Derek Walcott Walcott, Derek (Vol. 2) - Essay

Walcott, Derek (Vol. 2)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Walcott, Derek 1930–

A poet and playwright, born in the West Indies where he still lives, Walcott is the author of In a Green Night and The Dream on Monkey Mountain.

Derek Walcott's The Dream on Monkey Mountain [is] a work of intense verbal and visual beauty, and visionary insight. It's also fun. A "quest" play in the Peer Gynt-Camino Real genre (and nearer in quality to the former than the latter), it takes the form of a dream….

In Walcott's dense, poetic text and in the visual images on-stage there is a brilliantly successful marriage of classical tradition and African mimetic-dance elements, two strains that are bound as one into the author's British colonial childhood. And in the myth of Makak, an ultimately universal figure, there is achieved some resolution of the conflict between black roots and white culture. This is a superb play.

W. I. Scobie, "The West Coast Scene," in National Review (150 East 35th St., New York, N.Y. 10016), November 3, 1970, pp. 1173–74.

"The Dream on Monkey Mountain" is a poem in dramatic form or a drama in poetry, and poetry is rare in the modern theatre. Every line of it plays; there are no verbal decorations. A word, too, must be said for the absolute trust that Mr. Walcott engenders in his audience, convincing us that there is a sound psychological basis for every action and emotion.

Edith Oliver, "Once Upon a Full Moon," in The New Yorker, March 27, 1971, pp. 83-5.

Mr. Walcott is a powerful writer, but many of his poems are trapped in the politics of feeling, knowing the representative fate they must sustain. It is enough for any poet that he is responsible for his own feeling: he answers to his scruple, his conscience, hard master. But Mr. Walcott's poems try to serve a second master, the predicament of his people. They tie themselves in historical chains, and then try to break loose. It is my impression that the poems are trying now to escape from the politics of feeling by an increasingly personal understanding, taste, truth. Fighting against rhetoric, he resorts to rhetoric, both Caribbean, inescapable. Besides, he has a weakness for grandeur, and he rushes into temptation by writing of exile, ancestral loss, historical plangencies, the gulf between man and man.

He is in a middle state, history at one extreme, sensibility at the other; history, meaning loss and bondage, "customs and gods that are not born again," and sensibility, meaning a sense of responsibility to feeling, its validity and measure….

It is hard to believe that the word is exactly right in each case. In diction, Mr. Walcott is striking, but often what he strikes is a hard bargain, practicing usury in the transaction between language and feeling. He writes everything so large that the reader is inclined to deduct something, to keep the situation reasonable. An impression of excess arises from Mr. Walcott's poems, especially when they insist upon converting the natural forms into human terms…. Mr. Walcott's language does not give enough allowance to mystery or silence, he assumes that everything in nature can be overwhelmed….

As a poet, Mr. Walcott comes on strong: his common style is more suited to the theater, perhaps, and certainly the plays, especially The Sea at Dauphin and Dream on Monkey Mountain, seem native to their idiom. The finest poems are those in which Mr. Walcott's sensibility communes with centuries of historical experience, the long perspective of life in place and time. Perhaps in these poems the venom of his own promises, needs, and aspirations is dispelled; there have been thousands of years before now.

Denis Donoghue, "Waiting for the End," in The New York Review of Books (reprinted with permission from The New York Review of Books; © 1971 by NYREV, Inc.), May 6, 1971, pp. 27-31.

Mr. Walcott is truly exciting. He can graphically show the ugly side of New York City or write a celebration for a "lost" mariner as complex as any of Lowell's. In range, originality, prosodic skill, power to move, The Gulf is a remarkable book. It urges by example a quickening of sensory awareness. Moreover, its recollections of a sensitive man's reading unite nature and art in a fascinating manner. On the basis of this work one might reasonably predict that Derek Walcott would last.

Sister Bernetta Quinn, O.S.F., "Two Signatures," in Poetry (© 1972 by The Modern Poetry Association; reprinted by permission of the Editor of Poetry), February, 1972, pp. 301-03.

Derek Walcott's Ti-Jean and His Brothers wants to be a simple Trinidadian folk fable in dialect, a metaphysical verse play with music in plain but good English, a relevant black parable inciting to anti-white revolution. It is a good deal to encompass in one package, and it is not surprising that the string snaps. But there is a certain brazen ingenuity in the basic conception that is not without appeal….

But the writing is prosy in verse and prosaic even in prose: lacking poetic imagination and, perhaps because it is aimed at an unsophisticated sansculotte audience, heavily overexplanatory. No symbol goes unexplained or, indeed, unre-explained. Then, probably to appease his artistic conscience, Walcott throws in those literary echoes, and these, in the naive context, sound painfully ostentatious. Yet the final flaw is in that contest between a Devil who, though perhaps not bright enough, is made interestingly real; and a hero who, although vaguely resourceful, is not really interesting. One feels that, like Blake's Milton, Walcott is, without knowing it, of the Devil's party.

John Simon, "Debilitated Debbil," in New York Magazine (© 1972 by NYM Corp.; reprinted by the permission of New York Magazine and John Simon), August 14, 1972, p. 69.