Delius, Anthony (Ronald St. Martin)

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DELIUS, Anthony (Ronald St. Martin)

Nationality: South African. Born: Simonstown, 11 June 1916. Education: St. Aidan's College, Grahamstown; Rhodes University, Grahamstown, B.A. 1938. Military Service: South African Intelligence Corps, 1940–45: captain. Family: Married Christina Truter in 1941; one daughter and one son. Career: Co-founder, 1947, and editor and political correspondent, Port Elizabeth Saturday Post (later Evening Post); parliamentary correspondent, Cape Times, Cape Town, 1951–54 and 1958–67. Banned from the South Africa House of Assembly for his Cape Times political commentary. Writer, BBC Africa Service, London, 1968–77. Since 1977 freelance writer. Former co-editor, Standpunte, Cape Town. Since 1962 member of the editorial board, Contrast magazine, Cape Town. Awards: South African poetry prize, 1960; CNA Literary Award, 1977. Address: 30 Graemesdyke Avenue, London SW14 7BJ, England.



An Unknown Border. Cape Town, Balkema, 1954.

The Last Division. Cape Town, Human and Rousseau, 1959.

A Corner of the World: Thirty-Four Poems. Cape Town, Human and Rousseau, 1962.

Black South-Easter. Grahamstown, New Coin, 1966.


The Fall: A Play about Rhodes. Cape Town, Human and Rousseau, 1957.


The Day Natal Took Off: A Satire. Cape Town, Human and Rousseau, and London, Pall Mall Press, 1963.

Border. Cape Town, David Philip, 1976.


The Young Traveller in South Africa. London, Phoenix House, 1947; revised edition, 1959.

The Long Way Round (travel in Africa). Cape Town, Timmins, 1956.

Upsurge in Africa. Toronto, Canadian Institute of International Affairs, 1960.


Manuscript Collection: Rhodes University, Grahamstown.

Critical Studies: Interview with Mike Popham, in Contrast (Cape Town, South Africa), 11(2), 1977; "To Be a Man Is Very Hard: Anthony Delius's Border" by S.G.M. Ridge, in Standpunte (Stellenbosch, South Africa), 134, 1978.

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Anthony Delius has described himself as one of the most indoctrinated of South Africans, a misleading description since it would imply an acceptance of certain sociopolitical attitudes that are the opposite of what he believes. What one can properly say, however, is that of the poets of his country writing in English he is probably the most consciously South African. Despite the title of his 1962 collection, A Corner of the World, it is the African continent as a whole, many of his poems reflecting his travels, and not just his own country with which he identifies. From his early poems, including the long, impressive "Time in Africa," written during World War II, Delius has shown himself fascinated by what living in Africa has accumulated over the centuries, seeing history as a continuous process working on his own contemporary experience and on into the future like a prophecy.

In "Black South-Easter," probably the best long poem produced by a South African in a generation, Delius, twenty years after "Time in Africa," succeeded in using history as a poet should, taking imagination as the catalyst to produce a recipe for the making of myth. The poet, struggling through the windy Cape night, is confronted by historical ghosts, by symbolical figures of contemporary values, the millionaire and the actress, and by his own many-sidedness, his own "Indian file of selves," while his mind and memory are swept dramatically on a course of their own through a wider and deeper disorder of time and circumstance. For instance, he sees the fifteenth-century navigator Dias in this way:

   His niche was the stern
   Of a torpedoed tanker, cliff-hung
   Like an opera box.

Here is a tremendously ambitious poem; that it succeeds is a measure of the poet's power to use language to control a variety of influences working on the imagination at the same time. If Delius has proved his staying power in attempting the long distances (since The Lusiads the Cape presents a surviving challenge to South African poets to go for the big theme), yet his enduring reputation may well lie among some of his short poems, such as the exquisite "The Gamblers," about Cape Coloured fishermen, a popular anthology piece since it first appeared in the New Yorker:

   Day flips a golden coin—but they mock it.
   With calloused, careless hands they reach
   Deep down into the sea's capacious pocket
   And pile their silver counters
   on the beach.

"Deaf and Dumb School" is another poem beautifully conceived to express the poet's compassion: "Silence like a shadow shows the room / Of minds that make their signs and mouth their cries."

Delius's poetry shows another kind of compassion, perhaps of the best kind, that which comes after clear vision has stripped away from situations and people the humbug, false myth, and sloth that have accumulated about them. In this process satire acts like a paint stripper, and Delius, as satirist, has long been active in the South African context. Though echoes of Roy Campbell sometimes interrupt originality, there are parts of The Last Division whose humor will preserve it long after the lampooned figures of politics have been forgotten.

—Roy Macnab