A Far Cry from Africa

by Derek Walcott

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Analyze the title of the poem “A Far Cry from Africa.”

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The title “A Far Cry from Africa” includes the idiom “a far cry,” meaning very unlike and removed from. In this poem, Derek Walcott describes warfare between the Kikuyu tribe of Kenya and British settlers. Initially, the title illustrates the extreme difference between expectation and reality.

As the African land is laid to waste by colonial invaders, there is “a far cry” between its natural beauty and man-made massacre.

A wind is ruffling the tawny pelt
Of Africa. Kikuyu, quick as flies,
Batten upon the bloodstreams of the veldt.
Corpses are scattered through a paradise.

Something as natural as “wind” blows and moves the fur of African wildlife; however, the word “ruffling” suggests an unnatural disturbance. Instead of a peaceful veldt, Walcott presents a scene of conflict and bloodshed. The land is no longer a “paradise” but a site of carnage and death.

The poet reveals, though, that the title emphasizes a struggle with identity. Walcott is of British and African descent. His mixed heritage makes him feel conflicted about the battle between Africans and Englishmen. He acknowledges the destructive horrors that the British inflict on Kenyans and sympathizes with Kenyans. He then questions his own loyalties:

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 admits ambivalence—he curses the brutality of English colonialism yet loves the English language. On whose side should he be? Can he even take sides? Is he a “far cry from” being a true African because of his mixed race and conflicting allegiances?

Finally, the title stresses the vast physical distance between Walcott and Africa. Born and raised in St. Lucia, he later studied and worked in Trinidad and the US. As a writer and teacher, he lived a life very removed from Africa and the lives of Kikuyu tribesmen, both literally and figuratively. He admits this disconnection with the poem’s title, “A Far Cry from Africa.”

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