I Once Gave My Daughters, Separately, Two Conch Shells Summary

Derek Walcott


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

This untitled poem is the fiftieth poem in a sequence of fifty-four poems that constitute the midsummer to midsummer movement in the collection Midsummer (1984). It invokes Walcott’s central themes of language, exile, and art. Yet to these the theme of love must be added. In this poem, as in so many of his other poems, the image of the ocean is primary. In the poem’s twenty-three lines, Walcott moves from a memory of two conch shells that he gave to his daughters to the poetry that he wrote when he was the age of his daughter Elizabeth to his mature poetry. The poem then shifts to a memory of his father and the irony of his name. The poem concludes with a layering of movements, each reflecting the others.

As with all the poems in this collection, the poem’s lines are long, often containing more than fourteen syllables. Such long lines allow for rumination, the overall tone or mood of this poem. The poet speaks directly to the reader, offering both confession and a sense of thinking aloud. The long lines also suggest an inclusiveness that may approximate prose. Most central, however, is their mnemonic quality.

The poem begins with conch shells “dived from the reef, or sold on the beach”: gifts from the sea. In their “wet/ pink palates are the soundless singing of angels.” The term “palates” is a homophone for the painter’s palette; thus, Walcott has combined the angelic sound of the sea, part of the mouth that...

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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Baugh, Edward. Derek Walcott: Memory as Vision. London: Longman, 1978.

Breslin, Paul. “’I Met History Once, but He Ain’t Recognize Me’: The Poetry of Derek Walcott.” TriQuarterly 68 (Winter, 1987): 168-183.

Brodsky, Joseph. “The Sound of the Tide.” In Less than One: Selected Essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986.

Hamner, Robert D. Derek Walcott. Boston: Twayne, 1981.

Hamner, Robert D., ed. Critical Perspectives on Derek Walcott. Washington, D.C.: Three Continents Press, 1993.

Jay, Paul. “Fated to Unoriginality: The Politics of Mimicry in Derek Walcott’s Omeros.” Callaloo 29, no. 2 (2006): 545-559.

McCorkle, James. “Re-Mapping the New World: The Recent Poetry of Derek Walcott.” Ariel: A Review of International English Literature 17 (April, 1986): 3-14.

Mason, David. “Derek Walcott: Poet of the New World.” Literary Review: An International Journal of Contemporary Writing 29 (Spring, 1986): 269-275.