Collected Poems, 1948-1984 Summary
by Derek Walcott

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Collected Poems, 1948-1984 Summary

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

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Collected Poems, 1948-1984 is a selection of 132 poems from nine of Derek Walcott’s books: In a Green Night: Poems 1948-1960 (1962), Selected Poems (1964), The Castaway and Other Poems (1965), The Gulf and Other Poems (1970), Another Life (1973), Sea Grapes (1976), The Star-Apple Kingdom (1979), The Fortunate Traveller (1981), and Midsummer (1984).

To establish his poetic voice, Walcott began using the lens of classical myth along with European and African influences. The book’s images of wanderers, nature, and animals show a complex political and historical view across a thirty-six-year span of writing. The major connecting theme is the traveler.

The poem “Prelude,” from In a Green Night, presents the young poet and traveler sitting cross-legged over the “uncouth features” of his “prone island,” attempting to learn how to suffer “in accurate iambics.” The 1948 poem typifies Walcott’s major theme. The plaintive “A Far Cry from Africa” identifies Walcott as the traveler continuing his search by asking “Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?” The division to which Walcott alludes is characteristic of the poems in the opening of this collection, especially the bitter “Return to D’Ennery: Rain” that asks God “where is our home? For no one will save/ The world from itself.”

Nature images enhance the traveler theme in “The Banyan Tree, Old Year’s Night.” In the poem, the tree attempts to explain responsibility as what “age could not” identify and so remains “blank,” unable to “keep the homeless wind.” Hence, for Walcott, nature is an impotent environment and character appearing orphaned and alone, as is the traveler.

Collected Poems, 1948-1984 reflects not only themes of search and nature but also history and politics. Walcott explores what he calls “history as myth” and “history as time.” Working within myth and time oppositions, Walcott utilizes his classical education and multicultural background that some critics claim is a fault. The collection is, however, an honest and controlled answer to these...

(The entire section is 483 words.)