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The Imagery of Nature in Derek Walcott's Poetry

Hausarbeit (Hauptseminar) 2018 19 Seiten

Amerikanistik - Literatur


List of Contents

I. Introduction
I.1.About the Poet and his Writings
I.2.Walcott's Identity Crisis and the resulting Hybridity within his Poetry

II. Comparing two Poems and their Naturalistic Motifs
II.1. Derek Walcott's “Collected Poems 1948-1984”: From Sea Grapes: Sea Grapes...
II.2. Derek Walcott's “Collected Poems 1948-1984”: From Midsummer: XIV..8

III. Walcott as a painter and the “Facets of Traveling”

IV. Conclusion

V. Works Cited

I. Introduction

I.1.About the Poet and his Writings

Sir Derek Alton Walcott, who was often referred to as Derek Walcott (he also signed with this form), was born in 1930 in Castries, St. Lucia and died at his home in Cap Estate, St. Lucia in 2017.

Walcott was a well-known Caribbean poet, playwright and painter who also received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1992 among other literary prizes and nominations such as an Obie Award (1971, for his play “Dream on Monkey Montain”), a MacArthour Foundation “genius award”, a Royal Society of Literature Award, the Queen's medal for peotry, the inaugural OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature, the 2011 T. S. Elliot Prize for his book of Poetry White Egrets and the Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry Lifetime Recognition Award in 2015.

He also had teaching positions at Boston, Columbia, Rutgers and Yale and both of his grandmothers were said to have been descended from slaves and “his decision to write mostly in standard English brought attacks from the Black Power movement in the 1970s.” (Lea)

McDonald Dixon, Walcott's longtime friend and even St. Lucian author himself declared in an 2003 telephone interview:

"While his friends played the boyish games of cowboys and crooks, Derek's sen se for excitement was filled by exploring literature that graced his hands. It was this thirst that unraveled the inner voice which he would use asa catalyst for his self-expression." (Telephone Interview 2003) (Hosier,3).

Throughout his career he received many literary awards, often for his epic poem collections, taught and served as a professor at different universities such as the University of Alberta (Canada) and the University of Essex (England) or the Boston University and occasionally painted excellent art works with water colors during his free time. Derek Walcott's father, Warwick Walcott, who died when the poet and his twin brother were not more than one year old, may have passed on some of his talent to his son: The artifacts he bequeathed to his family were books and paintings. The loss of the father at such an early age and his missing while growing up and developing to a young matured man is mirrored in many of Walcott's literary works.

Walcott's mother, Alix Maarlin Walcott, who was a teacher and run a school, enabled her son to publish his first collection of poems by paying a fee to send the script to Trinidad (just a few years after he had published his first single and religious poem at age 14 in a newspaper) at age 19 (the main topics were “the Caribbean, its history, scars of colonialism; language, power and place”). Many literary experts mention his Homeric epic poem Omeros (1990) as his best-known work and greatest achievement: “Omeros reimagines the Trojan War as a Caribbean fishermen’s fight”. (Magdalena De Gasperi) Derek Walcott also had a twin brother, the St Lucian playwright, screenwriter, painter, theater director, costume and set designer, lyricist and literary editor Roderick Walcott, and a sister called Pamela Walcott. In 1953, after graduation, Walcott moved to Trinidad and became a critic, teacher and journalist.

When reading Walcott's poetry or on closer examination of his paintings one can identify that there are symbols and metaphors that are often repeated in his works: naturalistic phenomena, such as different plants and their botanical and scientific correct names or the deep blue sea and sky and other symbols of nature. In his poems Sir Derek Alton Walcott used the imagery of nature to connect to his Caribbean heritage, to describe his own problems and experiences during child- and adulthood, and to emphasize the facets of traveling.

I.2.Walcott's Identity Crisis and the resulting Hybridity within his Poetry

Generally and broadly spoken Walcott's unique talent for the arts must have been more than “genetic gift” which he received from his deceased father. Walcott drew and developed his initial inspiration for writing poetry from living within the beautiful environment of the Caribbean island and St. Lucia. He was a highly gifted and multi-talented man who owned an outstanding eye for detail and artistic symmetry, also when creating the contrasts in his arts. In an 1971 interview Walcott recognized his own dual heritage with the following words:

I.3.“The problem is to recognize African origins but not to romanticize them.” Further on he described himself with the following “poetic” words:

“I'm just a red nigger who love the sea, I had a sound colonial education, I have Dutch, nigger and English in me, And either I'm nobody, or I'm a nation.” (Walcott; Morhan, p.1)

Despite the fact that Walcott, regarding his own word, was always “divided by the veins” since he did not only originate from English and African ancestry, but also used to live at the French- speaking part of the Caribbean island. Walcott called his own writing a “mulatto style” and “wished the multiracial, polyglot islanders to liberate themselves and really celebrate their hybrid culture that actually represents all the world's major cultures.” (Morhan, p.2)

According to Morhan Walcott also “wished for a future where the dilemma of being black in skin and being white in mind can be solved irrevocably.”

In an interview with David Montenegro Derek Walcott also described how he himself and many other authors and writers are “prisoners”:

Walcott demonstrates how “narrowed” many modern poets are: in the end he even compares the poets, including himself, to prisoners: they often have a jail inside and are judges and prisoners at the same time. (p.87): “ [...] I would say that every poet is imprisoned in a system that is himself, that he is jailed in himself, and that effort to get out of that jail is is the struggle he has or the defiance he has in having the guts to use the next word without the safety or the cliché of repetition. […] The inner prison that exists is one that's outside and yet is inside the totalitarian regime”.

II. Comparing two Poems and their Naturalistic Motifs

II.1. Derek Walcott's “Collected Poems 1948-1984”:From Sea Grapes:Sea Grapes

In 1976 Derek Walcott wrote the poem Sea Grapes, which is also part of his collection “Collected Poems (1948-1984) and part of the poem collection “From Sea Grapes” within the book: the title itself provides the reader an ambiguity (double meaning): On the one hand sea grapes are a type of a green algae, which is also known as “green caviar” and green caviar is traditionally used at the Philippines for preparing dishes.

On the other hand sea grapes refer to a specific type of grapes, green in color and bitter and sour in taste. The grapes grow typically in the Caribbean coastal area, are known for their unique taste and are poisonous, when still unripe . When perfectly ripened, the sea grapes are used for some special dishes too: In Caribbean cooking the typical sea grapes are used for making jelly, salsa as a side to certain dishes, salads, Focaccia and other delicious meals.



ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Buch)
Institution / Hochschule
Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universität Frankfurt am Main – IEAS
Derek Walcott Nature Poetry



Titel: The Imagery of Nature in Derek Walcott's Poetry