In putting ideas and feelings into poetry, I have
tried in each case to use the medium most
adaptable to the specific purpose. I own allegiance
to no master. I have never found it possible
to accept in entirety any one poet. But I
have loved and joyed in what I consider the finest
in the poets of all ages.
The speech of my childhood and early youth
was the Jamaica Negro dialect, the native variant
of English, which still preserves a few words of
African origin, and which is more difficult of
understanding than the American Negro dialect.
But the language we wrote and read in school
was England's English. Our text books then,
before the advent of the American and Jamaican
readers and our teachers, too, were all English-made.
The native teachers of the elementary
schools were tutored by men and women of British
import. I quite remember making up verses in
the dialect and in English for our moonlight ring
dances and for our school parties. Of our purely
native songs the jammas (field and road), shay-shays
(yard and booth), wakes (post-mortem),
Anancy tales (transplanted African folk lore),
and revivals (religious) are all singularly punctuated
by meter and rhyme. And nearly all my
own poetic thought has always run naturally into
these regular forms.
Consequently, although very conscious of the
new criticisms and trends in poetry, to which I
am keenly responsive and receptive, I have adhered
to such of the older traditions as I find
adequate for my most lawless and revolutionary
passions and moods. I have not used patterns,
images and words that would stamp me a
classicist nor a modernist. My intellect is not
scientific enough to range me on the side of
either; nor is my knowledge wide enough for me
to specialize in any school.
I have never studied poetics; but the forms
I have used I am convinced are the ones I can
work in with the highest degree of spontaneity
I have chosen my melodies and rhythms by
instinct, and I have favored words and figures
which flow smoothly and harmoniously into my
compositions. And in all my moods I have
striven to achieve directness, truthfulness and
naturalness of expression instead of an enameled
originality. I have not hesitated to use words
which are old, and in some circles considered
poetically overworked and dead, when I thought
I could make them glow alive by new manipulation.
Nor have I stinted my senses of the pleasure
of using the decorative metaphor where it is
more truly and vividly beautiful than the exact
phrase. But for me there is more quiet delight
in "The golden moon of heaven" than in "The
terra-cotta disc of cloud-land."
Finally, while I have welcomed criticism,
friendly and unfriendly, and listened with willing
attention to many varying opinions concerning
other poems and my own, I have always, in the
summing up, fallen back on my own ear and
taste as the arbiter.