There are many important symbols in Derek Walcott’s poem “A Far Cry from Africa.” The poem is about the Mau Mau rebellion against the British and how Walcott feels torn between supporting African rebels or the British colonists. He uses several symbols to represent violence, oppression, and complex change. For instance, Walcott uses flies to symbolize Kenya’s Kikuyu tribe. Recall how he begins the poem by saying:
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.
These first four lines alone are rich with symbolism. Here, Walcott compares the Kikuyu to flies that are clinging to their homeland’s veins. This image helps Walcott emphasize the brutality of the rebellion and the desperation of the Kikuyu tribe. It is also interesting to note how he refers to Africa as an animal with a “tawny pelt” The word “tawny” is used to describe the light brown, orange color that the African landscape is famous for. Thus, the “tawny pelt” brings to mind Africa’s natural landscape that Walcott sees as a paradise. This image is then tainted in line four when Walcott says that “corpses are scattered” through this paradise that is filled with bloodsucking flies. The flies and the corpses all symbolize how the rebellion has destroyed the beauty of Africa’s landscape.
Walcott then references a worm to symbolize unsympathetic colonial forces. He writes:
Only the worm, colonel of carrion, cries:
“Waste no compassion on these separate dead!”
By calling this officer a worm, who is the “colonel of carrion,” Walcott suggests that the British forces are creatures who lack emotion. The word “carrion” refers to rotting flesh and worms are creatures that feed on decomposing waste. Thus, in using a worm to symbolize the colonizers, Walcott brings attention to the way they gain energy and power off of the decay of the colonized.