Poetic Prophecy--Excerpts from "The Ancient Rain" by Bob Kaufman
Excerpts from "The Ancient Rain"*
by Bob Kaufman
written during the period 1973-1978
After Ending his Ten-Year Buddhist Vow of Silence 1962-1972
Begun Upon the Murder of John F. Kennedy
and Ending in February 1973 on the day the Vietnam War Ended.
At the illusion world that has come into existence of world that
exists secretly, as meanwhile the humorous Nazis on television will
not be as laughable, but be replaced by silent and blank TV
screens. At this time, the dead nations of Europe and Asia shall
cast up the corpses from the graveyards they have become. But today
the Ancient Rain falls, from the far sky. It will be white like the
rain that fell on the day Abraham Lincoln died. It shall be red
rain like the rain that fell when George Washington abolished
monarchy. It shall be blue rain like the rain that fell when John
Fitzgerald Kennedy died.
They will see the bleached skeletons that they have become. By then
it shall be too late for them. All the symbols shall return to the
realm of the symbolic and reality become the meaning again. In the
meantime, masks of life continue to cover the landscape. Now on the
landscape of the death earth, the Luftwaffe continues to fly into
Volkswagens through the asphalt skies of death.
It shall be black rain like the rain that fell on the day Martin
Luther King died. It shall be the Ancient Rain that fell on the day
that Franklin Delano Roosevelt died. It shall be the Ancient Rain
that fell the day that Nathan Hale died. It shall be a brown rain
that fell on the day that Crispus Attucks died. It shall be the
Ancient Rain that fell on July Fourth, 1776, when America became
alive. In America, the Ancient Rain is beginning to fall again. The
Ancient Rain falls from a distance secret sky. It shall fall here on
America, which alone remains alive, on this earth of death. The
Ancient Rain is supreme and is aware of all things that have
happened. The Ancient Rain is brilliant yellow as it was on the day
Custer died. The Ancient Rain is the source of all things, the
Ancient Rain knows all secrets. The Ancient Rain illuminates
America. The Ancient Rain shall kill genocide.
The Ancient Rain shall bring death to those who love and feel only
themselves. The Ancient Rain is all colors, all forms, all shapes,
all sizes. The Ancient Rain is a mystery known only to itself. The
Ancient Rain filled the seas.The Ancient Rain killed all the
dinosaurs and left only one dinosaur skeleton to remind the world
that the Ancient Rain is falling again.
. . .
The Ancient Rain is falling again. The Ancient Rain is falling on
the waves of immigrants who fled their homelands to come to this
home of Ancient Rain to be free of tyranny and hunger and injustice,
and who now refuse to go to school with Crispus Attucks, the Ancient
Rain knows they were starving in Europe. The Ancient Rain is
falling. It is falling on the NATO meetings. . . . Will there be
peace or war? The Ancient Rain knows but does not say. I make
speculations of my own, but I do not discuss them, because the
Ancient Rain is falling.
. . .
The Ancient Rain wets my face and I am freed from hatreds of me that
discuise themselves with racist bouquets. The Ancient Rain has
moved me to another world, where the people stand still and the
streets moved me to destination. I look down on the Earth and see
myself wandering in the Ancient Rain ecstatic, aware that the death
I feel around me is in the hand of the Ancient Rain and those who
plan death for me and dreams are know to the Ancient Rain . . .
silent, humming raindrops of the Ancient Rain.
The Ancient Rain is falling. The Washington
The Lincoln Memorial is surrounded by stars.
Mount Rushmore stares into every face.
The Continental Congress meets in the home of
the Ancient Rain.
Nathan Hale stands immaculate at the entrance
to the Capitol.
Crispus Attucks is taken to school by Thomas
Boston is quiet.
The Ancient Rain is falling.
. . .
I see the death some cannot see, because I am a poet spread-eagled
on this bone of the world. A war is coming, in many forms. It
shall take place. The South must hear Lincoln at Gettysburg, the
South shall be forced to admit that we have endurd. The black son
of the American Revolution is not the son of the South. Crispus
Attucks' death does not make him the Black son of the South. So be
it. Let the voice out of the whirlwind speak:
Federico Garcia Lorca wrote:
Black Man, Black Man, Black Man
For the mole and the water jet
Stay out of the cleft.
Seek out the great sun
Of the center.
The great sun gliding
The sun that undoes
all the numbers,
crossed over a
The great sun gliding over dryads, the sun that undoes all the
numbers, yet cross over a dream. At once I am there at the great
sun, feeling the great sun of the center. Hearing the Lorca music
in the endless solitude of crackling blueness. I could feel myself
a little boy again in crackling blueness, wanting to do what Lorca
says in crackling bluenes to kiss out my frenzy on bicycle wheels
and smash little squares in the flush of a soiled exultation.
Federico Garcia Lorca sky, the immaculate scoured sky, equaling only
itself contained all the distances that Lora is, that he came from
Spain of the Inquisition is no surprise. His poem of solitude
walking around Columbia. My first day in crackling blueness, I
walked off my ship and rode the subway to Manhattan to visit Grant's
tomb and I thought because Lorca said he would let his hair grow
long someday crackling blueness would cause my hair to grow long. I
decided to move deeper into crackling blueness. When Franco's civil
guard killed, from that moment on, I would move deeper in crackling
blueness. I kept my secrets. I observed those who read him who
were not Negro and listened to their misinterpretation of him. I
thought of those who had been around him, those that were not Negro
and were not in crackling blueness, those that couldn' t see his
wooden south wind, a tiltin' black slime that tacked down all the
boat wrecks, while Saturn delayed all the trains.
I remember the day I went into crackling blueness. His
indescribable voice saying Black Man, Black Man, for the mole and
the water jet, stay out of the cleft, seek ou the great Sun of the
*Kaufman, Bob. The Ancient Rain: Poems 1956-1978. A New Directions
Book, New York City, 1981. copyright 1981, by Raymond Foye.
For the pat two decades [1960-1980] Bob Kaufman has been engaged in
the active practice of being obscure, living the Orphic myth,
adroitly avoiding all public contact. He had been a legendary
figure among the jazzmen and bohemians of the 1940's and '50s.
Flamboyant and quick-witted, he was the original "beatnik" -- a word
he invented. His three broadsides ("Abomunist Manifesto," " Second
April," "Does the Secret Mind Whisper?") published by Lawrence
Ferlinghetti's City Lights Books, became overnight classics of the
Beat Generation. Adapting the harmonic complexities and spontaneous
invention of be-bop to poetic euphony and meter, he became the
quintessential jazz poet. . . .
Kaufman left San Francisco for New York in the spring of 1960. He
had been invited to read at Harvard University and was to begin work
on his first book, Solitudes Crowded with Loneliness (New
Directions, 1965). But the New York years were filled with poverty,
addiction, and imprisonment. The poem "Blood Fell on the Mountains,"
was composed upon his rturn to San Francisco in 1963. Thre days
later, Kaufaman took a ten-year Buddhist vow of silence, prompted by
the assassination of President Kennedy. For the next decade he
neither spoke nor wrote.
Kaufman broke his silence in February 1973 on the day the Vietnam
War ended. he stunned a local gathering one evening by reciting
Thomas a Becket's speech from T.S. Eliot's Murder in the Cathedral
("They know and do not know, what is is to act or suffer . . .") ,
followed by his own untitled poem which begins section two ("All
those ships that never sailed . . .") which, like many of his poems,
have been transcribed from a tape recording.
During the next five years, Kaufman composed some of the finest
poems of his career--simple, lofty and resplendent. In the
poem "The Ancient Rain," he renews his preoccupation with Federico
Garcia Lorca, as he seeks to reconstruct the battered psyche of the
Black man through poetry. In 1978, Kaufman abruptly renounced
writing and withdrew once again into silence.
Raymond Foye, Editor
27 October, 1980
New York City