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What stories remind you of your childhood? Of course, there are classic childhood tales like Goldilocks and the Three Bears (1837) and Little Red Riding Hood (1697), but there are also personal stories we’ve been told by family members and friends, as well as stories we remember from our own childhoods. The Nobel Prize-winning poet Derek Walcott explores these themes of memory and childhood in his poem “XIV” (1984). The poet uses vivid imagery and several other literary devices to present his mother’s powerful storytelling abilities.

"XIV": Poem Overview

"XIV" Poem Overview Information
Poet:Derek Walcott (1930‐2017)
Year Published: 1984
Type of Poem:Free Verse
Literary/ Poetic Devices:Imagery, alliteration, sibilance, personification, simile, metaphor, symbolism
Meaning:The poem conveys the meaning that childhood is a formative time of wonder and awe that influences everything after it.
Tone:Nostalgic and awestruck
Themes:Childhood and memory

"XIV": Poem Introduction

"XIV" is a poem written by the Nobel Prize-winning poet Derek Walcott. Walcott grew up in Saint Lucia in the Caribbean. The lush, powerful nature of the island greatly influenced his writing. The poet was raised by his mother, who was an arts-loving teacher and a talented storyteller. In the poem "XIV," the poet remembers how his mother told captivating stories to him and his twin brother growing up.

XIV, Saint Lucia, StudySmarterFig. 1 ‐ Derek Walcott and his twin brother were inspired by their mother's stories of the Caribbean. The island of Saint Lucia where they grew up is known for the twin Pitons, which are twin peaks formed from lava.

The poem "XIV" is featured in Derek Walcott's poetry collection, Midsummer (1984). The poetry book features several poems primarily titled with only roman numerals. "XIV" is the number 14 in roman numerals. The title signifies the age nearing the end of childhood, which is a theme in Walcott’s poem.

Walcott's poem is written in free verse, meaning it does not adhere to any specific rhyme scheme or meter. While reading the poem, notice how the rhythm and flow of the poem are guided by the long lines featuring repetitive sounds.

"XIV": Full Poem

Here is the full poem "XIV" by Derek Walcott:

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.

Sunset would threaten us as we climbed closer (5)

to her house up the asphalt hill road, whose yam vines

wrangled over gutters with the dark reek of moss,

the shutters closing like the eyelids of that mimosa

called Ti-Marie; then — lucent as paper lanterns,

lamplight glowed through the ribs, house after house — (10)

there was her own lamp at the black twist of the path.

There’s childhood, and there’s childhood’s aftermath.

She began to remember at the minute of the fireflies,

to the sound of pipe water banging in kerosene tins,

stories she told to my brother and myself. (15)

Her leaves were the libraries of the Caribbean.

The luck that was ours, those fragrant origins!

Her head was magnificent, Sidone. In the gully of her voice

shadows stood up and walked, her voice travels my shelves.

She was the lamplight in the stare of two mesmerized boys (20)

still joined in one shadow, indivisible twins."

"XIV": Poem Summary

There is a winding road that the speaker compares to a "snake shedding its skin" (1). The road is surrounded by dense forest and large leaves. This apparently foreboding place is where "folk stories begin" (4).

XIV, Forest Sunset Trees, StudySmarterFig. 2 ‐ The poet creates a foreboding, intimidating, and frightening atmosphere at the beginning of the poem by depicting a darkening, shrouded path.

Sunset approaches and darkness nears as the speaker and his brother approach the house at the top of a hill. The house is shrouded in vines that entangle the gutters and it smells strongly of moss. People begin closing their house shutters, which the poet compares to a mimosa plant defending itself by turning inwards when touched. The lines of light coming through the shutters resemble human ribs.

At the end of the dark path stands the speaker's mother carrying a lamp. The speaker states that life is distinguished between childhood and the days after childhood.

The speaker's mother recalls the stories she used to tell her sons as children. It is dusk, the fireflies come out, and through the silence, the water in the neighbor's pipes can be heard. The speaker describes how his mother's head was full of lush stories about the Caribbean and their family origin.

The speaker characterizes his mother's voice as one of captivating authority. He describes her as the "lamplight" that "mesmerized" her twin boys who were so close that their shadows appeared as one (20).

"XIV": Analysis of Poem

The speaker's tone is nostalgic and awestruck.

The tone is the speaker's attitude toward what they are writing about.

The poet is filled with nostalgia for his childhood years when he and his brother came close to listen to their mother's colorful, captivating stories of the Caribbean. Still, he is awestruck by the powerful nature of the island and his mother's vast memory, knowledge, and storytelling abilities.

The poem conveys the meaning that childhood is a formative time of wonder and awe that influences everything after it. The poet's mother is a captivating presence who is portrayed as a light at the end of a dark tunnel. During their childhood, she is there to shelter her boys from darkness and to enchant their imaginations with stories. The speaker implies that after childhood, they are left to face the darkness and fears of the world on their own. However, the memory of her words and inspiration still guides them.

The poem's meaning can be further understood through the analysis of literary devices and themes in the following sections.

"XIV": Poetic and Literary Devices

"XIV" features several poetic and literary devices, including imagery, alliteration, sibilance, personification, simile, metaphor, and symbolism.

Imagery, Alliteration, and Sibilance

Derek Walcott uses imagery guided by sound-related literary devices to lead readers through the Caribbean forest.

Imagery is the use of descriptive language that appeals to the senses

Alliteration is the repetition of initial letter sounds in nearby words.

Sibilance is the repetition of sounds that create a hissing or hushing effect.

In the example below, examples of alliteration and sibilance are underlined:

"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)

The beginning of the poem weaves the imagery of the Caribbean forest with the poet's feelings about revisiting his childhood home. The path to his home is dark, shrouded with trees and big "dasheen" leaves, and smells strongly of mold. All of these descriptions evoke a sense of discomfort and fear, but they also intrigue the reader as they can vividly imagine themself walking into the scene.

XIV, Taro Plant Leaves, StudySmarterFig. 3 ‐ Dasheen leaves are the large leaves of a taro plant native to the Caribbean.

The speaker characterizes both the old, twisted road and his own feelings as "an old snake shedding its skin" (1). The poet emphasizes that the forest is a place of constant regrowth and overgrowth. Similarly, he is returning to the place no longer a child—like the snake, he has shed his skin to grow into adulthood.

The imagery of the snake itself evokes a sense of discomfort and fear. Walcott emphasizes the sinister sound of a snake through the use of alliteration and sibilance, as the repeated "s" sounds create a hissing effect. The repetition of sounds weaves the lines together and carries the lines along in a slinking, slithering manner.

Understanding the Difference Between Alliteration and Sibilance

While alliteration is formed by the initial sounds of words, sibilance can be formed by sounds that occur anywhere in a word, as long as they create a hissing or hushing effect.

For example, "snake shedding" is an example of alliteration and sibilance (1). "Twisted itself" is an example of sibilance, but not alliteration (3).

Personification and Simile

Derek Walcott's poem is built on the use of personification and similes that make the forest feel humanly alive.

Personification is when nonhuman things are given human characteristics.

Similes are figurative comparisons that use the words "like" or "as."

In the example below, a simile that uses personification is underlined:

"the shutters closing like the eyelids of that mimosa

called Ti‐Marie; then — lucent as paper lanterns,

lamplight glowed through the ribs, house after house" (8‐10)

Can you identify how the poet uses alliteration in the example above?

The poet personifies the closing house shutters through a simile comparing them to ”the eyelids of that mimosa” (8). Mimosa (also known as Ti-Marie) is a plant that closes its leaves when touched as a defense mechanism. The plant appears to blink as it shuts. The poet draws a parallel between the shutters closing and people closing their eyes to go to sleep.

Derek Walcott personifies the houses to intensify the feeling that everything surrounding the boys is alive, aware, and watchful. If the shutters are the eyelids, then the windows are like eyes.

The lines of lamplight through the closed shutters glow like “ribs.” The poet describes the lights as “lucent as paper lanterns” (9). This indicates that it is a glowing, filtered light that appears to float in the darkness. Walcott creates a haunting atmosphere, which emphasizes children’s irrational fears.

The word “lucent” means glowing or emitting light.

The poet depicts the houses like human bodies. It's as if the nature that grows around and surrounds the houses makes them come to life.

XIV, Mimosa Plant, StudySmarterFig. 4 ‐ Notice how the leaves of Mimosa plants, also known as Ti Marie, resemble the look of window shutters.

Metaphor and Symbolism

The poet uses several metaphors in the poem to help the reader understand how his mother was a symbol of light and life, which characterized his childhood.

A metaphor is a type of figurative language that makes a direct comparison stating that one thing is another thing.

A symbol is a person, place, thing, or idea that has significance beyond its literal meaning.

Walcott uses a metaphor in saying that his mother’s “leaves were the libraries of the Caribbean” (16). The poet uses this metaphor to suggest how his mother is integrated with the nature of the Caribbean, and she is deeply aware of its history. Walcott’s mother is like a tree, full of leaves that represent different stories about the Caribbean. Her knowledge about the place is so vast that it's as if her mind contains a library of books about it.

The poem ends with the metaphor: “She was the lamplight in the stare of two mesmerized boys / still joined in one shadow, indivisible twins” (20-21). The poet compares his mother to lamplight because of her vibrancy in storytelling and her ability to shed light on the stories and history of the Caribbean. She is also a light in the sense that she is a symbol of life, hope, and wonder to her sons.

The poet indicates that he and his brother are reflections of their mother’s influence by writing that their shadows are formed from the light she cast. Light is a significant symbol in the story, as it represents safety, home, direction, and destination amidst the forest darkness.

"XIV": Poem Themes

The poem “XIV” explores the themes of childhood and memory. This is clearly seen in line 12 of the poem, “There’s childhood, and there’s childhood’s aftermath.” The poem is a reconciliation of the poet’s memory of his home as a child and his understanding of its impact on him as an adult.

The poet recalls the dark, dense nature that surrounded his mother’s house. He creates an air of uncertainty and unease as the overgrown nature appears to encompass the path and darkness descends as the sun sets. However, in childhood, the poet’s mother stands at the end of the dark path with a light. She guides him and is a source of inspiration for understanding the land where they live.

Notice how the frightening way the poet describes nature emphasizes common childhood fears, like being afraid of the dark.

The poet’s clear distinction between childhood and everything that comes after it points to the fact that childhood is a highly significant time. Everything Walcott has come to do as an adult has been influenced by his childhood—the tropical island forests in which he was raised, and the captivating, strong woman he was raised by. The poet writes that “her voice travels my shelves” (19), indicating that her words, stories, and existence have touched everything he has ever read and written.

Derek Walcott writes this poem to emphasize how the experiences and memories of childhood carry into the way we live, see, and experience the world as adults.

“XIV” - Key takeaways

  • “XIV” is a poem written by the Nobel Prize-winning poet, Derek Walcott.
  • “XIV” is written in free verse.
  • The poem’s meaning is that childhood is a formative time of wonder and awe that influences everything after it.
  • The poem features literary devices including imagery, alliteration, sibilance, personification, simile, metaphor, and symbolism.
  • The poem focuses on the themes of childhood and memory.

Frequently Asked Questions about XIV

The themes of "XIV" are childhood and memory.

Poetic devices used in "XIV" include imagery, alliteration, sibilance, personification, simile, metaphor, and symbolism.

The poem "XIV" is about the speaker‘s recollection of his childhood home and his mother’s captivating storytelling abilities.

The significance of the title "XIV" is that it signifies the age that nears the end of youth: 14.

The tone of "XIV" is nostalgic and awestruck.

Final XIV Quiz

XIV Quiz - Teste dein Wissen


Who is the author of the poem “XIV”?

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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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Where is the poem set?

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

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

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What does the poet compare the closing house shutters to?

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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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