n English in Africa - Unconscious nobility : the animal poetry of Harold Farmer

Volume 34, Issue 2
  • ISSN : 0376-8902



I want to suggest that Harold Farmer's poetry works repeatedly in this area of ambiguity, a zone of tension triangulated, as it were, between three impulses. First : a notion (or even the fact) that a sense of community depends on 'knowing' what the 'other' is thinking or feeling, and on being able to articulate that knowledge. Second : suspecting, or even knowing, that certain reaches of the mind of the 'other' are fundamentally, and fascinatingly, knowable - of the realm of the unconscious. And third : knowing (or just fearing or hoping) that any secure distinction between ourselves-as-humans and ourselves-as-sharing-animal-traits is artificial, or at least permeable. Hence, while Farmer's wild animals are perpetually on the brink of disappearing from sight and understanding, it is precisely that mysteriousness which attracts us, can sometimes envelop us, and even speak to us. In having spoken and been spoken to, we are somehow ennobled.

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