Poetry,  Postcolonial

Poem: A Far Cry from Africa by Derek Walcott

Just recently I did a series on postcolonialism and did not include a wonderful author I did not know yet: Derek Walcott. He is a West Indian with mixed ancestry: two of his grandparents were black and two were white. Being superficial, the result could not be better: he got both blue eyes and dark skin.

But, leaving superficial comments besides, his mixed ancestry has also influenced his work as an artist (a decision he took being a kid). However, reading one of his poems, I also found he is very influenced by the sea and the fluidity. This last concept of fluidity is very important in postcolonial theory: we are not fixed entities, we are in continous change and can adapt ourselves to new situations and contexts. Just like water does in different containers!

So, I leave here the first poem I read by Walcott, the one I liked the most and that deals with that reconstruction of an African past based on a continent many descendants of slaves have never visited and means nothing to them. Hope you enjoy it.

A wind is ruffling the tawny pelt
Of Africa, Kikuyu, quick as flies,
Batten upon the bloodstreams of the veldt.
Corpses are scattered through a paradise.
Only the worm, colonel of carrion, cries:
“Waste no compassion on these separate dead!”
Statistics justify and scholars seize
The salients of colonial policy.
What is that to the white child hacked in bed?
To savages, expendable as Jews?
Threshed out by beaters, the long rushes break
In a white dust of ibises whose cries
Have wheeled since civilizations dawn
From the parched river or beast-teeming plain.
The violence of beast on beast is read
As natural law, but upright man
Seeks his divinity by inflicting pain.
Delirious as these worried beasts, his wars
Dance to the tightened carcass of a drum,
While he calls courage still that native dread
Of the white peace contracted by the dead.

Again brutish necessity wipes its hands
Upon the napkin of a dirty cause, again
A waste of our compassion, as with Spain,
The gorilla wrestles with the superman.
I who am poisoned with the blood of both,
Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?
I who have cursed
The drunken officer of British rule, how choose
Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?
Betray them both, or give back what they give?
How can I face such slaughter and be cool?
How can I turn from Africa and live?

I have added links to the most complicated works so you can read a little bit and understand the poem. Basically, Walcott criticizes both African and European people because they both did the same: end other people’s lives. He also sees his mixed ancestry as something poisoning instead of enriching but still praises the African landscape, separating it from its inhabitants. At the same time, he also praises the English tongue, despite being an important tool of colonialism.

I would like to know your opinion about the poem:

As I said on my last post, I am a narrative girl, but I’ve discovered a like postcolonial poetry too much. I find it enriching and easier to understand thatnclassical poetry (Whitman, Dickinson etc). So, I have bought an antology on the diaspora poetry called Ten and which I have already recommended to any reader interested in postcolonialism.

Did you like the poem? Do you agree with the idea of returning to an African past (unknown to many) as something dangerous?

I personally agree with Walcott. Such a return is on a myth and not a reality. I understand that your ancestors being slaves may affect you, but, how can returning to a landscape you don’t know, a language that means nothing to you and to a culture that may be a slight part of you, enrich your life? I would rather focus on the multiculturality of my present and try to enjoy it as much as I can.

Further reading on the influence of slavery HERE.



  • Lu

    I LOVE Derek Walcott! He’s one of my favorite poets. I hadn’t read this poem before, so I’m glad this is the one you’ve featured. His collected works is a lovely collection, I definitely recommend it.

    • Elena

      Thanks Lu! Sorry for the dely to reply, but my PC broke down two weeks ago. Regarding Walcott, I must admit I had never heard of him but I’m lucky to have discoverd him now. I will certainly read more of his poems during the summer… which is like, very appropiate.

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