The Aleatory Muse of Omeros

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2026

Most critics and reviewers recognize the obvious epic dimensions of Omeros and wisely proceed to Walcott's deviations from the traditional formula. At this point some conventional approaches begin to note perceived weaknesses. One common objection, voiced by David Mason in The Hudson Review and Sean O'Brien in The Times Literary Supplement, is that Walcott errs in attempting to include Euro-American material in what is ostensibly a West Indian epic. Another complaint, offered by Christopher Bakken in The Georgia Review, is that rhetoric occasionally threatens to overwhelm the narrative impetus. One answer to both these concerns is that Omeros is to a significant extent the offspring of chance, fortune, the coincidental roll of dice, Walcott's aleatory muse. At least this is a stratagem, an authorial ploy that allows Walcott to exploit the ambient space between the vital people who are his immediate subject and the aesthetic distance required to depict their lives artistically.

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Chance and coincidence are sufficiently important to Walcott that he makes them explicit in minor details and within the thinking processes of major characters. In her American Mimicry, for example, Rei Terada comments on 1) Walcott's paying attention to spelling errors; 2) both Walcott's and English expatriate Major Plunkett's fascination with one-to-one correspondences between Aegean and Caribbean events; and 3) coincidental details mentioned by Warwick Walcott that link him with Shakespeare and Hamlet. Certainly, Achille accidentally gets "trust" wrong in naming his canoe In God We Troust, Major Plunkett misspells the Arawak word "Iounalo," and a sign is misprinted "HEWANNORRA." Clearly, Walcott in his own persona and Major Plunkett expend much of their energy in the poem pursuing a well-intentioned, nonetheless misguided, quest to immortalize their West Indian Helen in emulation of Homer's white paradigm. This eclectic blend of misprision and fancied correspondence in Omeros, however, goes much deeper than these overt manifestations. Indeed it pervades the subtext and Walcott's aesthetic technique. Since Walcott makes himself a participant within Omeros, the circumstances of his birth serve as one antecedent accident. As he describes his predicament in Another Life, "reason had produced its monster: / a prodigy of the wrong age and color." Even his obscure island happened to be so desirable to France and England that he grew up being taught St. Lucia was the ''Helen of the West Indies."

An impressionable Walcott absorbed such incidental correspondences until he eventually realized their potential not only as subject for analogy, but also for the recognition latent within any accident or mistake. Shortly before undertaking the writing of Omeros, Walcott explained at a literary conference the lesson he learned when he mistyped the word "love" in his manuscript where he intended to say ''life.'' It immediately occurred to him that this slip of the finger registered a truth he had not previously conceptualized. He records his conclusion later in "Caligula's Horse" for Kunapipi: "That is one part of the poetic process, accident as illumination, error as truth, typographical mistakes as revelation." As a matter of fact, early in the second chapter of Omeros Walcott candidly informs readers that his very title grows out of a simple mistake. When he speaks of Homer to his lover, a Greek sculptress, she informs him that the authentic pronunciation of the name is "Omeros." Title in hand, with all its connotations, Walcott undertakes the conversion of Aegean rudiments into a Caribbean narrative. This epic of the dispossessed centers on a Creole island that has dropped between the lines of history. Since St. Lucia and her people have been lost or marginalized in the record of European conquest, Walcott may be said...

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