The Rediscovery of Ancestral Experience in Derek Walcott's Early Poetry

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Date: Fall 2017
From: Kola(Vol. 29, Issue 2)
Publisher: Black Writers' Guild
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 3,817 words
Lexile Measure: 1370L

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A rediscovery often implies some sort of quest, voyage, unearthing, or a measure of spiritual enlightenment. Ancestral experience transmits the feeling of things which have been established for generations and which have come to be accepted as common to a particular group of people from the same cultural, racial and social background. Therefore, in speaking of the rediscovery of ancestral experience, one must relate it to values, customs, myths, mores, religion and language common to a people. The writer's position within his community and his perception of his society determine what kind of reconstruction is possible and this in turn influences the reader's response to the world as created in the oeuvre.

A discussion of Derek Walcott's early poetic works will show how his sensibilities have been shaped by experiences from his ancestral past, and by extension how they influence his craft. Derek Walcott is one of the foremost men of letters in the West Indies and the world. He has had a long and varied career spanning seven decades and which earned him the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992. His writings include poetry and drama. He is an intensely personal writer and champions the individual's role in the making of his society. I detect in Walcott's poetry a persistent sadness. Melancholia and nostalgia blend with the approach to the past, present and future of the West Indian psyche and landscape.

Broadly speaking, one can say that the perimeters of Walcott's writing include such major themes as identity, exile and isolation, birth, death, creation and growth of national pride and consciousness, and the portrait of artist as a young man. The journey motif runs through all these themes and links them to the poet's personal growth as a craftsman. These major themes begin in: In the Green Night and continue through The Castaway, The Gulf, Sea Grapes, Another Life and Star-Apple Kingdom . 'Prelude,' the first poem in In a Green Night , explores Walcott's ubiquitous theme of identity together with the consciousness of the people in the islands. There is a sense of insularity which is portrayed by the steamers that ply the islands and that feeling is reinforced by the voyeuristic tourists who help to create the feeling of confinement and limited scope behind their "ardent binoculars."1 The poet's concern for his personal and artistic growth is linked to the delimiting dimensions of his own identity within his "isolated acts." (In a Green Night (p. 11). Although Walcott's world is restricted, he manages to transcend it and

Make a holiday of situations Straighten my tie and fix important jaws, And note the living images Of flesh that saunter through the eye. (In a Green Night , p. 11)

The poet appeals for time to perfect his craft and begs indulgence while he learns" to suffer/In accurate iambics" (I.A.G.N., p. 11). The obvious reference to his apprenticeship as a writer brings into focus the immediacy of the question of identity on a personal and regional basis.

Walcott views the conditions of...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A516447572