Homecoming: Anse La Raye

by Derek Walcott

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The Poem

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“Homecoming: Anse La Raye” is a poem of moderate length, with sixty lines of free verse divided unevenly into four stanzas. The title of the poem indicates the work’s subject: the speaker’s return to the village of Anse la Raye on the Caribbean Island of St. Lucia. This island is the birthplace of Derek Walcott, who can be identified as the speaker in the poem.

The poem begins in the first-person plural, but by the second stanza the voice shifts to the second person as the speaker begins to address his poetic self. The speaker states that his poetic self experiences many difficulties when he attempts to fulfill his desire to return and be an intrinsic part of his birthplace. The speaker’s tone is imbued with estrangement and meditative reflection as the problems of his return to Anse la Raye are examined.

The first stanza begins by linking the peoples of the Caribbean region with other cultures. The speaker indicates that in the island’s school the works of antiquity were taught but that these works and their mythological associations, although significant in some ways, were products of other cultures and soon forgotten. For the moment, the speaker’s poetic self concentrates only on the sea and a “well-known passage.” The speaker views the setting without romantic illusions. The “well-known passage” mentioned in the first stanza becomes a “fish-gut-reeking beach.” The ominous tone suggests something more threatening and less comforting is taking place, not what one would expect for a homecoming. As the speaker’s poetic self looks over the scene, children appear. The children think that he is a tourist and hope to receive money from him. A feeling of disenchantment is apparent as the speaker tries to interpret and react to what he sees.

The third stanza begins with another reference to the children who “swarm like flies” around the speaker’s poetic self. At first, he does not reject the children but pities them, because they are unaware of the larger world and that the “silvery freighter” might “pass them by.” Their ignorance is met with an equal amount of ambivalence as the speaker muses on what it would be like to share their lives. For a brief moment, he imagines a return to a physical state where the sea and island life are enough. A tone of resignation, however, enters as the stanza concludes with the thought that the experience of homecoming can be bereft of feelings of warmth and security.

The final stanza brings the reader back to the children. The speaker’s poetic self has given them nothing, and they curse him for his lack of generosity. The natural environment remains threatening. He is tired and walks back to the village past an esplanade where “dead/ fishermen move their draughts in shade,” probably a reference to the game of checkers rather than the fishermen’s hauls. One of the fishermen smiles and nods in recognition, but the speaker views this gesture with the same detached mood, sarcastically commenting that the fisherman who nods gestures “as if all fate/ swayed in his lifted hand.”

Forms and Devices

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Walcott employs a tone of detachment in “Homecoming: Anse La Raye.” At the beginning of the poem, the speaker uses the pronoun “we,” implying that the speaker is addressing others who happen to share similar experiences. By the end of the second stanza, the speaker begins using the pronoun “you,” referring to his separate poetic self. Because the poem plays on the idea of detachment and even alienation, the use of “you” is more effective but not totally...

(This entire section contains 446 words.)

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exclusive: The speaker maintains a connection between the “we” of the first stanza and the “you” of the remainder of the poem. As a partially detached observer who uses the second person to observe his own actions, the speaker creates another less-subjective level of interaction with the surrounding environment and its people. This objectivity allows him to remove or dismiss most of the illusions one might possess when considering the experience of homecoming, especially on a Caribbean island.

The speaker gives the island and its people a voice. In a way, the speaker becomes the island. He employs alliteration, as in the use of the “s” sound to mimic the hissing sound of the surrounding sea as well as the ever-present trade winds. The repetitive nature of this device creates a lulling effect for the reader that imitates the constant and somewhat prosaic rhythms of island life.

The imagery in the poem is also symptomatic of the speaker’s unbridled and sometimes harsh view of his home. Early in the poem, he refers to “Afro-Greeks” and “Helen.” As the poem progresses, the speaker maintains contact with the world of antiquity and the world at large through the use of metaphor, simile, and personification. The fronds of the coconut palms are “salt-rusted/ swords,” while the shells of sea crabs become “brittle helmets.” The “barbecue of branches” on the beach are like “the ribs/ of sacrificial oxen on scorched sand.” The use of these rather violent images strikes an unpleasant chord, as the reader is forced to wonder why the speaker thinks of his home this way. Yet the connection of the Caribbean culture with the cultures of the outside world is positive. The Caribbean region is associated with the “Middle Passage”—not a separate entity but part of the larger European, African, and American whole. The island and other islands like it, however, are encircled by an “infinite, boring, paradisal sea,” an ocean that “sucks its teeth,” where “frigates tack like buzzards.” The black cliffs are not majestic, but they do “scowl” at the speaker’s poetic self. This imagery gives the reader a glimpse at the actual place with its gloom, decay, and connection to the historical past.