Tuesday, October 23, 2012

'Derek Walcott, Quintessentially a Caribbean Poet' by Sukanta Bhattacharjee

Abstract: This paper attempts to explore the indelible Caribbean complexion in Walcott's poetry and reveal the fact that the general Caribbean experience prepares the rock-solid footing of his poetry from which his private joys, creative pains, conflicts and realizations take off.

Social questions have always figured in the literature of different countries. Writers and poets can seldom get away from the contemporary problems of their lives and societies. In The Penguin Book of Caribbean Verse, Paula Burnett writes about Caribbean literature:
Caribbean literature is, of course, first of all by and for the Caribbean people. Like any culture, it gives expression to a particular people's experience. (Burnett, 1986: xxiii)

Derek Walcott, the alchemist of the Caribbean, is an ardent delineator  of Caribbean life and culture. He feels an inseparable bond of love with the dearest soil of his birth place, Santa Lucia, a small Windward island in the West Indies. As a dedicated Caribbean poet with unending patriotic zeal, he preaches in his penultimate collection, Midsummer: "to curse your birth place is the final evil" (Walcott, 1984: 40). In his autobiographical and breakthrough poem, a book-length lyrical saga, 'Another Life', he and his friend, the painter Dustan St. Omer, vow to record the unique atmosphere of the Caribbean through their art:
We would never leave the island until we had put down, in paint, in words, as palmists learn the network of a hand, all of its sunken, leaf-choked ravines, every neglected, self-pitying inlet -- (Walcott, 1992: 196)
The above quotes reveal Walcott's deep attachment to Caribbean landscape, his commitment to the neglected islanders, keen interest in and tenacious loyalty to the Caribbean land and culture and his unfathomable love for them. His unalloyed love for the dearest island is the manifestation of his heart-felt love for his colonized, oppressed, poverty-stricken and downtrodden people whom he invokes as, "the stars of my mythology". (Walcott, 1992: 164)

Walcott's genealogical chart descended from a white grandfather and a black grandmother. His poetry concentrates on the opposing African and European influences of his colonial West Indian heritage and his poetic language reflects this cultural division, employing both the formal, structured language of English verse and the colourful dialect (patois) of his native island, St. Lucia. He embraces the literary tradition of England but denounces the exploitation and suppression of Caribbean culture resulting from brutish British colonization. M. H. Abrams comments:
At once flamboyant and disciplined, poems like his wittily titled 'A Far Cry from Africa' proclaim his divided roots, as a black poet, in the English literary tradition and the history of a subject people. He has since proved the truth of Yeats's statement that "out of our quarrel with ourselves we make poetry". (Abrams, 1993: 2358)

His acclaimed poem 'A Far Cry from Africa' delineates the theme of his love and hate relationship for his divided loyalties:
I who am poisoned with the blood of both
Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?
I who have cursed
The drunken officer of British rule, how choose
Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?
Betray them both, or give back what they give?
How can I face such slaughter and be cool?
How can I turn from Africa and live? (Walcott: 1992: 18)

Walcott is constantly torn between choice and disapproval. Though he abhors the erstwhile British colonizers, he is deeply in love with the English language. To him, English is not the property of the English. It is the property of the imagination. It is the property of language itself. The concluding line, "How can I turn from Africa and live", however, expresses his inalienable love for Caribbean heritage. As a dedicated Caribbean poet, he cannot think of his existence turning from Africa. No allure can cut off the umbilical cord that connects him to the Caribbean. In the poem, 'A Far Cry from Africa', the tyranny, suppression, and inhuman treatment shown to the Caribbean by the British colonizers are condemned ironically by the 'compassionate revolutionary', Derek Walcott:

The violence of beast on best is read
As natural law, but upright man seeks his divinity by inflicting pain. (Walcott, 1992: 17)

Thematically, too, the poem is concerned with the confrontation of opposites. Walcott, divided to the vein, can not bring himself to condone the terrorism of the Kikuyu during the Mau Mau rebellion, even though he condemns the British colonialism against which the Kikuyu fight. Rabindranath Tagore, the lone Noble-Winning poet of Bengali literature, also sympathizes with the colonized Africans and condemns the brutal tyranny of the blood-thirsty British colonizers in the poem, 'Africa':
Others came with iron manacles,
With clutches sharper than the claws of your own wild wolves:
Slavers came,
With an arrogance more benighted than your own dark jungles.
Civilization's barbarous greed
Flaunted its naked inhumanity (Radice, 1985)
As a representative and sympathetic poet of the colonized Bangaless, Tagore does feel for the Africans who were treated brutally by the blood-thirsty British colonizers.

In 'Another Life', Walcott traces important relationships which the young writer enjoyed (notably with the painters, Harry Simmons and Dustan St Omer) and the poem shows his love for the island and its people. He tells of an incident, an epiphany, that occured 'in the August of my fourteenth year': wandering in the hills above Trinidad he succumbs to a sudden wave of pity for island and its inhabitants:

I felt compelled to kneel,
I wept for nothing and for anything,
I wept for this earth of the hill under my knees,
for the grass, the pebbles, for the cooking smoke
The poor still move behind their tinted scrim,
Something still fastens us forever to the poor. (Walcott, 1992: 185)
The lines cited above are a tangible proof of the Caribbean poet's deep attachment to and gushing compliments for his island home, landscapes and for the neglected and poverty-stricken islanders that bind his strongly to the Caribbean. These are the love and the tears that Shabine (a reflection of the poet himself) experiences as he leaves Trinidad in 'The Schooner Flight'. In the opening section of the poem, we find the red 'nigger' persona, Shabine, stealing away at dawn from his home, his sleeping mistress and his island. As he get into the taxi that is taking him to his departing ship, the driver recognizes him:
"This time, Shabine, like you really gone"!
I ain't answer the ass. I simply pile in
The back seat and watch the sky burn
Above Laventille pink as the gown
In which the woman I left was sleeping,
And I look in the rearview and see a man
Exactly like me, and the man was weeping
For the houses, the streets, that the whole fucking island.

(Walcott, 1992: 345)
'The Schooner Flight' contains the poet's autobiographical evidence and so these line of Shabine can be seen as expressing Walcott's own feelings about the islands of the Caribbean: there is the fierce, almost corrosive love for the physical beauty, for the familiar streets and houses; the domestic attachment to home and a woman and yet the movement away and the tears of frustration and betrayal caused by this wrenching. As a committed Caribbean poet, Walcott was tormented by a labyrinth of guilt-feelings on the eve of his departure from his neglected island.

As a potential poet with adequate aesthetic worth, Walcott was torn between choice and disapproval and suffered immensely in this post existentialist world (a world without meaning or God). Finally, he opted for a cure and promises that he will never leave his own island, St. Lucia, which offers him matters that he will write about. In 'Another Life', he states:
here was a life older than geography,
as the leaves of edible roots opened their pages
at the child's last lesson, Africa, heart-shaped. (Walcott, 1992: 196)
Walcott's 'heart-shaped' Africa is the source of unending inspiration and love and the navel cord which connects him to it can never be severed. In Walcott's poetry Caribbean history and its exotic landscapes appear as does his love and concern for the islands. The undercurrent of folk themes and their relationship with the creative imagination tend to lend to his poetry a unique individuality. It should be pointed out that his childhood experience blessed him with a series of stories about demons, fairy figures, gods and demigods which were part of his communities. In this way, Walcott tends to depict almost all aspects of island life.

Walcott was primarily a painter. As a inquisitive and a curious youth, he set off with a friend around his native island of Santa Lucia to put it on canvas and thus create it in the imagination. Later he abandoned the hope of becoming an artist. He found that he could do the work of creation better with words and metaphors. As a bard of the island or the Homer of the Caribbean, he is committed to delineating the neglected Caribbean landscape and upholding the veiled history of the islanders in his poetry. Walcott writes in 'Another Life':
For no one had yet written of this landscapethat it was possible, though there were soundsgiving to its varieties of wood;.......................................................
whole generations died, unchristened,growths hidden in green darkness, forestsof history thickening with amnesia, (Walcott, 1992: 195)
Here Walcott does feel for the neglected islanders who die unidentified without having a place on the pages of indifferent or biased history. As a voice of the Caribbean race and an ardent painter of their lives, Walcott tries to uphold the status of his courageous people who endure unending suffering and inhuman devastation caused by British colonialism and laments for the West Indies in a exclamatory note, "Ah, Brave third world!" (Walcott, 1992: 268). He also invokes them calling "as poets love the poetry"  (Walcott, 1992: 345). Walcott "is a man no more but the fervour and intelligence of a whole country" and "His island forests, open and enclose him/ like a rare butterfly between its leaves"  (Walcott, 1992: 277). This imagery focuses the closest tie between Walcott and the Caribbean. All these present Walcott sympathetic bard of the island who prays "Not for God's love but human love instead"  (Walcott, 1992: 70). In his 'Verse crisp as sand, clear as sunlight', Walcott's immeasurable love for islands, especially for St Lucia is expressed artistically, Ned Thomas' remark in Commonwealth Literature is worth quoting here:
He enhances and illustrates (in the Renaissance sense of that word) the landscape and human lives that are found on the islands. It is not surprising, perhaps, that he should be such a good love poet, for the experience of love has the same quality of enhancing places (Walsh, 1979: 264).
Out of his deep love for the Caribbean, Walcott is capable of reading every feature of the island including its physical and extra-physical character because "islands can only' exist/ if we have loved in them" (Walcott, 1992: 52). With a view to casting off the label of insularity, having a wider exposure and attaining the status of a cosmopolitan citizen, Walcott leaves his dearest island for America. But he feels so strong a pull from his island-heritage that he can not help dividing his calendar between Boston (Boston University where he teaches English Literature and Creative Writing) and the Caribbean. This regular shuttling between two worlds has kept his poetry balanced between heartless skill and artless passion.

In the volume, The Arkansas Testament by Walcott, we find two sections 'Here' and 'Elsewhere'. In the first of these he highlights his Caribbean heritage, while he writes about his place in the wider world where he often sojourns in 'Elsewhere'. Walcott's two testaments are both old and new, underlining the book's structural parallel with the Bible. 'Here' can be seen as the Old Testament of the poet's origins and past life in the Caribbean, while 'Elsewhere', his New Testament, articulates his current experiences in the United States, where he works. The poem in part 1 ('Here') of the book, 'The Light of the World' highlights Walcott's feelings of guilt for having left the Caribbean. He laments:

I had abandoned them,I had left them on earth,I had them to singMarley's songs of a sadness as real as the smell of rain on dry earth. (Walcott, 1988: 51)

Here is a tangible proof of Walcott's deep concern and sympathy for the distressed Caribbean people who condemned him for loving the West Indies for the USA as well as having abandoned them amidst unending suffering. It is sadly ironic that Walcott's reputation among his beloved Caribbean people suffers a reciprocal problem of alienation. There, he is often resented as one who has sold out by writing, from a US university, "elitist" works in standard English that draw on the European tradition.

As a compassionate island poet, he shares his fellow islanders untold miseries and tries to relieve himself of the pervasive guilt feeling by writing poetry of self-digging nature. 'The Light of the World' is a home coming poem which characterizes the poet's sense of feeling both separated from and connected to the life of the people around him. Once more he is struck by the grace as well as the difficult poverty of his people. He re-experiences the beauty of St Lucian women and feels the weight of their daily lives. 'The Light of the World', a large poem of guilt and expiation, gives a good sense of the poet's inner feelings. In this poem, Walcott loves his people's warm neighborliness and feels as though he might suddenly start sobbing on the public transport in which he is travelling. With a heavy heart, he thinks he has abandoned them and also they have abandoned him. When the poet gets off at his stop, the following final scene occurs:

Then a few yards ahead, the van stopped.A man shouted my name from the transport window.I walked up towards him. He held out something.As pack of cigarettes had drooped from my pocket.He gave it to me. I turned, hiding my tears.There was nothing they wanted, nothing I could give them.But this thing I have called "The Light of the World". (Walcott, 1988: 51)
Specially, Walcott has a gush of emotion and feels that he should have given his distressed islanders something more tangible, but all he can give them is - This thing I have called 'The Light of the World'. In short, Walcott, implies that what he will give his people (and perhaps this is the best possible gift that he can truly give) are his poems, his art, the greatest gift of a creative person. As long as men can breathe and eyes can see, this immortal art lives and this immortalizes his neglected and poverty-stricken people, turning them from darkness into the 'The Light of the World'. Using a rhapsody of praises, he glorifies the black race in the 'Oceano Nox' saying "Black is the beauty of the brightest day" (Walcott, 1988: 53). Not only does Walcott have stubborn love of this kind for his people and homeland but he is also extremely courageous in his quest for stability and wholeness. He considers that his response to the region are often tinged, sometimes laced with terror and dread. In 'Cul De Sac Valley' he notes:
... the forest runssleeping, its eyes shut,Pigeon IslandPins the sea in its claws (Walcott, 1988: 15)

This disturbing imagery underlines Walcott's fear of Caribbean leaders bounding into the twenty first century through the dark (the blind leading the blind?) and is articulated, I think out of a sense of responsibility and deep concern for his homeland.

It is crystal clear to the inquisitive reader that Derek Walcott is a wanderer - his poetry encircles the world but begins and ends at home, in St Lucia, in the West Indies. Sometimes he is worried that his devotion to the English Language has severed him from the people of his childhood. The poem 'The Light of the World', in Walcott's very latest volume, The Arkansas Testament, takes us back to the August epiphany in his fourteenth year, to Shabine (the reflection of the poet himself) weeping for his island, to spoiler, coming back from hell to try to save his beloved Trinidad (in 'The Spoiler's Return'). Visualizing the grim scenario of his dearest island and the wretched lot of the poverty-stricken islanders, the Spoiler heaves a deep sigh in Walcott's 'The Spoiler's Return' :

I hope when I die, after burial,
To come back as an insect or animal.
I see the islands and feel to bawl,
'area of darkness' with V. S. Nightfall
Behind dark glasses is just hollow skull
and black is still poor, though black is beautiful.(Burnett: 1986: 250)
The above quotes refer to V. S. Naipaul (1932 - ), the most celebrated novelist of the West Indies of his time. It is the life of Trinidad, its workers, shopkeepers, peasants, pundits, local politicians, which is the subject matter of Naipaul's early novels. It is vivid in his writing that slavery ("naked inhumanity" of the unscrupulous British Slavers) had inflicted incurable wound on their traditional consciousness. William Walsh states:
The members of the community in (Naipaul's masterpiece) A House for Mr. Biswas (1961), even those like the Indians who were exempt from, historical slavery, carry about with them in their attitude and posture, in their management of life and feeling, the indelible mark of the slave, who is supremely the unnecessary man. (Walsh, 1979: 173)
It should be pointed out that V. S. Naipaul has used the phrase, "An area of darkness" as the title of a book about his first visit to his grandfather's homeland, India, which had been 'an area of darkness' to him as a child growing up in Trinidad. But Walcott wittily adapts the phrase to suggest here the critical pronouncements of Caribbean society for which V. S. Naipaul is famous. The allusion "and black still poor, though black is beautiful" refers to the black power campaign of the 1960s and one of the most effective slogans in it was 'Black is Beautiful'.

In the poem, 'The Light of the World' (in The Arkansas Testament), the poet takes a trip with the peasants of his St. Lucia in a minibus. He looks around and loves them all. Being overwhelmed with emotion, he considers one woman 'The Light of the World'. He is in tune with the features and rhythms of their lives, but still remains unable to participate fully, distanced by vocation, by a habit of perception. Being tormented by labyrinth of guilt-feeling for abandoning the islanders amidst titanic sorrow Walcott laments, "I, who could never solidify my shadow/ to be one of their shadows, had left them their earth" (Walcott, 1988: 50). Such moments revivify nostalgia in the original, classical Greek sense: Nostos (return) plus algos (pain). Caryl Phillips writes in Times Book Review on 6 April, 1987:

Here (while Walcott was travelling with the poor people of his native island is a minibus in St. Lucia) is a perfect opportunity to feel in tune with his past. But no, thoughts of discord disturb the tranquility of his communion with his people. The truth is painful, every-present, and reduces the speaker to tears. The moment when he should belong is the very moment when he is most acutely aware of the fact that he no longer does (Phillips, 1987: 1).
Many critics have emphasized Walcott's portrayal of the Caribbean as a society of uncertain heritage - a 'new world' in which the artist may greatly influence the development of a cohesive cultural identity. His long autobiographical poem, 'Another Life' celebrates, the artistic opportunity presented by an ambiguous culture:
We were the light of the world!We were blest with a virginal, unpainted worldWith Adam's task of giving things their names,With the smooth white walls of clouds and villages (Walcott, 1992: 294).
Walcott, a dedicated painter of his neglected island, is pledge-bound to depict "the pages of the sea", flora and fauna of the island, to tell the stories about gods, demigods, demons and fairy figures and revivify the "lost names of Caribs, slaves and fishermen". Lloyd W. Brown examines Walcott's poetry and confronts the criticism that Walcott grew up to be a poet in the absence of a West Indian literary tradition (though he followed their natural myths and flora and fauna) and says emphatically that Walcott's poetry is characterized by:
The separate but communal implications of the archipelago archetype, the West Indian artist as symbol of the West India's history of cultural creation, the uniquely Caribbean as well as the vital role of the folk art in giving expression to all of these. Walcott's major contribution to these literary traditions has been the uniquely personal dimension within which he develops his poetic vision; the West Indian experience appears in his work through the intense feelings and complex vision of the poet's persona, and through that persona Walcott's reader experiences Walcott's world on a dramatically individual, even private basis (Brown, 1984: 118).
In 'Another Life' (1973) Walcott's faith is more intellectual and elemental that that in the earlier poetry. In this long poem, there is a profound sense of relationship between the poet and his universe and it is explored through his psychic and physical interaction with his place. His growth is seen in terms of his search for love and beauty.
I was struck like rock, and I opened to his gift!I laughed at my death - gasp in the rattleof the sea shoal.You want to see my medals? Ask the stars.You want to hear my history? Ask the Sea.(Walcott, 1992: 282)
Walcott's inestimable love for St. Lucia is "like the love of Prospero for his island Kingdom" [from XLVIII, Midsummer] (Walcott, 1984: 68) and the immense sorrow, the devastation of colonialism and the psychological damage done by the laziness and indifference of the colonizers to the colonized islanders are "untranslatable in verse or prose" [from XLVIII, Midsummer] (Walcott, 1984: 68). All his intense feeling are always preserved for his dearest St. Lucia and her distressed people. There is a confident, fiery senses of privilege in Walcott's early work. In a recent sequence of fifty-four poems, Midsummer, he writes:
Forty years gone, in my island childhood, I felt thatthe gifts of poetry had made me one of the chosen,that all experience was kindling of the fire of the Muse. (Walcott, 1984: 54)
Walcott dedicates himself to portraying his beloved Caribbean landscape for many years. In Midsummer, he writes:
My palms have been sliced by the twine
Of the craft I have pulled at for more than forty years.
My lonia is the smell of burnt grass, the scorched handle
Of a cistern in August squeaking to rusty island;
the lines I love have all their knots left in. (Walcott, 1984: 36)
So the Caribbean is an inexhaustible source of inspiration for Walcott. As a committed poet, Walcott, can not get away from the contemporary crises of his society.

In Walcott's In A Green Night: Poems 1948-1962 (1962) we identify the major themes of post war West Indian poetry which embodies the basic crisis of West Indian spiritual experience. These themes develop in the greater perspective of the West Indian experience. The first poem of the volume, 'Prelude', reveals the island consciousness of the poet and this consciousness is geographically related to the imposing presence of the sea. 'The variegated fists of clouds that gather over the uncouth features' of Walcott's "prone" (likely to suffer) insland, Santa Lucia and the steamers which divide the horizons expose the issues of island identity. The visiting tourists, says Walcott, behind binocular, "Found in the blue reflection of eyes/ that have known cities and think us here here happy" (Walcott, 1992: 3). The response of the visiting tourists suggests the confined dimensions of the island with the poet's own crisis of being. Edward Brathwaite writes critically in Times Educational Supplement, September 6, 1968.
Foreign readers will be entertained by the exotic surface described in West Indian poetry but then will miss the deeper loneliness and rootlessness underneath (Brathwaite, 1968: 396).
One can read the physical and extra-physical character of the island if one infuses unalloyed love into it. In the poem 'Islands', the island poet's individually and the distinction of the islands appear to be interchangeable. People will miss the essential voice of the island if they look at it for an understanding of its natural and geographical details. As an island poet, Walcott has truly felt in 'Islands', "islands can only exist/ if we have loved in them" (Walcott, 1992: 52). Without deep love, concern or attachment the island is like any other place emptied of special feature or any extra-physical character. Lloyd Brown aptly comments:
... to experience the islands is to comprehend complexity of the islander's sense of individuality, and conversely it is also to be reminded that all human beings are essentially islands who persist in remaining distinctive, even separate, despite the sensation of universal affinities and notwithstanding the more immediate, more concrete pressures of a racial or group consciousness. The island identify is therefore rooted in the paradox of a cherished separateness and a strong need to merge with the other. (Brown, 1984: 120)
Walcott lived on an island, Santa Lucia and felt lonely and isolated. As a conscious modern poet, he draws on the alienation of men who are islands unto themselves. Like Robinson Crusoe, Walcott was an isolated individual placed on the island, St Lucia, not out of any choice, but in a forced situation. He wants to impart a meaning to his isolation as Crusoe did. In 'Crusoe's Island' (1965), Walcott says, his Crusoe is "The second Adam since the fall" (Walcott, 1992: 69). A Russian born American poet, essayist and translator, Joseph Brodsky, a personal friend of Walcott and the winner of the 1987 Nobel Prize in Literature, says from the historical point of view:
Walcott's poetry is Adamic in the sense of the sense that both he and his world have departed from paradise; he, by tasting the fruit of knowledge; his world, by its political history. (Brodsky, 1983: 40)
His Crusoe is Adam in the sense that he is the first inhabitant of a second paradise, St. Lucia. He is Columbus because he has discovered that 'new world' (St. Lucia/ West Indies) by accident, by fatality. He is God because he teaches himself to control his creation; he rules the world he has made. Here the island-poet who is destined to live on an island, St. Lucia, like Crusoe focuses the isolation, absence of any choice and inventive meditation of Crusoe. In spite of being an exile, isolated or alienated being, Crusoe succeeds in achieving positive reconciliation and does have inexplicable pleasure of a creator accomplishing "Adam's task of giving things their names" (Walcott, 1992: 294) and by being the monarch of all he surveys.

In 'Crusoe's Island', Walcott who is exiled on the island, Santa Lucia, says:
I labour at my art
My father, God is dead
upon this rock the bearded hermit built
His Eden:
The second Adam since the fall,
Craftsman and castaway,
All heaven in his head.
(Walcott, 1992: 68 & 69)
In 'Crusoe's Journal' Walcott shakes off the pain and agony of an exile and in an outburst of robust optimism and enthusiasm for his survival amongst innumerable odds declares:
Heart into heart carefully laid
Like bread,
This is the fire that draws us by our dread
Of loss, the furnace door of heaven.
Still, we belong here. There's Venus. We are not yet lost. (Walcott, 1992: 96)
So there is love, the driving force of life, on the isolated island and this unique blessing of the goddess of love, Venus, helps the Caribbean people survive amongst uncountable adversities. One of the positive aspects of Crusoe idea is that in a sense every race that has come to the Caribbean has been brought here under situations of servitude or rejection, and that is the metaphor of the shipwreck. If we consider Walcott the Crusoe of Santa Lucia, then he has to look around himself and make his own tools whether that tool is a pen or a hammer, he is building a situation that is Adamic. He is, as it were. the second Adam in the second Eden (St. Lucia/ the Caribbean). He is rebuilding not only from necessity but also with some idea that he will be here for a long time and with a sense of proprietorship as well. Another allure of the island for the islander (Walcott) is that there is a continual sense of motion in the Caribbean caused by the sea and the feeling that one is almost traveling through water and not stationary. It is a blessing for a creative poet like Walcott that time is larger --- a very different thing in the islands than in the cities. He does not live so much by the clock. So he is in a place where he creates his own time and learn the lesson of patience, tolerance, the art of making an artisan of himself rather than being an artist. His Crusoe-idea and 'The Castaway' - symbol convey the same philosophy; the rootlessness and alienation of an islander. 'The Castaway' is an outsider who represents all the pains, pangs and agonies of an exile:
The starved eye devours the seascape for the morsel of a sail.
The horizon threads it infinitely
Action breeds frenzy, I lie
Sailing the ribbed shadow of a palm,
Afraid lest my footprint multiply. (Walcott, 1965: 57)
There are references to the natural world where only the castaway is capable of "Sailing the ribbed shadow of a palm". The agonized and exiled poet craves for the sail which will harmonize the art and self so that the poet can do away with the 'dead metaphors'. 'The Castaway' symbol includes all West Indians as historical castaways who have originated form a variety of cultures. In 'Origins', Walcott writes: "These islands have drifted from anchorage" (Walcott, 1992: 12). So Caribbean literature is a unique cultural hybrid.

'The Gulf' (1969) is a poem which reflects the recurrent themes of isolation and separation. The Caribbean poet (Walcott) is well aware of the fact that the gulf is widening between colonizer and colonized, black and white, proletariat and bourgeois, rich and poor, nation and nation, race and race, region and region, caste and caste, creed and creed and these cause the never-ending process of separation in every part of the globe. The archipelago or the Caribbean landscape itself reflects the recurrent themes of human gulf. The islanders' archipelago becomes a synonym for pieces broken off the original continent. Walcott, mainly as an island - poet, and generally as a poet of the modern world, reminds his avid readers of the fact that "the Gulf, your gulf is daily widening" (Walcott, 1992: 107). Actually the general West Indian persona, his race, era, region taste, virtues, weakness, merriment, frustration, unending pains of an exile, both at personal and cultural level, the joy and sorrow of island life, the calm and beautiful nooks of his island (Santa Lucia), its ugly metropolitan strength, the conflicts and tensions of his culturally and ethnically cross-fertilized self and of numerous personal and communal issues, including his deep love for 'Here' and ambivalence towards 'Elsewhere'. Walcott's commitment to his Caribbean identity is rock solid. Unlike many West Indian writers of his generation he stayed  to work in the region until he was nearing fifty. In the 'Lighthouse' of Walcott's recent volume, The Arkansas Testament "a vendor smiles: Fifty? Then you love home harder than youth!" (Walcott, 1988: 8) Walcott's poetry expresses the potential for a unique identity of diversity in the West Indies. It also reveals his fear that the island culture will become overwhelmed by British dominance and flourishing tourism. The writers of The Empire Writes Back have analysed the dominance of English language and culture over the language and culture of former British colonies beautifully:
... through the literary canon, the body of British texts which all too frequently still acts as a touchstone of taste and value, and through R-S English (Received Standard English) which asserts the English of south-east English as a universal norm, the weight of antiquity continues to dominate cultural production in much of the post-colonial world (Ashcroft, 1989: 7).
 The haughty colonizers have firm conviction that their language, education, culture, attitude and mode of living are superior to those of the colonized and so they tend to impose these upon the sub-ordinate or different linguistic community. Walcott, an ardent delineator of Caribbean life and culture, expresses the fear of the British cultural imperialism over Caribbean culture in 'The Star Apple Kingdom' (1979):
One morning the Caribbean was cut up
by seven prime ministers who bought the sea in bolts -
One thousand miles of aquamarine with lace trimmings,
One million yards of lime-coloured silk. (Walcott, 1992: 390)
As a committed Caribbean poet, Walcott, is deeply concerned with the preservation of native tradition and culture. His unalloyed love for vernacular or French patois and Caribbean English is the manifestation of his unblemished love for the Caribbean Paula Burnett says:
The range of language on which he regularly draws in his poetry as much as in his drama, includes his St. Lucian patois as well as his brilliantly inventive use of Caribbean English (Burnett, 1992: 35)
His poem 'Sainte Lucie' laments the loss of French patois which constituted a significant part of the speech pattern of the islanders to the national language of English:
come back to me
my language,
come back, (Walcott, 1992: 10)
With a view to testifying to his Caribbean identity and unalloyed love for the distressed Caribbean or providing his committee to his people, Walcott makes a brilliant use of patois along with his extraordinary inventive use of Caribbean English. Inquisitive readers will discover a rich creole patois mimed in 'The Schooner Flight':
I go draw and knot every line as tight
As ropes in this rigging;
in simple speech
my common language go be the wind,
my pages the sails of the Schooner Flight. (Walcott, 1992: 347)
Walcott also knows that the origin of poetry is oral (Homer is probably the author he cites most frequently) and some of his best works are in a regional vernacular. Walcott's poem, 'The Spoiler's Return' uses an oral persona (Theophilus Phillip, 'The Mighty Spoiler', was a calypso writer who died in 1959). Ian Hamilton comments, highlighting Walcott's use of standard English and patois:
His mentors include the Elizabethans and Jacobeans, Wordsworth, Tennyson, Yeats, Hardy and Robert Lowell (who himself sought to incorporate that tradition into his work). Reverberating against this diction one hears the local influences, the dialect phrases and constructions of the Caribbean (Hamilton, 1994: 564).
Though Walcott leaves his dearest St. Lucia for America thinking "to have loved one horizon is insularity;/ it blindfolds vision, it narrows experience" ['Tomorrow, Tomorrow' of The Arkansas Testament] (Walcott, 1988: 79), he spends part of every year on St. Lucia. Caryl Phillips pays a glowing part of every year on Derek Walcott in his essay, "No man Ever Dies in His Own Country", published in Los Angeles Times Book Review April 6, 1987:
Walcott "The Outsider" is the supreme poet of the Caribbean because he has rejected the easy labeling that might have enables him to make a peace with himself. The Arkansas Testament is witness to his ongoing struggle. Having held at bay the anger brought forth by his treatment in Fayetteville, Walcott knows:
"there are things that my craft
cannot wield, and one is power" (Walcott, 1988: 116)
Caryl Phillips goes on to say that:
he (Walcott) refers here to the southern power of "Lee's slowly reversing sword" not the moral power of which his work contains an abundance (Phillips, 1987: 9).
There is no denying the fact that Walcott is considered an outsider in America and he thinks himself to be so over there as he can never severe his inseparable relationship with the Caribbean where he has found "spiritual fixity". Walcott's passion for St. Lucia is sharpened by a sense of loss. He seeks to defend its beauties imperilled by tourism. Between two volcanic spines, the trade marks of St. Lucia, lie some ancient petroglyphs. When the land was bought by a prospective hotelier, Walcott was vitriolic. He feels appalled by the idea of the Caribbean as the playground of America. Out of his deep love and concern for the distressed Caribbean, Walcott appears in his poetry to be a revolutionary - a compassionate revolutionary who shapes his works into a tool of resistance against all tyranny and exploitation, using the past to disclose the present. As a bitter satirist of the abuse of power, he targets western hypocrites as sharks with well-pressed fins and exposes the racism of supposedly civilized institution in XXIII of Midsummer:
Boer cattle under Tory whips that drag every wagon
nearer to apartheid and, for me, that closes
The child's fairy tale of an antic England (Walcott, 1984: 34)
Here is a reference to the Boer war (1899-1902) which took place between the Boers (the Africans of Dutch origin) and the British Tory (members of the British conservative party). Consequently, apartheid, (formerly in South Africa) a political system in which members of different races had different political and social rights and lived, travelled, spent their free time, etc apart from each other prevailed all over the West Indies. The war embittered the relationship between the Caribbean and the British. As an indirect victim of that war, Walcott had the utmost hatred for the so-called civilized English people who inflicted brutal oppression on the Caribbean people.

Walcott is not only the voice of the Caribbean but he is also the voice of the third world addressed urgently to the first - through the person of 'The Fortunate Traveller':
In the square coffin manacled to my wrist:
small countries pleaded through the mesh of graphs,
In treble-spaced, Xeroxed forms to the World Bank
On which I had scrawled the one word, Mercy (Walcott, 1992: 456)
Walcott feels deeply for the poverty stricken people of the least developed countries who appealed to the World Bank in three times-spaced xeroxed forms on which the sympathetic poet wrote the word "Mercy".

So he has deep interest in and sympathy for all poor people of the third world, especially for the Caribbean people whom he considers the stars of his mythology. His poetry continually celebrates the people and culture of the region, including the African and native American heritage. It is Walcott who has brought the Caribbean experience to the consciousness of the world and his poetry has ventured to give the Caribbean people a voice. Paula Burnett's remark throws light on Walcott's rooted Caribbeanness and on the classicism of his poetry:
While giving awesome weight to the tragedy of the (Caribbean) region's history, Walcott has managed to salvage its heroism: the endurance of ordinary people, victims of the abuse of power, who never give up hopes. At bleak times, it is good to read Walcott to restore one's faith in the world's possibilities. (Walcott, 1992: 35)
Derek Walcott is an alchemist of the tropic zone and he transmutes his verandahs and wrought-iron balustrades into a synaesthetic glow. Though he is tormented by numerous atrocities caused by the colonizers, he does have a robust optimism about his native West Indies and the victims of the brutish British colonialism. We come across a vivid account of optimism of Walcott in Peter Forbes' writing:
Radiant with disease is one of the keys to Walcott's oeuvre: the world is out of joint, a fever of corruption is everywhere and a shabby independence has replaced the sickly facade of colonialism is his own West Indies, but there is redemption and grandeur of a kind in the sensual imagination. 'If you only knew what rubbish verse grows from' said Akhmatova, and Walcott's world is seedy glorious, a phosphorescent aura dancing over the tin roofs and cane fields. (Forbes, 1996: 14)
 Walcott is strongly tied to the Caribbean root. Nothing can cut off the navel cord which connects him to the Caribbean. 'John to Patmos' is a bright example of his exuberant love for the sea, the nooks, flora and fauna, the sky of his dearest island and black islanders that are, as it were, celestial blessings to him:
The island is heaven away from the dustblown blood of cities;
See the curve of bay, watch the straggling flower, pretty is
the night. For beauty has surrounded
Its black children and freed them of homeless ditties. (Walcott, 1992: 5)
All his (Walcott's) pervasive symbols or themes like Adam, Crusoe, 'The Castaway' and 'The Gulf' solidify Walcott's identity basically as a Caribbean poet who promises never to leave the island until he put down in paint or in words, all of its sunken, leaf choked ravines, every neglected, self pitying inlet muttering in brackish dialect. William Walsh discovers the Caribbean features which are dominant in Walcott's poetry:
His poetry is now one of a deeper and strengthened experience; of a more personal and reavaged attachment to his own art and his West Indian world. (Walsh, 1979: 7)
It should be borne in mind that Walcott's identity as quintessentially a Caribbean poet can never overshadow his coveted status as a poet of international stature. The 1992 Nobel Prize in literature places him on the altar of the poet of the universe. But the general Caribbean experience (what is stated earlier) makes the ground of his poetry from which his private joys, pains, creative thoughts and realizations take off:
The midsummer sea, the hot pitch road, this grass, these shacks
that made me,
Jungle and razor grass shimmering by the roadside, the edge
of art:
wood lice are humming in the sacred wood,
nothing can burn them out, they are in the blood;
(Walcott, 1984: 74)
Walcott's Caribbean self is fixed foot of the compass and his other self is the rotating foot which must unite the fixed one after the completion of the circle (his journey over this global village). "Nothing can burn - out" the Caribbean features that his poetry is stuffed with for they are mixed with his corpuscle. The textural characteristics of Walcott's poetry indicate that the quintessence of his poetry is Caribbean. Derek Alton Walcott is basically a poet of the West Indies, "the place" according to Brodsky, "which was discovered by Columbus, colonized by the British and immortalized by Walcott" (Brodsky, 1983: 41).

Works Cited
Abrams, M. H. (Gen. Ed.) The Norton Anthology of English Literature (Sixth Edition, Vol. 2), New York: W. W. Norton Company, 1992.
Allison, A. W. et al. The Norton Anthology of Poetry, (Revise) New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 1979.
Ashcroft, B. et al. The Empire Writes Back, London and New York: Routledge, 1985.
Brathwaite, E. Sunday Times Educational Supplement, London: 1994.
Brodsky, J. "On Derek Walcott", The New York Revies of Books, Vol. 30, No. 17, 1986.
Brown, L. West Indian Poetry, 2nd Edition, London: Seren Books, 1993.
Brown, S. (ed.) An Introduction to the Art of Derek Walcott, London: Seren Books, 1983.
Burnett, P. (ed.) The Penguin Book of Caribbean Verse, London: Penguin Books Ltd.
Burnett, P. "The Empire Writes Back" New Statesman & Society, Vol. 5, No. 224, 1915.
Forbes, P. "Far and Feverish" (On Derek Walcott's, Collected Poems), Poetry Review, Vol. 76, No. 3, 1992.
Hamilton, I. Oxford Companion to 20th Century Poetry, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1987.
Phillips, C. Times Book Review, Los Angeles, 1987.
Radice, W. (trns.) Selected Poems, Rabindranath Tagore, London: Penguin Group, 1991.
Walcott, D. Midsummer, London: Faber and Faber Ltd., 1986.
Walcott, D. The Arkansas Testament, London: Faber and Faber Ltd., 1984.
Walcott, D. Collected Poems (1948-84), London: Faber and Faber Ltd., 1984.
Walsh, W. (ed.) Commonwealth Literature, London & Basingstoke, The Macmillan Press Ltd., 1979.

[The writer is a professor of English Language and Literature at University of Chittagong.]

1 comment:

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