Hurting and Healing: Lindsey Shaw-Miller explores ‘Omeros’ by Derek Walcott

*****

There has never been a better moment to read Derek Walcott’s Omeros. It is the epic poem for our times. Published in 1990, it seems to have been forgotten in the fashion of the last decade for reworkings of the classics. That said, it is not a reinvention of The Iliad or The Odyssey, though it employs incident, imagery and references from both, as well as The Aeneid. The ‘translation’ is rather from Walcott’s home island of St Lucia, in the Antilles, towards the epic, not the reverse. Its maritime setting is not so very different from the Aegean, but traverses instead the vast sea that links the Antilles to Africa, the ocean traversed by the sea-swift, the story’s talisman. Walcott’s dramatis personae include Achille, Hector, Helen and Philoctete (pronounced in the French way, to rhyme with ‘wet’), but they are their own people, not versions of their Homeric namesakes.

The entire project is marvellously ambitious. As Lance Callahan has stated at the beginning of his penetrating study:

Enunciation of the spirit of a people, giving voice to the aspirations and values of an entire culture, is a project few poets have dared to undertake. Fewer still have actually succeeded in poetically articulating the salient features of this collective identity and the spirit of the age in which it came to flourish. The attempt to produce a document which reveals the essence of a people is always an onerous task, but when that document must give voice to the previously voiceless, to a people who have been systematically silenced for centuries, the magnitude of the task becomes herculean. Such is the project which Derek Walcott sets for himself in Omeros. [1]

Omeros is a story of healing. It’s a long story: seven books, 64 chapters, 325 pages. It is written in tercets, except for one short, bitter section in conflictual couplets. Rhyme and rhythm are in complex schema which coexist and subtly shift with the narrative. You can’t dip in and out of Omeros, you have to read it from start to finish, and not too much at a time. I recommend reading it twice, to understand the full complexity of the author’s journey through the book, from the running wound of enslavement, through rage and bewilderment, through retreat into words in a language forcibly adopted, to those words themselves becoming actors in the narrative, to a place of peace and reconciliation and continuities, where ‘the island is the only paradise I need’.

The authorial voice is not ubiquitous. Neither is ‘Omeros’; he is an idea of poetry, a voice, a moan heard ‘in the vase of a Greek woman’s throat’. Omeros turns up as an unkempt bargeman in London, and later as a blind marble bust in a Dantëesque scene at the mouth of the island’s volcano. His black alter ego is the ancient village wise man, Seven Seas. The author visits the island from his home in Boston, exiled by his education. His resident alter ego is the gentle fisherman, Achille.

The narrative takes place over the course of a year. It is interrupted and episodic, occasionally disrupted by authorial intervention, and not always chronological. You have to keep all the people and locations in your head, and it fits beautifully together, but this is not always easy to appreciate until you read it through for the second time. In the immediate wake of ‘Black Lives Matter’, this poem takes you to its heart in a beautiful form that is myth and reality, history and presence, guilt and shame, reduction and redemption, all riding the Caribbean wave.

The most omnipresent dramatis persona is the ‘horned’ island itself, ‘the Helen of the West Indies’, so named for its frequent changes of ownership between the English and the French. Walcott takes us around and over the island in all its moods and weathers, and on the sea that surrounds it, and his descriptions of its colours and flora are ever varied and truthful, far from the ‘photogenic poverty’ seen by many tourists.

Gros Îlet is the village setting, the modern tourist town superimposed on the lives Walcott describes, which are both changed by it and separately sustained. Achille’s friend (‘brother’) Hector is the biggest victim of tourism. He sells his pirogue—the dug-out canoe in which they fish, the mast rigged with flour-sack sails—and buys a ‘transport’ called The Comet, in which he takes locals and tourists round the island. Achille and Hector fall out over Helen, who is, like her Greek namesake, achingly, compellingly beautiful, and she knows her power. She also represents the island, its beauty, its elusive moods and weathers.

Philoctete, a former fisherman and friend of Achille, grows yams in his garden above the sea. He has a running sore on his shin, ‘like a sea anemone’, caused by a rusted anchor. The sore is a metaphor for the manacled slaves. Seven Seas, the blind old man who grows things in car tyres among the violets, sits outside the pharmacy all day and knows everything. Ma Kilman owns the tumbledown rum shop called The No Pain Café. She’s a devout Catholic but also a kind of obéah woman who knows and respects her African roots. Helen prefers the glamour of the tourists and more modern, American ways.

Regimental Sergeant Major Dennis Plunkett and his wife Maud retired to the island after the war. She ‘preferred gardens to empires’ and he had suffered a head wound which still troubles him, mentally and physically. Maud is Irish, from Glen da Lough. They own a pig farm. Dennis loves the island. Everyone calls him Major and most of the men are afraid of him from when he trained them as cadets, but they love and respect him too. Dennis and Maud are devoted to one another. They have no children. He researches military history, especially the Battle of the Saints, in which he discovers a young midshipman called Plunkett who died aged 19, whom he ‘adopts’ as his son. Maud embroiders a huge quilt onto which she sews all the birds of the island, labelled with their names, including the emblematic sea-swift, ‘l’hirondelle des Antilles’. Helen used to work for them as their maid, and she was very good, but arrogant and dishonest. All through the poem she wears a stunning yellow dress which she stole from Maud, pretending it had been a gift. Dennis is fascinated by Helen, as is every other man who crosses her path, including the author.

The poem’s shape is not straightforward and time shifts, but a brief and basic road-map of the poem takes us through this sequence:

Book 1                        New Year, the felling of the trees to make pirogues. Introduction of the characters.

Book 2                        The island and its history, Dennis (the Major) and Maud Plunkett, their farm and his research into The Battle of the Saints.

Book 3                        Achille’s long dream of going back to Africa, meeting his forefathers, attempting to change history.

Book 4                        The author in Boston at the University, his research into Catherine Weldon, 19th-century activist on behalf of the Sioux Indians.

Book 5                        The author’s odyssey to sites of slave-trade wealth: Lisbon, London, Ireland, Greece, Rome, Canada and back to Boston.

Book 6                        Two deaths sadden the island, but Philoctete’s wound is healed. Christmas is celebrated.

Book 7                        The author’s Dantëesque dream of journeying with Omeros and Seven Seas to the island’s volcano, the fiery pit. New Year, new life, the dance of the paille-banane.

Island

The poem begins at daybreak and ends at evening, a year later. In the opening chapter the fishermen are felling a tree to make a pirogue for Achille, reminiscent of Aeneas’s men felling Dido’s forests to refit their fleet. Here the men feel the pain of the trees, and need to drum up their aggression, dosing themselves with rum to ‘make themselves murderers’, a parallel to heroic armies preparing for battle. They know, too, that the forests belonged to the Aruac, the natives of the island before colonization. There is a fine interweave of nature in language from the start:

Wind lift the ferns. They sound like the sea that feed us
fishermen all our life, and the ferns nodded ‘Yes,
the trees have to die …

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxSunrise
trickled down its valleys, blood splashed on the cedars,
and the grove flooded with the light of sacrifice.

Dialectics between nature and culture, between the subject of the writing and the apparatus of the writer, are part of the poem’s very form. Structured as it is in hexametric terza rima, beloved of Dante and lodged deeply in the European literary tradition, Walcott disrupts this structure in ways that are neither systematic nor random but are linked to the emotional timbre of the narrative. Sometimes the reader is taken along almost as in free verse, and then recalled to regularity in others. In both rhyme and metre, over and again, Walcott sets up an expectation and then confounds it with subtlety and skill.

Most of the poem is written in standard English, St Lucia’s official language, with spare but effective use of dialect. St Lucians speak Creole, a version of French inflected with African words and syntax. English is the third ingredient in their language, and its use often reflects French syntax. When Seven Seas says of Achille in Book Three, ‘He go come back soon’, he is using a direct, if condensed, translation of the Creole French. Helen always speaks dialect. When God speaks to Achille in Book Three, chapter XXV, he speaks in dialect too. What is difficult for non-Caribbeans (like me) to appreciate is the presence in the metre of the light stresses and cadences of St Lucian speech. The appalling theft of their native African languages by the slavers runs through Walcott’s verse, so that this historical undermining and coercion of language must surely drive the disruption of formal metrical and rhythmical patterns. [2]

It would be inappropriate (and beyond my skill) to précis Lance Callahan’s forensic analysis of the metrical structure of the poem and its rhyming schemes, but two principles that he establishes are helpful in reading the poem. Firstly, where much epic poetry will loosen or truncate its metrical structure at key dramatic moments in the story (the Aeneid is a good example), Walcott does the opposite. He never lets the ternary scheme arrest the flow of narrative or description, but at key points strict metre returns. For example, in Book One, Chapter III.i, Hector tries to provoke a fight with Achille, who has ‘borrowed’ Hector’s rusty old bailing tin, with which he has a strange fascination. Really the tension between them is over Helen, who is introduced here for the first time, along with an enduring symbol: shadow, which can also be smoke or cloud, often associated with Helen as she is both real and elusive, appearing and disappearing in the poem like the island in cloud. The narrative builds from the beginning of the chapter, when Hector shouts at Achille not to touch his things:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxHector ran, splashing

in shallows mixed with the drizzle, towards Achille,
his cutlass lifted. The surf, in anger, gnashing
its tail like a foaming dogfish. Men can kill

their brothers in rage, but the madman who tore
Achille’s undershirt from one shoulder also tore
at his heart. The rage that he felt against Hector

was shame. To go crazy for an old bailing tin
crusted with rust! The duel of these fishermen
was over a shadow and its name was Helen.

In that last line, the metre returns: ‘a rigid, amphibrachic tetrameter to introduce both the lynchpin of the plot, and the poem’s central symbol, the shadow’. [3] I don’t agree with Callahan that the shadow is the ‘central symbol’. It is the link between Helen and the island, and between myth and reality, but equally if not more pervasive is the image of the sea-swift, the Hermes of the plot, which passes between Africa and the Caribbean, is the carrier of Philoctete’s cure, leads Achille back to his African past, is embroidered in Maud’s quilt and is named by God as Achille’s ‘pilot’.

Book Three is a long dream sequence in which Achille, actually curled up asleep in the prow of his pirogue, rows back to Africa to find his father, Afolabe, and spare his people the pain of what is to come, prevent their enslavement:

And God said to Achille, “Look, I giving you permission
to come home. Is I send the sea-swift as a pilot,
the swift whose wings is a sign of my crucifixion.

And thou shalt have no God should in case you forgot
My commandments.” And Achille felt the homesick shame
and pain of his Africa. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

(Three. XXV.i)

The brilliant resolution of Achille’s journey is for the reader to discover, but it’s the first of two crucial dream sequences with powerful classical references. In Book Seven, at the end of the poem, the author dreams he is being led up to the island’s volcano by the white marble bust of Omeros and his black counterpart, the old, blind sailor Seven Seas. Here the imagery is Dantëesque, including ranks of past, dead and bad poets trying to pull him down into the fiery pit.

Interspersed with the St Lucian narrative are episodes from the diaries of Catherine Weldon, a 19th-century activist on behalf of the Sioux Indians, whose diaries and correspondence Walcott researched while he was working in Boston. As well as the obvious parallels with enslavement, there is a specific one when Achille is tidying up the leaves in Philoctete’s garden and finds an Aruac totem, a stone with a carved face. In fear and denial, he throws it away under the hedge, a disturbing passage which unsettles the reader’s sympathies. As Catherine herself says in the poem:

all colonies inherit their empire’s sin
and these, which broke free of the net, enmeshed a race. [4] xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

(Five.XLI.ii)

Islanders

In Book 1 Seven Seas, who ‘saw with his ears’, also rises in the dawn, and here Walcott sets him up as the alter ego of Homer, and places him at the outset of the poem as its handmaid:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxhe sat still as marble,
with his egg-white eyes, fingers recounting the past
of another sea, measured by the stroking oars.

O open this day with the conch’s moan, Omeros,
as you did in my boyhood, when I was a noun
gently exhaled from the palette of the sunrise.’ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx       xxx

(One.II.ii)

The conch’s moan is the sound made when the fishing boats return with their catch. It is also the clue to how Omeros is pronounced, as described by the author’s Greek lover: the moaning ‘O’ to sound as the conch, ‘mer’ as in the word for both sea and mother in Creole, and ‘os’ as in ossify, become bone. [5] One of the wonders of the poem is how, through the mesh of metrical complexity and a rhyming scheme that is both steadfast and elusive, Walcott conveys sense through sounds.

Achille names his canoe, when it is finished, In God We Troust. When the priest comes to bless it, he smiles at the spelling mistake, but Achille halts him, saying “Leave it! Is God’ spelling and mine!” (One, I.ii). Walcott’s characters are vivid, and when seen occasionally through his own eyes there is an added frisson. Helen is at the centre, her ‘ebony beauty’ set off by the yellow dress. The author first encounters her waiting at table where he now stays among the hotel tourists (the modern slavers). Helen is not a passive beauty, but a confident one with her sexy prowl, her stare:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxI saw the rage

of her measuring eyes, and felt again the chill
of a panther hidden in the dark of its cage xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx  x

(One.VI.iii)

She moves in and out of smoke and cloud like a goddess, until the author finally begins his self-acceptance and allows Helen to live just as she is, ‘a fine local girl’, albeit a sexually powerful one.

Hector and his Comet are popular, his van smart, his smile winning, but he makes little money. He is surprised by how much he misses the sea, his great bond with Achille, who is even more impecunious and goes to work for Major Plunkett on his pig farm. When the monsoon comes in, it’s grim, muddy, filthy work. When the rain finally stops, however, Dennis and Maud Plunkett celebrate with a drive around the island (‘a light rain had washed the stars’) in a scintillating piece of writing, and the feeling of renewal, for Achille, is a metaphor for his hope that Helen will return to him.

Book Two also contains an account of the island’s election, the failed campaign of Professor Statics on behalf of black workers’ rights, with Hector as his driver, Achille as his gofer and Philoctete his party distributor. This is a sad episode, though treated with humour. Achille recognizes but cannot change the way tourism and capitalism are taking away the simple heart of the place. Helen loves the discos, the Saturday-night ‘blockorama’. He goes away from the noise to sit on his canoe, grieving, like Philoctete:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx… saw Helen’s
completion for the first time. He saw how she wished

for a peace beyond her own beauty, past the tireless
quarrel over a face that was not her fault
any more than the full moon’s grace sailing dark trees,

and for that moment Achille was angrily filled
with a pity beyond his own pain. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx(

(Two.XXI.iii)

When autumn comes, Achille loses Helen to Hector and questions everything. The book ends with Achille, sickened by the sun and full of the ‘tribal sorrow’, taking the fishing boat out at night and being drawn far out to sea by the swift. Leaving the boat to his mate, he falls asleep, ‘cradled at the bow/like a foetus, like a sea-horse’, and this takes us into Book Three, his long dream of going back to Africa. It’s a heart-of-darkness quest to arrest history, and he’s out of his comfort zone:

The deepest terror was the mud. The mud with no shadow
like the clear sand.

(Three.XXV.iii)

When the village is attacked and slaves taken, the account of his headlong rush to stop it, to change history, is a brilliant construction, even as it follows a passage of sad reflection that he is homesick for the future, for the very state of unsettlement. He takes 300 years to walk home along the seabed, like Circe. And while his friends back at Gros Îlet are worried sick for how long he has been gone, even Helen weeps, Philoctete knows and so does Seven Seas:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxHis name
is what he out looking for, his name and his soul.’
‘Africa’, the blind one said, ‘he go come back soon.’  xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

(Three.XXIX.ii)

His return is a triumphant passage of writing, with the empowering image of a black sea-frigate (man-o-war) being fed by white herring gulls. The author, too, rejoices to see him back, and honours him with a unique reference to Homer in katharevousa (‘pure’ Greek):

And I’m homing with him, Homeros, my nigger,
my captain, his breastplates bursting with happiness!’ xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

(Three.XXX.ii)

Old worlds

Catherine Weldon’s son died of sepsis from a wound caused by a rusty nail, a direct parallel to Philoctete’s cancerous wound. Chapter XXXIII.iii is a shock, when the ternary structure gives way to a divisive binary, rich in rhyme and alliteration, a description of the disintegration of Walcott’s marriage:

House of umbrage, house of fear …
house of multiplying air

House of memories that grow
like shadows out of Allan Poe

House where marriages go bust
house of telephone and lust

House of caves, behind whose door
a wave is crouching with its roar

When ternary form returns, the author’s solitude, in this land of the bleak heart, is described as being adrift on the sea:

I reached from my raft and reconnected the phone.
In its clicking oarlocks, it idled, my one oar.
But castaways make friends with the sea; living alone

they learn to survive on fistfuls of rainwater
and windfall sardines.

(Four.XXXIII.ii)

Catherine Weldon’s grief for her son (‘Life is so fragile. It trembles like the aspens.’)
subdues his for his marriage, and walking by the sea near Boston (‘the surf was dark’), he meets his father, who warns him about the odyssey he is about to make in Book Five, reminding him to ‘cherish our island’ for its green simplicities, and to remember that

…in its travelling all that the sea-swift does
it does in a circular pattern. Remember that, son.

(Four.XXXVI.iii)

The author’s journey is expiatory.  Lisbon:  

this port where Europe
rose with its terrors and terraces, slope after slope

(Five.XXXVII.ii)

London, where Omeros appears as a vagrant bargeman in Trafalgar Square, described in language extravagantly maritime. There is bitter satire on the ruins of empire, ‘Who will teach us a history of which we too are capable?’, and reflection on the arrogance of citing art as a justification for the human price of generating the wealth that bought it. In Ireland, Maud Plunkett’s home, ‘Silence was in flower’. It is the period of the Troubles, Ireland with

the gun on its shoulder
still splitting heirs, …
an Ireland no wiser as it got older. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx  xxxx

(Five.XXXIX.i)

and Joyce, of course,

our age’s Omeros, undimmed Master
And true terror of the place! …

(Five.XXXIX.iii)

Chapter XL reaches Greece and is the hub of this book, poetically and politically. Odysseus’s black crew wait patiently for him to turn the trireme round and head for home.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxOn its tired shadow
The prow turns slowly, uncertain of its aim.
He peels his sunburnt skin in maps of grey parchment

which he scrolls absently between finger and thumb.
The crew stare like statues at that feigned detachment
whose heart, in its ribs, thuds like the galley-slaves drum.

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx The bewildered trireme

is turning the wrong way, like the cloud-eyed singer
whose hand plucked the sea’s wires, back towards the dream
of Helen, back to that island where their hunched spine

bristled and they foraged the middens of Circe,
when her long white arm poured out the enchanting wine
and they bucked in cool sheets. ‘Cap’n boy? Beg mercy

o’ that breeze for a change, because sometimes your heart
is as hard as that mast, you dream of Ithaca,
you pray to your gods. May they be as far apart

from your wandering as ours in Africa.
Island after island passing. Still we ain’t home.

Nearing journey’s end, we move from autumn (‘November. Sober month. The leaves’ fling was over.’) to winter on the Great Plains, the betrayal of the Sioux a parallel with Achille’s dream of the raid on the African river village and its aftermath, and winter and snow a brilliant metaphor for white supremacy:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxI could, since the only civilizations
were those with snow, whiten to anonymity.xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx x

(Five.XLIII.iii)

But this poem is all about not doing that, and in Book Six we are back on St Lucia.

Island regained

In this penultimate book, many things change: two deaths, a healing and a renewal. The passage where Ma Kilman finds a cure for the cancerous wound on Philoctete’s shin is powerfully shamanic. The author expiates his own marital disintegration with a passage on the pain and dejection of ‘the wrong love for the wrong person’, while Ma Kilman, returning from Catholic mass, sheds her borrowed God for the old African gods; not knowing their names, she has to find their sounds within her, ‘subdued in the rivers of her blood’. And while this passion of atavistic knowledge is in process, worked through the ants and the earth and the lizard one quiet Sunday afternoon, ‘the only sound is the hot, lazy drum of the sea’. She boils up the cure in an old, abandoned sugar cauldron.

One of the deaths is Maud Plunkett’s. On her last attendance at mass, Dennis waits for her by the harbour, like his favourite boat:

an old freighter welded to the wharf by rust
and sunsets …xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

(Six. LI.ii)

As Maud, ‘his orb and sceptre, the shire of his peace’ is buried in her quilt, the author wonders at the love shown towards the Plunketts by Achille, and it is this wonder and realization that enables the author to see things as they are, free from the frame of literature and tradition:xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxWhy not see Helen

As the sun saw her, with no Homeric shadow
swinging her plastic sandals on that beach alone,
as fresh as the sea-wind? Why make the smoke a door?

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx… when would I not hear the Trojan war
In two fishermen cursing in Ma Kilman’s shop? …

When would I enter that light beyond metaphor? xxxxxxxxxxxxxx         

(Six.LIV.ii/iii)

The book ends at Christmas, with a dinner at Ma Kilman’s for Philoctete, who rejoices in his resurrection. Sorrow abides in the collective memory, but the pain is gone. He and Achille dance the paille-banane,  Helen’s yellow dress stretched over Achille’s powerful body, a symbol of their renewed love and a triumphant beginning to the new year.

The final book is the author’s own transformation, his Dantëesque dream of walking up to  ‘the forge of the maleborge’, with two blind accomplices: the white marble Omeros and the black Seven Seas:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxboth of them had the look of men
whose skins were preserved in salt, whose accents were born
from guttural shoal, whose vision was as wide as rain

sweeping over the sand, … xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

(Seven. LVI.i)

When the author, having been saved by Omeros from the fiery pit, wakes to the sound of ‘bickering blackbirds’, Achille and Philo are out fishing, looking for new grounds, and Ma Kilman’s niece is visiting from Florida:

I know Florida’, Seven Seas said. ‘The life better
there, but not good. That is the trouble with the States. xxxxxxxxxxxxx

(Seven.LXIII.i)

Helen is back with Achille, who knows that the child she carries is Hector’s. In Ma Kilman’s shop, the marriage of reality and myth that the process of the poem has attained is made narrative:

Helen came into the shop, and she had that slow
feline smile of a pregnant woman, the slow grace
that can go with it. Sometimes the gods will hallow

all of a race’s beauty in a single face.
She wanted some margarine. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

(Seven. LXIII.ii)

The white marble Omeros and black Seven Seas from the dream are also reconciled:

Seven Seas sat there as if carved in marble:
his beard white, his hands on the cane, very still.
A swift squeaked like a hinge, then shot from the windowsill. xxxxx x

(Seven.LXIII.ii)

and the sea-swift makes its last flight of the poem:

I followed a sea-swift to both sides of this text;
her hyphen stitched its seam … xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx  x

(Seven.LXIII.iii)

The poem ends, as it began, with a Virgilian cantus:

I sing of quiet Achille, Afolabe’s son …
I sang of our wide country, the Caribbean Sea …
So much left unspoken
by my chirping nib. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx 

(Seven.LXIV.i)

In a moment of total freedom of choice, Achille understands that all true fishermen love the sea as their own country. As he cleans his fish, tools and boat at the end of a hard day and a fine catch of mackerel:

xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxAn immense lilac emptiness
settled the sea. He sniffed his name in one armpit.
He scraped dry scales off his hands. He liked the odours

of the sea in him. Night was fanning its coalpot
from one catching star …

the sea was still going on.

———————————————————————————————————-

[1] L. Callahan, In the Shadows of Divine Perfection. Derek Walcott’s Omeros (Oxford, Routledge, 2014, first printed New York, 2003), p. 1.

[2] Slaves were not kept together with their own villagers, but mixed in with others who spoke a different dialect or language, so that they could not conspire to escape.

[3] Callahan, op, cit., p. 22.

[4] Book Five, chapterXLI.ii, quoted and explicated in Bruce Woodcock, Derek Walcott: Omeros, in A Companion to Twentieth-Century Poetry, ed. Neil Roberts (Oxford: Blackwell) p. 553.

[5] Book One, Ch. II.iii

————————————————————————————————————-

Lindsey Shaw-Miller is a retired art historian. She has written poems all her life and was first published at the age of seven. She lives in Bath with her husband, the art historian Simon Shaw-Miller. They have one grown-up daughter and a very capable border collie.

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*****

1 thought on “Hurting and Healing: Lindsey Shaw-Miller explores ‘Omeros’ by Derek Walcott

  1. “He peels his sunburnt skin in maps of grey parchment….” With such vivid excerpts, Lindsey Shaw-Miller peels Derek Walcott’s Omeros to reveal the layers of meaning caught in Walcott’s poem. A brilliant essay. A thoroughly enjoyable (and thought-provoking) read.

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