Relationship Of Walcott's Poetry With History

1032 words - 4 pages

Discuss the relationship Walcott’s Poetry has with History. How is this demonstrated in his poetry?

‘I have Dutch, nigger and English in me, and either I am nobody, or I am a nation.’ This is a quote from ‘Shabine’, a Walcott persona. A central theme that runs through Walcott’s poetry is his search for identity. In many of his poems he focuses on an internal dissonance between established cultural heritage in his African, English and Caribbean ancestry in developing one that encompasses each one without disregarding another. He appears to be in constant pursuit of a feeling of atonement; one it seems he can only gain from returning to his pre-slave trade ancestors. Walcott also refers to the past so he can begin to understand and justify the context in which these events happen.

‘A Far Cry from Africa’ is one of Walcott’s poems that explore his feeling of identity where he explores how and if he can incorporate both African and English elements of his ancestry without feeling he has deserted either. Walcott experiences, what has been described as, ‘cultural schizophrenia’ when he explores his cultural roots. ‘The gorilla wrestles with the superman. I who am poisoned with the blood of both, where shall I turn, divided to the vein?’ His use of ‘poisoned with the blood of both’ suggests that he sees neither African or English heritage any better than the other and each representing polar opposite qualities, ‘gorilla’, being pure natural instinct, ‘superman’, signifying a superior intelligence and a kind of ‘mind over body’ mentality. The gorilla and superman wrestling could be taken in two different ways; Walcott verbalising his inner conflict, or he could be referring to the European colonisation of Africa in the late nineteenth century. Walcott expressed that he feels if he sides with one society he would betray the other and to side with neither would betray them both, ‘how chose between this Africa and the English tongue I love? Betray them both, or give back what they give?’ the origins of this belief could be because of conflicts England and Africa has had in the past. It seems he feels the need to return to past conflict to determine where his loyalties lye; having a compromise of both does not seem to be an option for Walcott.

There is a recurring reference to history in ‘Ruins of a Great House’ as Walcott discovers the repercussions of decolonisation. Walcott is angry at what now remains of the collapsing empire; a symbol of both huge material wealth and the remains of an economy built on slave trade. ‘The leprosy of empire’ describes a self corrosive, contagious disease that spreads, contaminating everything it touches. ‘Deciduous beauty prospered and is gone’ relates to the passing of time, this is also represented in the poems opening lines with a bitterness of what once existed; the ‘smell of dead limes’, the ‘bright girls gone’, replaced with ‘moth like girls’. Walcott refers back to history in this poem towards the end to...

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