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Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott was a highly prolific poet. He published two dozen poetry books throughout his lifetime. Walcott is best known for his fourth poetry collection In a Green Night: Poems 1948‐1960 and his epic poem Omeros.

In a Green Night: Poems 1948‐1960 focuses on Caribbean culture, history, and the effects of colonization. Many of his poetry books focus on these themes. They emphasize the power of language and the significance of places.

Walcott's Homeric epic poem, Omeros captivates Caribbean experience in a retelling of the Trojan War as a battle between Caribbean fishermen. The poetry book is loosely based on characters from The Iliad (circa 762 BCE) by Homer.

An epic poem is a long narrative poem that is typically about a heroic journey. Traditional epic poems typically feature characters who carry out extraordinary deeds and deal with gods, non-mortal creatures and forces.

Here is a complete list of Derek Walcott's poetry books:

  1. 25 Poems (1948)
  2. Epitaph for the Young: Xll Cantos (1949)
  3. Poems (1951)
  4. In a Green Night: Poems 1948—60 (1962)
  5. Selected Poems (1964)
  6. The Castaway and Other Poems (1965)
  7. The Gulf and Other Poems (1969)
  8. Another Life (1973)
  9. Sea Grapes (1976)
  10. The Star-Apple Kingdom (1979)
  11. Selected Poetry (1981)
  12. The Fortunate Traveller (1981)
  13. The Caribbean Poetry of Derek Walcott and the Art of Romare Bearden (1983)
  14. Midsummer (1984)
  15. Collected Poems, 1948–1984 (1986)
  16. The Arkansas Testament (1987)
  17. Omeros (1990)
  18. The Bounty (1997)
  19. Tiepolo's Hound (2000)
  20. The Prodigal (2004)
  21. Selected Poems (2007)
  22. White Egrets (2010)
  23. The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948–2013 (2014)
  24. Morning, Paramin (2016)

Derek Walcott: Poems

Two well-known poems by Derek Walcott are "XIV" and "Love after Love." They present common themes of Caribbean nature and Christianity, which are found in many of Walcott's poems.

"XIV" (1984) by Derek Walcott

"XIV" is a poem from Walcott's 1984 poetry book Midsummer. "XIV," which is the roman numeral for 14, presents memories of the poet's childhood in Saint Lucia. The poet and his brother gather around their mother to listen to the captivating stories she tells.

The poet uses striking imagery of his childhood home and the nature that characterizes it to present the powerful surroundings that shaped him:

With the frenzy of an old snake shedding its skin,

the speckled road, scored with ruts, smelling of mold,

twisted on itself and reentered the forest

where the dasheen leaves thicken and folk stories begin." (1-4)

"Love After Love" (1986) by Derek Walcott

"Love After Love" is a poem that was published in Walcott's 1986 book, Collected Poems, 1948–1984. It is a short, four-stanza poem that explores the idea of regaining a sense of identity and a love for oneself after facing heartbreak and loss. The poet uses biblical allusions of bread, wine, and a feast to suggest that self-love and human worth are rooted in God's love for humanity.

The time will come

when, with elation

you will greet yourself arriving

at your own door, in your own mirror

and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.

You will love again the stranger who was your self.

Give wine. Give bread." (1-8)

Derek Walcott: Omeros Quotes

Omeros takes the inspiration of the Trojan war and carries it to 20th-century postcolonial Caribbean islands, where fisherman fight rather than Greek warriors. Walcott's epic poem sheds light on the uniqueness of the Caribbean experience and the impacts of slavery.

The poem starts with the fisherman Philoctete dramatically speaking to a group of tourists, telling the how the trees are chopped down to build canoes. From the outset of the poem, Derek Walcott portrays how the nature of Saint Lucia is interwoven with the lives of the people:

Laurier-cannelle is a tree that is native to Saint Lucia.

'This is how, one sunrise, we cut down them canoes.'

Philoctete smiles for the tourists, who try taking

his soul with their cameras. 'Once wind bring the news

to the laurier-cannelles, their leaves start shaking

the minute the axe of sunlight hit the cedars,

because they could see the axes in our own eyes.

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.' So, fists jam in our jacket,

cause the heights was cold and out breath making feathers

like the mist, we pass the rum. When it came back, it

give us the spirit to turn into murderers."

(Chapter I, Part I, Lines 1-12)

The central conflict in Omeros is between Achille and Hector. The two men live in St. Lucia and Achille has taken a tin from Hector's boat, which he no longer uses because he left fishing behind to be a taxi driver. Though this is the superficial point of tension, the underlying problem is that a woman named Helen slept with Achille and left him for Hector. She is pregnant, but they do not know whose child it is. The play explores the theme of betrayal:

Men can kill

their own 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." (Chapter III, Part I, Lines 30-36)

Derek Walcott - Key takeaways

  • Derek Walcott was a Saint Lucian Poet and playwright.
  • His writing often focuses on the nature of the Caribbean and the effects of colonization.
  • Walcott wrote 24 poetry books and 25 plays.
  • The poet is best known for his poetry collection In a Green Night: Poems 1948‐1960 and the epic poem Omeros.
  • Two of Walcott’s poems are “XIV” and “Love After Love.”

Frequently Asked Questions about Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott's most famous poem is his epic poem, Omeros (1990). 

Derek Walcott was born is Saint Lucia, which is an island in the West Indies.

Derek Walcott won the Nobel Prize for his writing, which sheds light on Caribbean history and multiculturalism.

Derek Walcott was an Saint Lucian poet and playwright known for his poetry collection Green Night: Poems 1948‐1960 and his epic poem Omeros. Walcott’s poems include “XIV” and “Love After Love.”

Derek Walcott is from Saint Lucia in the Caribbean. He has English, Dutch, and African heritage.

Final Derek Walcott Quiz

Question

Where is Derek Walcott from?

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Answer

Saint Lucia, West Indies

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True or False: Derek Walcott was raised by his mother who used to read poetry around the house.

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Answer

True

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Which of the following things greatly influenced Walcott’s poetry?

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Answer

The sea

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What type of poem is Omeros?

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Answer

An epic poem

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Omeros is loosely based on what book?

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Answer

The Illiad by Homer

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Which of the following countries did not colonize St. Lucia?

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Answer

Sweden

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True or False: Derek Walcott published his first poetry collection at the age of 19.

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True

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In what year did Derek Walcott win the Nobel Prize in Literature?

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Answer

1992

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Which of the following is not a common theme in Walcott’s writing?

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Answer

Death

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True or False: Derek Walcott wrote 24 poetry books.

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Answer

True 

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Question

Who is the author of the poem “XIV”?

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Answer

Derek Walcott

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True or False: The speaker of the poem is the poet who writes recalling childhood memories.

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Answer

True

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Where is the poem set?

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Answer

A Caribbean forest

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The poem is written in free verse. What does free verse mean?

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Free verse is a form of poetry that does not adhere to a specific rhyme scheme or meter.

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What number does “XIV” represent?

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Answer

14

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What is the tone of the poem?

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Nostalgic and awestruck 

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True or False: The meaning of the poem is that childhood is often forgotten in adulthood.

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False

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Twisted on itself and reentered the forest” is an example of which literary device?

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Sibilance

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What kind of atmosphere does the poet create though the imagery in the poem?

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Frightening/intense/foreboding

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What does the poet compare the closing house shutters to?

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Answer

A mimosa plant

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What does the poet’s mother tell stories about?

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The Caribbean

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Who listens to the mother’s stories in the poem?

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The poet and his brother

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How would you best describe the mother’s storytelling abilities?

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Answer

Captivating

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Question

Who is the author of "Midsummer, Tobago"?

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Answer

Derek Walcott

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Where is Tobago?

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Answer

The Caribbean/ The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago

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True or False: In fewer than 40 words, the poet captures the feeling of time passing under the scorching summer sun.

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Answer

True

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What is the meaning of the poem?

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Answer

Time passes in an unassuming manner regardless of how you try to hold on to it.

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Name at least one theme explored in the poem.

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Tiredness / time / loss

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What month does the poem depict?

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August

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What does the poet mean when he describes the heat as "white"?

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It is intense and blinding

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How does the poet describe the "yellow palms"?

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"Scorched"

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True or False: The speaker nostalgically reminisces about the days that have come and gone in the summer house.

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Answer

True

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Question

Which literary device is not featured in the following lines of the poem?

"from the summer-sleeping house

drowsing through August."

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Answer

Anaphora

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True or False: The poet uses a simile to say that the days outgrow him like sons. 

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Answer

False

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