Vinni Burrows at the Better World Awards, 2016

Vinni Burrows at the Better World Awards, 2016

I don’t know if I need this [mic], but I will use it.

When I asked Estevan, What would Jarvis like me to read in his honor – what poem, what author does he like and he said, Pablo Neruda. And he sent me a wonderful poem, it’s called “An Ode to Paul Robeson,” and it’s by Pablo Neruda.

I have told all of you that I am not technically savvy, and Estevan, when you emailed it to me it took me many, many many hours to print it out, and then I finally went to the mid-Manhattan library, and got a collection and found in it the “Ode to Paul Robeson,” except it was too faint for me to read. So, I have managed however to print it out and to read it. So happy to have found it, actually:

Once, he did not exist.

But his voice was there, waiting.

 

Light parted from darkness,

day from night,

earth from the primal waters.

 

And the voice of Paul Robeson

was divided from the silence.

 

The darkness struggled to hold on.

Underneath roots were growing.

Blind plants fought to know the light.

The sun trembled.

The water was a dumb mouth.

Slowly the animals changed their shape,

Slowly adapting themselves to the wind

and to the rain.

 

Ever

since then

you have been the voice of man,

the song of the germinating earth,

the river and the movement of nature.

 

The cataract unleashed its endless thunder

upon your heart,

as if a river fell

upon a rock,

and the rock sang

with the voice of all the silent

until all things, all people

lifted their blood to the light

in your voice,

and earth and sky, fire and darkness and water

rose up with your song.

 

But later

the earth was darkened again.

Fear, war,

pain

put out the green flame,

the fire of the rose.

 

And over the cities

a terrible dust fell,

the ashes of the slaughtered.

They went into the ovens

with numbers on their brows,

Hairless,

Men, women,

old, young,

gathered

In Poland, the Ukraine, Amsterdam, Prague.

 

Again

the cities grieved

and silence was great,

hard

as a tombstone

upon a living heart,

as a dead hand

on a child’s voice.

 

Then

Paul Robeson,

you sang.

 

Again

your river of a heart

was deeper,

was wider

than the silence.

 

It would be small praise

if I crowned you king

only of the Negro voice,

great only among your race,

among your beautiful flock

of music and ivory,

as though you only sang for the dark children

shackled by cruel masters.

 

No,

Paul Robeson,

you sang with Lincoln,

covering the sky with your holy voice,

not only for Negroes,

for the poor Negroes,

but for the poor,

whites,

Indians,

for all peoples.

 

You,

Paul Robeson,

were not silent

when Pedro or Juan

was put out into the street,

with his furniture,

in the rain.

Or when the fanatics of the millennium

sacrificed with fire

The double heart

of their fiery victims,

as when

in Chile

wheat grows on volcanic land.

You never stopped singing.

Man fell and you raised him up.

Sometimes

You were a subterranean river,

something

that bore

the merest glimmer of light

in the darkness,

the last sword

of dying honour,

the last wounded fork of lightning,

the inextinguishable thunder.

 

You,

Paul Robeson,

defend man’s bread,

honour,

fight,

hope.

Light of man,

child of the sun,

our sun,

sun of the American suburb

and of the red snows

of the Andes:

you guard our light.

 

Sing,

comrade,

sing

brother of the earth,

sing,

good father of fire,

sing for us all,

for those who live by fishing,

by hammering nails with battered hammers,

spinning cruel threads of silk,

pounding paper pulp,

printing.

Sing for all those sleepless in prisons,

awake at midnight.

barely

human

beings,

trapped

between

two tortures,

and for those who wrestle with the copper

twelve thousand feet up

in the barren solitude of the Andes.

 

Sing,

my friend,

never stop singing.

 

You broke the silence of the rivers

when they were dumb

because of the blood they carried.

Your voice speaks through them.

Sing:

your voice unites

many men who never knew each other.

Now,

Far away

in the Urals,

and in the lost Patagonian snow,

you,

singing,

pass over darkness,

distance,

sea,

waste land;

and the young stoker,

and the wandering hunter,

and the cowboy alone with his guitar

all listen.

 

And in his forgotten prison in Venezuela,

Jesus Faria,

the noble, the luminous,

heard the calm thunder

of your song.

 

Because you sing,

they know that the sea exists

and that the sea sings.

 

They know that the sea is free, wide and full of flowers

as your voice, my brother.

 

The sun is ours. The earth will be ours.

Tower of the sea, you will go on singing.

 

And as he sings, we resist!

Continue to introductions to Nelini Stamp, given by Tsedeye Gebreselassie, of the National Employment Project