Poetry Wednesday – Derek Walcott


Bringing you a little poetry, every week, once a week.

Welcome to the first installment of Poetry Wednesday.  Get your weekly dose of verse right here!

This week: DEREK WALCOTT.  Walcott has been a favorite poet of mine since I took a class on post-colonial literature my freshman year of college.  His most common themes are race, the caribbean and nature.  Though his poetry is laden with references, I believe it is still accessible to all readers.  I like poetry with a little mystery in it, that you just might have to go researching for.   Here is a good example:

As John to Patmos

As John to Patmos, among the rocks and the blue, live air, hounded
His heart to peace, as here surrounded
By the strewn-silver on waves, the wood’s crude hair, the rounded
Breasts of the milky bays, palms flocks, the green and dead

Leaves, the sun’s brass coin on my cheek, where
Canoes brace the sun’s strength, as John, in that bleak air,
So am I welcomed richer by these blue scapes, Greek there,
So I shall voyage no more from home; may I speak here.

This island is heaven – away from the dustblown blood of cities;
See the curve of bay, watch the straggling flower, pretty is
The wing’d sound of trees, the sparse-powdered sky, when lit is
The night.  For beauty has surrounded
Its black children, and freed them of homeless ditties.

As John to Patmos, in each love-leaping air,
O slave, soldier, worker under red trees sleeping, hear
What I swear now, as John did:
To praise lovelong, the living and the brown dead.

So, I don’t know or understand the John to Patmos reference; however, I get it.  I understand through what Walcott evokes in this poem what is meant by “as John to Patmos”.  The beauty of life and its relationship to hoplessness.  I think ultimately this is a poem of hope that does not necessarily ignore pain.  It is the idea that those two things can coexist – death and life, hope and despair, beauty and the absence of beauty.  I think that’s a good poem, a poem that evokes the reference, even if you don’t know it.  Now I’m going to go look up John and Patmos.

Ah ha!  John of Patmos is the author of the Book of Revelation.  This makes so much sense!  Essentially the idea of the apocalypse is contradiction.  It is pain, followed by peace.  Despair followed by hope.  Walcott took this idea and wrote his own poem of Revelations.  I love the use of the Bible to give meaning to something secular.  Though I am not religious, I believe that religion is part of our culture, and the Bible is one of the origins of Western literature.

What do you think of Walcott’s poem?  Does this poem make you want to read more by Walcott?

Do you regularly read poetry?  Would you like to read more poetry?


6 thoughts on “Poetry Wednesday – Derek Walcott

  1. I have been reading poetry more in the past year or so, and yes, would like to read more! I like your idea of having this as a weekly feature.

    The poem you submitted by Walcott is intriguing, but I think I’d want to read one or two more of his before deciding whether I’d want to read an entire volume.

    I guess that’s why I’ve been going through anthologies more than volumes of individual poets– to get a taste for what I really like.

  2. I read it as a love song to his island and its/his people. Beautiful images of the island. I think it’s wonderful and amazing that the island produced this Nobel winner!

  3. I read walcott’s several poems which impressed me emotionally.His poems represent the sufferings of colonies which were bound up to the ‘Devil Whites’.Not only Africa which is regarded as birth place of human civilization but the whole world was sucked and looted by the ‘Leprous-man’.Even this on going era is not safe for human because of this low minded big-bellied white men who always like plundering.

      1. In “As John to Patmos” he glorifies the allures and blessings of his dearest island hyperbolically.
        “The island is heaven—–
        For beauty has surrounded
        It’s black children, and freed them of homeless ditties.”
        He says this out of his inexpressible love for Santa Lucia which likely to have blessed all her homeless people with accommodation. “As John to Patmos” is a bright example of his exuberant love for the sea, the hooks, flora and fauna, the sky of his dearest island and black islanders that are, as it were Celestial blessing to him.
        “As John to Patmos” is a poem of hope that does not necessarily ignore pain. It is the idea that those two things can coexist – death and life, hope and despair, beauty and the absence of beauty.
        “See the curve of bay, watch the struggling flower,”
        John of Patmos is the author of the Book of Revelation. It is pain, followed by peace. Despair followed by hope. Walcott took this idea and wrote his own poem of Revelations.
        It should be borne in mind that Walcott’s is a quintessentially Caribbean poet. This identity can never overshadow his coveted status as a poet of “international stature”. The 1992 Nobel- Prize in literature places him on the altar of he poet of the Universe. But the general Caribbean experience makes the ground of his poetry from which his private joys, pains, creative thoughts and realizations take off. In LlV he says:-
        “The midsummer sea, the hot patch road, this grass,
        these shacks that made me……………….
        Nothing can burn them out, they are in blood.”
        John Donne uses “compus conceit” for the lovers. In the case of Walcott this “compus conceit” can be used o show his deep rooted connection with his native land. Wherever he goes he reveals, upholds and also depicts the deep attachment with his umbilical cord, that is, with his mother land. The basis of his composition of poetry is his Caribbean background.
        In Walcott one is aware of a treble impulse- that of his African origin, the West Indian birth, and upbringing and the recent American stay which keep him at his distance from his environment. He is caught in a dilemma to choose between the country of his origin, on the one hand, and the English language, on the other. What unique to Walcott is his multi-cultural consciousness that successfully binds his native tradition and present profession of teaching and writing in English together

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