In Derek Walcott’s poem “Elsewhere,” it does not take long to find one of its themes. In the opening sentence,
A white horse gallops with its mane
plunging round a field whose sticks
are ringed with barbed wire, and men
break stones or bind straw into ricks.
The white horse symbolizes the so-called purity of the white race in general, either as a colonizer or as a white American: a strong person in charge, galloping around a field of caged beings—the barbed wire indicates prison, as do later images in the poem. Thus, the oppressed are lost in physical degradations to match that of their mental ones.
The narrator implies he is “free for a while,” which indicates that he is in the US. His status as a black man, however, will ensure he will reside in a permanent location of a mostly unfree "elsewhere," a place where,
in one-third, of one-seventh
of this planet, a summary rifle butt
breaks a skull into the idea of a heaven.
It is not only a physical act of violence but also a metaphorical one, directed at the oppressed and also the oppressors; everyone needs reminding of their place in the world.
For the colonized, that place was like “fog into oblivion." They were not faces or humans but mere excess statistics or numbers,
like the faceless numbers that bewilder you in your telephone
diary. Like last year’s massacres.
It is not much better in America, where the narrator seems to reckon with his own role in the history of colonialism. Unlike the colonizers toward their colonized masses, the narrator shows mercy, claiming “The world is blameless.”
By not casting blame on the colonizers, the narrator seems to be saying that while it’s important to acknowledge what went on, it’s more important that it doesn’t happen again. What matters now is that we don’t forget, we “don’t make a career of conscience”—we don’t, in other words, appease our conscience by pin-pointing the blame on the evil colonialists from the past while failing to see the problems in the modern world. In that scenario, while we may feel superior to the monsters of the past, we risk not hearing the “silent scream” echoing quietly in the elsewhere of the United States.