Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Dual Loyalty in Derek Walcott's Poetry: 'A Poet Divided to the Vein'

Son of both the Anglo-European and the Afro-Caribbean heritage, Derek Walcott has conducted a lifelong struggle to integrate the divided self engendered by the duality of his legacy.

Walcott’s life is swinging between two lives, two languages-French patios was being commonly used by the ordinary people he grew up with and English was used in his family. He grew up with two cultures- the society he lived in was Catholic and he himself was a Protestant. As a result of these aspects, he faced the crisis of identity, to the attachment of respective importance. It is also a crisis of modern man who is reared up in a context where two cultures assimilate together and he cannot swallow or leave out another. Colonial writers like Walott have to engage themselves in search of identity and in the assimilation of the varied culture.

Walcott’s acclaimed poem “A far cry from Africa” is a sort of duality, the dilemma about his double heritage and his split self becomes evident. He questions, "How choose/between this Africa and the English tongue I love?"

At the same time this poem is also a strong protest against the British colonization on the Caribbean people. In his poem, Walcott is sympathizing with the Black who are being haunted by the colonizers. He can’t but express his hatred towards English colonizers. The Caribbean island which is surrounded by flora and fauna, the land of peace, charm and aesthetic beauty is shattered by the inhuman torture and tyranny of the colonizers. The colonizers’ oppressions knew no bounds. The colonizers killed them as flies and the corpses were scattered through the paradise. Walcott uses the word “paradise” ironically to show the suppression of the British colonizers, who made the land a sort of hell, scaffolds. He is also criticizing the super power of the world by saying that the super-power didn’t show any compassion to the Caribbean people. Only the worm cries but not the other human being is sympathized with them. These Caribbean fighters was not considerate as freedom fighters but as the separatist. Even the scholars and statistics didn’t give the real number of the fighters. The statistics and scholars depicted the colonial policy. Here Walcott reveals as the mouthpiece of Caribbean people. Black people were suffered under the court of white people. Walcott allegorically shows that “Ibises” fly away with cry as their pace, the forest going to be cleared to set up the civilized society. The Caribbean people are also crying leaving their native soil. The colonizers wanted to depopulate the island. The originality of land is going to be demolished. He ironically condemns the tyranny, suppression and inhuman devastation inflicted upon the Caribbean people. It is natural that a beast kills another beast because beast has no relation. But man inflicts his fellow men marks his inhumanity. He ironically says that the so-called, civilized, sophisticated British colonizers seek divinity by inflicting pain upon Caribbean people. They are blood thirsty, frenzy, and heartless.

Walcott is constantly torn between choice and disapproval. Though is abhors the erstwhile British colonizers, he is deeply in love with the English language. Walcott though, is in dilemma about language, at last he comes to the conclusion about the language. To him, English is not the property of the English. It is the property of the imagination. It is the property of the language itself.

The concluding line “How can I turn from Africa and live?" however expresses his inalienable love for Caribbean heritage. As a dedicated Caribbean poet, he cannot think of his existence turning from Africa. Walcott's divided loyalties engender a sense of guilt as he wants to adopt the "civilized" culture of the British. "A Far Cry from Africa" reveals the extent of Walcott's anxiety through the poet's inability to resolve the paradox of his hybrid inheritance.

“The Glory Trumpeter” is an acclaimed poem which upholds Walcott’s divided loyalties. Like Walcott, Eddie inhabits two cultures. Once Eddie used to glorify the Caribbean culture. But now his aim is shifted. The dollar oriented society of America tempted him and a metamorphosis happened in him. His eyes reflect the dream of America. At the very moment that Eddie shifted his loyalty; people of his own land turn themselves from his because they do not find the known harmony from his music. To them, it is now a violated music lost its fervor. His music which has something very ominous lost its joy and originality. It is mingled with materialistic world. It is a colonizing effect.

“Dry smell of money mingled with man’s sweat”

Eddie represents Caribbean people who are affected by the colonizing civilized tendency. He wants to go to the gorgeous and glamorous United States singing back his native land. This is also the shadow of Walcott that the Caribbean blames him because he has left them in immense sufferings and writes poetry in English. The allusive language of English is not accepted by Caribbean people because they don’t understand it.

Like Eddie Walcott also suffers agony for leaving his countrymen and for his changing mentality. In his mind he is not in subiliant state. Eddie is glorifying American culture from lips not from heart. He never forgets African culture. This idea is the reflection of Walcott’s idea.

All the devastation of Colonial attitude, the flora and fauna were destroyed by Colonial destruction. Though the dollar of America allures him, there is some aesthetic feeling for his country. So, he is in great dilemma, he is ascileating between liking and disliking. The tedious, monotonous life of modern men is expressed in this poem through the agony of Eddie. Like Walcott, Eddie inhabits two cultures. But he is at ease within neither. Once his music glorified West Indian life and culture. But with the passage of time, Eddie has changed his music and turned his back on West Indian people to aim horn / form across a across a literal and figurative gulf; towards North American cities too far away to hear him. As he depicts in this poem, “His born aimed at those cities of the yet the jazz he plays comes from the part of North America where mobile and Galveston are and it is, “Their horn of plenty”. In fact, it is as foreign to the “young crowd” as Walcott’s complex and allusive style must be too many Caribbean readers. At last stage of he poem “ The Glory Trumpeter” we find that Eddie is turned back from America. He realizes that the black people in America are not in good condition because there is racial discrimination in the American society. As a black in America he remains an outcast, castaway or outsider.
The racial people of America lampooned the black people intentionally. Like Eddie who feels a sort of alienated in the American society, Walcott also feels alienation in America. In his own land he feels banished, exiled because the Caribbean people blaming him even his own uncle also blaming him for his changing loyalties. There is no harmonious tie between him and his uncle because of their sufferings and isolation. So, he is alienated from his own island and also from American life. He is rootless, homeless; it’s a tragedy of Walcott. The crisis of identity is haunting crisis to him and this crisis makes his poetry modern. It is crystal clear that deal with mixed feelings of good and bad stand, native and foreign strand, language and culture.

Walcott’s sense of dual citizenship is exemplified in the poem The Gulf. In the poem The Gulf, the poet is leaving the United States, not the Caribbean. As the plane begins its flights, “friends diminish”. The poet is attached to the United Sates, as he is to the Caribbean, though still he has “no home.” The Gulf is literally the Gulf of Mexico beneath the airplane and it becomes the vehicle for a set of parallel metaphors, the sense of separation is struck with the poet’s experience at the moment when his plane takes off from Dallas love field. The plane’s departure from the earth symbolizes the detachment of the soul in meditation

So, to be aware
Of the divine union the soul detaches
Itself from created things

The poet’s overwhelming sense of the lingering “gulf” between himself and both the island culture from which he came and the larger world into which he has ventured is evident in “The Gulf”. The gulf becomes a metaphor for the gap between the poet and the people and places he is in love with. Walcott’s growing awareness of a rift in him is part and parcel of his private as well as public experience. His island home or Caribbean landscape itself reflects the so recurrent themes of human gulf. As a conscious modern poet, Walcott deals here with the haunting theme of isolation and is well aware of the fact that the gulf is widening between the black and the white, the Proletariat and the bourgeois, nation and nation, race and race, religion and religion, region and region, caste and caste, creed and creed. These overwhelming gulfs are the never ending process of separation in every phase of the world. The poet reminds of all the pessimistic and alarming fact,
“The gulf, your gulf is daily widening.”

Derek Walcott is the representative voice of the 3rd world. So, there is a gulf between the 1st world and the 3rd world. The poet suffers from an intense alienation rooted in the experiences of his private world which finds an ideological as well as global reflection in his experiences about the New World around him in U.S.A. “The Gulf” upholds a discouraging picture of separation which transforms the United States from the symbol of New World optimism into a sign of individual alienation. The conscious Caribbean poet is tormented by torturing thoughts and tensions and seized by utter frustration at the sacrifice of ideals at the altar of racial conflicts:-

The divine Union
Of these detached, divided states whose slaughter
darkens each summer now.’

In “As John to Patmos” he glorifies the allures and blessings of his dearest island hyperbolically.

“The island is heaven-----
For beauty has surrounded
It’s black children, and freed them of homeless ditties.”

He says this out of his inexpressible love for Santa Lucia which likely to have blessed all her homeless people with accommodation. “As John to Patmos” is a bright example of his exuberant love for the sea, the hooks, flora and fauna, the sky of his dearest island and black islanders that are, as it were Celestial blessing to him.

“As John to Patmos” is a poem of hope that does not necessarily ignore pain. It is the idea that those two things can coexist – death and life, hope and despair, beauty and the absence of beauty.

“See the curve of bay, watch the struggling flower,”

John of Patmos is the author of the Book of Revelation. It is pain, followed by peace. Despair followed by hope. Walcott took this idea and wrote his own poem of Revelations.

It should be borne in mind that Walcott’s is a quintessentially Caribbean poet. This identity can never overshadow his coveted status as a poet of “international stature”. The 1992 Nobel- Prize in literature places him on the altar of he poet of the Universe. But the general Caribbean experience makes the ground of his poetry from which his private joys, pains, creative thoughts and realizations take off. In LlV he says:-

“The midsummer sea, the hot patch road, this grass,
these shacks that made me……………….
Nothing can burn them out, they are in blood.”

John Donne uses “compus conceit” for the lovers. In the case of Walcott this “compus conceit” can be used o show his deep rooted connection with his native land. Wherever he goes he reveals, upholds and also depicts the deep attachment with his umbilical cord, that is, with his mother land. The basis of his composition of poetry is his Caribbean background.

In Walcott one is aware of a treble impulse- that of his African origin, the West Indian birth, and upbringing and the recent American stay which keep him at his distance from his environment. He is caught in a dilemma to choose between the country of his origin, on the one hand, and the English language, on the other. What unique to Walcott is his multi-cultural consciousness that successfully binds his native tradition and present profession of teaching and writing in English together.