WORDSWORTH : THE CALYPSONIAN IN V.S. NAIPAUL'S MIGUEL STREET
What is the role of the creative artist in countries such as ours? Novelist V.S Naipaul raises this question in the story of B. Wordsworth, one of the stories in Miguel Street, a 1959 book of Trini characters.
"Trinidadians are more recognizably 'characters' than people in England", said Naipaul in an August ,1958 piece in the Times Literary Supplement.
The "characters" in Miguel Street's portrait gallery include "Man Man" and "Bolo", both of whom are quite familiar, and B. Wordsworth, a poet-calypsonian who is the society's solitary creative voice. Being creative and intellectually curious alienates the poet-calypsonian from his neighbours who lead lives that are devoid of reflection, contemplation and inquiry. As a calypsonian, B. Wordsworth is one part social watchman and one part social scientist: he takes the time to observe the mysteries of existence and from these observations he distills lessons.
"The past is deep", he wrote.
Fancy this: it took the fella ah whole month to compose that line!
Wordsworth was "a small man whose English was so good ,it didn't sound natural".
He was a thinking man.
He spoke deliberately and with economy "as though every word was costing him money".
Wordsworth made ends meet by singing calypsoes during the Calypso Season.
THE BARD MEETS OUR NARRATOR
At his first meeting with the narrator of the story, B. Wordsworth was careful to introduce himself as "the brother of white Wordsworth"
"B stands for Black", said Wordsworth to our narrator. "Black Wordsworth. White Wordsworth was my brother. We share one heart. I can watch a flower like the morning glory and cry"
The initial meeting between Wordsworth and the narrator took place on the day when poet-calypsonian sought permission to observe a swarm of bees that had taken up residence in four small gru- gru palm trees in the narrator's backyard.
The narrator, a small Indian boy, ran to his mother to convey the strange request of the "strangest" person to have called at his house.
"Ma", said the boy," it have a man outside here. He say he want to watch the bees"
Ma gave her permission, but she warned her son to keep an eye on the stranger "while he watch the bees". Being a native of Miguel Street, Ma was intuitively distrustful of a hardback man who wanted to observe bees.
Way you ever hear a big, hardback man want to watch at bees?
Miguel Street people do not waste their time watching swarms of bees in their backyards, for they have been socialized to look away from their backyards. Or to laugh off whatever is in the backyard.
MIGUEL STREET- A METAPHOR FOR CARIBBEAN SOCIETY
Indeed, Miguel Street ( Trinidad/ Grenada /the Caribbean) is a society of two classes of citizens: a class of inventors and a class of imitators.
Miguel Street's uneducated working class monopolizes invention; the other class passes its time mimicking its metropolitan masters.
The working classes gave Miguel Street calypso, reggae, the steelband, and a language that apprends the Street's reality like no other.
The other class spends its time retailing imported nostrums from "Away"; it is a class of conceited compradors!
Black Wordsworth observed the bees and being a social scientist , he went on to make some thoughful comments. And having made his comments, the poet-calypsonian prepared to leave . But just before taking his leave, he attempted to sell one of his poems to the narrator's mother. This was too much for the poor Indian lady and so she told her son to tell Wordsworth to "haul his tail".
Wordsworth reacted rather stoically; it was as if he had heard such comments very many times before.
"It's a poet's tragedy", he said. Then he walked away while tucking the poem back in his pocket.
"It is a poet's tragedy".
It is a kaisonian's tradegy, ent?
THE BIG QUESTION
One week later, our narrator ran into Wordsworth and was invited to visit with the poet-calypsonian at his place on Alberto Street. The boy takes up the invitation; he goes to Wordsworth's place where he gets to eat some really juicy mangoes. The boy stains his shirt while sucking dem mangoes.
The boy goes home and the stains on his shirt attract his Ma's attention . Ma flies into a rage. She gives the boy a licking so bad his nose bleeds. The boy runs away to Wordsworth's place and Wordsworth takes him down St Clair Street to the Savannah.
It a moonlit night and Wordsworth commanded the boy to "lie on the grass and look up at the sky". Then Wordsworth proceeded to explain to the likkle fella the mysteries that were written in the constellations . Wordsworth and his little disciple were lying on the grass when a policeman showed up and spotted his torchlight into the two faces peering into the heavens.
The policeman inquires: "What you doing here?"
In reply, Wordsworth speaks the story's best line:
"I have been asking myself the same question for forty years"
What is the calypsonian doing here?
What is the role of the creative artist in Grenadian society?
Back to Top