Showing posts with label African Literature. Show all posts
Showing posts with label African Literature. Show all posts

Friday, November 29, 2013

Clash of Cvilizations in 'Things Fall Apart' by Chinua Achebe

Things Fall Apart is an amazing novel by Chinua Achebe that illustrates the conflict occurring during the period of British colonization of Africa. Things Fall Apart explores the struggles between the old traditions of the Igbo community and the effects of Christianity on the people of different calibers within that society. The novel is told from the perspective of the native people of Ibo. The novel takes place in Umuofia, in Nigeria, in an area where their culture is indigenous to the Ibo people. In "Things Fall Apart" it seems that the African Ibo culture was strong and functional, such as in its religious beliefs and customs, government, economic, and social coherence. The order of Ibo society became interrupted and began to unravel when the white missionaries entered Africa and introduced Christianity.

The colonial religion first attacked the outcasts, or osu, of the Ibo society in order to expand on the ideas of Christianity and how their belief system was not an accurate portrayal. The traditional belief system had been corrupted by the impact of the missionaries and there was encouragement of disavowing the traditional beliefs of the Ibo society. There were changes due to the entrance of the white man, it was no longer the same society that had been know to the Ibo people. The missionaries who came to Umuofia set out to reach everyone in order to convert him or her to Christianity. Kiaga approached two outcasts and told them they must shave their hair in order to let go of their heathen beliefs. The Christians even lived in the Evil Forest in order to prove that their belief system was not accurate.

The colonizers used religion as a tool of Conquest in Things Fall Apart. In the novel Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe, the white men who come to Umuofia find success in conquering the village by challenging Ibo religion. Because the first white men to appear in Umuofia were missionaries, the slaughter of Ibo society began with the challenging of the highly-regarded religion of the Ibo people. The white men began their religious assault by openly denouncing the many gods worshipped by the Ibo in order to convert them to the new faith. After accomplishing this, the white men set out to prove that the Christian religion was superior to all others by defying the powers of the Ibo gods when they built their church upon the cursed ground of the Evil Forest. With the Ibo religion being proved powerless, the converts began challenging their former religion by killing the sacred python, revered by the people of Umuofia. By attacking the fundamental teachings of the natives’ religion, the Christians were able to effectively conquer the Ibo people.

One of the main themes of the novel is change. It is also seen through religion. The tribe have lived for thousands of years in an untouched and unviolated existence. The arrival of the missionaries and the conversion of many to the Christian faith make it very difficult for some to cope with. Especially those who choose not to convert, and have to watch as their friends/family take a different path. The Clan has a different perception when it comes to the gods. Whereas the Christians believe in only one god, the Ibo have various gods who they worship. There is one supreme god, but they call him Chukwu because "he made all the world and the other gods."  They also worship other gods such as the Oracle of the Hills, the sacred python, and the chi, (or personal god). Two of these are animate gods, in the form of a woman and a reptile. This illustrates another difference between the two religions as the Christian's god is inanimate. The Umofians had a religion that worked out great for them, but when the white men came, they took over their religion and forced them to believe something else. Thus, the colonial religion has brought a change into the system of religion in Ibo society.


Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The Swamp Dwellers' Attitude to City as Expressed in Wole Soyinka's Play The Swamp Dwellers

The Swamp Dwellers by Wole Soyinka is placed in a backward village of Nigeria in the Delta region. But the characters of the play often have important interactions with the town life. Typical to the people of a poverty ridden village, the town is a place of money, and luxury to the Swamp dwellers. To the older generation of the swamp dwellers however, the town is the symbol of corruption. Here the attitudes to the city life are mainly expressed by Alu, Makuri, Igwezu, and Kadiye.

The older generations’ views to the city are expressed through Alu and Makuri. Alu and Makuri have two sons- Awuhike and Igwezu. Both of their sons went to the city for better prospects.

But Awuchike attracted by city cuts of all his relation with his parents. This ungratefulness even more consolidates Alu and Makuri’s prejudice against the city. In the opening scene of the play Makuri says to Alu that Awuchike went to the city because he had go sick of the Swam. Moreover, Makuri says that the young men go to the big town in order to make money. But most of them forget their folk and cut their relation with the roots, says Makuri.

To Makuri the city is the place of immortality and corruption. Some of the events confirm Makuri’s views. For example, Desala who had gone to the city with her husband Igwezu left him and went with Auchike who had more money. Gonushi’s son is another example of the victim of city. He also went to the city and cut off his relation with wife and children.

All the Swamp Dwellers consider city as the place to make money. This view is expressed through the Kadiye. As soon as Igwezu returns home from the city the Kadiye visits Igwezu’s house. But Igwezu is still outside. The Kadiye wants to know from Makuri if Igwezu had made a fortune in the city. According to Kadiye all can make money “in the city”.

In his conversation with Igwezu, the Kadiye asks Igwezu repeatedly about how much money he did make in the town. The Kadiye thinks that Igwezu had made enough money to buy the whole village. When Igwezu talks about his final restrain, the Kadiye doesn’t believe it. To him it is impossible for a man who went to city to be in debt or financial constrain.

But the real picture of city is expressed by Igwezu. In his conversation with Makuri, Igwezu says that the city is the place where only money matters. Money makes a man important and big in the city. On the other hand people without money have no place in a city.

Thus we see that the Swamp Dwellers have mixed feelings about the city. To most of the Swamp Dwellers city is the place of comfort, money and luxury. But there are also some people who have a very negative view towards the city life. Still there are men like Igwezu who hate the city life but is forced to go to the city.

Comparison and Contrast of Characters in Wole Soyinka’s 'The Swamp Dwellers': Art of Characterization in 'The Swamp Dwellers'

The characters in The Swamp Dwellers fall into three groups: the parents Makuri and Alo-conservative, the corrupt priest Kadiye, who beguiles his superstitious followers; and the two positive individuals Igwezu and the Beggar, moving, wondering, seeking and then uncertain what they have found. It is a play of mood and atmosphere, constructed so as to provide the audience with ample opportunity to make comparisons and reach judgment. Soyinka makes his points through implied contrasts and comparisons. In the play, there is contrast between twin brothers, father and son, between mother- in –law and daughter- in- law, between the Beggar and host, comparison between Igwezu and the Beggar and the final contrast between the Beggar and the Priest Kadiye.

Two Brothers

The most obvious contrast is that between the twins brothers, who look alike but behave differently Awuchike has left home for ten years and lives in town. There he deals in timbers and thrives fast. But he never thinks of his poor old parents. Besides, he does not even communicate with his parents, as a result his mother thinks that, he died in swamp drowning, though his father knows that he is still alive in town and earning money there. He is dead to his parents and family responsibility/ whereas, Igwezu is quite opposite to him. He also goes to town with his wife to seek his fortune. He promised that, with first earned money, he will send a swivel chair for his father and he fulfils his promise. He communicates with his parents and looks after them. After all, Awuchike is callous, self centered, egoster, nonchalant, unmindful, undutiful ad disobedient towards parents but Igwezu is obedient, dutiful towards his parents.

Contrast between mother- in –law and daughter- in- law

There is a contrast between the women in the family. Igwezu’s mother Alu is faithful and loyal to his father Makuri. Alu and Makuri lead their conjugal life in subsistence level. Makuri makes basket with rushes and Alu works at her “adire’ cloth. Makuri is also an occasional barer. After all, they live from hand to mouth. In youth, Alu was very beautiful. A group of crocodile traders visited the Swamp and offered Alu to leave for city with them but Alu checked the temptation and rejected their offers. Throughout her life, she shares the well and woe of her husband and remains faithful. Makuri never feels tension for her sake. Besides, she loves the swamp region and never expresses any wish to leave for city. But Igwezu’s wife is reversed to Alu. Her condition before wedding was that, she must have to be taken to town after marriage. She does not like rustic life, careless about Igwezu’s parens. Besides, whenever he begins their urban life, Igwezu’s wife leaves him for wealthy Awuchike. The contrasting point between these two women is that, one is faithful and consistent to husband and another is inconsistent and unfaithful, one is materialistic, another is simple and honest.

Beggar in comparison to Igwezu

The blind beggar offers a comparison to Igwezu. The beggar loses his crops to locust and leaves his home in Bukanji, walks to the south passing through the city, searching for land to cultivate. Igwezu also loses his crops to flood leaves his home in Swamp and takes shelter in town. That is both experience misfortune but both are resolved to earn their livelihood by labor. They are unlike Awchike and Kadiye.

Contrast between Makuri and the beggar

There is a contrast between Makuri and the beggar. Though Makuri has eyesight, he cannot detect the mystery that his family is being beguiled, deceived by the corrupt Priest. But though the beggar is deprived of eyesight, his spiritual light is so powerful and penetrative that, he can detect the bulk of the Priest out of his voice. This means that, he can guess that the Priest is consuming their fresh crops by means of false rituals.

Beggar contrasts to the Priest Kadiye

The blind beggar also offers a contrast to the Priest Kadiye. Though he is regarded as beggar, actually, he does not believe in begging. Rather he believes in the virtue of diligence- this is how he leaves his home and gets out in search of a cultivable land. When the servant of the priest gives a coin, the beggar keeps his bowl upside down. The beggar is not superstitious. He can not believe that, there is any supernatural being in the name a serpent God, who possesses land. But, the priest whose head is bold, skin-tender, looks like greasy porpoises begs his in sophisticated form. He takes goats, ores and other sacrifices offered by the simple minded villagers. They offer the sacrifice to appease the God and want protection at their lives and crops. But the priest consumes when Igwezu asks,” Why are you so fat?” He leaves Makuri’s house. After all, the beggar wants to earn his livelihood by labor while the priest earns his livelihood by false bait and deception. The Beggar deceives none rather raises optimistic views in Igwezu but he priest deceives all.

Contrast between town and country

Finally there is a contrast between town and country. Life in town is source of pain, disappointment and frustration. It is a greed dominated place and only hard- hearted people prosper. But life in country is blend & sorrow and happiness. In village, the family is integrated, people are simple minded, hospitable, capable of being deceived very easily. Besides, the country people are the puppet at the hand of nature. Nature shatter their hope again offers the victim an optimism.

To conclude, through the typical characterization Wole Soyika brings to our notice the attitude, culture and life style of Nigerian people. Besides he shows how the overall economic growth affects the subsistence economy of Nigeria.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Things Fall Apart- the tragedy of an individual or the tragedy of society?

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe is a tragedy of an individual as well as the society. The protagonist of the novel, Okonko who was rich and respectable at the beginning of the novel meets a tragic fate at the end of the novel. But when he suffers, his whole tribe also suffers. At the beginning of the novel, the Ibo society was a peaceful, organic society, but at the end of the novel it falls into pieces. Thus the novel records not only the sufferings of Okonko but also his whole society.

At the beginning of the play we see Okonko as a prosperous leader of he Ibo people. But the novel ends with his tragic end. Thus, we can say that the novel Things fall apart is a depiction of Okonko’s tragic fall. Okonko was definitely a man of importance for his society. He was a well known person through out the 9 villages and beyond. He was a warrior ad wrestler who gained respect through his athletics. He was a fierce-free individual. He hadn’t lost one fight or any battles. And for this the people of the village loved him. He was also respected because of his wealth.

Okonko had three wives and many children. He was able to take care of his wives and children.

But suddenly a disaster takes place in his life. He unconsciously kills the son of a man who had warned him not to kill Ikemefune. Although the killing was an accident, Okonko and his family are forced before nightfall to flee to his distant native village to Manta. When they are gone his compound and his possessions are destroyed by his fellow tribesman in a ritual cleansing and purification of his sin.

When Okonko came back to his village he found that everything was changed. After the clansman burn the Church building down, the District Commissioner asks the leaders of the clan, Okonko among them, to go and see him for a peaceful meeting. The leaders arrive, and are quickly seized. While they are in detention waiting for the fine to be collected from their people, they are beaten severely by the court messengers and their heads shaved. They are held in jail until the clan pays a heavy fine.

Embittered and grieving for the destruction of his clan’s independence, and fearing the humiliation of dying under white law, Okonko ends his life. The District Commissioner and his messengers arrive at Umuofia to find Okonko has hanged himself. They are asked to take down his body, since Ibo mores forbid clan members to touch it, as suicide is regarded as a ac of weakness and as attack against nature.

Like Okonko his Ibo society also meets a tragic fate. In the first part of the book we see a socially, politically and religiously organic Ibo society. But this organic society becomes divided and virtually loses all energy at the end of the book.

At the beginning of the book we see that the Ibo people have a strong faith in their traditional religion. The religion of the Ibos consisted in the belief that there is a suspense God, the creator of the universe and the lesser gods. The supreme God was called Chukwu. The other gods were made by Chukwu to act his messengers so that people could approach Him through them. People made sacrifices to the smaller gods, but when the failed, the people turned to Chukwu. Ancestor worship was also an equally important feature of the religion of the Ibo people. There were man superstitious ideas related with their religious belief. They believed in evil spirits and oracle. One of such Oracles is responsible for Okonko’s sacrifice of Ikemefuna. This incident underlines the superstitious brutality of traditional Ibo society. Thus we find a very strong and extremely detailed picture of Ibo life society prior to the coming of the white man.

But later the Christianity, the colonial religion, mostly replaces the traditional religion. When the white man arrives, however, he ignores the Ibo’s values and tries to enforce his own beliefs and religious practices. Missionaries would convince these tribesmen that their tribe worshipped false gods and that its false gods did not have the ability to punish them if they chose to join the mission. Like many others, Okonko’s son is also affected by the colonial religion.

Prior to the coming of the white the political life of the Ibo people was also very organic and strong. They were very loyal to their political leaders.

The colonial politics affects the Ibo society. Okonko’s life is also affected by the colonial politics. The Ibo people become the victims of the colonial politics and many people die as a result of colonialism. The same things happen to him.

When conflicts came up between villages, the white government would intervene instead of allowing villagers to settle them themselves. In the novel when the white man’s government has come to Umuofia, the clan is no longer free to judge its own; a district commissioner, backed by armed power, judge cases in ignorance of tribal custom.

Things Fall Apart chronicles the double tragedies of the deaths of Okonkwo, a revered warrior, and the Ibo, the tribe to which Okonkwo belongs. In literature, tragedy often describes the downfall of a great individual which is caused by a flaw in the person's character. Okonkwo's personal flaw is his unreasonable anger, and his tragedy occurs when the tribe bans him for accidentally killing a young tribesman, and he returns to find a tribe that has changed beyond recognition. The Ibo's public demise results from the destruction of one culture by another, but their tragedy is caused by their turning away from their tribal gods.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Treatment of the colonial history in Derek Walcott’s poetry

In his poetry Walcott is intensely engaged in the study of the Caribbean myths and history. The different parts of the African continent have been under the British colonial power for many years. Walcott’s own land St. Lucia was also under the British power. During the colonial age the British government exercised all sorts of cruelties and exploitation on the blacks. Even during his own age, Walcott saw the British exercise cruelties on the African people. He was very much aware of this ruthless exploitation of the British colonizers. Moreover, Walcott was aware about the White’s discriminatory behaviors against the black in America. All these elements found expression in Walcott’s poetry.

Walcott’s most famous poem for the treatment of the colonial history is A Far Cry from Africa. Derek Walcott's "A Far Cry from Africa," published in 1962, is a painful and jarring depiction of ethnic conflict. The opening images of the poem are drawn from accounts of the Mau Mau Uprising, an extended and bloody battle during the 1950s between European settlers and the native Kikuyu tribe in what is now the republic of Kenya. In the early twentieth century, the first white settlers arrived in the region, forcing the Kikuyu people off of their tribal lands. Europeans took control of farmland and the government, relegating the Kikuyu to a subservient position. One faction of the Kikuyu people formed Mau Mau, a terrorist organization intent on purging all European influence from the country, but less strident Kikuyus attempted either to remain neutral or to help the British defeat Mau Mau.

The ongoings in Kenya magnified an internal strife within the poet concerning his own mixed heritage. Walcott has both African and European roots; his grandmothers were both black, and both grandfathers were white.

In addition, at the time the poem was written, the poet's country of birth, the island of St. Lucia, was still a colony of Great Britain. While Walcott opposes colonialism and would therefore seem to be sympathetic to a revolution with an anticolonial cause, he has passionate reservations about Mau Mau: they are, or are reported to be, extremely violent—to animals, whites, and Kikuyu perceived as traitors to the Mau Mau cause. As Walcott is divided in two, so too is the poem. The first two stanzas refer to the Kenyan conflict, while the second two address the war within the poet-as-outsider/insider, between his roles as blood insider but geographical outsider to the Mau Mau Uprising. The Mau Mau Uprising, which began in 1952, was put down—some say in 1953, 1956, or 1960—without a treaty. Thus, in the poem Walcott records the history of the colonial Africa.

In his poem “The Glory Trumpeter” we also find Walcott’s treatment of the colonial history. Here through the life of Eddie Walcott records the history of the colonial people. Eddie’s fate reflects the life of most of the Africans. African continent is the poor continent. The aim of most of the Africans is to go to America, where “dry smell of money mingled with man’s sweat.” According to Walcott “Eddie’s features” hold the fate of all the Africans, because the fate of the people of the African colonies become secured during the childhood that they will have to go to America to suffer from “patient bitterness or bitter siege”. So, thorough Eddie we get the history of the colonial people.

The treatment of the colonial history is also found in The Gulf. In this poem Walcott also speaks of the colonial people and history. On the occasion of his farewell one of his American friends gave him a book of fables. But the pictures of the beasts’ claws in this book of fables remind him the actual lunacy that was exercised on the African people. Here in this poem he also remembers such colonial rebel as Black X’s. Moreover, Walcott records the nature of the African colonial people in this poem. Walcott says that unlike the so-called American civilized people, the African people do not exchange gifts. But without exchanging gifts they know that “those we love are objects we return”. So, the African people can be savages, but they know how to return love.

The treatment of the colonial Africans is also found in As John to Patmos. Here he mainly draws the picture of the African landscapes. The African people can be black, but they are surrounded by beauty. Several types of people live in Africa including slaves, soldiers, and workers.

Thus, we see that Walcott depicts the history colonial people in his poems.

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.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

A Study of Derek Walcott’s poem 'A Far Cry from Africa'

Derek Walcott’s “A Far Cry from Africa,” published in 1962, is a painful and jarring depiction of ethnic conflict and divided loyalties. The opening images of the poem are drawn from accounts of the Mau Mau Uprising, an extended and bloody battle during the 1950s between European settlers and the native Kikuyu tribe in what is now the republic of Kenya. In the early twentieth century, the first white settlers arrived in the region, forcing the Kikuyu people off of their tribal lands. Europeans took control of farmland and the government, relegating the Kikuyu to a subservient position. One faction of the Kikuyu people formed Mau Mau, a terrorist organization intent on purging all European influence from the country, but less strident Kikuyus attempted to either remain neutral or help the British defeat Mau Mau.

The ongoings in Kenya magnified an internal strife within the poet concerning his own mixed heritage. Walcott has both African and European roots; his grandmothers were both black, and both grandfathers were white. In addition, at the time the poem was written, the poet’s country of birth, the island of St. Lucia, was still a colony of Great Britain. While Walcott opposes colonialism and would therefore seem to be sympathetic to a revolution with an anticolonial cause, he has passionate reservations about Mau Mau: they are, or are reported to be, extremely violent — to animals, whites, and Kikuyu perceived as traitors to the Mau Mau cause.

As Walcott is divided in two, so too is the poem. The first two stanzas refer to the Kenyan conflict, while the second two address the war within the poet-as-outsider/insider, between his roles as blood insider but geographical outsider to the Mau Mau Uprising. The Mau Mau Uprising, which began in 1952, was put down — some say in 1953, 1956, or 1960 — without a treaty, yet the British did leave Kenya in 1963. Just as the uprising was never cleanly resolved, Walcott, at least within the poem, never resolves his conflict about whose side to take.

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: 5
‘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? 10
Threshed out by beaters, the long rushes break
In a white dust of ibises whose cries
Have wheeled since civilization’s dawn
From the parched river or beast-teeming plain.
The violence of beast on beast is read 15
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 20
Of the white peace contracted by the dead.
Again brutish necessity wipes its hands
Upon the napkins of a dirty cause, again
A waste of our compassion, as with Spain,
The gorilla wrestles with the superman. 25
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? 30
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?

Poem Summary

Lines 1-3

The first three lines depict the poem’s setting on the African plain, or veldt. The nation itself is compared to an animal (perhaps a lion) with a “tawny pelt.” Tawny is a color described as light brown to brownish orange that is common color in the African landscape. The word “Kikuyu” serves as the name of a native tribe in Kenya. What seems an idyllic portrayal of the African plain quickly shifts; the Kikuyu are compared to flies (buzzing around the “animal” of Africa) who are feeding on blood, which is present in large enough amounts to create streams.

Lines 4-6

Walcott shatters the image of a paradise that many associate with Africa by describing a landscape littered with corpses. He adds a sickening detail by referring to a worm, or maggot, that reigns in this setting of decaying human flesh. The worm’s admonishment to “Waste no compassion on these separate dead!” is puzzling in that it implies that the victims somehow got what they deserved.

Lines 7-10

The mention of the words “justify” and “colonial policy,” when taken in context with the preceding six lines, finally clarifies the exact event that Walcott is describing — the Mau Mau Uprising against British colonists in Kenya during the 1950s. Where earlier the speaker seemed to blame the victims, he now blames those who forced the colonial system onto Kenya and polarized the population. They cannot justify their actions, because their reasons will never matter to the “white child” who has been murdered — merely because of his color — in retaliation by Mau Mau fighters or to the “savages,” who — in as racist an attitude as was taken by Nazis against Jews — are deemed worthless, or expendable. (“Savages” is a controversial term that derives from the French word sauvage meaning wild, and is now wholly derogatory in English. Walcott’s use of “savage” functions to present a British colonialist’s racist point of view.)

Lines 11-14

Walcott shifts gears in these lines and returns to images of Africa’s wildlife, in a reminder that the ibises (long-billed wading birds) and other beasts ruled this land long before African or European civilization existed. The poet also describes a centuries-old hunting custom of natives walking in a line through the long grass and beating it to flush out prey. Such killing for sustenance is set against the senseless and random death that native Africans and European settlers perpetrate upon each other.

Lines 15-21

These lines are simultaneously pro-nature and anticulture. Animals kill merely for food and survival, but humans, having perfected the skill of hunting for food, extend that violent act to other areas, using force to exert control — and prove superiority over — other people; they seek divinity by deciding who lives and who dies. Ironically, wars between people are described as following the beat of a drum — an instrument made of an animal hide stretched over a cylinder. Walcott also points out that for whites, historically, peace has not been the result a compromise with an opponent, but a situation arrived at because the opposition has been crushed and cannot resist anymore.

Lines 22-25

These lines are difficult to interpret, but they appear to be aimed at those judging the Mau Mau uprising from a distance — observers who could somehow accept brutality as necessary and who are aware of a dire situation but wipe their hands, or refuse to become involved, in it. The poet appears to condemn such an attitude by comparing the Mau Mau Uprising to the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Leaders of France and Great Britain wanted to avoid another war that would engulf all of Europe, so they introduced a nonintervention pact that was signed by twenty-seven nations. Nonetheless, the Insurgents, or Nationalists, (under the leadership of General Francisco Franco) were aided by and received military aid from Germany and Italy. The Loyalists, or Republicans, had no such backing; they fought valiantly but were outmanned, lost territory, and were eventually defeated in March of 1939. Line 25 presents a cynical view of the Mau Mau Uprising as just another colonial conflict where gorillas — negatively animalized Africans — fight with superman — a negative characterization of Europe.

Lines 26-33

This stanza is a change of scene from primarily that of Africa, to that of the poet. Walcott, being a product of both African and English heritage, is torn, because he does not know how to feel about the Mau Mau struggle. He certainly is not satisfied with the stock response of those from the outside. Walcott is sickened by the behavior of Mau Mau just as he has been disgusted by the British. By the end, the poet’s dilemma is not reconciled, but one gets the sense that Walcott will abandon neither Africa nor Britain.

Historical Context

Most of the area of contemporary Kenya was made a suzerain by the Imperial British East African
Company in 1888. The British government then took over administration in 1895, calling the area a “protectorate.” White settlers started moving in, cutting down trees, and amassing estates (some of the largest were over 100,000 acres). The migration of both whites and Indians continued, unabated. The settler built roads and a railroad, and, over time, dispossessed a great many Kenyans — mostly Kikuyus — of their land. Once dispossessed, Kikuyus were forced, through tax, work, and identity-paper schemes — and by outright force — into employment, primarily as servants on white estates. To gain back self-government and their land, the Kikuyu Central Association sent representative Jomo Kenyatta to England in 1929. During the next sixteen years, Kenyatta tried unsuccessfully to convince England to alter its method of government in Kenya; he returned to his home country in September of 1946.

In 1947, Kenyatta became president of the Kenya African Union (KAU), a nationalist party demanding an end to the numerous injustices of white rule. These demands were met with British resistance or excuses. While Kikuyus at large were becoming increasingly angry at white rule, a militaristic wing emerged, The Kenya Land Freedom Army, from which the organization Mau Mau grew (origins of this term are unknown but most agree it began as a derogatory label of settlers). On August 4, 1950, Mau Mau was declared illegal, even though the government knew little about it except that militant Kikuyus were winning over, coercing, or forcing other Kikuyus to take an oath against foreign rule. Then, on October 20, 1952, after Mau Mau killings of European cattle and the execution of a Kikuyu chief loyal to the British, a state of emergency was declared and an order sent out for the arrest of 183 people. Kenyatta was one of those arrested and, after a trial, was incarcerated for masterminding Mau Mau. Though this charge was never confirmed, he was imprisoned for seven years.

While fearful whites collected guns to protect their lives and property, the first Kikuyu murder of a white settler occurred a week after the emergency: the settler was hacked to death with a machete-like tool, a panga. Some thirteen thousand people and untold animals were to be killed in the Mau Mau anticolonial struggle, most of them Kikuyus. By 1953, the guerilla fighting force of Mau Mau had largely been defeated, and by 1956, the fighting had mostly stopped; the unequal political, economic, and social conditions leading to Mau Mau’s rise, however, were still in place. While the state of emergency continued, governmental reforms between 1953 and 1960 did attempt to appease further threats from Mau Mau. The state of emergency finally ended end in 1960, likely well after Walcott finished writing “A Far Cry from Africa.” Kenyatta was released from prison in 1961, Kenya gained its independence in 1963, and Kenyatta assumed the presidency in 1964, the same year Martin Luther King received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Walcott was most likely in the English-speaking Caribbean when he wrote “A Far Cry from Africa,” an area, like Kenya, under the domination of the British. It was not until the 1930s, at a time of Caribbean social unrest, that even political parties were allowed and universal suffrage introduced. The growth of nationalism and the effects of World War II led to increasing pressure from West Indians for Britain to loosen its grip. So, in 1958, a federation including most of the English-speaking Caribbean islands was formed to prepare for eventual independence. Increasing friction between the archipelago and Britain led to Trinidad and Tobago, as well as Jamaica, withdrawing from the federation and becoming independent in 1962. Walcott’s home island, St. Lucia, would not gain its independence until 1979, sixteen years after Kenya attained hers. During the period of greatest Mau Mau activity, Walcott was attending university in Jamaica. Until 1960, he spent most of his time teaching in West Indian schools and working in theater with his brother. It is likely that Walcott’s West Indian origins, linked back to part of his family’s original homeland in Africa, and the domination of both his country and Kenya by Britain spurred him to take special note of events in Kenya — events that at the time could have been a specter of a similar future for England’s Caribbean colonies.


Violence and Cruelty

The wind “ruffling the tawny pelt of Africa” refers to the Mau Mau Uprising that occurred in what is now independent Kenya, roughly from October 20, 1952, to January of 1960. During this span, the white government called an emergency against a secret Kikuyu society that came to be known as Mau Mau and was dedicated to overthrowing the white regime. Against the backdrop of a cruel, long-lasting British colonialism erupted the more short-term cruelty of Mau Mau insurrection. While some versions have it that Mau Mau was put down by 1953 and others by 1956, the government kept the state of emergency in place until the beginning of 1960. It is the violence of Mau Mau that most disturbs Walcott, apparently because it makes Africans look even worse than their British oppressors. 

There were many stories of Mau Mau violence directed at whites, the animals owned by whites, and at other Kikuyus who refused to join Mau Mau. The violence was especially grisly since many of the Kikuyus used a machete-like agricultural implement, the panga, to kill or mutilate victims after killing them. One such murder — one that Walcott could be describing in “A Far Cry from Africa” — was reported of a four-and-a-half-year-old white child. And on March 26, 1953, in the Lari Massacre, Mau Maus killed ninety-seven Kikuyu men, women, and children, apparently for collaborating with the British. But it was not only the violence of insurrection that terrorized animals, whites, and Kikuyus, but also the reportedly gruesome Mau Mau oathing ceremonies in which initiates pledged allegiance to the Mau Mau cause. 

A Kikuyu schoolmaster gave this account of a ceremony initiating seven members: “We were ... bound together by goats’ small intestines on our shoulders and feet.... Then Githinji pricked our right hand middle finger with a needle until it bled. He then brought the chest of a billy goat and its heart still attached to the lungs and smeared them with our blood. He then took a Kikuyu gourd containing blood and with it made a cross on our foreheads and on all important joints saying, ‘May this blood mark the faithful and brave members of the Gikuyu and Mumbi [analogues of Adam and Eve] Unity; may this same blood warn you that if you betray secrets or violate the oath, our members will come and cut you into pieces at the joints marked by this blood.’” Before Mau Mau, one gets the impression that Walcott was not so torn between Africa and Britain; he may have viewed British colonialism as arrogant, ignorant, and cruel, and Africa as victimized. But then, when Africans themselves turned violent, Walcott was torn and could not so easily side with Africans against the British.

Culture Clash

There are many clashes in this poem. The first image signalling conflict is the hint of a storm brewing in the opening lines where Kikuyu flies feed upon the land and maggots upon dead Mau Mau. Here is the first of several culture clashes: pro-Mau Mau pitted against anti-Mau Mau Kikuyu. And within this, a subconflict also exists between those Kikuyu believing that the rights of the individual (“these separate dead”) do not necessarily violate those of the group and those convinced that individual rights do violate group rights (the Mau Mau philosophy). In lines six through ten, there is also the clash between the culture of those outside the uprising and those killed by it, outsiders (“scholars”) with the luxury of judging the conflict, and insiders (victims) for whom no explanation is sufficient. There are also the outsiders of stanza three, surmising that the conflict is not worth their compassion or involvement, a position against which victims would vehemently argue.

Within the poet, all of these exterior clashes also rage. Walcott is pro-African and pro-Kikuyu but anti-Mau Mau, is pro-English (as in culture and language) but anti-British (as in colonialism), an outsider to the conflict, but an insider in the sense that within his body exist both English and African blood. These conflicts yield up the main confrontation of the poem, that between Mau Mau and the British, and the conflict within the poet about which side to take. Walcott is, then, completely conflicted: while both an outsider and insider he is ultimately unable to be either. While both British and African, he is unable to sympathize with either. While both pro-revolutionary and anti-violent, he cannot defend the uprising or completely condemn it. Still, he feels he must face these clashes, rather than wish or rationalize them away. From the cultural clash on the continent of Africa, the poem moves to the battlefield within the poet — a place less violent but more complex, since Walcott is, at the same time, on both sides and neither side.


A Credo in Isolation

Even the title itself of Derek Walcott’s lovely poem “A Far Cry from Africa” suggests that the author is writing about an African subject and doing so from a distance. It’s an apt title, to be sure; Walcott is of African descent but was born and raised in what we might call the southeast corner of the American sphere without in any way encroaching on West Indies’ independence. Writing from the beautiful island of St. Lucia, Walcott feels, as a well-educated and totally independent black West Indian, that he is indeed at some distance from Africa and the brutal atrocities of whites against blacks and blacks against whites that he has been reading about in Kenya, a large African state famous for its Veldt and for its extraordinary wildlife — giraffes, antelope, even rhinoceros.

The title “A Far Cry from Africa” may have a second meaning in addition to the obvious geographic and personal sense the author feels. The title also seems to say, “well, look, this is a far cry from the Africa that I have been reading about in descriptions of gorgeous fauna and flora and interesting village customs.” And a third level of meaning to the title (without pressing this point too much) is the idea of Walcott hearing the poem as a far cry coming all the way across thousands of miles of ocean — the same routes, perhaps, as the Dutch ships of the late seventeenth century — to land in his accepting ear on the island of St. Lucia. He hears the cry coming to him on the wind. He writes, in the first line of his poem, “A wind is ruffling the tawny pelt / Of Africa.” He has seen photographs of Kenya. He knows that light brown and yellow, of various shades, are two of the most prominent colors of this large African state; they are veldt colors, and there are lions out on the veldt.

“Kikuyu,” in the second line, is the only African word in the poem. The Kikuyu were a Kenya tribe who became Mau Mau fighters in a grass-roots effort to oust the British colonial administration of Kenya. Walcott, as if mesmerized, describes the Mau Mau fighters as moving with extraordinary speed — they know the geography of their country and they “Batten upon the bloodstreams of the veldt.” The use of the word batten is interesting; it generally means to fasten or secure a hatch on a ship. The upsurge of violence is justified in some ways perhaps, but what rivets Walcott’s attention, because he’s a well-educated man and a humanist, is given very simply in the following image, still from the powerful opening stanza: “Corpses are scattered through a paradise.” Walcott, born on St. Lucia, a lovely island with a fairly low economy, would like to believe that Africa is just as paradisial and peaceful as the West Indies.

Most of Walcott’s poems since the early 1960s have been written in very open but quite controlled language. “A Far Cry from Africa” is such a compressed and tightly structured poem that the author tends to cover the ground he wants to talk about point by point and sometimes with what we might call caricatures, or images verging on caricature. “Only the worm, colonel of carrion cries: / Waste no compassion on these separate dead!” He follows this surprising image with two very sharp lines about the foolishness of statistics and alleged political scholars who want to discuss fine points. And then he ends his powerful opening stanza by saying, “What is that to the white child hacked in bed?” Or to Kenyans, he says, who are being treated as if they were “expendable.” What appears to horrify Walcott partly in the case of Kenya is that the conflict and savagery taking place are happening on the basis of color; his reaction is almost Biblical in its unusually compressed and angry personal credo. At no time in this poem does he waste his time referring to any particular historical agreement. He sees the tragedy as essentially human tragedy, and the violence on both sides as essentially inhuman.

Walcott’s dilemma seems to be very much in synch with some of the participants in this poem. “Threshed out by beaters,” he says at the beginning of the second stanza. The poet has dealt with his initial horror at these events in Kenya and has outlined his initial focus on the general area of comment. He seems to see in this second stanza what he regards as the acceptable violence of nature or “natural law” as having been turned into a nightmare of unacceptable human violence based on color. “Beaters” on big game safaris in Africa are the men who beat the brush, sometimes singing or chanting as they do so, and flush out birds and animals for the hunt. Of course, in a lot of cases, beaters will flush out a variety of animals they hadn’t expected.
“A Far Cry from Africa” continues this meditation on the landscape of the Kenyan veldt by saying, “the long rushes break / In a white dust of ibises whose cries / Have wheeled since civilization’s dawn / From the parched river or beast-teeming plain.” Walcott’s image of Africa may strike some readers as a bit innocent, but it doesn’t seem to be in any way affected or insincere as he expresses himself in this personal credo. Quite the contrary; it seems idealistic and uplifting, although it does leave the reader — and perhaps Walcott as well — in the position of saying, “How can we prevent these outbreaks of violence?” Or, perhaps more specifically, “How can we be fair?” Should the United Nations have intervened on behalf of the Kenyans? This is a very intense and bitter poem — a lashing out at injustice and an attempt to formulate both some distance for the writer as well as a sense of his own eventual or fundamental juxtaposition to the uncomfortable and agonizing subject.

Anthropologists, both American and European, have published an enormous amount of material in the twentieth century on different questions of social personality, physicality, and to what degree many of our fundamental social responses — for example, defensiveness, lust, comfort, and pride — seem to have an animal basis. Walcott lashes out at both sides of the Kenyan situation from a position in which he strongly and intensely believes that human and animal are not only different but should be regarded at least as absolute opposites. He seems to know and be aware of the fact that they are not truly absolute opposites. But a large portion of the middle of this poem is Walcott’s expression of his coming to terms with human nature and the mixed good and bad, up and down, nature of history.

“A Far Cry from Africa” is such an agonizing and didactic personal poem, and such a tightly structured poem in which Walcott never relaxes and explains to the reader in casual asides that he himself is of African descent, that some readers may at first feel that the poem is more a comment on news of the day than it is a personal response, and a credo, and to some extent a partial deconstruction of his own credo. There is a weighing of different examples from the Kenyan upsurge in this poem, and the writer obviously wants to come out on top of his own material; he wants to see the argument in a perspective that makes some kind of sense, and he doesn’t want to get swallowed by his own feelings of anger and outrage at these events.
And so we have the “Kikuyu” and violence in Kenya, violence in a “paradise,” and we have “Statistics” that don’t mean anything and “scholars” who tend to throw their weight behind colonial policy. Walcott’s outrage is very just and even, perhaps by the standards of the late 1960s, restrained. And his sense of amazement and awe, and his desire to love the Africa he describes, surges at one point when he notes what is probably a fairly salient and typical detail of Kenya, how “the long rushes break / In a white dust of ibises whose cries / Have wheeled since civilization’s dawn ....”

Of course the African continent is nothing if not enormous. The range of geography and of fauna and flora seem to be extraordinary. Different cultures are in different kinds of motion in various parts of the continent. The north of Africa contains some of the old Arabic civilizations of the eastern half of our world, including Libya, which is across the Mediterranean from Italy, and Egypt, where historical records show at least one or more black African Pharaohs before the period of time described in the Bible’s New Testament. Walcott may or may not be interested in these ideas; he may or may not have visited Africa at some time. We have to concentrate on the poem and on what happens in the poem. How does he develop his sense of weighing these different negative facts of violence in a paradise of ibises and different cultures?

Walcott could be a little more informative in this poem. For example, he could allude to some of the newspaper reports that he’s been reading; he could mention a particular town in Kenya, or a local hero. Even though he identifies Kenya and the
“What appears to horrify Walcott partly in the case of Kenya is that the conflict and savagery taking place are happening on the basis of color; his reaction is almost Biblical in its unusually compressed and angry personal credo.”
great veldt and begins with a powerful opening line that sets the tone and motion for the whole poem (“A wind is ruffling the tawny pelt / Of Africa”), he still wants this poem to be timeless and to apply to other situations in different parts of the world. Near the end of the poem, however, having accomplished his first objective, the charting of the Kenya upsurge and his own humanistic denunciation of brutality, Walcott does come into “A Far Cry from Africa” — and he does so very dramatically.

Perhaps the most brutal and categorical movement in the whole poem occurs after that lovely image of the “ibises” wheeling in historical patterns since “civilization’s dawn.” Frustrated with every aspect of this brutal color war in Kenya, Walcott comes up with an image that more or less generalizes the history of English, European, and African wars: “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.” In this powerful image, coming to the penultimate point of the poem, Walcott says basically that everybody dances, everybody gets emotionally intoxicated with the egoism of taking sides, everybody in that kind of situation is listening to a drumbeat of some kind or another. “Brutish necessity,” he calls it, comparing the Kenyan fighters to the revolutionaries in Spain: “A waste of our compassion, as with Spain / The gorilla wrestles with the superman.” At this point, Walcott seems to have spoken out on the issue, identified the problem, and to some degree disposed of the whole subject.

But there is more to “A Far Cry from Africa” than what we have read so far. There is, as a matter of fact, the very fulcrum of his being so involved and so intense about the subject in the first place: not just humanistic anger, but also a very personal outrage. “I who am poisoned with the blood of both, / Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?” he says as a beginning to the last stanza. Born and raised in St. Lucia, educated in the British system, and an omnivorous reader by the time he was in high school, Walcott is very much a citizen of the world. Quite a well-known poet by the time he was in his twenties, Walcott had, by the time he wrote “A Far Cry from Africa,” spent considerable time in Trinidad, working on different theater projects, and he had also been exhibited as a talented painter.

One of the most moving aspects of this poem, once the reader accepts the very terse, basic, logical arguments regarding the struggle in Kenya, is the general image of the poet/author at the end of the poem. He has no choice but to watch both sides rather sadly continue their violence against each other. But he ends this powerful polemic with six devastating lines: “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?” And of course, Walcott has never turned from Africa or gone to live there. He has continued writing and publishing and has, since the 1980s, become famous all over again for an enormous book-long Homeric poem about the islands, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and the coming together of a multiple of cultural convergences.