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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