A poet of extraordinary achievement, Derek Walcott uses the essay form to communicate both his enthusiasms and reservations about writers as diverse as Robert Lowell, Ernest Hemingway, C. L. R. James, V. S. Naipaul, Joseph Brodsky, Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes, Les Murray, and Robert Frost. Although Walcott clearly has his favorites, he is remarkably open to many different kinds of writing and points of view. His main criterion is that the writing is good. With a great writer Walcott can forgive much, even the racism he is dismayed to find in Robert Frost and V. S. Naipaul. In other words, Walcott has no patience with making writers hew to an ideological line.
Walcott, a native of St. Lucia, identifies with writers who come from colonial lands and islands and who write in English or in French, the predominant languages of the Caribbean. Like James and Naipaul, Walcott has identified with the English tradition in literature. If he has not become a kind of English gentleman and settled in England—as Naipaul has done—Walcott has nevertheless spent a good deal of his time in white imperialist culture. He masterfully shows how writers such as James and Naipaul have enriched the English tradition, but he also turns to other writers- -such as Australian Les Murray—to show that colonials can continue to write from their own experience and express an indigenous culture.
For readers interested in the emerging literature and culture of the Caribbean, as well as the way new writing intersects with the old, Walcott offers “The Muse of History,” and “The Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory.” These two essays, along with his concluding story, “Cafe Martinique,” provide the frame of WHAT THE TWILIGHT SAYS, the brooding consciousness of an island man who has found a home in a greater world.
Sources for Further Study
Booklist. XCV, November 1, 1998, p. 466.
Boston Globe. November 29, 1998, p. F3.
Library Journal. CXXIII, October 15, 1998, p. 71.
Publishers Weekly. CCXLV, August 31, 1998, p. 53.
The Washington Post Book World. XXVIII, January 3, 1998, p. 13.