The sunday poem 5. Derek Walcott - Arts and Entertainment - The Independent

The sunday poem 5. Derek Walcott

Every week Ruth Padel discusses a contemporary poet through an example of their work

Caribbean Nobel-winner from St Lucia, teaching in America. Many collections, but Omeros, recalling Homer's Odyssey ("Omeros" is Greek for "Homer"), was the stunner: a book-length epic, teeming with Caribbean light and colour, exploring modern alienation through St Lucian lives (fishermen, lovers, expatriates), and drawing on ancient ideas of the poet's alienation: Homer, traditionally blind, "sees" human lives and makes art from them, only by ear.

from Omeros, Chapter Two, section 2

Seven Seas rose in the half-dark to make coffee.

Sunrise was heating the ring of the horizon

and clouds were rising like loaves. By the heat of the

glowing iron he slid the saucepan's base on-

to the ring and anchored it there. The saucepan shook

from the weight of water in it, then it settled.

His kettle leaked. He groped for the tin chair and took

his place near the saucepan to hear when it bubbled.

It would boil but not scream like a bosun's whistle

to let him know it was ready. He heard the dog's

morning whine under the boards of the house, its tail

thudding to be let in, but he envied the pirogues

already miles out at sea. Then he heard the first breeze

washing the sea-almond's wares; last night there had

been

a full moon white as his plate. He saw with his ears.

Metaphorically eliding kitchen and sea, these stanzas contrast inner dark with outer light. The man's name embraces all Seas: if you lower-cased the second S, this first line would be absurd. "Rose" is the first of many words describing simultaneous activity indoors and out. Sea too "rises": like breezes, clouds, and "loaves" - which belong with ovens (like "heating a ring"). But "anchored", "leaked" "weight of water", "bosun", "boards", recall boats, preparing for emotion when boats actually appear ("envied the pirogues / already miles out at sea"): emotion underlined by rhythm. Most lines are perfect Alexandrines, a classic French 12-syllable line (French is big on St Lucia). But the pirogues-and-breeze lines have 13 syllables, declaring extension, a lunge out (from one stanza to another) away from human limitations.

Walcott reveals this limitation slowly. "Groping", locating things by "heat" not light, might suggest pre-dawn dark. But "hear when", "let him know when"? The poet, developing (like the growing light) towards the brightness of blossom and moon, uses vision-words ("glowing"). The man uses other senses ("Heat", "hear when", "heard"). Moon and plate are the climax: a whiteness which, inside or out, he cannot see.

The form is rough terza rima, rhymingly linked three-liners. Some are classic a-b-a ("coffee"/"the", "dog's"/"pirogues") but cross-stanza rhymes are random ("horizon"/"on", "shook"/"took", "whistle"/"tail"). The last stanza, spelling out the blindness, ends with a slant-rhyme to its own inside ("wares"/"ears"), as the outer world mirrored the inner kitchen. Terza rima, unit of Dante's Commedia, has powerful forward momentum but reassuringly continuous structure. Claiming new momentum, and continuity with European tradition, for poetically virgin territory, Walcott turns Western tradition - medieval-Renaissance metre and form, Homeric title (and other characters' names like Philoctete, Achille) - on to the non- European world it colonised.

c Ruth Padel

'Omeros' is published by Faber

The Sunday Poem returns in the New Year

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence star in new film 'Serena'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Some might argue that a fleeting moment in the actor’s scintillating, silver-tongued company is worth every penny.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Colin Firth stars as master magician Stanley Crawford in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

film
Arts and Entertainment
U2 have released Songs of Innocence in partnership with Apple

musicBand have offered new record for free on iTunes
Arts and Entertainment
Brad Pitt stars in David Ayer's World War II drama Fury

film
Arts and Entertainment
Top hat: Pharrell Williams

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jonah Hill and Channing Tatum star as undercover cops in 22 Jump Street

film
Arts and Entertainment
David Bowie is back with fresh music after last year's hit album The Next Day

music
Arts and Entertainment
Keith Richards is publishing 'Gus and Me: The Story of My Granddad and My First Guitar', a children's book about his introduction to music

music
Arts and Entertainment
Calvin Harris has generated £4m in royalties from the music platform

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jenna Coleman stars as the Time Lord's companion Clara in Doctor Who

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Time and time again: the popular daytime quiz has been a fixture on Channel 4 since 1982

TV
Arts and Entertainment

To mark Tolstoy's 186th birthday

books
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel McAdams is reportedly competing with Mad Men's Elisabeth Moss for a major role in True Detective

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sam Smith returned to the top spot with his album 'In The Lonely Hour'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Steve Backshall is set to dance with Ola Jordan on Strictly Come Dancing. 'I have a friend who's a dancer and she said to me 'You want Ola because she's a fantastic dancer and she can make anyone look good' meaning 'even you'!' he said.

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Sting and Paul Simon on stage together at Carnegie Hall in New York

music
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Strictly Come Dancing 2014 contestants and their professional dance partners open the twelfth run of the celebrity ballroom contest

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin teaches Clara to shoot an arrow
doctor who
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

    Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

    The Imitation Game, film review
    England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

    England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

    Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

    Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    ‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

    Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week