I Speak English

"Practice Makes Perfect"

16 September, 2011

I introduce myself

Filed under: I introduce myself — csa1 @ 23:33

ORAL EXPRESSION

You start a new school year

The teacher will probably ask you to introduce yourself:

My name is …

I’m sixteen …

I live in …

My home phone number is …

I’ve got … brothers and … sisters/ I’m an only child

My father is  a…/an engineer; he works in …

He drives me to school every day

and tells me about his own experience.

He is very strict with me and teaches me to respect myself

and respect others.

He wants me to have ambition and good school results.

 

My mother is a nurse…/… unemployed but she does plenty of housework

She is a super mum: she cooks delicious dishes,

I love her tasty cooking, particularly her brownies.

I ‘m crazy about music, especially reggae  and gospel music.

I play the guitar and I try to practise every day.

I love bèlè rhythms too because they are part of our tradition.

I enjoy drawing and painting every now and then.

I belong to a basket-ball club called the “Lucky Fellows” and we have won our last three matches.

I do not like school, I find it a little boring.

I would have preferred more cultural activities such as making a film, a music hall or a play

we would perform at the end of the school year.

  I’m crazy about films : I go to the cinema with my mates

every fortnight at Madiana.

The last movie I saw was “Case Départ”,

it’s about a serious issue : slavery, but the film-maker

presented it in a very humorous way;

which has never been seen before, since some people think

you shouldn’t laugh   with such an important topic.

I’m fond of reading too

and right now, I’m reading a book about

Sept.11th written by a historian,

Nicole Bacharan entitled :

September 11th, the Day of Chaos.

She is a specialist of  U.S. politics

and she wrote that book with a journalist, writer and  chief editor

called Dominique Simmonet.

They give a detailed account of the tragic events

that almost shattered the very heart of the power.

At school, my favourite subject is English/Spanish… because …

I dislike  Mathematics/Literature … because …

I have/don’t have lunch at the school canteen/ at home.

In the morning,…

I usually go to school by car/I sometimes walk to school when…

In the evening, …

I go home by bus…/ I walk home…

My best friend is …/ He …/him / She …/her…/ We … together… Our … Us …Each other …

  I’ve got a pet. It’s a dog/puppy/cat/kitten/tortoise/rabbit/horse/mare …

I don’t have a pet / I haven’t got a pet.

I fancy travelling/ I’ve been to St-Lucia / Dominica / Trinidad and Tobago …

But I’ve never been to Australia /…

I’m sure you can find plenty of other topics to deal with

 

 

15 June, 2017

A great St-Lucian poet died on March 17, 2017: Derek Walcott

Filed under: Literature,Myths and heroes — csa1 @ 17:21

Caribbean Authors

Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott
PENTECÔTE

Mieux vaut une jungle dans la tête
que du béton sans racines.
Mieux vaut rester perplexe
devant la rue sinueuse des lucioles ;

les lampes hivernales ne montrent pas
l’endroit où se perd le trottoir,
pas plus que ces langues de neige
ne peuvent parler pour le Saint-Esprit ;

le silence en pleine croissance
des mots s’égouttant d’un toit
indique les grilles métalliques,
une direction, à défaut de preuve.

Mais mieux vaut encore ce ressac nocturne
avec les lentes écritures du sable,
qui envoie non pas tant un séraphin
qu’un cormoran attardé

dont le cri affaibli avance
dans le haut-fond phosphorescent
que, dans les évangiles de mon enfance,
on appelait l’Âme.

SAUF-CONDUIT

Rilke fut emporté dans les cieux.
Puis ce fut le tour de Pasternak.
L’un fume avec le séraphin,
l’autre est revenu

cheminer dans les mares gelées
avec leurs saules aussi grands que des harpes,
sa mèche grise est celle d’un étalon,
son cœur pareil à celui d’Akhmatova,

à un cheval gris en hiver
qui, dans la neige épaisse et tourbillonnante,
alors que cette plage blanche devient plus blanche encore,
hennit et est ici.

Derek Walcott, La Lumière du monde, traduction de Thierry Gillyboeuf, Circé, 2005, pp. 181 et 179

Préparation à l’exil

Pourquoi est-ce que j’imagine la mort de Mandelstam
parmi les cocotiers qui jaunissent,
pourquoi ma poésie guette-t-elle déjà derrière elle
une ombre pour emplir la porte
et rendre invisible jusqu’à cette page ?
Pourquoi la lune s’intensifie-t-elle en lampe à arc
et la tache d’encre sur ma main s’apprête-t-elle pouce en bas
à s’imprimer devant un policier indifférent ?
Quelle est cette odeur nouvelle dans l’air
qui jadis était sel, sentait le citronnier à l’aube,
et mon chat, je sais que je l’imagine, bondit hors de mon chemin
les yeux de mes enfants semblent déjà des horizons
et tous mes poèmes, même celui-ci, veulent se cacher ?

L’amour après l’amour

Le temps viendra
où, avec allégresse,
tu t’accueilleras toi-même, arrivant
devant ta propre porte, ton propre miroir,
et chacun sourira du bon accueil de l’autre

et diras : assieds-toi. Mange.
Tu aimeras de nouveau l’étranger qui était toi.
Donne du vin. Donne du pain. Redonne ton cœur
à lui-même, à l’étranger qui t’a aimé

toute ta vie, que tu as négligé
pour un autre, et qui te connaît par cœur.
Prends sur l’étagère les lettres d’amour,

les photos, les mots désespérés,
détache ton image du miroir.
Assieds-toi. Régale-toi de ta vie.

Derek Walcott, Raisins de mer [Sea grapes], traduction de Claire Malroux,

 

POUR   NORLINE

Cette plage restera vide
pour de nouvelles aubes couleur ardoise
des lignes que le ressac efface
sans cesse avec son éponge,

et quelqu’un d’autre viendra
de la maison encore endormie,
une tasse à café chauffant dans sa main
comme autrefois mon corps se lovait sur le tien,

pour mémoriser ce passage
d’une sterne sirotant le sel,
comme quand on aime une ligne
sur une page, et qu’il est difficile de la tourner.

Derek Walcott, La Lumière du Monde, Éditions Circé, 2005, pp. 118-119. Traduit de l’anglais par Thierry Gillybœuf.

 

EXTRAIT 1

La lune brille comme un bouton égaré;
l’eau noire pue sous l’éclairage au sodium
du quai. La nuit s’allume aussi sûrement
qu’au commutateur, les assiettes s’entrechoquent
derrière les fenêtres éclairées,
je longe les murs où passent des ombres éparses
qui ne parlent pas. Parfois, sur des seuils étroits
des vieux jouent aux mêmes jeux tranquilles
cartes, dés, dominos. Je leur donne des noms.
La nuit est compagnonable, le jour aussi violent
que l’avenir de l’homme n’importe où. Je comprends
l’amour aveugle de Borges pour Buenos Aires,
comment un homme peut sentir les veines d’une cité
gonfler dans sa main.

EXTRAIT 2

Au bout de cette phrase, viendra la pluie.
Au ras de la pluie, une voile.
Lentement, la voile perdra de vue les îles;
dans une bruine s’évanouira l’espoir d’une rade
d’une race entière.
La guerre de dix ans est finie.
La chevelure d’Hélène, un nuage gris.
Troie, un blanc cendrier
au bord de la mer sous la bruine.
La bruine se tend comme les cordes d’une harpe.
Un homme, des nuages dans les yeux, recueille la pluie
et arrache la première page de l’Odyssée.

 

Extrait du poème «Grèce» :

… Je m’approchai du bord pour jouir de la vue,
Savourant cette vacuité d’air et de mer,
le vent emplissant ma bouche disait le même mot
pour «vent», mais ici il rendait un son différent,
déchirant la mer comme papier, arrachant
mer, vent et mot de leur racine corrompue ;
ma mémoire chevauchait ses rafales.
Le corps que j’avais abandonné à mes pieds
n’était pas un corps en vérité mais un grand livre,
ses pages voletant comme chitons sur une frise,
jusqu’à ce que le vent pénètre sa reliure…

 

—————————————————————————————————————

 

Derek Walcott, Omeros, Livre I, chapitre 1

Voici une traduction (à la hache) du début d’Omeros  faites  par  Pierre Vinclair

« C’est ainsi, au lever du soleil, que nous en fîmes des canots. »
Philoctète sourit pour les touristes – qui essaient de prendre
son âme avec leurs appareils. « Quand le vent apporte la nouvelle

aux laurier-cannelles, leurs feuilles se mettent à remuer
au moment même où la lame du soleil vient frapper les cèdres –
parce qu’ils peuvent voir les haches dans nos yeux.

Vent lève les fougères – comme le bruit de la mer qui nous nourrit,
nous autres, pêcheurs à vie – et les fougères hochent la tête : “Oui,
les arbres doivent mourir.” Alors, les poings serrés dans le veston,

parce qu’il fait froid dans ces hauteurs et que notre souffle fait une buée
pareille à du brouillard, nous faisons passer le rhum. Lorsqu’il revient
c’est pour distiller, en nous, l’esprit des assassins.

Je lève ma hache et prie que mes mains soient assez fortes
pour blesser le premier cèdre. La rosée a rempli mes yeux –
mais je brûle un autre rhum blanc. Puis nous avançons. »

Pour quelques pièces de plus, sous un badamier,
il leur montre la cicatrice qu’il doit à une ancre rouillée,
enroulant sa jambe de pantalon et poussant un gémissement

de conque. Cela a plissé, comme la corolle
d’un oursin. Il n’explique pas sa guérison.
« J’ai d’autres choses » – il sourit – « qui valent plus d’un dollar. »

Il a confié à une cascade volubile le soin
de déverser son secret le long de La Sorcière – depuis
les grandes landes de lauriers, au sol desquels l’appel des colombes

le transmet, sur leur note, aux montagnes bleues, tacites,
dont les ruisseaux bavards, en l’emmenant jusqu’à la mer,
se transforment en mares, stagnantes, où chassent les clairs vairons

et où une aigrette sort des roseaux avec un cri rouillé
à force de frapper et frapper la boue d’une patte levée.
Puis, le silence est coupé en deux par une libellule

alors que les anguilles écrivent leur nom sur la plage claire,
lorsque le lever du soleil illumine la mémoire de la rivière
et que les vagues d’énormes fougères hochent au son de la mer.

Même si la fumée oublie la terre d’où pourtant elle s’élève,
et même si les orties comblent les trous où moururent les lauriers,
un iguane entend les haches, troublant la lentille de chaque appareil

de son nom perdu – lorsque l’île bosselée était encore appelée
« Iounalao » : « Où l’on trouve des iguanes. »
Mais, prenant son temps, l’iguane va mettre un an

à grimper le gréement des vignes, son fanon éventé,
ses coudes poings sur les hanches, sa queue déterminée
bougeant avec toute l’île. La gousse fendue de ses yeux

affinée au cours d’une pause qui aura duré des siècles,
montée avec la fumée des Aruacs, jusqu’à ce qu’une nouvelle race,
inconnue des lézards, ne viennent pour mesurer les arbres.

Ceux-ci, qui avaient été leurs piliers, tombèrent, ne laissant qu’un ciel bleu
à un Dieu unique, là même où se trouvaient jusqu’alors les dieux anciens.
Le premier dieu était un gommier. Le générateur

commença par un gémissement, et un requin, de sa mâchoire latérale,
fit voler les copeaux, comme des maquereaux hors de l’eau,
dans les herbes agitées. Maintenant ils arrêtent la scie,

encore brûlante et tremblotante, pour examiner la blessure
qu’elle a faite. Ils ôtent la mousse gangréneuse et arrachent
de la blessure le réseau de vignes qui continuent de la relier

à sa terre – et hochent la tête. Le fouet du générateur
redémarra et les copeaux volèrent plus vite, comme
les crocs du requin, uniformément, rongeaient. Ils protégèrent leurs yeux

du nid d’éclats. Maintenant, au-dessus des champs
de bananes, l’île a perdu ses cornes. Le soleil
suinta sur ses vallées, le sang éclaboussa les cèdres,

et la lande fut inondée de cette lumière de sacrifice.
Un gommier s’est fendu, laissant derrière lui une immense
bâche dont le faîtage serait parti. Le craquement

fit sursauter les pêcheurs, à mesure que le mât
se penchait doucement dans les trous de fougères. Puis, le sol
frissonna, sous les pieds, traversé d’ondes – puis les ondes passèrent.

 

Achille jeta un oeil dans la brêche laissée par le laurier.
Il vit[1] le trou, silencieusement, cicatriser grâce à l’écume
d’un nuage, comme d’un brisant. Puis il vit le martinet[2]

qui traversait l’embrun, une petite chose, loin de chez elle,
perturbée par les vagues de collines bleues. Une vigne lui accrocha
le talon. Il s’en libéra. Autour de lui, d’autres vaisseaux

s’informaient du travail des scies[3]. Avec le coutelas, il fit
un rapide[4] signe de croix, le pouce touchant les lèvres
quand la pointe fit tinter les haches. Il ramena la lame

pour tailler, noeud après noeud, les gros bras du dieu mort,
arrachant du tronc les veines brisées, comme s’il priait :
“Arbre ! Tu peux être un canoë[5]  ! Ou bien – tu ne peux pas !”

Les ancêtres barbus supportèrent la décimation
de leur tribu, sans prononcer même une syllabe[6]
de ce langage, qu’ils avaient achevé en nation[7],

le discours instruisant les jeunes pousses : depuis l’énorme babil
du cèdre jusqu’aux voyelles vertes du bois-campêche[8].
Le bois-flot tint sa langue avec le laurier-cannelle,

le bois de sang[9] peau-rouge endura, dans sa chair, les épines,
tandis que le patois Aruac crépitait dans l’odeur
d’un feu de résineux rendant les feuilles brunes

avec des langues vrillées, puis de la cendre – et leur langage fut perdu.
Comme les barbares arpentant les colonnes qu’ils venaient d’abattre,
les pêcheurs hurlèrent. Les dieux étaient à terre, enfin.

Comme des pygmées, ils taillèrent les troncs de ces géants ridés
en rames et en pagaies. Ils travaillaient avec la même
concentration qu’une armée de fourmis de feu[10].

Mais contrariés par la fumée qui souillait le nom de leur forêt,
les moustiques ne cessaient de souffler leurs flèches sur le torse d’Achille.
Celui-ci badigeonna de rhum ses deux avant-bras ; au moins,

ceux qu’il écraserait en astérisques mourraient ivres.
Ils allèrent vers ses yeux. Ils les encerclèrent d’attaques
qui lui firent verser des larmes d’aveugle. Puis la nuée battit en retraite

vers les hauts bambous, pareil aux archers des Aruacs
fuyant le mousquet des bûches craquantes, poussés
par l’étendard de feu et la hache sans remord

qui tailladait les branches. Les hommes nouèrent les gros troncs d’abord
avec le nouveau chanvre et les transportèrent, comme des fourmis, vers une falaise
d’où ils les jetèrent, trouant les hautes orties. Et la soif de ces grumes grossit,

pour la mer avec laquelle étaient nés leurs corps enlierrés.
Maintenant les troncs, impatients de devenir des canoës,
labouraient les buissons des brisants, dont les rochers leur faisaient

des trous grossiers, ne sentant pas la mort à l’intérieur, seulement l’utilité –
toiturer la mer, être coques. Puis, sur la plage, les charbons
furent placés dans des foyers taillés à l’herminette.

C’est un camion à plateau qui avait transporté leurs corps encordés.
Les charbons de bois fumant évidèrent des jours durant les pirogues
jusqu’à ce que la fournaise élargît assez, dans le bois, son vaigrage nervuré.

Sous son ciseau martelant, Achille sentit leurs crevasses
aspirant à caresser la mer, et à précipiter dans la brume
d’îlots imprimés sur les flots par les oiseaux, le bec de leurs proues dédoublées.

Ensuite, tout s’accorda. Les pirogues s’accroupirent sur le sable,
comme des chiens de chasse avec des bâtons entre les dents. Le prêtre
les saupoudra d’un son de cloche, puis les consacra, d’un signe esquissant

l’oiseau[11]. Lorsqu’il sourit du canoë d’Achille, In God we Troust,
Achille dit : “Laisse ! C’est comme ça que Dieu prononce, et moi aussi.”
Après la messe à l’aube les canoës pénétrèrent dans les creux

des surfaces surplissées [12], et leurs proues, hochetant,
convinrent avec les vagues d’oublier leurs vies d’arbres ;
l’une servirait Hector et l’autre, Achille.

 

 

Achille pissa dans le noir, puis referma la demi-porte.
Elle était rouillée par la houle. Il souleva
le seau avec le crabe d’une main ; dans le trou sous la hutte

il cacha la marche de parpaing. Comme il s’approchait du dépôt,
la brise qui tombait le recouvrit de sel – venue dans les rues grises
devant les maisons de bonne-nuit, sous les barres de sodium

des lampadaires, jusque sur l’asphalte sec qu’abandonnaient ses pieds ;
il compta les petites étincelles bleues d’étoiles isolées.
Les feuilles des bananiers acquiesçaient à la colère

ondulante des coqs, aux cris stridents comme une craie rouge
esquissant un croquis de collines sur une ardoise. Attendant, comme son maître,
le ressac ne cessait de venir frotter son pied volontaire.

Le temps de leur rencontre devant le mur de l’appentis de béton,
l’étoile du matin avait reculé, comme haïssant l’odeur
des filets et des intestins de poissons ; la lumière était rude, là-haut,

et l’on voyait l’horizon. Il mit le filet près de la porte
du dépôt, avant de se laver les mains dans la bassine.
Le ressac n’éleva guère la voix et même les bassets rayés

restaient tranquilles autour des canoës ; une fiole d’absinthe
fut tendue par le pêcheur, qui claqua la langue
et secoua l’arbrisseau duquel on l’avait distillée.

C’était dans cette lumière qu’Achille était heureux.
Quand, avant que leurs mains n’aient agrippé les vaigrages, ils se présentaient
au large qui leur rentrerait dedans, sentant leur jour commencer.

Sources :http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1992/walcott-article.html

Derek Walcott’s Biography

A great St-Lucian poet died on March 17, 2017: Derek Walcott dans Literature walcottDerek Walcott was born in 1930 in the town of Castries in Saint Lucia, one of the Windward Islands in the Lesser Antilles. The experience of growing up on the isolated volcanic island, an ex-British colony, has had a strong influence on Walcott’s life and work. Both his grandmothers were said to have been the descendants of slaves. His father, a Bohemian watercolourist, died when Derek and his twin brother, Roderick, were only a few years old. His mother ran the town’s Methodist school. After studying at St. Mary’s College in his native island and at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, Walcott moved in 1953 to Trinidad, where he has worked as theatre and art critic. At the age of 18, he made his debut with 25 Poems, but his breakthrough came with the collection of poems, In a Green Night (1962). In 1959, he founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop which produced many of his early plays.

Walcott has been an assiduous traveller to other countries but has always, not least in his efforts to create an indigenous drama, felt himself deeply-rooted in Caribbean society with its cultural fusion of African, Asiatic and European elements. For many years, he has divided his time between Trinidad, where he has his home as a writer, and Boston University, where he teaches literature and creative writing.

Derek Walcott died on 17 March 2017.

Derek Walcott – Bibliography

Verse
25 Poems. – Port-of-Spain : Guardian Commercial Printery, 1948
Epitaph for the Young. Xll Cantos. – Bridgetown : Barbados Advocate, 1949
Poems. – Kingston, Jamaica : City Printery, 1951
In a Green Night. Poems 1948–60. – London : Cape, 1962
Selected Poems. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1964
The Castaway and Other Poems. – London : Cape, 1965
The Gulf and Other Poems. – London : Cape, 1969
Another Life. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux ; London : Cape, 1973
Sea Grapes. – London : Cape ; New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1976
The Star-Apple Kingdom. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1979
Selected Poetry. Ed. by Wayne Brown. – London : Heinemann, 1981
The Fortunate Traveller. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1981
The Caribbean Poetry of Derek Walcott, and the Art of Romare Bearden. – New York : Limited Editions Club, 1983
Midsummer. – New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, 1984
Collected Poems 1948-1984. New York, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1986
The Arkansas Testament. – New York, Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1987
Omeros. – New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, 1990
The Bounty. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1997
Tiepolo’s Hound. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2000
The Prodigal. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2004
Selected Poems / edited by Edward Baugh. – New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007
White Egrets : Poems. – New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010
Drama
Harry Dernier. – Bridgetown : Barbados Advocate, 1952
Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1970
The Joker of Seville & O Babylon!. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1978
Remembrance & Pantomine : Two Plays. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1980
Three Plays. – New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, 1986
The Odyssey : a Stage Version. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1993
The Haitian Trilogy. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2002. Content : Henri Christophe ; The Haitian earth ; Drums and colours
Walker and The Ghost Dance. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 2002
Marie LaVeau ; and, Steel : plays. – New York : Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2012
Essays
The Antilles : Fragments of Epic Memory : the Nobel lecture. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1993
What the Twilight Says : Essays. – New York : Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1998
Critical studies
Hamner, Robert Daniel, Derek Walcott. – Boston : Twayne, 1981
Goldstraw, Irma E., Derek Walcott : an Annotated Bibliography of his Works. – New York : Garland, 1982
The Art of Derek Walcott. Edited by Stewart Brown. – Bridgend : Seren Books, cop. 1991
Terada, Rei, Derek Walcott’s Poetry : American Mimicry. – Boston : Northeastern University Press, 1992
Hamner, Robert Daniel, Derek Walcott. – New York : Twayne, 1993
King, Bruce, Derek Walcott and West Indian Drama. – Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1995
Walcott, Derek, & Baer, William, Conversations with Derek Walcott. – University Press of Mississippi : Jackson, 1996
Hamner, Robert Daniel, Epic of the Dispossessed : Derek Walcott’s Omeros. – Columbia : University of Missouri Press, 1997
Thieme, John, Derek Walcott. – Manchester : Manchester University Press, 1999
King, Bruce, Derek Walcott : a Caribbean Life. – Oxford : Oxford University Press, 2000
Burnett, Paula, Derek Walcott : Politics and Poetics. – Gainesville, FL : University Press of Florida, 2001
Breslin, Paul, Nobody’s Nation : Reading Derek Walcott. – Chicago : University of Chicago Press, cop. 2001
Ismond, Patricia, Abandoning Dead Metaphors : the Caribbean Phase of Derek Walcott’s Poetry. – Kingston : Univ. of the West Indies Press, 2001

Sources: http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1992/walcott-bio.html

Sea Grapes

That sail which leans on light,
tired of islands,
a schooner beating up the Caribbean

for home, could be Odysseus,
home-bound on the Aegean;
that father and husband’s

longing, under gnarled sour grapes, is like
the adulterer hearing Nausicaa’s name in
every gull’s outcry.

This brings nobody peace. The ancient war
between obsession and responsibility will
never finish and has been the same

for the sea-wanderer or the one on shore now
wriggling on his sandals to walk home, since
Troy sighed its last flame,

and the blind giant’s boulder heaved the trough from
whose groundswell the great hexameters come to the
conclusions of exhausted surf.

The classics can console. But not enough.

Derek Walcott

Fame

This is Fame: Sundays,
an emptiness
as in Balthus,

cobbled alleys,
sunlit, aureate,
a wall, a brown tower

at the end of a street,
a blue without bells,
like a dead canvas

set in its white
frame, and flowers:
gladioli, lame

gladioli, stone petals
in a vase. The choir’s
sky-high praise

turned off. A book
of prints that turns
by itself. The ticktock

of high heels on a sidewalk.
A crawling clock.
A craving for work.

Derek Walcott

The Young Painter

His civil servant father had been an amateur painter, and the son has also devoted much of his grown-up life to painting, not to mention the many references to the great names in art all through his literary works. When growing up in Castries, the capital of St. Lucia, young Walcott attended St. Mary’s College where his most important mentor was a painter, Harold Simmons. He soon took an interest in great European artists like Cézanne, Gauguin, and van Gogh.

Derek Walcott
A 1969 photo of Derek Walcott painting in Trinidad (left) and a self-portrait (oil on canvas) done in 1998.
Photo by Peter Ireson

 

Published Poet at 14, Dramatist at 16

While the town of Castries had an Europeanized culture, Afro-Caribbean folk customs and traditions dominated the countryside of St. Lucia. Walcott published his first poem when he was just fourteen. At sixteen he wrote five plays and had his first collection of poetry published. By the age of twenty, Walcott was ready to found a theatre company on his own, the ST. LUCIA ARTS GUILD. In its inaugural year, this company produced his play Henri-Christophe, whose subject was taken from the colonial history of another Caribbean island, namely Haiti.

young Derek
At 16, Walcott wrote five plays.
Copyright © The Bruce King Collection

 

Academic Studies

After graduating from St. Mary’s College, Walcott continued his studies in another part of the Caribbean, on the island of Jamaica, where he attended the University College of the West Indies at Mona. Here he obtained his bachelor’s degree in 1953. At the University College, he was both the editor of the student magazine and the president of MONA DRAMATIC SOCIETY.

The Search for an Identity

A central theme that runs throughout Walcott’s works is his search for identity. From the beginning, he has intensely felt the antagonisms between the cultural heritage of the Old World and the traditions of the new one. In his critical work Derek Walcott, published in 1999, John Thieme describes the conflicts Walcott has experienced between the positions of European and African, Anglophone and Francophone, Standard English and Creole, and Methodist and Catholic. In the earlier collections of poetry, Thieme traces “a sense of lost perfection, cracked innocence and psychic fragmentation,” which he considers to be a result of the racial divisions of the Caribbean society. In one volume after another, by means of a variety of important poems, Walcott tries to find expressions for the difficulties inherent in Caribbean identity. In “A Far Cry from Africa” (1962) he depicts his desperate dilemma in rather brutal formulations:

The gorilla wrestles with the superman.
I who am poisoned by the blood of both,
Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?

Yet, in his fascinating essay of 1970, “What the Twilight Says,” where he delivers a report about the origin of his interest in the theatre, he sounds more optimistic, hoping to be able to make creative use of his cultural schizophrenia.

In the poem “The Schooner Flight” (1979), Shabine, a Walcott persona, gives an often quoted definition of the identity of a person from a small country in the Caribbean:

I have Dutch, nigger, and English in me,
and either I am nobody, or I am a nation

In reality, this meant:

I had no nation now but the imagination

In a somewhat later work, “North and South” (1981), this poem’s persona gives another effort to express an identity, referring to himself as

a colonial upstart at the end of an empire,
a single, homeless, circling satellite

At an early stage, Walcott was seized by an interest in the situation of St. Lucia. This grew into a promise to chronicle his island, a vow taken together with a painter friend. Walcott’s early play, Henri-Christophe, was connected with this intense desire to depict and express the essence of his Caribbean surroundings.

In a later context, Walcott managed with deeper penetration than ever before to give form to a mature attitude to this theme, with a kind of acceptance of the trespasses of his ancestors through the centuries. Here follows the end and epitome of his extremely interesting essay “The Muse of History,” published in 1976 and re-published in 1998 in the essays with the title “What the Twilight Says”:

I accept this archipelago of the Americas, I say to the ancestor who sold me, and to the ancestor who bought me, I have no father, I want no such father, although I can understand you, black ghost, white ghost, when you both whisper “history,” for if I attempt to forgive you both I am falling into your idea of history which justifies and explains and expiates, and it is not mine to forgive, my memory cannot summon any filial love, since your features are anonymous and erased and I have no wish and no power to pardon. You were when you acted your roles, your given, historical roles of slave seller and slave buyer, men acting as men, and also you, father in the filth-ridden gut of the slave ship, to you they were also men, your fellowman and tribesman not moved or hovering with hesitation about your common race any longer than my other bastard ancestor hovered with his whip, but to you, inwardly forgiven grandfathers, I, like the more honest of my race, give a strange thanks.

These are moving words for a person who feels himself exiled from the Eden of his grandfathers. We may be sure that this reconciliation has cost Walcott much but provided him with deep inner peace. But if we think of its universal consequences, this does not mean that there should exist any universal forgiveness for brutality. Thus, Walcott has no forgiveness when he asks inOmeros whether he might have broken his pen when he started writing poetry forty years earlier, if he had realized that

this century’s pastorals were being written
by the chimneys of Dachau, of Auschwitz, of Sachsenhausen

Derek Walcott
Fascinated by the thoughts of explorers.
Copyright © Anders Hallengren 2000
Photo: Anders Hallengren

 

Explorers

Walcott is also fascinated by thoughts of the first men to discover and visit the world to which he belongs. These were explorers like Columbus, Walter Raleigh, and James Cook, as well as rebels like Toussaint and Henri-Christophe. To Walcott, Robinson Crusoe, more than anybody else, is a real archetype, and his long poem, “Crusoe’s Island” (published in the 1965 volume The Castaway), contains in addition to a detailed geographic and psychological characterization, simple, lucid lines like the following ones:

Upon this rock the bearded hermit built
His Eden:
Goats, corn crop, fort, parasol, garden,
Bible for Sabbath, all the joys
But one
Which sent him howling for a human voice.
Exiled by a flaming sun
The rotting nut, bowled in the surf,
Became his own brain rotting from the guilt
Of heaven without his kind,
Crazed by such paradisal calm
The spinal shadow of a palm
Built keel and gunwale in his mind.

In the 1978 play Pantomime, Walcott used only two characters, Robinson and Friday, in an ironic, modernized variation of their personal relationship that takes place on the island of Tobago. In his important, autobiographical collection of poetry, Another Life, 1973, he also speaks about the task of those who first came over the seas to inhabit the American world:

We were blest with a virginal, unpainted world
with Adam’s task of giving things their names

An important part of Walcott’s poetry and drama has as a partly subconscious program, the “Caribbeanization” of earlier, European motives. Thus, when he studies and admires the plays of John Synge and his depiction of Aran fishermen, as well as the filmatic work of the Japanese director Akira Kurosawa, he works by creating St. Lucian counterparts, simple fishermen speaking their patois.

painting
“Preparing the Net,” 1999, oil on canvas by Derek Walcott.
Copyright © Derek Walcott

 

The Dramatic Work

Walcott’s dramatic work is as important as his poetry. Today, he has written about twenty-five plays, although not all of them have been published. He has defined himself as “not only a playwright but a company,” the reason being that he has worked as much as an instructor and as founder of theatre companies as a playwright. After starting “St. Lucia Arts Guild” in 1950, he opened “Little Carib Theatre Workshop” in 1961. He had then hired a small troop of part-time actors, who could survive because they had other part-time occupations besides. They were nevertheless working under unsure economic conditions, with occasional contributions from the Rockefeller Foundation. In 1966, Walcott’s company changed its name to “Trinidad Theatre Workshop”. As its success gradually grew, the new company made guest performances abroad – in Jamaica, Guyana, Toronto (Canada), Boston, and New York (the USA). Walcott himself has worked at different places teaching, including Boston University as a professor of drama.

Among Walcott’s earlier plays, Ti-Jean and his Brothers has a background in Caribbean folklore, while Dream on Monkey Mountain, his dramatic masterpiece, takes place on his own island of St. Lucia. The latter work’s social inspiration derives from Jean-Paul Sartre’s theories about the black Orpheus, as well as from Frantz Fanon, the French sociologist who impressed the peoples of the Western colonies so deeply with his work Les Damnés de la Terre (1956).

Dream on Monkey Mountain

The Dream on Monkey Mountain (1967) belongs to the twentieth-century genre called dream plays, connected with works by playwrights such as Strindberg as well as by Synge and Soyinka. The play’s main character is Makak (French patois for “Ape”), a black charcoal-burner who comes to town, gets drunk, and is taken into custody by Corporal Lestrade, a mulatto guard who is the maintainer of law and order during the later years of the colonial power. In a dream scene of a mock trial that was probably inspired by Kafka and Hesse, Lestrade accuses Makak of being intoxicated and damaging the premises of a local salesman. However, in another vivid dream sequence, Makak is crowned king in the romantic Africa of his roots, surrounded by his wives, his warriors, and the masks of pagan gods.

In a second mock trial, a number of great Western characters (e.g., Plato, Ptolemy, Dante, Cecil Rhodes, Florence Nightingale) are accused of neglecting other races and sentenced to death by the African tribes. Lestrade has now given up his confession to the Western world, shouldered his black inheritance, and sworn allegiance to Makak. The poor charcoal-burner is acquitted from the charges, and able to withdraw to his West Indian world with a deepened sense of identity.

The dream visions in this play seem to belong both to Makak and to the collective atmosphere of the plot. Ironic effects appear throughout the events. At the same time as Makak’s romantic dream of Africa is presented, he cherishes a fantasy of a white protectress who takes care of him. But, as suggested by Lestrade, he gives up this dream, brutally beheading the woman with an African sword. This is a sacrifice that expresses a sound reaction against a fantasy life alienated from reality. Makak’s character also bears symbolic similarities with Christ: in prison, he is followed by two robbers, and from Good Friday he is able to look forward to the moment of resurrection on Easter Sunday. The prison can be understood as a symbol both of life itself and of colonial rule. In a sophisticated way, this play expresses central components of Walcott’s attitude to the political, racial, and psychological problems in his post-colonial world.

In Dream on Monkey Mountain, Walcott makes a great effort to interpret the nature of Caribbean identity. Colonialism has been important in damaging the human soul and humiliating the inhabitants of this part of the world. But there is no point trying to build castles in the air, as when Makak dreams of his African roots. At the end, in the epilogue, this simple-hearted visionary proletarian is acquitted, while Western civilization with its great characters is sentenced to death. Regardless of this, hate and revenge are negligible – in fact, negative – factors to the writer Walcott.

From Seville to Babylon

By Ti-Jean and His Brothers (1958), Walcott had more seriously started to embrace song and dance in the plot. He had been very successful with his first musicals, The Joker of Seville (1974) and O Babylon (1976). The former is a re-working of Tirso de Molina’s play El burlador de Sevilla, and deals with the Don Juan character and its sexual and moral aspects, while at the same time taking up folk traditions and folk music (calypso) from Trinidad. O Babylon goes back to Walcott’s experiences in Jamaica and deals with the opinions of a religious and political sect of this island, the Rastafarians, and their rejection of Western culture. In Dream on Monkey Mountain, the dances, the miming, and the masquerades take on an even wider role.

poster
A poster done by Derek Walcott for the play “O Babylon”.
Copyright © Derek Walccot

 

The “Homeric” Works

Omeros

From his early youth, Walcott had a great interest in both the sea and the Homeric world, calling the latter “an echo in the throat.” Comparatively recently, he devoted two works to this subject: Omeros (1990) and The Odyssey – A Stage Version (1993). Omeros is a work divided into one hundred and ninety-two songs, written in a rhythmic blank verse with a richness of poetic metaphors and similes. In the French title, Walcott makes poetic pun in that mer evokes the sense of both “sea” and “mother,” and “o” signifies the sound blown through a conch from the sea. This great work presents a reversible world, a colonial or post-colonial model corresponding to the original Homeric world. This is an epic poetic tale, with a multitude of different short stories, flashbacks, conversations, monologues, episodes, descriptions, and impressions, depicting in a minutely detailed way the Caribbean world and all its everyday life, its human beings, animals, nature, waters, and woods.

book cover
The book cover of “Omeros”, using the painting done by Derek Walcott (right).
Copyright © 1990 Farrar, Straus and Giroux

 

In Omeros, Homer himself appears in a row of different shapes. He is the blind Greek poet himself, the blind popular poet Seven Seas, the African griotor rhapsodist, the famous American painter Winslow H o m e r (with his paintings from the Atlantic Ocean), Virgil (the Roman counterpart to the Greek poet), and a blind barge-man who turns up on the stairs of the London church St. Martin-in-the-Fields with a manuscript refused by the editors. Even the personalities correspond to the Homeric ones: Philoctete, the wounded archer; Major Plunkett, a contemporary Philoctete; Achilles, here the son of an African slave; Hector, a fisherman; Helen, intentionally made into a very commonplace and approachable young Caribbean woman. Walcott’s post-colonial world, a world where many slaves had classic Greek names, in many different ways corresponds to Rome and Greece. How could the poet, he says, while listening to the quarrel of two fishermen in his hometown, avoid thinking of quarreling Homeric characters?

Walcott’s text is crowded with thoughts and reflections on history: “the farthest exclamations of history are written by a flag of smoke,” exemplified by Troy, Carthage, Pompeii; “art is history’s nostalgia,” implying that literature carries the same guilt as history and history is midden built on midden. Likewise, as a background to the life of people in our time, Walcott refers to violent events in history: the siege of Troy, the extermination of the Aruac people in the Caribbean by conquistadors, the eighteenth-century fights in the Caribbean between the English and French navies, as well as the prolonged catastrophe that extinguished most native Americans. Or the cruel attacks on African villages by slave traders, the perpetual tragedy of the captives who had to leave their homes, their families, their professions, and their tools, to try to create a new identity beyond the Atlantic; Ibos, Guineans, and many others.

painting
“Domino Players”, (gouache on paper), done by Derek Walcott in 1999.
Copyright © Derek Walcott

 

The Odyssey

In a similar manner, the theatre production The Odyssey testifies to Walcott’s deep interest, or rather involvement, in the Homeric world. There are, indeed, similarities between Omeros and The Odyssey, but there are also major differences. As a dramatic work, The Odyssey is divided into two acts, the first with fourteen scenes, the second with six. The speeches are short, usually only one line each, with the exception of the songs sung by the blind Billy Blue, who is a more modern version of Homer. Now and then, in a number of lines, the speeches have endings that form natural rhymes. The characters are well-known from Homer and include Penelope, Odysseus’ wife, who has to wait for his return from Troy for twenty years; Telemachus, his son; his old nurse on Ithaca, Eurycleia, who is the first to recognize him when he comes back at last from his many adventures; and Eumaeus, the shepherd. There are also the kings visited by Telemachus when he seeks his father: Nestor of Pylos and Menelaos of Sparta. We meet with the sailors of Odysseus’ ship; King Alcinous and his daughter Nausicaa on the isle of the Phaeacians; Cyclops, the dangerous giant; Circe, the seductress; and in a short scene, corresponding to the sixth song of Homer’s work, Odysseus’ own mother Anticlea in the Underworld.

This does not mean, however, that all these characters are copies of those in the Greek Odyssey. Walcott is strikingly independent in forming different personalities. This work is not characterized by the same breadth and depth of the descriptions as in Omeros, but its dramatic verve, its liveliness, and its exquisite sense of humor distinguish it. We may accompany Odysseus from the victory at Troy, over his different stations on his way home, as well as we become more closely acquainted with Telemachus on his different expeditions and with Penelope in her difficult position in Ithaca. And the final scenes where Odysseus comes home and is at last recognized by Penelope and Telemachus do not lose any of the thrilling effects connected with the original Homeric situation. With its light, witty dialogue, it is in some ways more accessible than its poetic relative. Together, these two works provide some idea of Walcott’s rich cultural and political outlook over the seas and continents of the human world.

 

 

 

 

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