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PN Review 276
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This item is taken from PN Review 25, Volume 8 Number 5, May - June 1982.



Sir: May I correct an error in News & Notes, PNR 23, in which you say that the South African poet Breyten Breyten-bach, now in prison, is 'convicted of marrying an Asian'. This is not so, but the truth is bad enough.

The facts about the Breytenbach imprisonment are set out by Andre Brink in his introduction to Breytenbach's A Season in Paradise (New York, 1980). This book is an account of Mr Breytenbach's visit, after a long exile, to South Africa in 1972-5. He took with him his Vietnamese wife, with full permission from the South African government.

While in South Africa, Breytenbach did what he could to prick the conscience of his fellow-Afrikaners with regard to the evil and inhumanity of apartheid. In 1975 he returned, without his wife and with a false passport under an assumed name, to contact some of the opponents of the regime that he had met on his previous visit. He was shadowed by the Security Police from the moment of his arrival, and arrested three weeks later when about to leave the country, and charged with what passes in South Africa for 'terrorism'.

Before his trial he was held in solitary confinement for several months, during which his interrogators persuaded him that if he contested the charges against him he would qualify for the death sentence. He agreed to an arrangement by which some of the charges were dropped in return for his plea of guilty on the others. At the trial both the Public Prosecutor and the Security Policeman in charge of the interrogation offered pleas in mitigation and asked for a minimum sentence, something unprecedented in South African legal history.

The judge, however, took no notice but sentenced Breytenbach to nine years' imprisonment, and refused leave to appeal.
At present Breytenbach is imprisoned at the Cape, where he is allowed one visitor and one letter a month. All facilities for study were withdrawn from political prisoners in 1978. He is allowed to write, but everything he produces has to be handed over to the prison authorities for 'safe keeping'.

The savagery of the sentence passed on Breytenbach, and his treatment, are their own comment.
Appleby in Westmorland, Cumbria

The Editor comments: Our (mis-)information was gathered from an authorised press-release issued in London on the occasion of Breytenbach's receipt of the Poetry International Award. We are grateful to Mr Wright for his correction.


Sir: One of the contributors to the Celebration of Sylvia Townsend Warner (PNR 23) quotes a letter from the poet in which she speculates that seeing ghosts may be associated with the presence of water. While she presumably reached this conclusion by pure intuition, I cannot resist pointing out that her view receives authoritative confirmation from the philosopher Proclus in his commentary on Porphyry's De Antro Nympharum:

'According to the opinions of some men, aerial and celestial bodies are nourished by the vapours of fountains and rivers and other exhalations. . . . It is necessary therefore that souls, whether they are corporeal or incorporeal, while they attract bodies must verge to humidity, and to be incorporated with humid natures . . . and confined in humid bodies as in watery tegument. Hence the souls of the dead are evoked by the effusion of bile and blood: and souls ensnared by corporeal love, and attracting to their nature a humid spirit, condense this watery vehicle like a cloud, but the pneumatic part thus condensed, through too great an abundance of humour becomes the object of corporeal sight. And among the number of these we must reckon those apparitions of images, which from a spirit coloured by the influence of imagination, present themselves to mankind.'
University of Keele

This item is taken from PN Review 25, Volume 8 Number 5, May - June 1982.

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