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What do you think defines a "summer feeling"? Is it the weather, the freedom of being out of school, going to beaches, or the lethargy of lazy days? There are plenty of songs that try to capture the mood of summer, but do you know of any summertime poems?
The Caribbean poet Derek Walcott paints a poignant picture of sleepy summertime on the tropical island of Tobago in his poem “Midsummer, Tobago” (1976). In fewer than 40 words, the poet captures the feeling of time passing under the scorching summer sun and explores themes of loss and time.
|“Midsummer, Tobago” Poem Overview|
|Poet:||Derek Walcott (1930-2017)|
|Type of Poem:||Free Verse|
|Literary Devices:||Imagery, Alliteration, Contrast, Sibilance, Assonance, Enjambment, Anaphora, Personification, Simile|
|Themes:||Sleepiness, Time, Loss|
|Meaning:||Time passes in an unassuming manner regardless of how you try to hold on to it.|
“Midsummer, Tobago” is a poem written by the Nobel Prize-winning poet Derek Walcott. The poem was published in his 1976 poetry book, Sea Grapes. Derek Walcott spent most of his life in the Caribbean, particularly on the islands of Saint Lucia and Trinidad.
The nature and culture of the Caribbean are infused in his poetry. Derek Walcott uses the imagery and atmosphere of nature to reflect human feelings. "Midsummer, Tobago" is written about the seascape of Tobago, a small island close to Trinidad where the poet likely spent time in the summer.
Below is the full poem “Midsummer, Tobago” by Derek Walcott. While reading the poem, try to imagine the scene that the poet paints and think about what feeling he is trying to capture.
Derek Walcott uses sparing but impactful language to describe a beach scene of heavy, tropical heat and the feelings of loss that come along with lethargic summer days.
Derek Walcott begins the poem by introducing the image of wide-spanning beaches. He describes the beaches as “sun-stoned.” He characterizes the scene with color, describing the “white heat,” “green river,” and “yellow palms” (2-4). Everything is bright and “scorched” in the summer sun (5).
The speaker writes from a summer house by the beach, which is characterized by a sleepiness similar to the rest of the scene. It's as if everyone and everything are exhausted from the heat.
The speaker nostalgically reminisces about the days that have come and gone in this summer house. He has tried to preserve time and memories with “harbouring arms,” but time has passed and people have outgrown him (11).
The meaning of the poem is that time passes in an unassuming manner regardless of how you try to hold on to it. In the poem, the speaker writes from a house he likely spent many summers in. Being back in this familiar place reminds him of all that he had that is now gone. He feels that everyone has outgrown him and moved on. Though he still clings to the fondness of the past, he cannot do anything to bring it back.
The poem features numerous literary devices including imagery, alliteration, contrast, sibilance, assonance, enjambment, anaphora, personification, and simile. Each of these devices helps shape the meaning, ideas, and feelings conveyed by the poem.
The poem cleverly uses contrasting visual imagery to create a barren but striking beach scene. Derek Walcott uses alliteration to emphasize sounds that carry the poem along with a sense of fluidity despite the brevity of the lines.
Imagery is the use of descriptive language that appeals to the senses.
Alliteration is the repetition of initial letter sounds in nearby words or phrases.
Contrast is when a writer emphasizes the difference between two people, places, or things.
In the example below, the use of alliteration is underlined and words that help develop contrasting imagery are colored. Notice how the poet evokes bright, contrasting colors and the contrasting feelings of cool water and intense heat:
“Broad sun-stoned beaches.
A green river.
scorched yellow palms.” (1-5)
The first line of the poem establishes the setting of the poem through natural imagery and alliteration of the "B" and "S" sounds. Derek Walcott paints a picture of a barren landscape that evokes feelings of loneliness in four simple words.
The fact that he describes the beaches as "broad" implies that they seem to span endlessly. The adjective "sun-stoned" cleverly suggests the feeling of the direct "white heat" of the sun, as the rocks and sand appear bleached by it. "Sun-stoned" also suggests that the color of the sand mimics the pink, orange, and white color of a sunstone gem.
Walcott's beach scene is not crowded but distinctively defined by colors. Even heat, which does not actually have a color, is described as "white heat" to suggest its abrasive intensity. The imagery in this section of the poem evokes both the senses of sight and feeling. The reader is meant to feel the heat of blinding white light contrasted with the cool relief of a "green" river.
Though water is typically characterized as blue, the Caribbean waters have a tint of green, especially near the shoreline of beaches.
A bridge, the first non-natural element described in the poem, appears to imply a pathway to relief from the sun, as it likely leads to the water and is sheltered by "scorched yellow palms" (5). The fact that the palms are "scorched" further emphasizes the intensity of the heat and the need for relief. The "scorched yellow palms" also reflect the speaker's personal state of being overwhelmed and seeking relief.
Derek Walcott uses sibilance, assonance, and enjambment to create a sleepy, drowsy feeling within the reading of the poem.
Sibilance is the repetition of sounds that create a hissing, hushing, or whispering effect.
Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in nearby words.
Enjambment is the continuation of one line of poetry into the next without pause or punctuation.
In the following example, the use of sibilance is underlined and the use of assonance is featured in bold:
“from the summer-sleeping house
drowsing through August.” (6-7)
Note that "summer-sleeping" is also an example of alliteration.
The scene Derek Walcott depicts in his poem captures the feelings of lethargy and tiredness from the heat of the sun. The poet emphasizes this sleepy feeling through the use of the sound-related literary devices sibilance and assonance.
The sibilance of the repeated "s" sound throughout these two lines lends a whispering sound to the reading. It's as if everyone is sleeping, so the speaker must keep his voice down. The fact that the beaches and house are quiet, also emphasizes the speaker's loneliness. The feeling of tiredness is emphasized by the repetition of the "ow" sound in the words "house" and "drowsing," which lends a slow, elongated effect to the reading that mimics the motion and sound of yawning.
The poet uses enjambment to make two lines one drawn-out phrase. This reflects the speaker's own lethargy as he slowly moves through the days in the "summer-sleeping house" (6). It also reflects the slow-moving, drowsy nature of the days themselves. The days are a haze and appear to exist in their own realm of time.
Does your perception of time change during the summer?
Derek Walcott uses anaphora, personification, and simile to present the speaker's feelings about how time has gone by.
Anaphora is the repetition of a word or phrase at the beginning of consecutive clauses or sentences.
Personification is when nonhuman things are given human characteristics.
A simile is a figurative comparison made using the words 'like' or 'as.'
In the example below, the use of anaphora is featured in bold, the use of personification is featured in pink, and the simile is underlined.
“Days I have held,
days I have lost,
days that outgrow, like daughters,
my harbouring arms.” (8-11)
The poet uses anaphora, repeating the phrase "days I have" and the word "days" to emphasize the idea of time. The speaker is nostalgic about the times he has spent in this summer island home. The memories remind him of all that he had and all that he has lost.
The poet uses personification to describe days as children who "outgrow" him to suggest how the passing of time has made him feel left behind and as if his best days are behind him.
Derek Walcott ends the poem with an impactful simile, writing that the days "outgrow" his "harboring arms" as if they were "daughters" (10, 11). These two lines present how the speaker has tried to hold on to people and to past times, but they have gone by, grown up, and left.
The word choice "harbouring" ties back to the imagery of the water, as a harbor is where boats are tied up and sheltered. Walcott's simile suggests that the speaker has tried to keep people safe by tying them to one place, but they had to move on and embark on their own journeys.
"Harbour" is the British spelling of the word "harbor."
The poem "Midsummer, Tobago" explores the themes of tiredness, time, and loss.
The feeling of tiredness characterizes the entire poem. Even the house is described as a "summer-sleeping house." There is a feeling of exhaustion under the sun, as the plants are scorched and the days pass drowsily. Everything appears to move slowly in the heat of tropical island life. The heat can make people both relaxed and lethargic.
"Island time" is an expression used to describe the slow pace of island living.
In Derek Walcott's poem, the lethargy of the environment reflects the speaker's own feelings of sadness and tiredness. The speaker moves in a slow state, as the days seem to meld together. His life is colored by the sadness of holding on to the days that have passed. He seeks relief from both the physical heat and the mental weight of memory.
In the last four lines of the poem it becomes evident that the poem is about the feelings of loss as time goes by. The speaker is likely in a summer home where he experienced many fond memories with people who have now grown up and gone. The scenery that once brought him peace and consolation is now overshadowed by the sadness of loss and clinging to the past.
The speaker feels he has lost grip of time. Whether he tries to hold fast to the past in memory and nostalgia, or lets days go by without distinction, numbed by the heat, he still feels the pangs of loss and the isolation of being left behind. The realization that everything will one day pass him by results in an unresolvable sadness.
Have you ever felt like you were clinging on to the past while everyone else had moved on?
Derek Walcott wrote “Midsummer, Tobago” around 1976, as it was published in his 1976 poetry collection, Sea Grapes.
The poem “Midsummer, Tobago” is about the realization of time passing during the sleepy, hot summer on the island of Tobago.
Derek Walcott wrote “Midsummer, Tobago” to present the feelings of loss and tiredness amidst nature and the passing of time.
“Midsummer, Tobago” is part of the Caribbean poetry genre.
Midsummer (1984) is a poetry book written by Derek Walcott that recollects a year of time from one summer to the next. It is not to be confused with the poem "Midsummer, Tobago," which was published in 1976.
Who is the author of "Midsummer, Tobago"?
Where is Tobago?
The Caribbean/ The Republic of Trinidad and Tobago
True or False: In fewer than 40 words, the poet captures the feeling of time passing under the scorching summer sun.
What is the meaning of the poem?
Time passes in an unassuming manner regardless of how you try to hold on to it.
Name at least one theme explored in the poem.
Tiredness / time / loss
What month does the poem depict?
What does the poet mean when he describes the heat as "white"?
It is intense and blinding
How does the poet describe the "yellow palms"?
True or False: The speaker nostalgically reminisces about the days that have come and gone in the summer house.
Which literary device is not featured in the following lines of the poem?
"from the summer-sleeping house
drowsing through August."
True or False: The poet uses a simile to say that the days outgrow him like sons.
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