“Their Behaviour” by Dennis Brutus

(For 2012 National (US) Poetry Month celebrations)


The South African poet Dennis Brutus (1924-2009) was an activist and avid campaigner for the exclusion of South Africa from international sports during the Apartheid-era.

Their Behaviour

Their guilt
 is not so very different from ours:
 —who has not joyed in the arbitrary exercise of
 or grasped for himself what might have been
 and who has not used superior force in the
 moment when he could,
 (and who of us has not been tempted to these
 so, in their guilt,
 the bare ferocity of teeth,
 chest-thumping challenge and defiance,
 the deafening clamor of their prayers
 to a deity made in the image of their prejudice
 which drowns the voice of conscience,
 is mirrored our predicament
 but on a social, massive, organized scale
 which magnifies enormously
 as the private dehabille of love
 becomes obscene in orgies.
 © Dennis Brutus


  1. Was not aware of this poet, so thanks for bringing them to my attention.


    When I had no roof I made
    Audacity my roof. When I had
    No supper my eyes dined.

    When I had no eyes I listened.
    When I had no ears I thought.
    When I had no thought I waited.

    When I had no father I made
    Care my father. When I had
    No mother I embraced order.
    When I had no friend I made
    Quiet my friend. When I had no
    Enemy I opposed my body.

    When I had no temple I made
    My voice my temple. I have
    No priest, my tongue is my choir.

    When I have no means fortune
    Is my means. When I have
    Nothing, death will be my fortune.
    Need is my tactic, detachment
    Is my strategy. When I had
    No lover I courted my sleep.

    Robert Pinsky


  2. Beautiful poem and thought-provoking. I see that the entire meaning of the poem comes by considering the lines:

    “Their guilt
    is not so very different from ours:
    so in their guilt is mirrored our predicament

    Another Brutus classic! Thanks for sharing.


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