Two Poems on the Passing of an Empire

by Derek Walcott

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Last Updated September 6, 2023.

All Empires Fall, Regardless of How Powerful They Are

The first poem conveys that no matter how powerful an empire is, it will eventually fall and be forgotten. "Rome's trampling feet" once dominated this space, and officials came bearing their laws, which were meant to impose order and control over everything here. They enacted all kinds of violence on the people—physical, emotional, social—and they would seemed almost all-powerful, impossible to defeat. People might have felt that they would have to live under Roman rule forever, never returning to the peace they knew before. However, the heron's flight and landing shows that it is almost as though Roman rule never existed. Nature has reclaimed this area, and it is restored to something like what it was before. A visitor might have no idea of the place's history without learning it from a book.

The Destructiveness of War

One second poem explores the idea that war is not glorious, and fighting for the empire that has conquered one's country does not feel meaningful. The speaker claims that in future wars, children of this place will "still pour their blood out for a sieve." The sieve is a metaphor for an empire that will keep demanding the sacrifice of their bodies in war. They will not even amount to a drop in the bucket. Their lives will simply be squandered and forgotten as more lives are required to defend the empire's interests.

The Harmful Nature of Colonization

Taking the two poems together, we might discover the idea that colonizing rule is unnatural and destructive in general. In the first poem, nature and peace only return to this place once the Roman colonizers are long dead and forgotten. The fact that the heron's return seems to be such a symbol of tranquility and calm shows the true frightening nature of the era in which it would not land here. In the second poem, the old veteran is physically and emotionally wounded, and he realizes that the children outside are inevitably headed for the same fate due to the nature of their rulers.

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