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About this poet

The recipient of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature, Derek Walcott was born in Castries, Saint Lucia, the West Indies, on January 23, 1930. His first published poem, "1944" appeared in The Voice of St. Lucia when he was fourteen years old, and consisted of 44 lines of blank verse. By the age of nineteen, Walcott had self published two volumes, 25 Poems (1948) and Epitaph for the Young: XII Cantos (1949), exhibiting a wide range of influences, including William Shakespeare, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound.

He later attended the University of the West Indies, having received a Colonial Development and Welfare scholarship, and in 1951 published the volume Poems.

In 1957, he was awarded a fellowship by the Rockefeller Foundation to study the American theater. Since then, he has published numerous collections of poetry, most recently The Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014); White Egrets (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010), Selected Poems (2007), The Prodigal: A Poem (2004), and Tiepolo's Hound (2000).

The founder of the Trinidad Theater Workshop, Walcott has also written several plays produced throughout the United States, The Odyssey: A Stage Version (1992); The Isle is Full of Noises (1982); Remembrance and Pantomime (1980); The Joker of Seville and O Babylon! (1978); Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays (1970); Three Plays: The Last Carnival; Beef, No Chicken; and A Branch of the Blue Nile (1969). His play Dream on Monkey Mountain won the Obie Award for distinguished foreign play of 1971. He founded Boston Playwrights' Theatre at Boston University in 1981.

His first collection of essays, What the Twilight Says (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), was published in 1998.

About his work, the poet Joseph Brodsky said, "For almost forty years his throbbing and relentless lines kept arriving in the English language like tidal waves, coagulating into an archipelago of poems without which the map of modern literature would effectively match wallpaper. He gives us more than himself or 'a world'; he gives us a sense of infinity embodied in the language."

Walcott's honors include a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award, a Royal Society of Literature Award, and, in 1988, the Queen's Medal for Poetry. He is an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

He currently divides his time between his home in St. Lucia and New York City.


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From the Image Archive

 

In the Village

Derek Walcott, 1930
I

I came up out of the subway and there were
people standing on the steps as if they knew
something I didn't. This was in the Cold War,
and nuclear fallout. I looked and the whole avenue
was empty, I mean utterly, and I thought,
The birds have abandoned our cities and the plague
of silence multiplies through their arteries, they fought
the war and they lost and there's nothing subtle or vague
in this horrifying vacuum that is New York. I caught
the blare of a loudspeaker repeatedly warning
the last few people, maybe strolling lovers in their walk,
that the world was about to end that morning
on Sixth or Seventh Avenue with no people going to work
in that uncontradicted, horrifying perspective.
It was no way to die, but it's also no way to live.
Well, if we burnt, it was at least New York.

II

Everybody in New York is in a sitcom.
I'm in a Latin American novel, one
in which an egret-haired viejo shakes with some
invisible sorrow, some obscene affliction,
and chronicles it secretly, till it shows in his face,
the parenthetical wrinkles confirming his fiction
to his deep embarrassment. Look, it's
just the old story of a heart that won't call it quits
whatever the odds, quixotic. It's just one that'll
break nobody's heart, even if the grizzled colonel
pitches from his steed in a cavalry charge, in a battle
that won't make him a statue. It is the hell
of ordinary, unrequited love. Watch these egrets
trudging the lawn in a dishevelled troop, white banners
trailing forlornly; they are the bleached regrets
of an old man's memoirs, printed stanzas.
showing their hinged wings like wide open secrets.

III

Who has removed the typewriter from my desk,
so that I am a musician without his piano
with emptiness ahead as clear and grotesque
as another spring? My veins bud, and I am so
full of poems, a wastebasket of black wire.
The notes outside are visible; sparrows will
line antennae like staves, the way springs were,
but the roofs are cold and the great grey river
where a liner glides, huge as a winter hill,
moves imperceptibly like the accumulating
years. I have no reason to forgive her
for what I brought on myself. I am past hating,
past the longing for Italy where blowing snow
absolves and whitens a kneeling mountain range
outside Milan. Through glass, I am waiting
for the sound of a bird to unhinge the beginning
of spring, but my hands, my work, feel strange
without the rusty music of my machine. No words
for the Arctic liner moving down the Hudson, for the mange
of old snow moulting from the roofs. No poems. No birds.

IV

The Sweet Life Café

If I fall into a grizzled stillness
sometimes, over the red-chequered tablecloth
outdoors of the Sweet Life Café, when the noise
of Sunday traffic in the Village is soft as a moth
working in storage, it is because of age
which I rarely admit to, or, honestly, even think of.
I have kept the same furies, though my domestic rage
is illogical, diabetic, with no lessening of love
though my hand trembles wildly, but not over this page.
My lust is in great health, but, if it happens
that all my towers shrivel to dribbling sand,
joy will still bend the cane-reeds with my pen's
elation on the road to Vieuxfort with fever-grass
white in the sun, and, as for the sea breaking
in the gap at Praslin, they add up to the grace
I have known and which death will be taking
from my hand on this chequered tablecloth in this good place.

From White Egrets by Derek Walcott. Copyright © 2010 by Derek Walcott. Used by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux. All rights reserved.

Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott

Born in 1930, in the West Indies, Derek Walcott received the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature

by this poet

poem
The fist clenched round my heart
loosens a little, and I gasp
brightness; but it tightens
again. When have I ever not loved
the pain of love? But this has moved

past love to mania. This has the strong
clench of the madman, this is
gripping the ledge of unreason, before
plunging howling into the abyss.

Hold
poem
Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
in that grey vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is History.

First, there was the heaving oil,
heavy as chaos;
then, like a light at the end of a tunnel,

the lantern of a caravel,
and that was Genesis.
Then
poem

 

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