December 4, 2017
The contemporary period of British Literature is a time where many writers question the world and speak about real-world problems, often political. Contemporary literature questions facts, historical perspectives, and often presents contradictory sides of an argument. Sir Derek Walcott’s “A Far Cry from Africa” is a prime example of this time period. Through the varying rhyme scheme, imagery, and metaphors present in “A Far Cry from Africa”, Derek Walcott embodies what it is to be a contemporary writer.
Sir Derek Walcott was born on the island of Saint Lucia in the British West Indies. He attended St. Mary’s College and the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. Due to his birth place and his African decent, Walcott had ties to both Africa and Great Britain; which, created a problem for Walcott when the Kikuyus, a sub-group in Kenya, and the British went to war in 1952. The British government was colonizing Kenya, and in 1952 the Kikuyus created a resistance group called the Mau Mau’s. A rebellion broke out and Kenya was in a state of emergency from 1952 to 1960. During this eight year timespan, over 13,000 people were murdered, most of them being Kikuyus. This political struggle caused a major internal struggle for Walcott, which is reflected in his poem “A Far Cry from Africa”.
“A Far Cry from Africa” is unique in the sense that it does not follow a single rhyme scheme. The poem changes between rhyme and non-rhyme, rhyme and near-rhyme, and iambic tetrameter and iambic pentameter. The poem starts in iambic pentameter but shifts with varying length and number of stresses, a change that coincides with the changes in perspectives seen in the poem. The first stanza follows an ababbcdecd pattern and describes the devastation in Africa. The following stanza has much less organization, with a combination of loose rhyme and no rhyme at all. This part of the poem furthers the description of the rebellion while mixing in aspects from both the Kikuyus and the British. The disorganization of the rhyme scheme can serve as a parallel to the unresolved feelings Walcott has about this conflict. Further examples of this schism from the text is to follow.
Walcott’s use of imagery serves as a powerful tool in describing the chaos and devastation caused by this rebellion. Contemporary literature serves a greater purpose, and his use of imagery in this poem effectively brings to light the political issue in Africa. In lines 3-4 he describes “Batten upon the bloodstreams of the veldt. / Corpses are scattered through a paradise.” While this a metaphor, it also produces a powerful image of the bloodshed that has occurred during the rebellion. At the time, Africa was thought to be this paradise of nature, when in reality it became a warzone. Line 9 reads: “What is that to the white child hacked in bed?” This line refers to the British colonial child that was killed by the Mau Mau’s at the start of...