Derek Walcott is a poet, playwright, essayist, and visual artist. Born in Castries, St. Lucia, he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992. His epic poem Omerosis a reworking of the Homeric story and tradition into a journey around the Caribbean and beyond to the American West and London.

Two poems by Derek Walcott

There was no “affair,” it was all one-sided. Bats fretted the treetops then pitched like darts from the pines. At lunch an invisible presence presided over the wines and salads as, in fits and starts, a sinuous organ sobbed to the Bay of the Saracens …

XLIX

ELEGY for Aimé Cesaire I sent you, in Martinique, maître, the unfolding letter of a sail, a letter beyond the lines of blindingly white breakers, of lace-laden surplices and congregational shale. I did not send any letter, though it flailed on the wind, your island …

The Hulls of White Yachts

The hulls of white yachts riding the orange water of the marina at dusk, and, under their bowsprits the chuckle of the chain in the stained sea; try to get there before a green light winks from the mast and the foc’sle blazes with glare, while …

On the Cathedral Steps

On the cathedral steps sprinkled by the bells’ benediction like water that blissfully stained the scorching street, you were not among the small crowd in the sun, so many in black against the Sicilian heat. I never entered the shaded church with its pews facing …

This Page Is a Cloud

This page is a cloud between whose fraying edges a headland with mountains appears brokenly then is hidden again until what emerges from the now cloudless blue is the grooved sea and the whole self-naming island, its ochre verges, its shadow-plunged valleys and a coiled …

The Great Exile

We know Havana mainly through photographs. Its great exile Guillermo Cabrera Infante, in his memories of the city in Guilty of Dancing the Chachachá, uses the kind of images that photographers love: crusted, Pompeian, the city’s Technicolor faded to black and white, its poetry diminished to documentary propaganda, its graffiti …

A Frowsty Fragrance

Subject of poetasters, the Paradisal Isles! Italicized scrolls with f’s for s’s, whose scripts mimic their vegetation, letters hooked like the beaks of parrots or the coil of an overseer’s whip. The Hebrides, the Hesperides, the Cyclades, the Bahamas, all, being islands, have inspired a dipping rhythmic prose and florid …

A Letter to Chamoiseau

We know that road around the blue harbor with its immaculate cruise ship, its oil-storage tanks, and the dwindling fishing settlement you describe under an immense, disconsolate banyan, its shacks with their contorted lanes and rusted trees. The road takes us into the infernal congestion of the settlement from which …

Italian Eclogues

for Joseph Brodsky I On the bright road to Rome, beyond Mantua, there were reeds of rice, and I heard, in the wind’s elation, the brown dogs of Latin panting alongside the car, their shadows sliding on the verge in smooth translation, past fields fenced …

The Master of the Ordinary

The average face, the average voice, the average life—that is, the life most of us lead, apart from film stars and dictators—had never been defined so precisely in English poetry until Philip Larkin. He invented a muse: her name was Mediocrity. She was the muse of the diurnal, of habit, …

Magic Industry

“August,” a Russian émigré poet explained to me, “is a man in Russian language,” “so when you say in your poem ‘The housemaid, August’….” He groaned. In Russian, the months have gender. Nouns have masculine or feminine endings, but unless they are personified, the months are simply nouns. Of course, …

A Letter from the Old Guard

for Irene Worth From a palm-stirred province of the Antilles, a veteran dips his nib in sea-blue ink to commemorate the ferocity of the Ghurkas and his own Regiment lost in the blowing hills of the Sudan; he hears the chink-a-chink of …

God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, Part II.

“I saw Jesus in the Project.”—Richard Pryor Every street corner is Christmas Eve in downtown Newark. The magi walk in black overcoats hugging a fifth of mentholated spirits, and hookers hook nothing from the dark cribs of doorways. A crazy king breaks a …

Elsewhere

(for Stephen Spender) Somewhere a white horse gallops with its mane plunging round a field whose sticks are ringed with barbed wire and men break stones or plait straw into ricks. Somewhere women tire of the shawled sea’s weeping, for the fishermen’s dories …

On Robert Lowell

And we are put on earth a little space, That we may learn to bear the beams of love… —Blake Biographies of poets are hard to believe. The moment they are published they become fiction, subject to the same symmetry of plot, incident, dialogue as the novel.

Two Poems by Derek Walcott

XXVI The sun has fired my face to terra-cotta. I wear this cast from his kiln all over the house. But I cherish its cracks like those of blue, wrinkled water. A furnace has curled the knives of the oleander, gnats drill little holes around a …

Hurucan

I Once branching light startles the hair of the coconuts, and on the villas’ asphalt roofs, rain resonates like pebbles in a pan, and only the skirts of surf waltz round the abandoned bandstand, and we hear the telephone cables hallooing like fingers tapped …