“The Schooner Flight” appears in Walcott’s The Star-Apple Kingdom (1979). The poem is perhaps his most celebrated persona poem, as well as one of his most accomplished longer poems. Nearly five hundred lines long, the poem is divided into eleven sections of varying length. The poem’s main speaker and central figure is Shabine, who describes himself in the first section as “just a red nigger who love the sea, . . . I have Dutch, nigger, and English in me,/ and either I’m nobody, or I’m a nation.” This description fits Walcott, who, although of African descent, is also of English and Dutch ancestry. What Shabine underscores is the complex mix that defines an individual in a colonial society and defines the society itself. Nicknamed by his society, Shabine becomes an Everyman.
In this persona poem, Walcott creates a figure who is compelled to tell his story. In many ways, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1798) by the English Romantic poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge is a precedent for Walcott’s poem. Both are dramatic monologues narrated by one who has ventured into the ocean and has undergone a transforming experience. Coleridge’s poem, however, explores the mariner’s transgressions against nature, whereas Walcott’s Shabine confronts history. Shabine is also an Odysseus. Like the Odyssey (c. 725 b.c.e.; English translation, 1614), the poem traces Shabine’s journey from island to island in the Caribbean Sea.
The first section, “Adios, Carenage,” is rich in image and detail of the island that Shabine leaves. Disgusted with the corrupt postcolonial politics, Shabine leaves on what is a quest of purification. The second section, “Raptures of the Deep,” describes Shabine’s past as a smuggler double-crossed by his employer, a corrupt official. Shabine then describes in phantasmagorical detail his work as a salvage diver. In the rapturous descriptions of the sea, Shabine reveals the enchantment that the sea has cast over him.
In both sections, Shabine is torn between the sea and his lover, Maria Concepcion. To stay with his lover is to remain confined to the island and not explore the ocean, which is the realm of potentiality and poetic imagination. At the end of the second section, in the throes of the rapture of the deep, Shabine sees God in the form of a harpooned grouper and hears a voice telling him to leave Maria. In...
(The entire section is 1000 words.)