Derek Walcott Xiv Essay

The West Indian poet Derek Walcott published his first book of poetry in 1949, when he was still in his teens. His second, In a Green Night, came out in 1962, and since that time he has given us five more (as well as numerous plays) and a world. "World" has lost its punch from being applied to the districts of too many writers; I wish it could be reclaimed for Walcott's poetry, which keeps an axis and has size, and sometimes has a grand, planetary movement carrying the movement on its surface. When I read The Gulf I thought of the three-year-old next door who called the white end-papers of his book "sky". This very largeness, of subject and of feeling, has seemed a flaw to some critics, and it is true that Walcott's poems run the risk of the impersonal and the rhetorical. It seems to me they defeat these enemies and in doing so many of them move up and away from the common run of poems and close to the best ones.

Of course, affinity with the best can be seen as a flaw, when much poetry is code, or tender hallooing to the self. Walcott is a balanced, meditative poet; he regards, thinks, looks for resolution, blames angrily but specifically, and does not single himself out as the last sane man in bedlam, nor yet as the most burdened, the prisoner or the victim. First and last he praises. He makes his reader work, but what we find out is something more than how complex he is….

[When Walcott] looks at Nature it doesn't come apart into components, it enlarges, and includes him. The heat of the "unsubtle, unequivocal sun" comes down on all confusion and sometimes "the wind smells of salt / and a certain breeze lifts / the sprigs of the coralita / as if, like us, / lifting our heads, at our happiest, / it too smells the freshness of life." In "Sainte Lucie", the long poem at the center of Sea Grapes, the secret "for which the dolphins kept diving / that should have rounded the day" seems to be reality, the "something always being missed" that eludes him until he finds it by means of the poem.

Sea Grapes starts on an island and goes everywhere, always coming back, as Walcott has done, to islands. Many of his themes sound in the title poem … the wanderer, home, "the ancient war between obsession and responsibility", the possible consolation of art….

He has absorbed so many influences that picking them out of his poetry is like saying aha, baking powder! when you taste a cake. If the image of people as harvest in "The Bright Field" "derives" from Auden's "As I Walked out one Evening" it also derives from the Bible and from collective perception…. His alternating anger and pacifism have their roots in Caribbean life and in the traits and gifts that make him a poet. His struggle with his history and circumstances is part of the struggle to be truthful as well as to be ready for signal moments like the one in "The Bright Field", of release from history. (p. 7)

His political poems are notable for their lack of satisfaction and their sense of responsibility. There is no poet sitting in them with all the right ideas. Still, some of them have such authority that it seems there must be self-righteousness too, lurking somewhere; there isn't….

Walcott has been criticized at home for not making the break with the great tradition of English literature and writing in "the language of the tribe". He has written and talked about this subject; he knows the times "a bush would turn in the wind / with a toothless giggle, / and certain roots refused English". His way is to find what we didn't know was there is English, while keeping its...

In this excerpt from “XIV” in Midsummer, author Derek Walcott recalls an elderly woman storyteller and acknowledges her literary influence. Walcott makes use of poetic devices such as imagery, personification, and symbolism to show how the speaker has acquired knowledge. Through the poetic devices Walcott uses, one is able to see the development of the speaker's maturity from childhood to adulthood by listening to elderly woman's stories about the Caribbean. 

          Walcott makes use of imagery to portray a dark tone for the first half of the poem. “Sunset would threaten us as we climbed closer.” Walcott personifies the sunset to emphasize the ideal that the closer the boys get to the storyteller's house, the more hazardous it becomes. They are not very fond of their surroundings and without any light they are in harm's way. The reason they go to the elderly woman's house, is because they want to learn more about their surroundings, the darkness symbolizes how much they do not know about the Caribbean, and the same way they are not able to see in the dark. Towards the ending of the poem he also personifies the shadows by saying that the "stood up and walked" in order to emphasize the past coming to life with her stories about the Caribbean.

          Walcott includes an image of light by the woman's house that symbolizes guidance for the boys. “There was her own lamp at the black twist of the path. There's childhood, and there's childhood's aftermath.” This quote suggests that the elderly storyteller was a source of light for the boys, and the black twist of the path is where the boys transition from children into men. When the speaker says that there is childhood's aftermath, it means that after being children it is now time to transition into adulthood. This is significant because the boys have learned many things from the storyteller, her long life made the woman very knowledgeable and wise about the Caribbean; her stories taught the boys everything they needed to know. 

          Walcott successfully makes use of symbolism, personification, and imagery in XIV to show how the speaker has gained intelligence along the way to the storyteller's house. Through these specific literary devices one is better able to interpret this poem. They help to emphasize the overall significance of the boys' experience.


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