvo..”I see...”)

The work is structured around eight questions, interspersed among the four stanzas. The intrinsic motif of the central theme surrounds each question and is introduced by the twelvefold repetition of the visual verb.

The eight questions posed are:

What do I see?

When will it end? (Repeated)

I does wonder why?

Where do we go from here?

What shall be next?

How long will it last?

How shall it be in time to come?

Can this world withstand this constant misuse and abuse by the hands of man, as they try to shape this world in a way to fit in with all their plans?

The poem is clearly centred on the aspirations of man through time, and the effects these have had and continue to have on his status in this his world. However, the poet adopts an ambivalent attitude towards his identification with mankind, sometimes espousing the values with which he agrees, then distancing himself from those he considers detrimental. This is the cause of his attitude of wonder, and the basis of his repeated questions as to the real worth and endurance of what is considered progress.

This ambivalence manifests itself clearly in a consideration of the Mankind who leaves historical footprints, who, confused and frightened by his reality, turns to drugs and wonders at the inevitability of the coming judgement, as compared with the Mankind who unscrupulously clears all obstacles in his path towards financial gain, and continues to abuse Nature in his selfish and sacrilegious quest to re-create her in his own image and likeness.

The positive achievements of man through time as compared with the manner in which he relentlessly pursues financial gain by destroying the environment, is the nagging problem troubling the mind of the poet. The social injustice born of this undying greed; the use of scientific genius, not for true progress, but for the benefit of a powerful clique; the psychological and societal ills deriving from this hunger for profit at all costs, these are what the Observant Man, as distinct from the Profiteering Man, ponders, impelling him into a state of wonder, uncertainty and concern.

It would be difficult to gainsay that the underlying thrust of the thesis expressed is anti-capitalist. The evils inflicted on our natural resources, the greed for financial gain with all the negatives emanating therefrom, reflect much too closely the spirit of that economic system, the basis and driving force of which is profit at all costs.

De Vine will return to this topic in other works, particularly Sparrow’s “Capitalism Gone Mad”, but here we see a condensation of his thought, his questioning of the wisdom of such a procedure and his concern over the deleterious effects inherent in its continuance.

The final question in the fourth stanza is particularly relevant in these times, as the poet ponders whether the world can survive the abuse inflicted on mankind by the unscrupulous “as they try to shape this world in a way to fit in with all their plans”.

One may be forgiven for observing, in mankind’s present ongoing pandemic situation, the possible fulfilment of those prophetic words. This could easily lead to conclusions that would be labelled as being conspiracy based, so wisdom dictates that we await the slowly unfolding drama that, hopefully, may culminate in the revelation of truth.

And the poem leaves us with the ominously haunting repetition of the warning articulated in stanza two....”time is running out”.......

(Aside #4. The faithful exit the tent onto Wrightson Road, homeward bound and slightly inebriated, not by the frequent imbibing of amber fluids, but steeped in the experience of a catharsis of fear and wonder created by the throbbing memory of those haunting lyrics wedded to an incomparable melody.

East, west, north and south we head back to our mundane tomorrows, but fully aware that we may never savour another masterpiece to equal what we have just heard.)

Mervyn Mauricette is a retired teacher of St Mary’s College

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