B Wordsworth – V S Naipaul


B Wordsworth’s first Visit

The narrator lived in Miguel Street. When he was a child, beggars used to cry for money, food and many other things. His family being good with beggars, some used to cry at his gate. One day a small man came to watch the bees in his yard. His name was B Wordsworth. He was tidily dressed. He wore a hat, a white shirt and black trousers. The narrator’s mother was not happy to let the man enter their yard.

  1. How was B Wordsworth different from the rest of the callers?
    Most people who called on the narrator’s family to borrow money and food. Very rarely, there were rogues who behaved absurdly. On the contrary, B Wordsworth came only to observe the bees in the narrator’s yard. He was least like the others.
  2. What were the narrator’s first impressions of B Wordsworth?
    B Wordsworth first came to the narrator’s yard to look at the bees that hived on his gru-gru palm trees. He was a small man and he was tidily dressed. He wore a hat, a white shirt and black trousers. He came in calling him Sonny. When his mother let him enter the yard to watch the bees under observation, B Wordsworth thanked her. He spoke very little as if each word cost him money. After watching the bees for an hour, he told the narrator how much he liked watching bees, ants, scorpions, centipedes and congorees. When the narrator asked him what he did, B Wordsworth declared that he was the greatest poet in the world.
  3. Why does B Wordsworth like to be known so?
    B Wordsworth was a poet with a different way of understanding the world, himself and poetry. He had a lot of love for nature just like William Wordsworth. Apart from this similarity with Wordsworth, he was of a dark complexion. For these reasons, he liked to be called B Wordsworth, where B stands for ‘Black.’
  4. Why did B Wordsworth say that he liked to cry at things in the nature?
    B Wordsworth considered himself as a poet.
  5. 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? Why? 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.’
  6. 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.’ B. 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.’
  7. ‘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. About a week later, coming back from school one afternoon, I met him at the corner of Miguel Street. He said, ‘I have been waiting for you for a long time.’ I said, ‘You sell any poetry yet?’
  8. He shook his head. He said, ‘In my yard I have the best mango tree in Port of Spain. And now the mangoes are ripe and red and very sweet and juicy. I have waited here for you to tell you this and to invite you to come and eat some of my mangoes.’
  9. Why was the narrator’s mother worried about B Wordsworth?
  10. What did B Wordsworth carry with him to sell?
  11. How did the narrator’s mother respond when she was asked if she wished to buy B Wordsworth’s poem?
  12. What did B Wordsworth refer to as ‘a poet’s tragedy?’
    By a poet’s tragedy, B Wordsworth refers to the tragedy of poets who have no buyers for their most beautiful poems even at the cost of four cents. He felt it tragic owing to the mentality of the people who consider the creativity of a poet absurd and worthless.

The Narrator visits B Wordsworth’s Place

  1. What makes B Wordsworth a peculiar/unusual character in your opinion?
    B. Wordsworth is worth his life. He has a mysterious life and many mysteries buried in his heart. He had great adoration for poet William Wordsworth, hence the name. It goes without saying that he was a poet. His life was a tragedy. As in his story, he truly had a wife who died during her pregnancy. The death of his wife had pressed upon him and made him an unsuccessful poet.
  2. Where did B Wordsworth live? How does the narrator describe his house?
    B Wordsworth lived in Alberto Street in a one-roomed hut placed right in the center of the lot. The yard seemed all green. There was the big mango tree. There was a coconut tree and there was a plum tree. The place looked wild, as though it wasn’t in the city at all.

After the First Visit

  1. How did the narrator’s mother react when she knew that he had gone to B Wordsworth to his place?
    My mother said when I got home, ‘Where you was? You think you is a man now and could go all over the place? Go cut a whip for me.’ She beat me rather badly, and I ran out of the house swearing that I would never come back.
  2. I went to B. Wordsworth’s house. I was so angry, my nose was bleeding. B. Wordsworth said, ‘Stop crying, and we will go for a walk.’ I stopped crying, but I was breathing short. We went for a walk. We walked down St Clair Avenue to the Savannah and we walked to the race-course. B. Wordsworth said, ‘Now, let us lie on the grass and look up at the sky, and I want you to think how far those stars are from us.’ I did as he told me, and I saw what he meant. I felt like nothing, and at the same time I had never felt so big and great in all my life. I forgot all my anger and all my tears and all the blows.
  3. When I said I was better, he began telling me the names of the stars, and I particularly remembered the constellation of Orion the Hunter, though I don’t really know why. I can spot Orion even today, but I have forgotten the rest.
  4. Then a light was flashed into our faces, and we saw a policeman. We got up from the grass. The policeman said, ‘What you doing here?’ B. Wordsworth said, ‘I have been asking myself the same question for forty years.’
  5. We became friends, B. Wordsworth and I. He told me, ‘You must never tell anybody about me and about the mango tree and the coconut tree and the plum tree. You must keep that a secret. If you tell anybody, I will know, because I am a poet.’ I gave him my word and I kept it.
  6. I liked his little room. It had no more furniture than George’s front room, but it looked cleaner and healthier. But it also looked lonely.
  7. One day I asked him, ‘Mister Wordsworth, why you does keep all this bush in your yard? Ain’t it does make the place damp?’
  8. He said, ‘Listen, and I will tell you a story. Once upon a time a boy and girl met each other and they fell in love. They loved each other so much they got married. They were both poets. He loved words. She loved grass and flowers and trees. They lived happily in a single room, and then one day the girl poet said to the boy poet, “We are going to have another poet in the family.” But this poet was never born, because the girl died, and the young poet died with her, inside her. And the girl’s husband was very sad, and he said he would never touch a thing in the girl’s garden. And so the garden remained, and grew high and wild.’
  9. I looked at B. Wordsworth, and as he told me this lovely story, he seemed to grow older. I understood his story.
  10. We went for long walks together. We went to the Botanical Gardens and the Rock Gardens. We climbed Chancellor Hill in the late afternoon and watched the darkness fall on Port of Spain, and watched the lights go on in the city and on the ships in the harbour.
  11. He did everything as though he were doing it for the first time in his life. He did everything as though he were doing some church rite.
  12. He would say to me, ‘Now, how about having some ice-cream?’
  13. And when I said yes, he would grow very serious and say, ‘Now, which café shall we patronise?’ As though it were a very important thing. He would think for some time about it and finally say, ‘I think I will go and negotiate the purchase with that shop.’
  14. The world became a most exciting place.
  15. One day, when I was in his yard, he said to me, ‘I have a great secret which I am now going to tell you.’
  16. I said, ‘It really secret?’
  17. ‘At the moment, yes.’
  18. I looked at him, and he looked at me. He said, ‘This is just between you and me, remember. I am writing a poem.’
  19. ‘Oh.’ I was disappointed.
  20. He said, ‘But this is a different sort of poem. This is the
  1. What for did B Wordsworth visit the narrator the second time?
  2. What was special about B Wordsworth’s hut and its surroundings at Alberto Street?
  3. What was the story that B Wordsworth told the narrator?
  4. Do you think that the story B Wordsworth told the narrator was his own story? Support your answer.
  5. What did B Wordsworth tell the narrator about the poem he was writing?
  6. Why did the B Wordsworth confess that he had been lying about the story and his unfinished poem?
  7. How did B Wordsworth’s place change after a year?

Glossary

  • A Calypsonian, originally known as a chantwell, is a musician, from the anglophone Caribbean, who sings songs called calypso.
  • Port of Spain

Biju John is an educational writer, educator and the author of OM - The Otherwise Men. He gives live classes on Skype and Facebook. You can attend his 3 Day Classes (English & Business Studies) in Delhi, Bangalore, Qatar and Dubai. His Contact number is 91 9810740061.

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