Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

>Omeros is about memory, history, and identity, and these issues are explored from both a personal and a global perspective. An intriguing aspect of Walcott’s art is his merging of elements of personal biography with global history. For example, the invalid mother whom the poem’s narrator visits refers to “Roddy” and “Pam” (Walcott’s siblings in real life) in speaking with him and calls him “Warwick’s son” (Warwick is the actual name of Walcott’s father). An important thread in the poem is the poet’s trying to solve a midlife crisis that is rooted both in living in an empty house and in experiencing writer’s block. Omeros celebrates the hard-won discovery of the subject best suited to the poet’s individual expression: his own island people of St. Lucia. The affirmation of parental and ancestral ties is connected with this personal and ethnic exploration. It is explored, for example, in the beginning of book 3, where Achille figuratively goes back to Africa and spends time with his father, Afolabe. Their anguished discussion of naming and identity resonates hauntingly with the experiences of black slaves enduring the Middle Passage. A slave was customarily renamed by his owner at the time of purchase.

The narrator-poet tells readers that he has “stitched” wounds into his characters because “affliction is one theme/ of this work.” The biggest wound of all is the most obvious: a weeping, starfish-shaped sore on Philoctetes’s shin that he incurred from a rusty anchor and that he moans about throughout the entire poem. For a dollar he will display it to tourists so they can photograph it. In despair, he drinks himself into daily oblivion at the No Pain Cafe and tears out tender white yams from his own garden by the roots in frustration....

(The entire section is 733 words.)