“Codicil,” which appeared in his 1965 collection The Castaway, and Other Poems, is an autobiographical poem of thirty lines composed in varied stanzaic forms. The poem is a meditation on identity. Its title, referring to an addendum to a will, implies an awareness of mortality; thus, the poet takes account of himself. The poem’s tone is both angry, reflecting some of his earlier work, such as “A Far Cry from Africa,” and exhausted or dispirited, forecasting the mood of many of his poems in The Fortunate Traveller and The Arkansas Testament. Walcott was a journalist during the early 1960’s, and this poem reflects the sense of frustration that most writers feel when faced with dividing their language into two styles, “one a hack’s hired prose, I earn/ my exile.” The poet’s exile is his exile from poetry. Later, this exile will become a self-imposed exile from the Caribbean.
The poet is weary, exhausted by the world’s cares and demands, as well as his past failures. The poet states in the seventh line that, “To change your language you must change your life.” The most significant line of the poem, this line serves to challenge his position and to reveal the direct relationship between one’s language and the quality of one’s life. The growth of a poet’s voice demands a continual change and self-examination of one’s language and life. The line implies that one constitutes his or her world through...
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