Charles Borromeo Hodge
Charles Borromeo Hodge Jr.
Son Of The Soil
On January 10th, 2008, Mexican writer, poet and politician Andres Henestrosa Morales, a Zapotec Indian, died at his home in Mexico City. He died of pneumonia at the age of 101. He had been a life long defender and promoter of his native language and culture.
Henestrosa was born in southern Oxaca state and did not learn Spanish until 1922, at age 16. His work often focused on indigenous cultures and languages. In 1922 he wrote “Los hombres que disperse la danza ( A Nation scattered by the Dance), his single most influential work, and in 1936 he published a Zapotec – Spanish dictionary.
People often stop me and thank me for the things which I write. The writer Morales said; “We are greater for what we dream than for what we do. To make a dream come true has been my hope; to write a little page, a very little page that will outlive me.”
He expressed for me in an eloquent way why I like to write. To get readers involved through my writing in the lives of our people who have done us proud.
In 1987 I wrote a letter to “Aunt Glad” (Gladys Whitmore) in Florida with the following message:
“The poet Charles Borromeo Hodge, Jr. wrote to me from New York. I will quote what he said and at the same time request you if you could send me some more material on Aunt Bea and if you can spare it, a photograph of her. Also would it be possible to have a photocopy made of the sketch she made of the family home in The Bottom. I would love to have that in my collection as the house is no longer there. Here is what Mr. Hodge said:
“Will, I am extremely impressed by the very beautiful and heart-rending poem by Beatrice Pfaffhauser which appeared on page 24 of FOR THE LOVE OF ST.MAARTEN. It is a deep, soul-stirring poem that brought haunting memories of St. Maarten washing across my consciousness like the waves on the shores of the Great Bay. I felt as if the poetess was speaking directly to me; that she could read every hidden, brooding thought within me; sensing every desperate, pent-up emotion. That poem is a very powerful piece of writing. I only wish I could know more about her and see more of her poetry. If there are more like her who composed such wonderful works which might not be known to the public, then that is a terrible waste.”
Charles Borromeo Hodge Jr. died tragically. It was not an accident. He interrupted his own life. I am sure he gave it some thought. It could not have been an act of desperation. He had friends he could have called on. I can only liken his death to the painter Vincent van Gogh cutting off his own ear. Artists are different from the rest of us. That is why I started off with his admiration of another persons work. Talented as he was with the use of words, he crafted his poems like a good wordsmith and recognized talent in others.
He wanted to leave the world behind with a statement. The big question for his friends is what was the statement which he was trying to make. Was it disappointment with life, or with the lost beauty of his native land which he so much cherished from his youth?
When praising someone others take offense. Everyone cannot be number one. But when it comes to poetry Charles Borromeo Hodge Jr. does not have his second in my opinion in the Eastern Caribbean. England produced Shakespeare, St. Martín produced Charles Borromeo Hodge Jr. It is as simple as that. Not that I am comparing his work to that of the great bard. Not at all. I am comparing him to all the lesser poets in the Eastern Caribbean. What I see going around in the name of poetry does not speak to me. Charles Borromeo Hodge Jr. sets out to exhaust you; to make you feel guilty for the wrongs against nature and the foibles of humanity. And, those who are aware of how things were years ago, have to agree with him.
I had known him since he was a young man and when I was working at the Old Courthouse in Philipsburg. I have written about him before. Let me suffice with saying that he was every bit the poet. After his problems with getting his poetry printed and all of that he went to New York where he lived for years. It is during that period which he produced his best work I would say. He corresponded with the late Wallace Peterson who was his friend. He also told me once that he had corresponded with Frank Collymore of BIM magazine in Barbados. When I told him that Frank was white he was amazed and seemed to doubt me. He referred to people like us as Caucasians. Someone told me that he was not fond of white people and that he why he only referred to us as Caucasians. I found it strange that anyone would think that he didn’t like white people when he considered us among his best friends. I remember once I was trying to get in contact with him for former Lt. Governor Wycliffe Smith. He was not easy to find. I sent him a copy of my book. That got a response of 14 pages entitled “In search of Will Johnson.” And I thought that I had been looking for him. I have kept it all these years. It is a wonderful tribute to the island of his youth and friends which he knew
When he returned from New York in the nineteen eighties he went up and down introducing himself .Friends would call me and say; ‘ You will never believe who was just here talking about you!’
I am reminded of the story in V.S. Naipauls “Miguel Street” entitled “B. Wordsworth.”
I would like to quote from the section of the first encounter the young boy had with a “Poet.”
“The strangest caller came one afternoon at about four o’clock. I had come back from school and was in my home clothes. The man said to me, ‘Sonny may I come inside your yard?’
He was a small man and he was tidily dressed. He wore a hat, a white shirt and black trousers.
I asked, ‘What you want?’
He said, ‘I want to watch your bees.’
We had four small gru-gru palm trees and they were full of uninvited bees.
I ran up the steps and shouted “Ma, it have a man outside here. He say he want to watch the bees.’
My mother came out, looked at the man and asked in an unfriendly way, ‘What you want?’
The man said, ‘I want to watch your bees.’
His English was so good, it didn’t sound natural, and I could see my mother was worried.
She said to me, ‘Stay here and watch him while he watch the bees.’
The man said, ’Thank you Madam. You have done a good deed today.’
He spoke very slowly and very correctly as though every word was costing him money.
We watched the bees, this man and I, for about an hour, squatting near the palm trees.
The man said, ‘ I like watching bees, Sonny do you like watching bees?’
I said, ‘I ain’t have the time.’
He shook his head sadly. He said, ‘That’s what I do, I just watch. I can watch ants for days. Have you ever watched ants? And scorpions, and centipedes and congorees – have you watched those?’
I shook my head.
I said, ‘What you does do mister?’
He got up and said, ‘I am a poet.’
I said, ‘A good poet?’
He said, ‘The greatest in the world.’
‘What your name mister?’
‘B for Bill?’
‘Black. Black Wordsworth. White Wordsworth was my brother. We share one heart. I can watch a small flower like the morning glory and cry.’
I said, Why you does cry?’
‘Why, boy? You will know when you grow up. You’re a poet, too, you know. And when you’re a poet you can cry for everything.’
I couldn’t laugh.
He said, ‘You like your mother?’
‘When she not beating me.’
He pulled out a printed sheet from his hip- pocket and said, ‘ On this paper is the greatest poem about mothers and I’m going to sell it to you at a bargain price. For four cents.’
I went inside and I said, ‘Ma, you want to buy a poetry for four cents?’
My mother said, ‘Tell that blasted man to haul his tail away from my yard, you hear.’
I said to B.Wordsworth,’ My mother say she ain’t have four cents.’
- Wordsworth said,’ It is the poet’s tragedy.’
And he put the paper back in his pocket. He didn’t seem to mind.
I said, ‘ Is a funny way to go round selling poetry like that. Only calypsonians do that sort of thing. A lot of people does buy?’
He said, ‘No one has yet bought a single copy.’
‘But why you does keep on going round, then?’
He said, ‘In this way I watch many things, and I always hope to meet poets.’
I said,’ You really think I is a poet?’
‘You’re as good as me,’ he said.
And when B. Wordsworth left, I prayed I would see him again.”
I thought Borromeo should meet Roland Richardson. I told Borromeo where to find him in Marigot. A few weeks later Roland told me that he had met him. Since Roland was doing an article on Marigot for the Discover Magazine, and perhaps more to get rid of him than anything else, Roland asked Borromeo to do a poem about Marigot. Within 24 hours Borromeo was back with what is perhaps the only, and certainly the best poem, ever written about Marigot. Roland needed no convincing after that. He recognized Borromeo’s great talent. White Wordsworth had met his soul brother Black Wordsworth.
While doing this article I came across another article which I had written for the Weekender exactly ten years ago. The more things change the more they remain the same. In that same newspaper of Saturday November 21, 1998, Saba was saying farewell to Lt. Governor Sydney Sorton and many of the same news items of then are still with us today. Mark Twain more than one hundred years ago designed a newspaper with headlines that he predicted would still be around in the year two thousand. The headlines were. 1. A coup in Latin America. 2. Rising crime in the cities. 3. Stock markets about to crash etc.
So another article about Borromeo is now due to remind people of his great talent.
Not everyone is as impressed by poetry and poets as I am. In “Fathers and Sons” by the Russian novelist Ivan Sergevich Turgenev the character Bazarov was a nihilist. Although many people who do not understand poetry think of all poets as nihilists, Bazarov states that: “A good chemist is twenty times as useful as any poet.”
Charles Borromeo Hodge Jr. was born on Aruba on November 9th, 1939 and died November 14th, 1998.
His early years were spent on Aruba, Curacao and St. Maarten. Shortly after he finished school on Curacao and had returned to St. Maarten he started working for the then newly established St. Maarten Harbour Corporation. He was also involved with the Voice of St. Maarten when it was founded by Mr. de Pree in the early sixties.
His years of exile in New York City brought out some of his best poetry which was published by House of Nehesi Publishers in 1997 in a volume entitled Songs and Images of St. Martin.
I corresponded with him off an on over thirty years. Regrettably when I was a bachelor moving from pillar to post I lost some of my most interesting correspondence. However I still have a file interesting enough for someone who would want to write a book about his life.
I could tell that his heart was troubled from one of the last poems which he wrote.
I will end this article with certain parts of this his final poem:
Changing Of the Year
‘The year that’s coming to its end
Proved not to be a kindly friend,
And I rejoice to see at last
Its powers sealed within the past.
During the tenure of its reign
It brought me naught but grief and pain;
I joyless watched the golden glow
Of dawn that used to thrill me so;
Its lustre did not bring release
Nor touched my heart with calm and peace.
Depression held a tyrant’s sway
That followed me throughout the day.
And when the night should bring me rest
That’s when I faced the cruellest test.
And in the last stanza of the poem he proceeds as follows:
‘ Employment shunned my open door
Just as it did the year before,
And with good reason do I fear
‘Twill be the same this coming year
For me ‘twill bring the same old pain,
Begrudging me success and gain;
Misfortune shall walk by my side
As though it were my faithful bride.
And he ends the poem as follows:
‘Nor may I hope to gain relief
From my affliction or my grief,
Nor may I hope the coming year
Will ease or lessen my despair.
Let others dance and celebrate
Their blessings and their kinder fate,
But I prepare to face the worse,
The victim of a life-long curse!
One of his poems which I like best was one he wrote when he went into exile to New York which is entitled; ‘ Farewell To St. Maarten’ from which I will quote to end this article and as a tribute to him.
‘Farewell sweet cradle of my youth,
Farewell green hills and silver skies,
Between myself and you the roar
Of boundless oceans soon must rise.
Farewell bright glory of the morn,
Farewell soft lustre of the eve,
With leaden heart and wounded soul
Your fest of beauty I must leave.
It is a long poem and the last stanza reads as follows;
‘Farewell St. Maarten on whose shores
Life’s gay parade goes dancing by,
The day I turn my heart from you
Will be the day I’ll pray to die.’
I don’t think Borromeo turned his heart from St. Maarten. It was the other way around. The island of his youth which he returned to he could not recognize or cope with. I invited him to lunch at a prestigious restaurant. He was ill at ease. He told me that he would have preferred to have gone back in time to when he and I had argued politics at the Zanzibar on the Backstreet. That we could all go back in time.
However we must be realistic and adjust to the changing times on our islands in the sun.