(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

“The Fortunate Traveller,” the title poem of a volume of Walcott’s poetry, is divided into 4 sections and is 208 lines long. Dedicated to the American writer and philosopher Susan Sontag, best known for her analyses of culture, as in Illness as Metaphor (1978), the poem is in many ways a catalog of the failures of civilization to be humane. The narrator of the poem is indeed the ironic “fortunate traveller,” a play on the English satirist Thomas Nashe’s picaresque tale, The Unfortunate Traveller: Or, The Life of Jack Wilton (1594). Walcott’s traveler, like Nashe’s, is an emissary between powers. Furthermore, Walcott has created in this persona someone of ambivalence and moral relativity; while able to recognize the horrors of the Nazi concentration camps, the narrator is indifferent to the poverty of the Third World. In his indifference, he becomes an immoral fortune seeker and an emissary of famine.

The opening lines of the poem immediately convey the physical and spiritual decay of Europe, which describes Walcott’s ambivalence with the industrialized West. The first section describes the narrator’s double-crossing of two officials from an impoverished country. The narrator becomes an incarnation of famine. He carries a briefcase that is likened to “a small coffin.” Throughout this section of the poem, images of despoliation occur: A jet is likened to a weevil in a “cloud of flour,” and governmental bureaucrats are “roaches/ riddling the state cabinets, entering the dark...

(The entire section is 627 words.)