Two Poems on the Passing of an Empire Themes

Derek Walcott

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Walcott is certainly no apologist for the history of British imperialism, as this poem and others prove. Still, his stand should not be construed as revolutionary or radical. For example, when his highly successful play, Dream on Monkey Mountain (1967), was published in 1970, he wrote in the introduction to it and other plays that he was not advocating a movement back to Africa but considered such political discourse a kind of fantasy. He does not believe that those coming out of the colonial experience should shackle themselves with hatred and bitterness toward their former oppressors.

Walcott considers it wrong to use literature for political purposes or for revenge, because for him such motivation obstructs the art itself. He has criticized some Third World literature for setting out to exorcise the demon of colonial history and to get even with the former oppressor. Needless to say, many radical Third World writers and critics consider Walcott a traitor to their cause. Walcott has argued, though, that mastering the conqueror’s language and literary heritage is the greatest form of revenge. Answering those detractors who say that this mastery amounts to nothing more than mimicry, Walcott has pointed out that when victims can name, can express themselves, can reveal their own truths, can establish their identity in the torturer’s language and make use of that language’s literature, then they emerge victorious. Even more, theirs is an...

(The entire section is 458 words.)