Derek Walcott

Start Free Trial

How is death presented in Walcott's poetry?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

When discussing the presentation of death in Derek Walcott’s poetry, you could focus on a few different points.

One thing Walcott does in many of his poems is to connect death to the natural world. In his poem “Midsummer ,” Walcott writes that wood lice “like cherubs, sing...

See
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

When discussing the presentation of death in Derek Walcott’s poetry, you could focus on a few different points.

One thing Walcott does in many of his poems is to connect death to the natural world. In his poem “Midsummer,” Walcott writes that wood lice “like cherubs, sing of the slow science / of dying—all heads, with, at each ear, a gauzy wing” (stanza 54). Several lines later, he writes that “though no man ever dies in his own country, / the grateful grass will grow thick from his heart” (stanza 54). In “A Far Cry from Africa,” Walcott draws connections between colonial violence and “the violence of beast on beast ... read as natural law” (line 15–16). In violence, Walcott is reminded of the animal world. In death, our bodies are returned to the earth and continue the cycle of life.

In many poems, Walcott’s portrayal of death is to describe sweeping, large-scale tragedies. In “The Fortunate Traveller,” Walcott describes the death of many Africans due to famine:

Famine sighs like a scythe
across the field of statistics and the desert
is a moving mouth. In the hold of this earth
10,000,000 shoreless souls are drifting.
Somalia: 765,000, their skeletons will go under the tidal sand. (lines 30–34)

Later in the poem, he describes the murder of Jews in the Holocaust (lines 135–147). In these and other poems, Walcott lends his writing skills to describing the death of multitudes, tragedies of global injustice.

Finally, Walcott also explores the theme of living on after death. In “Volcano,” the reader and speaker are affected by the “slow-burning signals” of deceased authors like Joyce and Conrad (line 18). In “Midsummer,” Walcott, reflecting on his age and his daughters, imagines his poems to be stones settling in a seabed, living on after him. He compares his poetry to his father’s art, writing:

Let them be, in water, as my father, who did watercolours,
entered his work. He became one of his shadows,
wavering and faint in the midsummer sunlight. (stanza 50)

Repeatedly in Walcott’s poems, the dead continue to impact the living, particularly through the artwork and literature they leave behind.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team