Prelude 2020: That Silent Language

Alice Z Jones


Alice Jones

Alice Z Jones responds to the events of 2020, inspired in part by Wordsworth’s epic poem The Prelude. Commissioned by The Quietus and Aerial.


his words stand like guards
at the chapel of white dawns
asking me:
not to remember
that our mothers
like our grandmothers
bore hopes
hopes which
would have had turned
in their turn
to tumors
through stifled, silenced years
muted against all nature
words veiled in cursive
through the push and pull of all things
dare ask me again:
not to remember
it’s not the land that would make her sick
it’s not the land that would save her

remember the swerve of your poets
pulling heavy curtains
over wet dreams
the curve of romance
verbs sounding out cataracts
like promises
his assurance
that in some-ways we were all already free

don’t offer her pity
or praise the tropics in her eyes
she learnt
a mispronunciation
to eclipse the rhetoric of conquer’d tides
learnt to leave
a hundred thousand fingerprints
on dusks soft hide
knowing that this land
was hers as much as it is mine

“And for this cause to Thee
I speak, unapprehensive of contempt,
The insinuated scoff of coward tongues,
And all that silent language which so oft
In conversation betwixt man and man
Blots from the human countenance all trace
Of beauty and of love.”

Wordsworth, The Prelude (Book II)

“Those who are most active in promoting entire and immediate Abolition do not seem sufficiently to have considered that slavery
is not in itself and at all times and under all circumstances to be deplored. In many states of society it has been a check upon worse evils; so much inhumanity has prevailed among men that the best way of protecting the weak from the powerful has often been found in what seems at first sight a monstrous arrangement; viz., in one man having a property in many of his fellows.”
Wordsworth, (Letter to Benjamin Dockray, April 1833, The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Later Years, ed. E. de Selincourt, p. 648)

Wordsworth, (Letter to Benjamin Dockray, April 1833, The Letters of William and Dorothy Wordsworth: The Later Years, ed. E. de Selincourt, p. 648)

When we choose which words to forefront and which to omit, we align ourselves with their power. Soft power: still capable of violence, not luxurious or abstract. With whose words and with which we chose to examine the past and the present will, inevitably, hold influence in every tense. From the vantage point of retrospect our choices can be made aware of their own weight, our quotes can be deliberate, perceptive. Or we can choose to repeat, in an endless play of imperial call and response, words which would deny us. 

To offer the benevolence of nature’, ideological transcendence, in place of material freedom in a time – like now – of extreme urgency for many of the non-white, non-middle class, non-cis-gender- male populations of this world is denial*. To remove oneself, one’s proud green country, from having played any part in that is denial**.

Denial serves in the maintenance of dominance, in the displacement of historical and political burden, in repression, deflection and diversion from threat. This is the ‘old normal’, the current normal – and until we choose to arm ourselves with more than the fragments we are handed, it will continue to be normal too.

*See: Wordsworth: The Prelude, To Toussaint L’Ouverture
**See: Wordsworth: The Prelude (Book X), The Banished Negroes, The Convention of Cintra


Alice Z Jones is a British-Jamaican artist from London currently based in Berlin. A multi-media artist drawing from both a European tradition and the traditions of black and Caribbean Diasporas – negotiating lost histories, imposed histories, institutional invisibility and mis/representation with languages of resistance and repair.

Photo credit Sina Lesnik.

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