Pablo Neruda in Nobel Lecture, December 13, 1971 said, “I have often maintained that the best poet is he who prepares our daily bread (.)” Derek Walcott while receiving the Nobel Prize on December 7, 1992 said, “For every poet it is always morning in the world.” Through poems we reach out suffering of others. At times, poems drum up optimism and hope beyond the knowledge of human hearts. For us, all poems are doors of the mind. Derek Walcott was born in 1930 on the island of St. Lucia, the posthumous child of a civil servant and a school teacher, and the descendant of two white grandfathers and two colour grandmothers. He picked up the French-English patois and received English education. Walcott carried the gene of his mother who used to recite English poetry at home. He was exposed to European classics when he was in the formative period of his life. It’s a unique facet in Walcott’s shaping up as a writer. He had the sap of cultural heritage of the land – the Caribbean life. He developed a creolized style. In some texts he uses native dialect in order to make fun of the bureaucratic idiom of colonisation. Identity is always a kind of representation of oneself to others. Walcott’s writings deal with rich mosaic of thoughts and concerns related to Caribbean ethos, socio-political situations and nuances through linguistic mileage that reflect various facets of life and its routine course:
“Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs
Where is your tribal memory?”
(‘The Sea is History,’ 1979)
The grey vault is the reservoir of a rich cultural history. Walcott is a committed artist. For him art is a route to reflect racial identity.
As a comparison, we quote a few lines from a leading Bangla poet Subodh Sarkar’s poem ‘Mothers of Manipur’:
“Mothers of Manipur redefined my mother with a new name.
Where mothers walk naked in a procession
Commanders of ocean and earth, what you were doing then?”
Magic is born from the world of Walcott’s creative canvas. This canvas invites us to a new vision and feeling about the world, nature, history, memory, animals and ourselves. In ‘North and South,’ Walcott refers to the concentration camps. Some of his works are social action persuading the reader to consciousness. At times, Walcott explores the bitter sweet pleasure of exile. Like Edward Kamau Brathwaite, the Barbadian author, Walcott’s aim is to “transcend and heal” the fragmented culture of his dispossessed people through his works.
Another Life, an autobiographical work, is a record of the author’s consciousness in bridging cultural gaps of different experiences. He reminds me of the literary, social and political tradition of Pablo Neruda, Nicanor Parra, Roberto Bolaño and other leading Chilean poets. Like Parra and his Latin American counterparts, Walcott’s poetry and drama glitter with a rare sweet touch of simplicity and lucidity. Many critics opine that Omeros is Walcott’s major achievement. The work is divided into seven books containing sixty-four chapters. Hilton Als in The New Yorker (9 Feb 2004) categories Omeros as “the perfect marriage of Walcott’s classicism and his nativism.”
Derek Walcott (b.1930) emerged as an author at the age of fourteen (in 1944) and his career spanning more than five decades proved him to be one of the leading poets and the playwrights to have emerged from the Caribbean. Throughout his career as a poet and dramatist, he has dedicated himself to an exploration of a maze of interconnected themes like search for the root, alienation, belonging, self-identity as well as an urge to recover the identity and the lost root of the community in relation with the land. In many cases, identity tangles itself. The indigenous people in different continents not only were oppressed by the colonisers but also lost their distinct identity, culture, language and history, as a large number of them had suffered from forced displacement. The Maori and Pakeha descendant, Apirana Taylor, in ‘In the Heartbeat’ says:
(a canoe in midstream, p 21)
We are reminded of a poem by Manohar Mouli Biswas, a leading Bangla Dalit writer from Kolkata:
“Those who built homes sculpting Dravida shores
Poor bards passing plaintively sing
Forgotten loftier history of Non-Aryan civilization.”
(‘Non- Aryan’ by Manohar Mouli Biswas;
Translated by Angana Dutta, The Wheel Will Turn)
These painful annals of history as Derek Walcott depicts in his works have never been archived or made a subject of narration but it has been drowned completely in the sea: “The sea is history.” There are forces to appropriate these streams of history into the main stereotypes.
We are overwhelmed by the flood of articles, poems dedicated to Derek Walcott and genuine concern of the artists and academicians for this special Focus section for Muse India. Time was short. Within the limited scope and possibility we present before you a rich mosaic of Walcott’s works and concerns. Articles range from poetical skill and narrative technique; and painting and metaphor to landscape and comparative study with Jayanta Mahapatra. Authors have taken up different perspectives and examined Walcott’s literary corpus from different parameters and contexts from different locations. Four poets have dedicated their poems in memory of Sir Derek Walcott. It’s a veritable wonderland.
We stand with head down to all esteemed contributors. Derek is no more. We gather his silence near the ghats of the Ganges. Eyes are heavy. Rain will start after this sentence.