A Far Cry from Africa

by Derek Walcott

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What are the difference and similarities between Britain and Africa as reflected in “A Far Cry from Africa”?

In “A Far Cry from Africa,” Derek Walcott identifies the difference between Britain and Africa as one primarily of environment. Their similarities lie in the nature of their people, for both Africans and the British are guilty of abusing power and trying to assert their “divinity,” fighting brutishly for a “dirty cause.”

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The main point of Derek Walcott's poem “A Far Cry from Africa” is that people abuse their power no matter where in the world they live. Both Africans and the British are guilty of such abuse. “Corpses are scattered through a paradise,” the poet notes, and no one has compassion on them. White people and natives alike are slaughtered, while scholars analyze “colonial policy” and officials try to use statistics to justify these horrors.

All people, Walcott maintains, inflict pain on others in order to try to assert their own “divinity.” This, too, applies to Africans and the British alike. They fight each other with a “brutish necessity” and for a “dirty cause,” without compassion and with poisonous blood. The native “savage” and the “drunken officer” of Britain are really not all that different. Both can be brutal, and both operate out of fear and depravity.

The difference between Britain and Africa is largely environmental. Walcott describes the “parched river” and “beast-teeming plain” of Africa as well as the rushes and the white dust as beaters chase the ibises. These are certainly not British scenes, nor is the depiction of warriors or hunters dancing “to the tightened carcass of a drum.” The poet describes Africa as a “gorilla” wrestling with the British “superman,” but both are poisonous, and he cannot decide how to deal with the split he finds in himself as he faces his African roots and his British ties.

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