???The Sea Is History???: Reading Derek Walcott Through a Melancholic Lens
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by Jaime C. Tung
Submitted to the Department of English at Mount Holyoke College in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Arts with Honors. Mount Holyoke College Department of English South Hadley, Massachusetts May 5, 2006
Table of Contents
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS……………………………………………………………………….. 1 Introduction: SITUATING THE MELANCHOLIC POET IN A POSTCOLONIAL CARIBBEAN ……………………………………………………………………………………….. 2 Chapter One: ???MEMORY??™S SOFT-SPOKEN PATH???: ENGAGING WITH LOSS THROUGH REPETITION AND RECOLLECTION………………………………… 19 Chapter Two: ???A RUMOUR WITHOUT ANY ECHO???: RECONSTRUCTING A TRAGIC HISTORY THROUGH SPACE AND TIME ……………………………………………. 42 Chapter Three: ???THE CLASSICS CAN CONSOLE, BUT NOT ENOUGH???: REDEFINING MYTH AND A PARADISE LOST………………………………………………………….. 68 Chapter Four: ???HISTORY??™S DIRTY JOKE???: THE POTENTIAL FOR PROGRESS IN A POSTCOLONIAL LANDSCAPE ………………………………………………………….. 91 Conclusion: ANOTHER DIMENSION …………………………………………………………………… 112 BIBLIOGRAPHY ……………………………………………………………………………… 118
This project would have not been possible without the constant guidance, encouragement, and support of Michelle Stephens, who answered a naive junior??™s email regarding ???some poet named Derek Walcott??? ??“ not knowing she had signed away her summer and sabbatical in order to see this project through to completion. Professor Stephens has been a great source of strength for me both academically and emotionally and I am particularly grateful for the opportunity to work with such an amazing scholar (who also happens to have a fabulous sense of style). I was initially introduced to Walcott in Eugene Hill??™s survey course, ???Medieval to Commonwealth,??? and the lines of ???The Schooner Flight??? have haunted me ever since. I am especially thankful to Professor Hill for acting as my academic advisor and instilling a vibrant enthusiasm for Milton and Donne in me as I go on to pursue graduate study in Renaissance Literature. My close readings of Walcott??™s Collected Poems were shaped and sharpened by the Verse Writing course I took during my junior year with renowned poet, Mary Jo Salter. I extend my deepest gratitude to her for graciously agreeing to entertain my numerous questions on rhyme, meter, and other poetic techniques while always reminding me of the beauty in Walcott??™s work. And of course, I would like to thank Professor Roberto Marquez for his enlightening course, ???The Historical Emergence of the Caribbean,??? which greatly illuminated my understanding of Walcott and the Caribbean postcolonial experience. Also, special thanks to Professor Samba Gadjigo for serving on my thesis committee, Jim Hartley for his open office hours, and the magnificent Maryanne Alos in the English Department. The research for this thesis was supported under the auspices of the WEEDFord Summer Research Fellowship and I must thank Dean Connie Allen and the Mount Holyoke Fellowship Committee. Most of all, I owe my sanity and happiness to two very special friends, Udita Iyengar and John King, who have offered many-a-shoulder to cry on and celebratory soirees in my honor. Finally, I will always be indebted to my family: my father, mother, brother Justin, and Grandmother Tung for supporting my education and simply loving me.
INTRODUCTION: SITUATING THE MELANCHOLIC POET IN A POSTCOLONIAL CARIBBEAN
Born in 1930 in the island of St. Lucia, Derek Walcott is a poet who continues to inspire contemporary literary scholarship. However, an overwhelming majority of this criticism appears to merely praise and broadly categorize his work as a Caribbean writer, thus missing some of the very key ways in which he engages and grapples with issues of postcolonial Caribbean identity. Specifically, most critics have either overlooked or misinterpreted the tragic elements of his poetry. This thesis seeks to analyze the form and content of Walcott??™s inherently melancholic relationship with history1 and how this sense of anguish shapes the way he discusses history itself, landscape, and the characters in his verse. On a more complex level, it also seeks to connect these traumatic implications to the development of his post-
A brief background on Caribbean history would be salient to an analysis of Walcott??™s work. The Caribbean is composed of over 7,000 islands and in 1492, Christopher Columbus became the first European to visit them. The term West Indies originated from his trip. Shortly after, in 1496, the Spanish established the first settlement on Hispaniola and the English, French, and Dutch had also made settlements in the islands by the mid 1600s. After the effective extermination of the indigenous population by European colonists, the African slave trade was introduced for the purpose of sugar production and for centuries afterward, the horrors and brutality of slavery reigned in the Caribbean. During the colonial period, the Caribbean was successfully exploited by these European imperial powers and the islands were essentially used as pawns in a struggle for international dominance. The fragmentation of the Caribbean region that resulted from the aftermath of such a history, even following the independence of some islands, is a brokenness that encompasses Walcott??™s poetry. For a more comprehensive overview of the history of the Caribbean, see: Franklin Knight, The Caribbean: the Genesis of a Fragmented Nationalism (New York: Oxford University Press, 1990).
colonial and artistic identities throughout the period covered in his Collected Poems: 1948-1984.2 Walcott??™s work remains distinct, for example, from three of his more prominent contemporaries: Edward Kamau Brathwaite, George Lamming, and Edouard Glissant. In their essays, these three writers express distinctly different (although sometimes overlapping) ideas about the state of Caribbean literature and the role and responsibility of the Caribbean writer. According to Brathwaite, Caribbean intellectuals tend to fall into three categories. The first type desires to move away or migrate from the Caribbean because of the lack of culture or tradition (what Brathwaite refers to as ???cultural poverty???) in his native land. In Roots, Brathwaite cites examples from works by V.S. Naipaul and Lamming??™s In the Castle of my Skin, commenting that ???the desire (even the need) to migrate is at the heart of West Indian sensibility ??“ whether that migration is in fact or by metaphor.??? Brathwaite then continues to describe a second kind of writer who remains in the Caribbean, but ???rests??? in hopelessness and is unable to ???distance??? himself from the ???poverty of his environment.??? Here, the author references the work of Walcott, contrasting his melancholia with the idealism of the final type of writer, who is able to ???continue because of heritage.??? This writer is ???in possession of a fact, a
Derek Walcott, Collected Poems: 1948-1984 (New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux, 1986). Individual poems will be cited in the text by year and with the relevant page numbers. These poems include ???Prelude,??? ???A Far Cry from Africa??? (1962), ???Tales of the Islands??? (1962), and ???Origins??? (1964) from In A Green Night, ???Codicil,??? ???Crusoe??™s Journal,??? ???Verandah,??? and ???Laventille??? (1965) from The Castaway and Other Poems, ???Exile,??? ???Air,??? ???Guyana,??? ???Homecoming: Anse La Raye??? (1969) from The Gulf and Other Poems, ???New World,??? ???Adam??™s Song,??? ???Names,??? ???Sainte Lucie,??? ???Sea Canes??? (1976) from Sea Grapes, and ???The Schooner Flight,??? ???The Sea Is History,??? The Star-Apple Kingdom??? (1979) from The StarApple Kingdom, and Another Life (1973).
feeling, that aligns him with folk, with peasant tradition??? and Brathwaite aligns himself with this characteristic. Instead of attempting to flee from the islands or remaining while continuously wrestling with the tensions that exist there, Brathwaite, like fellow poet E.M. Roach (???a writer, truly ??¦ of the people???) thrives in what he calls the Caribbean??™s ???folk culture.???3 Brathwaite praises the writer who is able to successfully recover from the sadness that holds others back because his optimism contributes to the progress of the Caribbean. This idea of achieving ???progress??? for the islands is also inherent to George Lamming??™s The Pleasures of Exile.4 In ???The Occasion for Speaking,??? he explains the West Indian writer??™s desire to move abroad and also addresses the problematic aspects of remaining behind: In the Caribbean we have a glorious opportunity of making some valid and permanent contribution to man??™s life in this century. But we must stand up; and we must move ??¦ already I feel that I have had it (as a writer) ??¦ [that] I have lost my place, or my place has deserted me. This may be the dilemma of the West Indian writer abroad: that he hungers for nourishment from a soil which he (as an ordinary citizen) could not at present endure.5 Lamming describes an unbearable situation for the West Indian in the Caribbean who feels he must depart in order to feel at home again. He asserts, ???I have lost my place, or my place has deserted me??? and calls this irony ???the pleasure and paradox of my own exile.??? 6 Lamming continues to argue that
Kamau Brathwaite, Roots (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1993) 7, 13, 14, 15, 16. 4 George Lamming, The Pleasures of Exile (London: Allison & Busby Limited), 1984. 5 Ibid., 50. 6 Ibid., 50.
the root of the West Indian writer??™s struggle is the Caribbean??™s history of colonialism, a history that has not only fragmented his sense of identity, but continued to oppress through the avenue of language. He writes, Colonialism is the very base and structure of the West Indian??™s cultural awareness ??¦ I am not much interested in what the West Indian writer has brought to the English language ??¦ A more important consideration is what the West Indian novelist has brought to the West Indies. That is the real question; and its answer can be the beginning of an attempt to grapple with that colonial structure of awareness which has determined West Indian values.7 In this sense, the responsibility of the Caribbean writer lies not necessarily in his attempts to reconcile with the problematic aspects of a post-colonial experience, but rather, in his ???attempt to grapple??? with the ???awareness??? of this predicament. Lamming embraces a more political approach to writing, tracing the Caribbean writer??™s struggle to articulate his experience directly to colonialism. Unlike Brathwaite, he does not view migration as a form of escape, but rather as a necessary form of coping, given the postcolonial subject??™s inability to ???endure??? his own soil. Nor does Lamming find the solution to this struggle simply in reviving the ???folk culture??? of the Caribbean, for he argues that even this culture is overly influenced by remnants of European imperialism. Like Brathwaite and Lamming, Glissant believes that exile, or the desire to leave the Caribbean, is unavoidable: ???The truth is that exile is within us from the outset, and is even more corrosive because we have not managed to drive it into the open with our precarious assurances nor have we succeeded
all together in dislodging it here. All Caribbean poetry is a witness to this.??? However, he believes that the fight against exile is finished and the ???task??? at hand for the modern Caribbean writer is ???reintegration???: ???Not the generalized power of the scream, but the painstaking survey of the land. And also this convergence of histories that we must today recognize in the Caribbean.???8 Therefore, whereas Brathwaite believes in the existence of ???heritage??? within the Caribbean and Lamming is primarily concerned with the colonial past, Glissant is occupied with what remains or what he refers to as the ???painstaking survey of the land.??? After assessing the remains, he sees poetry as a tool for the development and future progress of the Caribbean. The Caribbean writer must encourage the people of his culture to avoid the ???domination of uncertainty and ambiguity??? provided by years of colonialism and instead, declare his own identity by ???writing the world into existence.???9 Writing as a form of self-expression thus declares one??™s existence. As an essayist, Walcott shares many ideas with these three contemporaries, in regards to the Caribbean peoples??™ need to claim a language of their own rather than that of their colonizer??™s, the multiple social, cultural, and economic problems colonialism left in the islands, and the Caribbean writer??™s role as a revolutionary hero who must use his words to restore a Caribbean sense of identity. However, it is not a desire to escape from the islands that is evidenced in his poetry but rather a longing to reconcile his multiple cultural identifications with Africa, Europe, and the Caribbean. This
Edouard Glissant, Caribbean Discourse: Selected Essays trans. J. Michael Dash, (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1989) 153-154. 9 Ibid., 165, 169.
ache is especially reflected in the poems that deal with the Caribbean landscape. While I recognize the importance of situating Walcott further in the context of other post-colonial Caribbean writers and scholars, the primary focus of this thesis is to rectify an error that dominates the literary scholarship of his work. Although literary critics have recognized and explored Walcott??™s use of tragedy, they have missed the deeper, more complex issue of his constant engagement with sadness and grief. When they do discuss these latter sentiments, they believe that Walcott uses his verse to resolve and recover from trauma when in fact melancholy is the pivot upon which his poetry moves. In essence, this thesis critically examines a select number of Walcott??™s poems against other academic studies, while maintaining a central argument that addresses the pervasiveness of melancholy throughout these poems and the greater implications that sadness has on discussions of history, time, memory, myth, the Caribbean landscape, and the modern Caribbean. One critic who identifies Walcott??™s particularly traumatic relationship with the historical context of the Caribbean is Roy Osamu Kamada, who directly addresses and examines the specific sources of Walcott??™s grief in his essay, ???Postcolonial Romanticisms: Derek Walcott and the Melancholic Narrative of Landscape.???10 According to Kamada, Walcott simply cannot detach himself from the Caribbean landscape??™s colonial history and as a result, ???must directly acknowledge the history of St. Lucia and the Caribbean, the
Roy Osamu Kamada, ???Postcolonial Romanticisms: Derek Walcott and the Melancholic Narrative of Landscape,??? Ecopoetry: A Critical Introduction ed. J. Scott Bryson (Salt Lake City : University of Utah Press, 2002).
history of diaspora, of slavery, of the capitalist commodification of the landscape, and the devastating consequences this history has on the individual.???11 He continues to contend that within this melancholic relationship, Walcott ???nevertheless seeks redemption and resolution and the establishment of a postcolonial identity capable of containing the multiple histories of trauma and beauty.???12 Yet, the poet??™s perpetual sadness also signifies his dread of the responsibility to articulate this loss and Kamada misses this crucial aspect of his melancholy. At times, Walcott perceives his poetic gift as a burden; he feels responsible for ???providing a voice??? to both displaced peoples and histories but is not satisfied with his contribution. This overwhelming sense of accountability greatly contributes to the lingering despondency that is characteristic of Walcott??™s writing. To further investigate aspects of mourning and melancholia in Walcott??™s work, we shall turn to the classic psychoanalytic discussion of those conditions in Freud??™s influential essay ???Mourning and Melancholia.???13 Here, Freud establishes that ???Mourning is regularly the reaction to the loss of a loved person, or to the loss of some abstraction which has taken the place of one, such as one??™s country, liberty, and ideal, and so on.??? Although melancholia may also stem from the loss of a ???loved object,??? Freud further explains that the loss is ???of a more ideal kind.??? The shift from the lost object
Ibid., 209. Ibid., 213. 13 Sigmund Freud, ???Mourning and Melancholia,??? The Standard Edition of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud, trans. and ed. James Strachey, (London: Hogarth, 1961).
to the lost ideal distinguishes melancholia from mourning. Freud argues that while mourning involves the subject grieving over something external, melancholia is a significantly more internalized struggle, for . . . one cannot see clearly what it is that has been lost, and it is all the more reasonable to suppose that the patient cannot consciously perceive what he has lost either. This, indeed, might be so even if the patient is aware of the loss which has given rise to his melancholia, but only in the sense that he knows whom he has lost but not what he has lost in him. In melancholia, the internalization of loss lends it a semi-permanence in the subject??™s psyche. That is, while in mourning there exists an active relationship between the subject and the object of loss, allowing the subject to ???move on??? from the loss itself, in contrast to the external qualities of mourning melancholia lingers; the subject is unable to detach himself from his own internal struggle. Even more significant is Freud??™s assertion that ???the complex of melancholia behaves like an open wound.??? This open wound serves as a glaring and constant reminder of everything that is associated with both the lost object and the lost ideal. It represents the ultimate pain endured by the subject.14 The ???open wound??? that Freud describes in psychoanalytic terms is further elucidated and developed by Walter Benjamin in a historical and theoretical context in his ???Theses on the Philosophy of History.???15 Benjamin describes it as ???a process of empathy whose origin is the indolence of the heart, acedia, which despairs of grasping and holding the genuine historical
Ibid., 243, 245, 245, 253. Walter Benjamin, Illuminations ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1969).
image as it flares up briefly.???16 The sadness that Benjamin describes as a ???despair??? of ever grasping ???the genuine historical image??? can also be translated into a kind of desperation on the part of the subject. This idea, paired with Benjamin??™s concept of history as ???time filled by the presence of the now??? connects Benjamin??™s ideas to those of Freud.17 Benjamin??™s theory of history complements Freud??™s discussion of the constancy of an open emotional wound by suggesting that one can have a similar, semi-permanent, and constant engagement with the past. Words such as ???broken??? and ???despair??? characterize Benjamin??™s own interpretation of melancholy, as that which results from the impossible desire of retaining the ???genuine historical image.??? Much of Walcott??™s imagery is concerned with the ???remains??? of the Caribbean and its inhabitants. Throughout his work, he establishes himself as the poet responsible for articulating the Caribbean??™s condition of loss and the Caribbean individual??™s lost cultural identity. His poetry is revolutionary not simply in the sense of creating ???newness,??? but in its revolutionary reconstruction of an identity that must occur without a known or ???genuine??? cultural history. As David Eng and David Kazanjian explain in the introduction to Loss: The Politics of Mourning, ???This attention to remains generates a politics of mourning that might be active rather than reactive, prescient rather than nostalgic, abundant rather than lacking, social rather than
Ibid., 256. Ibid., 261.
solipsistic, militant rather than reactionary.???18 This notion of remains is especially pertinent to Walcott??™s work as he has often been under attack by fellow Caribbean writers, namely Brathwaite, for ignoring the present collective and retreating into an individual exile and profound attachment to the past.19 On the contrary, Walcott??™s encompassing concern for the past, present, and the future evinces his commitment to change and reconstruction. The present study suggests that Walcott uses the poetic form to ???reconstruct,??? rather than ???reclaim??? or ???recreate??? a fractured or lost cultural and historical identity. A ???re-creation??? or ???re-invention??? suggests the abandonment of something old (as Patricia Ismond describes) for something new whereas a ???reconstruction??? recognizes the need to replace something that is missing.20 According to the definitions of ???mourning??? and ???melancholia??? Freud provides, re-creation would be the ???abandonment??? of something in search of another while reconstruction seeks to actively restore something to its original equivalent. Walcott??™s struggle to re-construct (not re-create) a Caribbean history or identity is precisely what yields his seemingly permanent melancholy, stemming from this loss. Critics who approach Walcott as a poet who has mourned or is presently mourning his loss, also suggesting that his present melancholic state is both transient and temporary, miss the very key features that distinguishes Walcott from other poets and writers of his generation.
David L. Eng and David Kazanjian, ???Introduction: Mourning Remains,??? Loss: The Politics of Mourning (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003) ix. 19 Brathwaite, Roots, 13. 20 Patricia Ismond, Abandoning Dead Metaphors: The Caribbean Phase of Derek Walcott??™s Poetry (Kingston: University of the West Indies Press, 2001) 2.
Most literary critics, while successful at identifying Walcott??™s distinct poetic form and commenting on the overall tone of his expression, are unable to explain the inherent connection between his verse form and central themes. Moreover, critics tend to place an emphasis on Walcott??™s ???recreation??? of language and view his use of certain poetic tools (such as rhyme, meter, and metaphor) to ???reclaim??? or ???recreate??? a distinctive Caribbean identity. Patricia Ismond is one of the few contemporary Caribbeanist literary critics who has successfully contextualized Walcott??™s poetic forms within the literary, postcolonial, and theoretical context of Caribbean culture and literature through her study of his metaphors. She addresses the lack of in-depth, modern literary criticism on Walcott in her critical study, Abandoning Dead Metaphors: The Caribbean Phase of Derek Walcott??™s Poetry, asserting, ???Generally speaking, criticism has not adequately explored Walcott??™s Caribbean discourse as an important part of his overall achievement; and, in addition, has understated or missed his concern with Caribbean definition.???21 Ismond specifically looks at the formative phase of Walcott??™s career to pinpoint the development of his cultural identity and his self-construction through the use of metaphor. However, even Ismond??™s work is largely focused on the premise that Walcott ???abandons dead metaphors of the Old World Western tradition??? and ???generates fresh ones in his newer world.???22 This thesis, then, differs from Ismond??™s intentions in that it specifically connects Walcott??™s literary form (for example, his use of repetition in rhyme,
Ibid., 8. Ibid., 6.
structure, and diction) to notions of loss and mourning. Ismond places an emphasis on Walcott??™s metaphors to demonstrate his ???new order??? in recreating a poetic ???New World??? that is steeped in a tradition left over from the colonial ???Old World.??? Although this project also seeks to explore the revolutionary manner in which Walcott approaches his poetry, it instead approaches this ???revolution??? through the profound melancholy that pervades his work. His literary form and style then, is constructed around this sense of melancholy rather than the ???abandoning [of] dead metaphors,??? to begin anew. Mark McWatt, another contemporary commentator who distinctly places Walcott (and his development as a poet) in a Caribbean context, sees Walcott ???in terms of his relationship to the islands and sea of the Caribbean; to the sense of people and place that awakened and forged his talent, and to the social and educational environment in which it matured.???23 McWatt also directly correlates Walcott??™s characters with Walcott himself, for example, seeing Shabine from ???The Schooner Flight??? (1979) as ???expressing Walcott??™s own feelings about the islands of the Caribbean.??? Further, McWatt claims that it was Walcott??™s ???great sensitivity to the literature he read at school??? that ???filled him with the urge to recreate his island home.???24 He continues to argue that Walcott ???echoes the English poets he had been reading.??? Overall, McWatt views Walcott??™s work as merely a juxtaposition of Caribbean themes against the English tradition and mentions, though does not further explore, the implications of the Caribbean??™s own history.
Mark A. McWatt, ???Derek Walcott: An Island Poet and His Sea,??? Third World Quarterly 10:4 (1988): 1607. 24 Ibid., 1608.
But this interpretation severely limits one??™s understanding of the themes intrinsic to Walcott??™s writing ??“ themes which include the loss of a homeland ravaged by its own tragic history and the poet??™s longing to root himself in certainty when there is none. In his reading of ???The Schooner Flight,??? McWatt locates Walcott??™s feelings of nostalgia and ???the sense of doubleness??? in terms of his racially divided identity, but overlooks the lingering and persistent sadness that plunges deeper beyond the surface of these issues. He does not observe, for example, the raw sorrow that clutches at Shabine, often paralyzing the sailor in his dreams and emotionally wounding him in reality. Or why the visions of slave ships and ghosts of his ancestors continue to haunt Shabine while he struggles to envision the Caribbean??™s unlikely progress. While McWatt identifies and observes Walcott??™s frequent attempts to relocate and repair a missing and broken cultural identity, he struggles to specifically connect Walcott??™s use of form and language to a greater theoretical context. Other literary critics are often quick to romanticize Walcott??™s poetry in an effort to link his lucid images to an overarching theme. Like McWatt, Peter Balakian also places Walcott in the context of his English predecessors. In his essay, ???The Poetry of Derek Walcott,??? Balakian discusses Walcott??™s formal poetic structures by praising his ???ability to mine traditional forms of English poetry without ever compromising his passionate energy or his language??™s inner music.???25 He also describes Walcott??™s use of the ???warm
Peter Balakian, ???The Poetry of Derek Walcott??? Critical Perspectives on Derek Walcott ed. Robert Hamner (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, Inc., 1997) 349.
Caribbean waters??? as an ???amniotic bath??? which only further perpetuates the romantic aspect of his critical reading. Balakian formally analyzes Walcott??™s poetry, focusing for example, on his use of ???rhyming quatrains of iambic tetrameter??? but Balakian does not offer an explanation for the importance of this particular meter to the subject matter or the poet??™s diction. Instead, he views Walcott??™s use of rhyming quatrains as providing a ???delicate balance between Walcott??™s eruptive imagination and the harnessing control of his tradition-bound intellect.???26 By viewing this schism as a ???delicate balance,??? Balakian dismisses the presence of tension or purposeful contradiction in Walcott??™s form, thus contributing to an idealized vision of Walcott??™s intentions. At one point, Balakian writes, ???he has managed to do what a modern epic poet must do: encompass history, myth, culture, and the personal life with the realm of aesthetic vision.???27 Here, he successfully identifies four major themes of Walcott??™s ???poetic agenda,??? but again, the importance or the implications of these themes are left unmentioned.28 McWatt, Balakian, and others approach Walcott??™s poetry from an idealistic perspective, obscuring the sense of tragedy in Walcott??™s writing and instead perceiving his sadness as transient. Their essays lack discussions of the implications or possibilities that Walcott??™s form possesses. Through this omission, these critics reveal only one dimension of Walcott??™s writing. This project seeks to explore Walcott??™s adamant refusal of adaptation, romanticism, or idealism and instead, reveal the generative power and creative potential of
Ibid., 349. Ibid., 351. 28 The four themes are listed on page 351 as: ???history, myth, culture, and the personal life.???
Walcott??™s haunting and lingering grief. This grief produces the melancholy which pervades both the form and function of his poetry; it also shapes his sense of his epic responsibility as a poet, his development of the mythical proportions of everyday Caribbean characters, his construction of the present ???remains??? left over in the landscape, and finally, his epic reconstruction of the trope of Paradise. These are the themes this thesis will address in the following chapters. This project hopes to contribute to the current scholarship on Walcott by relating his formal poetic structure and diction to the melancholic implications of trauma and loss in the shaping of both his post-colonial and artistic identities. Chapter One begins with a brief comparison of some features of Walcott??™s and Brathwaite??™s poetry, in order to provide a context for a reading of Walcott??™s Caribbean poetics as the very antithesis of a poetics of idealism. The chapter then explores Walcott??™s use of repetition, in his use of diction, meter, and rhyme, as a tool for coping with loss. This emphasis on repetition is then connected to a greater theme of memory and the role of remembrance in Walcott??™s poetry as important aspects of melancholy. Themes of repetition and memory are especially prevalent in poems such as ???Exile??? (1969), ???Names??? (1976), ???Codicil??? (1965), ???Laventille??? (1965), ???The Schooner Flight??? (1979), and ???Sea Canes??? (1976), which are the primary focus of this chapter. The themes of repetition and memory discussed in Chapter One shift to a different register in Chapter Two??™s focus on the concepts of time and
history. In this chapter I explore the despair Walcott experiences in his struggle and search for a cultural history. This chapter will incorporate Benjamin??™s ???Theses on the Philosophy of History??? in a discussion of poems that includes, ???Prelude??? (1962), ???Verandah??? (1965), ???The Sea Is History??? (1979), ???The Schooner Flight??? (1979), ???The Star-Apple Kingdom??? (1979), and ???Origins??? (1964). The Caribbean??™s tragic past is then connected to the presence of myth and mythological characters in Walcott??™s poetry. Chapter Three examines the transference of Walcott??™s melancholic search for identity to characters of his own design, with particular attention paid to Shabine in ???The Schooner Flight.??? Because Walcott actively mourns the lack of mythical heroes in Caribbean culture, his poetic energy is devoted to developing ???everyday characters into mythical proportions.???29 Yet this chapter also reveals Walcott??™s dark perception of mythical heroes, as ideas of aging, exhaustion, and again, a profound sense of heartache permeate his poems, interwoven with his allusions to traditional/classical heroes. This chapter further investigates the formal mythical characteristics of these characters as well as their ability to articulate his personal sense of loss and sadness through their actions. The heroes discussed in this chapter also lend themselves to an analysis of the triumphant yet simultaneously tragic implications of paradise and utopia in Walcott??™s writing. This chapter argues that Walcott approaches
Sharon Ciccarelli, ???Reflections Before and After Carnival: An Interview with Derek Walcott??? in Conversations with Derek Walcott ed. William Baer (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996) 45.
loss in the Caribbean through the imagined construct of a non-existent Paradise. He uses the Caribbean to represent this Paradise and while capturing the sheer impossibility of this utopia to elucidate the tragedy resulting from loss. In poems such as ???New World,??? (1976) ???Adam??™s Song,??? (1976) and ???Sainte Lucie,??? (1976) Walcott has the dual role of conveying Adam??™s personal loss and translating this loss into his own. The struggle to re-imagine or re-construct Paradise becomes the poet??™s ultimate (but hopeless) task, one that parallels the impossibility of regaining what has been lost. As this journey into Walcott??™s poetry begins in the poet??™s psyche and memory before turning outward to questions of myth and history, Chapter Four returns to Walcott??™s struggle with his own identity and responsibility as a Caribbean poet. Walcott??™s inner, psychological ???landscape??? is reflected in his interpretation and assessment of the modern Caribbean environment. Through lucid descriptions of the landscape in poems such as ???Tales of the Islands??? (1962), ???Origins,??? ???The Schooner Flight,??? ???Guyana??? (1969), ???Air??? (1969) and ???Another Life??? (1973), Walcott examines both his own and the Caribbean??™s fragmented identity, often discussing the latter in terms of its future. This chapter, informed by Eng and Kazanjian??™s discussion of ???mourning remains??? argues that the landscape embodies the very remains of historical and cultural loss that Walcott has experienced, a loss he continues to mourn in what Glissant calls, ???the painstaking survey of the land.???30
Glissant, Caribbean Discourse, 154.
CHAPTER ONE: ???MEMORY??™S SOFT-SPOKEN PATH???: ENGAGING WITH LOSS THROUGH REPETITION AND RECOLLECTION
One of Derek Walcott??™s central interlocutors has been poet and critic Edward Kamau Brathwaite. Though both poets were shaped, artistically and intellectually, by a post-colonial period in Caribbean history in which the possession of a history was seen as a crucial component in the shaping of one??™s cultural identity, they have chosen to interpret that mandate in very different ways.1 A reading of Brathwaite in contrast with Walcott can serve as a useful beginning to exploring the uniqueness of Walcott??™s writing in relationship to other Caribbean poets. Brathwaite??™s poetry is clearly distinguished by its idealism, plainly descriptive narrative, and emphasis on the collective. In the collection Middle Passages, which specifically deals with the Caribbean as a colonized land, the poems are surprisingly hopeful and almost cheerful in nature.2 Braithwaite clearly believes that the Caribbean??™s strong historical and cultural African ???roots??? contribute to a powerful sense of cultural identity for the West Indian writer. In Roots he writes, ???African culture not only crossed the Atlantic, it crossed, survived, and creatively adapted itself to its new environment. Caribbean culture was therefore not ???pure African,??™ but an adaptation carried
For further discussion of the significance of history to cultural identity refer to Franklin Knight??™s The Caribbean: the Genesis of a Fragmented Nationalism. 2 Kamau Brathwaite, Middle Passages (Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1992).
out mainly in terms of African tradition.???3 In Walcott??™s poetry we find, in contrast, the clear impression that the Caribbean has no true ???roots??? ??“ neither in England nor in Africa. Instead, the verse carries an underlying tone of despondency: 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, ???A Far Cry from Africa, (1962), 18) The tone here is not necessarily pessimistic, but rather, mournful. More often than not, the final stanza or the final lines of Walcott??™s poems are haunting reminders of his grief over a lost history and culture, post-colonization. The effect Walcott achieves in the lines, ???How can I face such slaughter and be cool / How can I turn from Africa and live??? is strikingly different from Brathwaite??™s frequent use of uplifting final lines ??“ almost to the point of exaltation: & again there is a future in those sparks together, comrade, friend we say this is our land & know at last at last it is our home now mine forever & so yours, amigo ours ???w/ the vast splendour of the sunshine & the sunflower & the stars??™4 These final stanzas from Brathwaite??™s poem ???Word Making Man??? convey hope and desire. In contrast, Walcott writes in ???Codicil??? (1970) that ???To
Kamau Brathwaite, Roots, 192. Brathwaite, ???Word Making Man,??? in Middle Passages, 7.
change your language you must change your life??? and there is no hint of the ???splendour of sunshine??? in Walcott??™s words (Walcott, 97). In these final lines of ???Word Making Man,??? Brathwaite allows the reader to reconcile the anger presented earlier in the poem (???but i know that we are watching in a long circle for the dawn / & that the ruling class does not wait at bus stops / & i know that we are watching in a long circle for the fire / & that our compadores do not ladle soup out of the yabba???) with a positive nod towards the future. We are also able to transcend the negativity initially expressed by Brathwaite and literally, ???move on??? to the next poems. Walcott??™s haunting conclusions linger in the reader??™s mind long after we have turned the page. His images, often unsettling and disturbing, are left to percolate in the confines of our own imagination. Walcott??™s quiet but plainly emotional manner has lent itself to criticism by Brathwaite, who accuses Walcott for being too ???socially involved??? in his verse writing and ???incapable??? of distancing himself from the ???tensions out of which [his] poetry sings.???5 The emotional ???distance??? that Brathwaite seeks is reflected in his own use of descriptive narrative throughout Middle Passages. Whereas Walcott??™s poetry has a true affective quality, Brathwaite??™s poetry lacks the degree of depth that Walcott??™s verse possesses. Brathwaite??™s often over-stylized diction distracts, especially when compared to Walcott??™s simple and subtle lines: it is the kite ascending chord & croon & screamers it is the cloud that curls to hide the eagle it is the ripple of the stream from bamboo
Brathwaite, Roots, 13.
it is the ripple of the stream from blue it is the gurgle pigeon dream the ground doves coo it is the sun approaching midday listening its splendour it is your voice alight with echo . with the bright of sound6 Brathwaite also tends to use repetition (as evinced in the above excerpt from ???Flute(s)???) in a coarser and more obvious manner than Walcott. As in ???Word Making Man,??? these lines from ???Flute(s)??? contain words and phrases of hopefulness: ???it is the sun approaching midday listening its splendour.??? But combined with the repeated ???it is,??? these phrases (???the ripple of the stream from blue??? or ???the ground doves coo???) become hackneyed and trite, often reducing his poetry to cliches. Not only do we find idealism in the context of Brathwaite??™s verse writing, but it is also evident in his choice of titles. A title such as ???Word Making Man??? suggests a proactive movement on the part of the poet to invent or re-invent a language. A poem directly addressing Europe??™s role in slavery and colonization is titled, ???How Europe underdeveloped Africa,???7 which takes a distinctively sarcastic approach to imperialism with an emphasis on the word, ???underdeveloped.??? Walcott??™s own poems with a similar agenda have titles such as, ???Two Poems on the Passing of an Empire,??? commenting on colonial history in a more controlled manner than Brathwaite??™s overly resentful style. Walcott??™s title is more understated than Brathwaite??™s, yet it still possesses a powerful effect as the emphasis in his title falls on the word,
Brathwaite, ???Flute(s)??? in Middle Passages, 33. The title of this poem shares the same title as Caribbean intellectual Walter Rodney??™s book, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Washington D.C.: Howard University Press, 1981), a study of the relationship between capitalism and slave economies.
???passing.??? The significance of ???passing??? leads the reader to speculate about the effects of this empire. The use of the word is similar to that found in ???the passing of a storm.??? Brathwaite??™s idealism is genuinely linked to the collective rather than to the individual, and in Roots he criticizes Walcott for mostly focusing on the latter. He writes, ???We could not do without the poetry of Derek Walcott, honest and unflinching testimony as it is of our condition; but his position forces the realization upon us that individual talent is not enough.???8 If, according to Brathwaite, individual talent is ???not enough,??? then one must, as he does, rely on the voice of the collective or the ???community??? in one??™s poetry. Brathwaite primarily uses the inclusive pronouns ???ours,??? ???we,??? and ???us??? while Walcott repeatedly refers to the solitary ???I??? and ???my.??? Again, Brathwaite??™s concern here with the poet??™s role in the engagement of the ???community??? returns to the idealism that is rampant within both his beliefs and his art. Walcott, however, is distinctly different from Brathwaite in the fact that he focuses primarily on the individual and issues of individual identity. Amidst these more formal variations in style, the fundamental difference between these two celebrated Caribbean poets and thinkers is that Walcott??™s poetry ultimately stems from a lamentation, and his focus on the individual provides us with a sense of the deep pain that begins in a solitary soul and radiates outwards to its environment: the land, the people, and the remainder of the affected. Brathwaite, because of his insistent denial of the
Brathwaite, Roots, 19.
loss of identity or cultural history, seeks to continue the African oral tradition through his poetry with a disregard for the mourning processes that are integrated by and integral to Walcott. In contrast to Walcott??™s lamentation, Brathwaite??™s voice is one of accusation ??“ evinced in his use of titles such as ???How Europe Underdeveloped Africa.??? This accusatory tone only further illuminates, in contrast, the affective depth of Walcott??™s melancholic poetry as he pulls us into the hypnotic threshold of his metaphors. A distinguishing characteristic of Walcott??™s work is his unique use of repetition, which mesmerizes the reader with its subtle yet compelling effect. Particularly in Collected Poems, Walcott repeatedly returns to a single word, rhyme, or symbol within a poem, but almost always presents it differently the second time around. Thus, unlike his counterpart, Walcott masters the art of subtlety while simultaneously maintaining the reader??™s interest. In ???Exile,??? for example, the instances of repetition are similar to a trail of clues. These clues in turn, encourage us to return to a previous stanza and in a sense, literally ???remember??? how Walcott had previously used a certain word or rhyme.9 Stanzas three and six of ???Exile??? contain perhaps the most illustrative example of this kind of repetition. In stanza three, Walcott exclaims, ???Never to go home again, / for this was home! The windows / leafed through history to the beat / of a school ballad.??? Here, ???leafed??? is used as a verb whereas in stanza six, ???leaf??? is used as a noun: ???invisibly your ink nourishes / leaf after leaf??? (Walcott, 100-101).
A more poetic, formal demonstration of the idea of ???constant engagement.???
???Exile??? in particular uses words that look or sound alike, but are semantically different. In the first stanza, Walcott uses the word ???bellowing??? (???Only the funnel / bellowing, the gulls who peck???), which is then actually repeated in the fifth stanza: ???the bellowing, smoky bullock??? (Walcott, 100101). But in the second-to-last stanza, we are again reminded of ???bellowing??? when he writes, ???when the god stamps his bells / and smoke writhes its blue arms??? (Walcott, 102). Likewise, ???world??? and ???word??? and the two occurrences of ???bent??? and ???began??? in the fifth stanza are eye-rhymes: And earth began to look as you remembered her, herons, like seagulls flocked to the salted furrow, that bellowing, smoky bullock churned its cane sea, a world began to pass through your pen??™s eye, between bent grasses and one word for the bent rice (Walcott, 101). This stanza also demonstrates Walcott??™s frequent use of alliteration, which greatly contributes to the feeling of repetition. The persistence of words beginning with the letter ???b??? for example, threads this particular stanza together and returns us to the idea of an open wound ??“ one that inflicts constant pain and anguish. We are bombarded with ???began,??? ???bellowing, ???bullock,??? and ???bent,??? then further overwhelmed by internal rhymes and tricks to the eye, such as ???her??? followed by ???herons??? and ???flocked??? paired with ???bullock.???
Even more impressive is the transition between the fourth and fifth stanzas of ???Codicil???: I cannot right old wrongs. Waves tire of horizon and return. Gulls screech with rusty tongues Above the beached, rotting pirogues, they were a venomous beaked cloud at Charlotteville (Walcott, 97). As in ???Exile,??? we are immediately drawn to the statement filled with longing, ???I cannot right old wrongs.??? However, the eye is trained to see patterns, and although ???tongues??? and ???pirogues??? sound nothing alike when spoken, they look quite similar because of the ???-gues.??? Preceding these words are ???rusty??? and ???rotting,??? both of which provide the alliteration needed to firmly cement the two lines together. Further along are ???beached??? and ???beaked,??? which also possess an internal rhyme. These connections between words and sounds are an extension on the formal level of Walcott??™s poetic lament for the open wound that is modern Caribbean life and Caribbean history. Like the ???open wound??? explained by Freud and Benjamin, repetition symbolizes Walcott??™s constant, melancholic engagement with his loss of historical/ancestral links and thus, identity. We also gain the sense that Walcott mourns the loss of a once ???green??? Caribbean ??“ that is, the state of the islands before they were touched and ultimately exploited by invading European colonizers. His use of repetition echoes Freud??™s assertion that melancholy is produced from the loss of an ideal and the struggle over regaining the lost object occurs characteristically within the
subject. Therefore, Walcott??™s approach to mourning appears as an internal obsession rather than an external display of transitory grief. Yet while reading Walcott??™s poetry, we arrive at the realization that it is the permanence of loss ??“ not loss itself ??“ that is problematic for Walcott. This permanence is exacerbated by the reiteration of Walcott??™s loss as one that is ???of the ideal kind,??? as Freud describes.10 It is especially difficult to move forward from this particular kind of loss because there is no specific object to be mourned. That is, the loss of an ???ideal??? is more abstract and complex; tangible objects may often be replaced, but it is impossible to restore an essence. Therefore, repetition is a way for the poet to preserve certain memories or moments. Each time a word or idea is repeated, it thereby sustains its presence throughout the poem. The mental confusion and frustration that accompanies the internal struggle of the melancholic is also conveyed in ???Codicil.??? In many ways, several of Walcott??™s poems resemble conversations with himself, and they contain a sharp sense of the poet??™s alienation from the world, thereby heightening Walcott??™s solitude. Although the language found in these poems is also repetitive, it actually creates a circular effect. The swift turn of phrase mid-line results in a conclusion completely unexpected at the outset of the line. In ???Codicil,??? Walcott writes, ???this love of ocean that??™s self-love??? and ???to change your language you must change your life??? (Walcott, 97). In the first line, he quickly redirects the focus of the ocean onto himself, thus completely deflecting his attention to an internal conflict. A task that appears simple (???to
Freud, ???Mourning and Melancholia,??? 245.
change your language???) becomes monumental: ???you must change your life.??? It is despair that overwhelmingly presides in these stanzas and the repeated words and ideas serve as a mirror with which the author reflects his own melancholy back onto himself. ???Exile??? does not have a regular rhyme scheme, but the presence of end-rhymes is significant in the context of repetition. In particular, the second stanza employs an end-rhyme (albeit irregular) in every line, save the last: Even her wretched weather was poetry. Your scarred leather suitcase held that first indenture, to her Word, but, among cattle docking, that rehearsed calm meant to mark you from the herd shook, calf-like, in her cold (Walcott, 100). Although the enjambed lines initially distract us from the rhymes, our eyes are drawn to the end of each line, so that the use of rhyme actually emphasizes the pervasive sadness expressed in this stanza. ???Weather??? and ???leather??? are coupled in a perfect rhyme and the words preceding this rhyming pair (as is the case in ???Codicil???) are unquestionably melancholic in nature: ???wretched??? and ???scarred.??? Because the lines are enjambed, the end-rhymes also contribute to an imbalance to the stanza as a whole. It is almost as if each line is weighed down by these end-rhymes. The imbalance that occurs within the lines also reflects the internal tension that exists for the poet. This tension demonstrates both the dramatic and multiple effects of Walcott??™s significant yet subtle use of repetition in rhyme. While his approach is clearly less obvious than Brathwaite??™s, it in fact produces a more affective quality in his
poetry. Words linger in his reader??™s mind from the very beginning of the poem to the end. Walcott accomplishes more than the simple reiteration of individual words. The instances of repeated images or ideas that stretch across the entirety of the poem and convey utter dejection, are also significant. The first stanza of ???Exile??? begins with an ambiguous ???you,??? who ???watched the herd / of migrants ring the deck / from steerage??? and moves on to a greater idea of finding one??™s home (Walcott, 100). This notion of observation is then repeated but inverted in the final stanza of the poem, when, ???the old men, threshing rice, / rheum-eyed, pause, / their brown gaze flecked with chaff, / their loss chafed by the raw / whine of the cinema-van . . .??? (Walcott, 102). Here, the old men pause to ???gaze??? and again, Walcott does not follow this gaze completely, but instead uses the repetition to return to a profound but abstract sense of desolation, best expressed by the ???whine of the cinema-van calling the countryside / to its own dark devotions, / summoning the drowned from oceans / of deep cane??? (Walcott, 102). These more formal aspects of repetition in Walcott??™s poetry inevitably lead us to the larger subject of memory. Given Walcott??™s concern with the permanence of loss, memory is a vital aspect of sustaining both the lost ideal and a constant engagement with the past. Memories of triumph and tragedy also enable one to rebuild one??™s history. Simultaneously, however, memories can further incite grief as reminders of what has been lost. In his Nobel Lecture of December 7, 1992, Walcott said,
Memory that yearns to join the centre, a limb remembering the body from which it has been severed, like those bamboo thighs of the god. In other words, the way that the Caribbean is still looked at, illegitimate, rootless, mongrelized. No people there, to quote Froude, in the true sense of the word. No people. Fragments and echoes of real people, unoriginal and broken.11 It is the ???rootlessness??? and brokenness described in the above quote that Walcott wishes to replace with memories. Walcott describes these recollections as almost physical; that is, like a ???limb remembering the body from which it has been severed.??? Memory, then, becomes a tool for reconstructing what has been lost. Critics who have addressed Walcott??™s use of memory focus primarily on the role of amnesia and forgetting in his poetry. This thesis argues the opposite, that Walcott consistently and continuously recalls images of the past to re-live them and in essence, reconstruct his traumatic history. Paul Breslin, connecting these ideas of memory to Adam, compares the Caribbean experience to Adam??™s experience in Genesis. As Breslin asserts, ???Walcott??™s New World poet feels himself to be Adam in an elemental, ahistorical world precisely because a brutal history, shaped by the Middle Passage, has struck him so hard he cannot remember what hit him.???12 Breslin continues to argue that Walcott ???advocates for the artist a deliberately sustained forgetting,??? citing lines from ???Laventille???: ???Something inside is laid wide like a wound, / some open passage that has cleft the brain, / some deep, amnesiac blow???
Derek Walcott, ???Nobel Lecture,??? Nobelprize.org. October 27, 2005, 10 Mar. 2006 12 Paul Breslin, Nobody??™s Nation: Reading Derek Walcott (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2001) 6.
(Walcott, 88). However, the use of ???amnesiac??? in this passage does not necessarily suggest that the sufferer actually experiences amnesia. Rather, ???amnesiac??? refers to the blow, describing the extent of its intended impact ??“ not its effect. Furthermore, a large majority of ???Laventille??? is devoted to describing in detail the horrors and effects of the Middle Passage. Specifically, Walcott writes, The middle passage never guessed its end. This is the height of poverty for the desperate and black; climbing, we could look back with widening memory on the hot, corrugated-iron sea whose horrors we all shared (Walcott, 86). The idea of the middle passage ???never guessing its end??? is an example of Walcott??™s continued dialogue with the tragic exploitation and colonization of the Caribbean. It is with a ???widening memory,??? one that continues to expand and absorb the ???horrors,??? that Walcott navigates through his grief, countering Paula Burnett??™s argument that ???When, therefore, Walcott addresses the trauma of slavery, he does so in contexts shaped by the longer perspective, which enables pain to be managed . . . He simply ???absorbs??™ it as one constituent of the Caribbean experience.???13 Contrary to Burnett??™s belief, there is no relief to be found in poems such as ???Laventille.??? The final line of the poem says it all: ???and in its swaddling cerements we??™re still bound??? (Walcott, 88).
Paula Burnett, Derek Walcott: Politics and Poetics (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2000) 71.
Clearly, the traumatic effects of the past continue to inform and add a deeply melancholic dimension to Walcott??™s poetry. In addition to the painful recollection of history however, is the idea that Walcott has actually experienced loss. It is this loss that is the root cause of his hopelessness ??“ a different type of sadness transcending that which is caused by the ???horrors??? of slavery. In Loss: The Politics of Mourning, Judith Butler writes, ???And perhaps most difficult, the loss of loss itself: somewhere, sometime, something was lost, but no story can be told about it; no memory can retrieve it; a fractured horizon looms in which to make one??™s way as a special agency, one for whom a full ???recovery??™ is impossible.???14 Butler emphasizes the feature of permanence in loss, ???a fractured horizon,??? that ???no memory can retrieve,??? and Walcott also conveys this sense of brokenness in his verses. Her assertion that ???a full ???recovery??™ is impossible??? is demonstrated in Walcott??™s wish to reconstruct what is lost, rather than to recreate something new. Memory enables one to reconstruct an event in one??™s mind and Walcott reconstructs gaps in his own history, culture, and identity through memories of tragedy. This process of reconstruction, with its ???fractured??? pieces, contains events and sentiments that are vague and distant. Walcott employs his memory to remember what he has lost, piecing together recollections in an attempt to regain control over his heartache. Several of his poems describe
Judith Butler, ???Afterword: After Loss, What Then??? Loss: The Politics of Mourning. David L. Eng and David Kazanjian, Eds. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003) 467.
things being broken, reconstructed, and broken once again. For example, the narrator searches for the moment when ???the mind was halved by the horizon??? to recall his memory and future in the poem ???Names??? (Walcott, 305). It is inferred from these lines that in order to attain something, something else must be ???halved,??? or broken in some way. This sense of brokenness is also inherent to poems such as ???Exile.??? In these poems, the reoccurring allusions to damaged, wounded, or broken people, places, and things return us to the feelings of relentless grief that plague Walcott and thus permeate his writing. Although ???Exile??? is focused on India rather than the Caribbean, the poem is still a prime example of how Walcott represents melancholic notions of a lost ???home??? in relation to memory. Almost every stanza contains an instance of damage; more specifically, they describe something that has been spoiled or marred. For example, the final line of the third stanza depicts a ???soiled, icy sheet??? and the seventh stanza is even more telling in its portrayal of corruption and disappointment: the arrowing, metal highways lead nowhere, the tabla and the sitar amplified, the Path unrolling like a dirty bandage, the cinema-hoardings leer in language half the country cannot read (Walcott, 102). There is something clearly unsettling in the lines, ???the Path unrolling like a dirty bandage, / the cinema-hoardings leer / in language half the country cannot read.??? According to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, to ???leer???
is defined as ???to look or gaze in a lascivious or unpleasant way.???15 Here, ???leer??? is used to cause shame ??“ that is, the shame or embarrassment of not belonging. ???Exile??? describes someone who finds his home simultaneously familiar yet completely unfamiliar, the use of words such as, ???dirty??? or ???leer,??? expressing both sentiments of sadness and shame. Grief surfaces in the lines, ???the arrowing, metal / highways lead nowhere,??? and ???in language half the country cannot read,??? suggesting a permanence that almost becomes despair. It manifests from the feeling of impossibility, or rather, the impossibility of ever belonging or truly recognizing a place as ???home.??? Walcott frequently personifies memory; this is especially evident in ???Exile??? when he writes, ???your memory kept pace with winter??™s / pages, piled in drifts??? in the fourth stanza and ???Your memory walks by its soft-spoken / path, as flickering, broken, / Saturday jerks past like a cheap film??? in the lines that conclude the poem itself (Walcott, 101-102). Through personification, Walcott provides memory with a mind of its own completely independent from its owner. It is in this sense that we could argue that memory is something Walcott struggles to grasp, but never succeeds in acquiring. In most instances, his search for memory controls him, creating frustration. The final lines of ???Exile??? convey a deep sense of his helplessness, especially in the words ???flickering??? and ???broken.??? Furthermore, although memory is described as ???yours,??? it walks its own ???soft-spoken path??? separate from the writer??™s own trail. Therefore, much of Walcott??™s melancholy appears to stem from the idea that memory is fleeting and transitory, outside of his control.
???Leer,??? The Concise Oxford English Dictionary, www.coed.com.
In ???Names,??? a poem dedicated to Brathwaite and akin to Brathwaite??™s own ???Word-Making Man,??? Walcott writes of the deep desire to preserve or discover a memory that could somehow uncover the past, a longing that is only met with disappointment: I began with no memory, I began with no future, but I looked for that moment when the mind was halved by a horizon. I have never found that moment When the mind was halved by a horizon ??“ for the goldsmith from Benares, the stonecutter from Canton, as a fishline sinks, the horizon sinks in the memory (Walcott, 305). In these stanzas, he seeks hopefulness in a ???moment??? but this moment never arrives for Walcott, the goldsmith, or the stonecutter. The direction of these two stanzas also moves downwards, with the use of repeated phrases and words: ???but I looked for that moment / when the mind was halved by a horizon. / I have never found that moment / When t