Derek Walcott

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What does the dedication "for Robert Head, Mariner" mean in Derek Walcott's "Landfall, Grenada"?

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Robert Head, a mariner, was a close friend of Derek Walcott, and the poet wrote "Landfall, Grenada" as a tribute to him. In fact, the poem could be seen as an elegy, a poem of serious reflection usually addressed to a single individual, as in this case.

Yet Walcott departs from the elegiac tradition in a number of important respects. For one thing, he steadfastly resists the temptation to romanticize the sea and all it entails. He acknowledges that the sea's moods held no mythology for his friend—that it was "a working place / Of tonnage and ruled stars." Robert Head had a hard life as a mariner, and in paying tribute to him, Walcott is keen to acknowledge this.

As a consequence, he studiously avoids what he calls those "neat gravestone elegies / that rhyme our end" and which so often present us with figures more angel than human. In paying tribute to his late friend, Walcott doesn't want to lose sight of the real person he knew and loved.

So unlike many of the elegists of the past, Walcott concentrates on the reality of his departed friend's life—with all its stresses, strains, and struggles—rather than a romanticized, ornamental, or heightened version.

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