Homecoming: Anse La Raye

by Derek Walcott

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Themes and Meanings

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“Homecoming: Anse La Raye” is about estrangement from one’s own culture as well as from the larger world. The title of the book in which this poem originally appeared supports this idea of separation or division. At one point in the poem, the speaker’s poetic self becomes poignantly aware of the fact that “there are homecomings without home.” His quandary is not easily explained. The island is viewed with an unbiased eye but also with a restrained rage. He attempts to see its natural beauty, but his attempt is stifled by the decay around him. The ocean becomes boring; its movement creates “the doom-/ surge-haunted nights.” The comfort that one might associate with the constant caress of the sea gives way to rumbling turmoil. Standing on the beach with the children, he contemplates their fate and suggests that they may never get a chance to ride the “silvery freighter,” which appears on the horizon as a symbol of human potential and freedom.

When the speaker’s poetic self leaves the beach, he sees the “dead/ fishermen.” One of the men appears to greet him, but the speaker’s poetic self remains aloof. In one last reference to the fishermen, the speaker states that one of the men has “a politician’s ignorant, sweet smile.” This smile is benign, at least on the surface. The speaker possesses a negative yet sympathetic attitude toward these men. He has already pronounced them “dead.” They are racked by a pervasive and destructive apathy. Their lack of concern creates a dilemma that borders on cannibalism—they are described as “eating their islands.” Yet the speaker’s pronouncement is paradoxical; fishermen are part of his personal history, but their apathy only reinforces his bittersweet feelings of estrangement. The gulfs that exist between the speaker and his past, the speaker and his island home, the speaker and the environment, the speaker and his people, and the speaker and himself all add to this alienation.

Another theme that is preponderant in the poem is the theme of rage, especially the rage that manifests itself as a reaction to the political, social, and economic domination of the Caribbean region by the old colonial powers. In the first stanza, the speaker refers to the lessons once learned and now forgotten involving “borrowed ancestors.” He refers to himself (and others such as him) as “Afro-Greek.” The speaker seems to relish the idea of cultural pluralism yet also finds it slightly distasteful. He is a victim, a castaway, the product of a colonial past. The resignation that he sees around him—the children who respond to the lure of the tourist’s money and the dead fishermen who do not seem to find their lives bankrupt—is disturbing. He moves among his people as if he is a stranger, always guarded, never indicating that he feels totally comfortable or at ease. When the “silvery freighter” appears but then becomes a “silvery ghost,” hope vanishes as well. The islanders’ dreams and ambitions are dependent on a world still dominated by outside forces. The larger world seems content to ignore this island even though a few of its people, including the speaker, would welcome the opportunity to embrace it with a renewed spirit. Ultimately, their dilemma is emblematic of a far greater issue: The world abounds with all types of recognizable gulfs, and these gulfs, whether personal, cultural, or political, are not easily bridged.

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