Unwrapping a painting, capturing it into your eyes, dissecting it stroke by stroke, colour by colour, every inch of the canvas – reading Derek Walcott’s poems is a lingering joy. No wonder, his early ambition and training was in painting. Every word of his poems holds your hand and takes you along with this much-travelled man, to his journeys and tours. His poems packed with the fragrance of culture and history, are informative and imaginative at the same time.
‘In a Green Night’ was the first poem I had read of this quintessential Caribbean writer. Since then I have been captivated by his unmatched use of metaphors, compelling conviction and intoxicating detailing of every frame that he puts down into words. Be it ‘The Prodigal’, ‘Forest of Europe’, ‘Omeros’ or ‘Another life’, his poems are soaked in his narratives, clarity of thoughts and vision, so much so that one might feel the exhilaration of knowing him. The confidence, with which he embraced poetry writing and playwriting at an early age as 14 from a place like Saint Lucia where there was no publishing house or theatre, is mirrored in his approach, his choice of words.
….’the ceaseless creasing of the morning sea’, …’the winter forest looks like an empty orchestra’, …’the nature ripening into art’. These unforgettable words and his rendering of nature can never be conquered. He shared the grandeur that he saw, the intensity of his thoughts, in the rhythm mimicking the life in idyllic Caribbean makes it an irresistible combination for poetry-lovers.
Walcott is a poet in search of identity- his odyssey in the epic poem Omeros or a surreal dream depicting journey into Africa (in the play ‘dream on monkey mountain’) reflects that. ‘Come back to me my language’ he exhorts – and it resonates with all of us who are born in post-colonial world. The quest for recreation after Colonialism, the revalidation of cultural identity is best seen in my all-time favourite Derek Walcott poem –‘Love after Love’ (which many would say is a self-discovery/self-love love but on a larger scale it is beyond individual):
The time will come
When, with elation
You will greet yourself arriving
At your own door, in your own mirror
And each will smile at the other’s welcome,
And say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was yourself.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart to itself,
To the stranger who has loved you
All your life, whom you ignored
For another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
The photographs, the desperate notes,
Peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
Derek Walcott taught a whole generation the art of challenging colonial stereotypes; after all, as Scott Turow says- “Who are we but the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves and believe?”
RIP Derek, with you- an era comes to an end-
‘’…as a cloud slowly covers the page and it goes
white again and the book comes to a close.”