An interpretation of Derek Walcott's poem “The Gulf” will include an examination of the poem's form and content, with a special emphasis on the poem's abundant imagery.
Walcott presents his poem in four sections of varying lengths. He uses three-line stanzas. This is free verse, for while Walcott does not use rhyme in his poetry, he does provide a steady rhythm. As you interpret, think about why Walcott makes these stylistic choices and how they affect the tone of the poem.
The entire poem centers around an airplane flight. The speaker is nervous, and he uses some interesting imagery to express his nerves. Look, for instance, at the words “casket hole” in the first section. He has been drinking both liquor and coffee, and now he is seated in the plane and ready for takeoff. He feels kind of like a soul detaching “itself from created things” as the plane soars into the air.
During the flight, the speaker reflects on a number of seemingly unconnected images, everything from friendships and quarrels to Dallas to tigers to books. He thinks of the way emotions play out, and he meditates on gifts and love. This collection of images makes up the speaker's life and shows his angst.
The poem's second section begins with nightfall, and the speaker uses the image to focus on pain. Conflicts, divisions, slaughter, and ghettos come to the forefront as the speaker looks out over the Gulf far below. These were and are, the poet suggests, the heritage of the South.
As the third section starts, though, the speaker reflects that “the South felt like home.” He then provides a series of images from the South that end in darkness, with hints of further violence.
Finally, in the last section, the speaker laments that he no longer has a home, and he ends with an allusion to the Bible that again suggests upheaval and even violence. The speaker's life appears to be in turmoil.