Walcott Derek 1930 Derek

cott is a playwright and poet of contrasts: a Caribbean poet who weaves together the patois of his native St. Lucia and the poetic styles, themes, and diction of classical Greece and the European tradition. Walcott's work contains references to and echoes of Homer, Virgil, Shakespeare, Dante, John Donne, William Blake, Charles Baudelaire, and T. S. ELIOT. By refusing to choose between Europe and the Caribbean, Walcott creates a truly brilliant hybrid voice and identity. Although he does not explicitly identify himself as an American poet, his work echoes the American poetic tradition of Walt Whitman, the first great American poet of the democratic voice, and Robert LOWELL, whose historical sweep and formalism can be heard in Walcott's work. Walcott has also proclaimed an admiration for the colloquial tradition in American poetry, best represented by the African-American tradition of Etheridge knight.

Walcott was born in Castries, the capital of the small Caribbean island of St. Lucia. His parents were Methodists in a largely Catholic environment, a fact that would later influence his understanding of the discipline of poetic craft. A prolific writer, Walcott published his first collection of poetry, 25 Poems, in 1948. After a period of study in New York, he returned to the Caribbean in 1959, where he lived in Trinidad for the next two decades, until he was appointed professor of creative writing at Boston University. In Boston he became acquainted with several American poets—Robert lowell, Joseph brodsky, and the Irish poet Seamus Heaney. From the publication of In a Green Night (1962), Walcott has made his greatest mark, producing several collections of poetry, among them The Castaway (1965), Another Life (1973), The Arkansas Testament (1987), and Omeros (1990). Walcott won the 1992 Nobel Prize for literature, among other awards and distinctions.

Walcott's poetry is shaped and colored by the tradition of the Old World, by the figures of Adam, Robinson Crusoe, and especially Homer. But in his book-length poem Omeros, readers encounter a Homer who is not simply transplanted from classical Greece, but instead is a hybrid, a Homer who can speak in the Caribbean: "I said 'Omeros,' and O was the conch shells invocation, mer was / both mother and sea in our Antillean patois."

Walcott fears neither the poetic forms nor the EUROpean poetic tradition. In "Ruins of a Great House" he writes, "Marble like Greece, Like Faulkner's South in stone, / deciduous beauty prospered and is gone." Later, in "The Schooner Flight" from The Star-Apple Kingdom (1979), using a traditional pentameter line and a complex rhyme scheme, he employs a different voice, a Caribbean voice, that of Shabine, the restless sailor: "I go draw and knot every line as tight / as ropes in this rigging; in simple speech." Walcott looks to European and biblical traditions for a set of tools to see truly and to speak of his home for the first time, like Adam, a figure that comes up in the poem "New World." Walcott speaks of Adam's postedenic life, of his being thrown into the world of pain and labor: "O yes, the awe of Adam / at the first bead of sweat."

For Walcott, the figure of Adam represents the poet who both names the world and who is exiled from it. This sense of exile makes Walcott a poet of traditions, because it is in the melding of European and Caribbean poetic traditions and cultures that Walcott seeks to find his place and his voice.

He is a poet of craft because it is only the craftsperson—as in Walcott's image of the disciplined carpenter in "Cul de Sac Valley"—who will be able to make a language with which to speak, a language both cosmopolitan and local, a poetry that is as material as the carpenter's wood. The poet handles words, sounds, and shapes: "the fragrant Creole / of their native grain." Walcott is a poet of landscape because it is in the complexity and beauty of the St. Lucian tropics that he comes face to face with the irreversible blending of nature and history. In "The Sea Is History" Walcott asks where the history of monuments, of battles, of tribal memory may be found, and his answer is, "The sea. The sea / has locked them up."

Finally, Walcott is a poet of reconciliation and humanity, always working to escape the resentments and limitations of the colonial past and to construct a language that will speak history in a new voice, not a voice of the colonial master but of ethics. In his 1993 essay "The Figure of Crusoe," Walcott says, "Crusoe is no lord of magic, duke, prince. He does not possess the island he inhabits. He is alone, he is a craftsman, his beginnings are humble. He acts, not by authority, but by conscience" (37). In exile, in craft, in history, in the exploration of traditions both European and Caribbean, Walcott forges this voice of conscience.


Bobb, June. Beating a Restless Drum: the Poetics of Kamau Brathwaite and Derek Walcott. Trenton, N. J.: Africa World Press, 1998.

Brown, Stewart, ed. The Art of Derek Walcott. Chester Spring,

Pa.: Dufour Editions, 1991. Hamner Robert D., ed. Critical Perspectives on Derek Walcott.

Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1993. Hamner, Robert. Derek Walcott. New York: Maxwell Macmil-

lan International, 1993. Terada, Rei. Derek Walcott's Poetry: American Mimicry.

Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1992. Thieme, John. Derek Walcott. New York: St. Martin's, 1999. Walcott Derek. "The Figure of Crusoe." In Critical Perspectives on Derek Walcott, edited by Robert D. Hamner. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1993, p. 37.

Alan Bourassa

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