There’s the wide desert, but no one marches
except in the pads of old caravans,
there is the ocean but the keels incise
the precise, old parallels
there’s the blue sea above the mountains
but they scratch the same lines
in the jet trails –
so the politicians plod
without imagination, circling
the same sombre garden
with its fountain dry in forecourt,
the gri-gri palms desiccating
dung pods like goats,
the same lines rule the White papers,
the same steps ascend Whitehall,
and only the name of the fool changes
under the plumed white cork-hat
for the Independence Parades,
revolving around, in calypso,
to the brazen joy of the tubas.
Why are the eyes of the beautiful
and un marked children
in the uniforms of the country
bewildered and shy,
why do they widen in terror
of the pride drummed into their minds?
Were they truer, the old songs,
when the law lived far away,
when the veiled queen, her girth
as comfortable as cushions,
upheld the orb with its stern admonitions?
We wait for the changing of statues,
for the change of parades.
Here he comes, here he comes!
Papa! Papa! With his crowd,
the sleek, waddling seals of his Cabinet,
trundling up to the dais,
as the wind puts its tail between
the cleft of the mountain, and a wave
coughs once, abruptly.
Who will name this silence
respect? Those forced, hoarse hosannas
awe? That tin-ringing tune
from the pumping, circling horns
the New World? Find a name
for that look on the faces
of the electorate. Tell me
how it all happened, and why
I said nothing
Evolving around the theme of political alienation, Derek Walcott focuses, with much irony on the world of destructive politics. He criticises the Post – Independent government which is not much different from the Pre – Independent one – a government that may be referred to as totalitarian.
In the first stanza, Walcott with reference to the “desert…ocean” and sky, highlights the fact that horizons have been opened through independence, yet, “the politicians plod the same” paths , unwilling to take an initiative and make changes in the name of progress.
The second stanza speaks of the effect of the Independence Parades on the children, who are alienated just as the persona is. They are forced to attend the parade but it does not have any real meaning for them, therefore their eyes, which “widen in terror” reflect the fear and uncertainty with which they are faced. The persona is therefore moved to consider whether the parades were perhaps more genuine when the country was under colonial rule.
Focusing now on the example of Haiti, the persona speaks of “Papa” Doc Duvalier who is followed by his cabinet. The crowd falls silent abruptly ending the poem.
In “Parades, Parades,” Walcott uses much irony to express his point of view, showing that one even has difficulty in showing which form of government he prefers for, there is little difference between them. Walcott also uses the analogies of “the wide desert … the ocean” and the sky, to show the repetitive process undertaken by the politicians. He is quite irritated by this and thus refers to the governor as “the fool … under the plumed white cork – hat.” Walcott also uses alliteration in “Parades, Parades.” the alliterated “politicians plod … same sombre” indicates the repetitive nature of the politicians and thus their lack of initiative to try something new. Assonance also contributed significantly to the meaning of the poem – “the sleek seals” suggesting the slyness of the politicians as well as their fatty, greasy appearance. This use of derogatory diction vividly informs us of the irritated tone of the persona. He is alienated completely from the political scene. Also, the assonance in “forced, hoarse hosannas” shows that the people do not necessarily shout of respect for the politicians but out of fear. The symbol of the “fountain dry in the forecourt” expresses the idea that there is a lack of inspiration amongst the people. Additionally, the wind, usually symbolic of inspiration, “puts its tail between the cleft of the mountain,” once again conveying the idea of a lack of inspiration. An inspiration which has been replaced by fear. The symbol of the “Whitehall” is very important for it is the name given to the British Parliamentary Building as well as the Trinidadian Parliamentary Building. The reader is thus compelled to evaluate whether anything has changed since colonialism – the same question the poet is asking. The simile, “as comfortable as cushions” shows how relaxed the queen of England is, and the onomatopoeic “tin -ringing” allows the reader to enter the parade and hear the sounds.
Walcott’s use of rhetorical questions causes the reader to reflect on and seriously consider what Walcott is asking and also to see things from his perspective.
Repetition is also dominant in the poem. The very title of the poem is repeated.
The repetition of “same” in stanza one, showing that nothing, whatsoever has changed since independence. “Here he comes!” may at first seem a cry of excitement, yet, after further evaluation, it is apparent that they are cries of anxiety, for, their “Papa Papa” is nothing more than a brute dictator whom all Haitians feared.
All in all, Walcott’s “Parades, Parades” was quite interesting and the manner in which he was use the different devices – repetition, alliteration, symbols, rhetorical questions and the other literary devices was both enlightening and powerful.
A Lesson For This Sunday
The growing idleness of summer grass
With its frail kites of furious butterflies
Requests the lemonade of simple praise
In scansion gentler than my hammock swings
And rituals no more upsetting than a
Black maid shaking linen as she sings
The plain notes of some protestant hosanna
Since I lie idling from the thought in things,
Or so they should. Until I hear the cries
Of two small children hunting yellow wings,
Who break my sabbath with the thought of sin.
Brother and sister, with a common pin,
Frowning like serious lepidopterists.
The little surgeon pierces the thin eyes.
Crouched on plump haunches, as a mantis prays
She shrieks to eviscerate its abdomen.
The lesson is the same. The maid removes
Both prodigies from their interest in science
The girl, in lemon frock, begins to scream
As the maimed, teetering thing attempts its flight.
She is herself a thing of summery light,
Frail as a flower in this blue August air,
Not marked for some late grief that cannot speak.
The mind swings inward on itself in fear
Swayed towards nausea from each normal sign.
Heredity of cruelty everywhere,
And everywhere the frocks of summer torn,
The long look back to see where choice is born,
As summer grass sways to the scythe’s design.
Focusing on man’s cruelty to nature, “A Lesson for this Sunday” begins with the persona lying on his hammock, relaxing and enjoying the tranquility and beauty of nature, “the summer grass” and “furious butterflies.”
Suddenly, the persona’s interaction with this paradise is interrupted by small children in stanza two. They chase and are successful in catching one of them, disemboweling it before their maid takes them away.
In the last stanza, the persona has lost his peace of mind and comments on the inevitability that man will be cruel to nature.
The poem opens with a tone of warmth, complacency and comfort but drastically changes to one of annoyance. The religious diction used in the poem, “simple praise …. sings … hosanna … sin …sabbath …prays” are all fundamental in reinforcing Walcott’s theme – man’s cruelty to nature.
Another important feature of the poem is the lack of punctuation in the first few lines which conveys the fact that initially, the poet was quite relaxed.
Walcott also utilises alliteration and simile in “Frail as a flower in this blue August air,” which expresses the view that the little girl is just a fragile as the butterfly. The alliterated, “thought in things” gives the reader an exact idea of how deep in reflection the persona was. Certain onomatopoeic expressions, “cries” and “screams”are used in “A Lesson for this Sunday,” showing a disruption of the peace as well as in a sense showing the poet’s reaction to them. The analogy of “the frocks of summer torn” is both important and fitting as it clearly shows that nature’s paradise is similar to an entire dress but humans have begun to tear and destroy it. Walcott’s pun on “the mantis prays” can suggest that the mantis is resting on its front legs and raised as if in prayer, in keeping with the religious nature of the poem. However, it can also mean “preys” showing how the humans attack elements of nature and destroy them for their own pleasures.
In the final stanza, Walcott refers to “Heredity of cruelty everywhere.” Here he implies that violence is endemic in humans and that even the apparently innocent children have inherited this trait.
The final line can be paralleled with the first with the first where the persona is trying to reinforce this cruelty by showing how grass grows up yet, it will only be cut down by the “scythe’s design.”
Walcott was able to powerfully express his irritation towards man’s cruelty to nature in “A Lesson for this Sunday” with the use of a number of devices. Also, he was able to sustain the interest of the reader through these same devices and caused the reader to both sympathize and identify with the scene which he described.
The starved eye devours the seascape for the morsel
Of a sail.
The horizon threads it infinitely.
Action breeds frenzy. I lie,
Sailing the ribbed shadow of a palm,
Afraid lest my own footprints multiply.
Blowing sand, thin as smoke,
Bored, shifts its dunes.
The surf tires of its castles like a child.
The salt green vine with yellow trumpet – flower,
A net, inches across nothing.
Nothing: the rage with which the sandfly’s head is filled.
Pleasures of an old man:
Morning: contemplative evacuation, considering
The dried leaf, nature’s plan.
In the sun, the dog’s faeces
Crusts, whitens like coral.
We end in earth, from earth began.
In our own entrails, genesis.
If I listen I can hear the polyp build,
The silence thwanged by two waves of the sea.
Cracking a sea – louse, I make thunder split.
Godlike, annihilating godhead, art
And self, I abandon
Dead metaphors: the almond’s leaf – like heart,
The ripe brain rotting like a yellow nut
Its babel of sea – lice, sandfly and maggot,
That green wine bottle’s gospel choked with sand,
Labelled, a wrecked ship,
Clenched seaward nailed and white as a man’s hand.
Perhaps meaning to dispel the romantic associations which many persons have about living in a desert island, “The Castaway” shows the unpleasant sides of being a castaway.
The stanzas are quite short, ranging from one to three lines. In the first stanza, the persona is searching the horizon for some sign of human life. However, in the second, one line stanza, he notes that no matter how long he looks, he does not see any such sign. Throughout the remaining stanzas, he is describing certain elements around him as well as his feelings of hysteria. He then informs the reader of the fact that he sent out “a green wine bottle,” with a message of distress but it for, it is “clenched seaward nailed and white as a man’s hand.”
The lines of “The Castaway” are deliberately run on to perhaps show the persona’s wandering and monotonous existence. Walcott also uses rhyming words, but they are not in a set pattern. Words such as “lie” and “multiply” which allows the reader to see that as the persona is lying alone on a deserted island, he may experience hallucinations. Also, “sand” and “hand” give the impression that the sand has a tight grasp on the bottle and thus, the message would never be conveyed. Therefore, the sand is like a hand.
Walcott also makes use of a metaphor at the beginning of “The Castaway” – “the starved eye devours.” This metaphor of starvation and longing is further extended when the persona seeks “a morsel/Of a sail.” He also uses the ”almond’s leaf – like heart … like a yellow nut” which is so overused that can now be considered dead. Additionally, he makes mention of the biblical allusion of the “babel”- a confusion of sounds as well as the Tower of Babel in the Old Testament, where men tried to build a tower as a gateway to God. God then caused them to speak different languages and thus, they were unable to understand each other. Another biblical reference is the word “genesis” – the first book in the bible where Adam was created from dust. The final and most powerful biblical allusion is “Clenched seaward nailed and white ….” which may be seen as an image of Christ’s crucifixion.
The poem is written the first person which is evokes empathy for the castaway. The reader will also be able to identify with the castaway’s situation.
The diction of “The Castaway” revolves mostly around the sea – the castaway’s sole companion and means of escape. Therefore, he refers to the “corals…seascape …
waves … polyp” and “sand.” Walcott utilises distasteful vocabulary to allow the reader to see just how depressing and lonely being stranded on a deserted island can be. Therefore, he uses words such as “starved… afraid … faeces … sandflies” and “maggots” to convey this idea.
Silence is a very important aspect of the poem for, it can be seen as an inspiration serving as a motivating force for expressing oneself through writing. However, it can also be the source of the hysteria for there is no one to talk to.
Towards the end of the poem, the reader is prepared for the despair with which the poem closes. Here, the castaway renounces himself as well as the world – “… art/And self I abandon”
Walcott’s “The Castaway” as with all of his poems, is dynamic and there is nothing about it that I would change.
Oddjob, A Bull Terrier
You prepare for one sorrow,
but another comes.
It is not like the weather,
you cannot brace yourself,
the unreadiness is all.
Your companion, the woman,
the friend next to you,
the child at your side,
and the dog,
we tremble for them,
we look seaward and muse
it will rain.
We shall get ready for rain;
you do not connect the sunlight altering
the darkening oleanders
in the sea – garden,
the gold going out of the palms.
You do not connect this,
the fleck of the drizzle
on your flesh
with the dog’s whimper,
the thunder doesn’t frighten,
the readiness is all;
what follows at your feet
is trying to tell you
the silence is all:
it is deeper than the readiness,
it is sea – deep,
earth – deep
love – deep.
is stronger than thunder,
we are stricken dumb and deep
as the animals who never utter love
as we do, except
it becomes unutterable
and must be said,
in a whimper,
in the drizzle that comes to our eyes
not uttering the love thing’s name,
the silence of the dead,
the silence of the deepest buried love is
the one silence,
and whether we bear it for a beast,
for a child, for woman, or friend,
it is the one love, it is the same,
and it is blest
it is blest, it is blest.
“Oddjob, The Bull Terrier,” focuses on the theme of silence – not only the silence of the dead but that of the “deepest buried love.” the dog cannot communicate to his master how much he loves him. Therefore, the master cannot understand what his dog is saying. The poet deeply respects silence, “silence is all” and it is an inspiration to his writing.
The poem opens with Oddjob and his master. The master is unaware of his pet’s pending death. All the signs mean nothing to him – “the dog’s whimper, the drizzle” as well “as the gold going out of the palms.” Walcott shows us that, just as the dog’s master is unaware that he is dying, so are humans unaware of the death of the people around them – even though all of the signs are present. Therefore, “it is not like the weather,” death is unpredictable.
This poem is comprised of one stanza. This shows how the poet is pouring out all his emotions in one outburst and thus, without any semblance of order. The diction in “Oddjob, the Bull Terrier” is linked to the weather, “ rain, drizzle, thunder” and “weather” demonstrating that, unlike death, all of these elements are predictable.”
Repetition was an essential part of the poem, “ you do not connect” leads up to the poet’s way of telling the reader all the signs of death and the pity that they do not mean anything to us. The repetition of “deep” in “sea-deep … earth-deep … love-deep” shows the reader that silence is more profound than anything you can imagine and that this silence can be an indication of what is bound to happen. “ Silence,” which is repeated in the poem refers to something stronger and deeper than words can express- and therefore, something that is not said, yet known. The repetition of “it is blest” seems to be in a way the poet’s reflection and emphasis that the only way that one can describe this silence is as a blessing.
Therefore, Walcott’s use of the dying animal to represent death and of silence to represent the power of love brings out the reality in his poem.
Though a great lion’s head clouded by mange
a black clerk growls.
Next, a gold-wired peacock withholds a man,
a fan, flaunting its oval, jewelled eyes,
What coruscating, mincing fantasies!
Hector Mannnix, water-works clerk, San Juan, has entered a
Boysie, two golden mangoes bobbing from breastplates, barges
like Cleopatra down her river, making style.
‘Join us,’ they shout, ‘O God, child, you can’t dance?’
But somewhere in that whirlwind radiance
a child, rigged like a bat collapses, sobbing.
But I am dancing, look, from an old gibbet
my bull-whipped body swings, a metronome!
Like a fruit-bat dropped in the silk-cotton shade,
my mania, my mania is a terrible calm.
Upon your penitential morning,
some skull must rub its memory with ashes,
some mind must squat down howling in your dust,
some hand must crawl and recollect your rubbish’
someone must write your poems.
“Mass Man” portrays a carnival scene in Trinidad, the day before lent begins.
Therefore, there are numerous persons out to have fun and dance during this period.
Someone, is dressed like a lion, someone like a peacock and yet another like a bat. Everyone is expected to know the art of dancing and those who do not are ridiculed,
“ O God, child, you can’t dance?” However, the poet notes that when the carnival is over, there will be regrets for, someone will have to “recollect … rubbish” and “someone must write … poems.”
A number of puns were used in the writing of this poem which were effective in contributing to its overall interest. There is a pun on the title of the poem which could either mean carnival masquerade or the men (people) who will be going to mass the following day – Ash Wednesday. The pun on “black” could either be referring to the colour of the man’s skin or that of his costume. The word “clerk” also has two meanings- a person who works in an office or a member of the church’s clergy. There is a pun on the word “barges” – Cleopatra travelled down the River Nile on a ceremonial barge. However, the poet could be referring to the fact that the ”mass man” was moving quickly. The majority of the puns have a religious connotation as well as referring to scenes of the carnival which was quite fitting as lent was scheduled to commence on the following day.
There is a narrative technique used in the poem, both to create interest and to add a touch of realism to the poem, “ Join us,” they shouted.” Also Walcott adds realism when he refers to the child who is crying amidst all the revelry.
Repetition is also evident in “Mass Man.” “My mania, my mania” shows how ecstatic he was and how much he was enjoying himself – perhaps to the extent that he was behaving wildly. The repetition of “ some” expresses the idea that of all the people who have come out to revel, only a few of them would have regrets about the celebration on the following day. At this time, they would have to clean.
The oxymoron, “terrible calm” adds intrigue to the poem, “Mass Man” for, it gives the idea that the persona is really enjoying himself yet, he is calm within. Walcott utilises exclamations to add realism as well as excitement to the poem, “What coruscating, mincing, fantasies!”
“Mass Man” is a well written poem and Walcott allowed the reader to actively enter the carnival scene.
The Almond Trees
There is nothing here
cold churning ocean, the Atlantic,
no visible history,
except this stand
of twisted, coppery, sea-almond trees
their shining postures surely
bent as metal, and one
foam-haired, salt-grizzled fisherman,
his mongrel growing, whirling on the stick
he pitches him; its spinning rays
‘No visible history’
until their lengthened shapes amaze the sun.
this further shore of Africa is strewn
with forked limbs of girls toasting their flesh
in scarves, in sunglasses, Pompeian bikinis,
brown daphnes, laurels, they’ll all have
like originals, their sacred grove,
of twisted, coppery, sea-almond trees.
The fierce acetylene air
their writhing trunks with rust, the same
hues as a foundered, peeling barge.
It’ll sear a pale skin copper with its flame.
The sand’s white-hot ash underheel,
but their aged limbs have got their brazen sheen
from fire. Their bodies fiercely shine!
they endure their furnace.
Aged trees and oiled limbs share a common colour!
Welden in one flame,
huddling naked, stripped of their name,
for Greek or Roman tags, they were lashed
raw by wind, washed
out with salt and fire-dried,
bitterly nourished where their branches died,
their leaves’ broad dialect a coarse,
they share together.
Not as some running hamadryad’s cries
rooted, broke slowly into a leaf
her nipple peaking to smooth, wooden boles
howls seaward through charred, ravaged holes.
One sunburnt body now acknowledges
that the past and its own metamorphosis
as, moving from the sun, she kneels to spread
her wrap within the bent arms of this grove
that grieves in silence, like parental love.
In this poem, Walcott uses the Almond trees to represent the African women who endured many hardships but were able to survive.
The poem opens early one morning in which there is no remnant of history other than the “stand of twisted, coppery, sea- almond trees” and a “salt-grizzled fisherman.” However, by mid-day, black girls are “strewn” over the beach, sun-bathing and their brown appearance causes them to look like goddesses from a Greek mythology. The trees and girls, “shared a common colour,” and both were able to survive in a foreign land, after being removed from their birthplace. Additionally, both the trees and the girls were exploited for the use of others.
This entire poem is an extended metaphor between the girls and the almond trees which possess the same characteristics. The metaphor is one of enslavement, suffering, endurance and the ultimate triumphant “metamorphosis” into strong black women. Walcott also uses onomatopoeia in “lashed” to enforce the pain and suffering of African women. The final sentence,”that grieves in silence, like parental love” demonstrates how much the trees are like the women who were transported to the island and could thus represent them.
The poem has no limit to the length of the lines nor the number of lines per stanza. However, it is well organised and the physical aspects of both the trees and women were beautifully combined.
The diction in this poem is comprised of two elements, the almond trees and the brown skin girls, which are united. Therefore, the poet uses, “broad dialect…boles” and “holes.”
Wlacott makes biblical allusions in this poem. His reference to the “furnace” which represent fierce fires of life yet, as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, the trees and women survived all the hardships and were able to persevere.
He also refers to Greek mythology when he speaks of the “daphnes.” Daphne was transformed into a tree to prevent herself from being raped by Apollo. This further extended the metaphor which runs throughout the poem.
Walcott makes links between words in order to make the poem more interesting and meaningful. Thus, he linked “lashed” and “washed.” Both the trees and the African women received some form of lashes and the women were eventually able to free themselves, thus were washed. The trees were washed by the water from the sea. He also linked “grove” and “love” for, the almond tree grove was a symbol of the love that all the African women possessed for their country as well as for each other. Also, as the trees and the women experienced similar conditions, the girls can now look on the trees as parental figures.
In “The Almond Trees,” Walcott was ably to beautifully speak of the struggles which African women were able to obercome.
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