Derek Walcott – Nobel Prize Laureate (1930 – 2017) – R.I. P.

Derek Walcott (1930-2017) Photo Credit: CBC

Derek Walcott (1930-2017) Photo Credit: CBC

For every poet it is always morning in the world. History a forgotten, insomniac night; History and elemental awe are always our early beginning, because the fate of poetry is to fall in love with the world, in spite of History.

Derek Walcott, from Antilles: Fragments of Epic Memory, Nobel Prize Address, December, 1992

Gone at age 87. World poet, poet of the Caribbean – Derek Walcott. And now, a deeply felt sorrow by me and I know by countless others. The quote above risks becoming cliché. It is that frequently quoted. It was included in the New York Times obituary yesterday. But it is also that good and for me still unexpected. Still fresh.

This quote is a call for poets to look at the world with fresh, with new, eyes! In spite of history. To imagine what was there at the beginning. To go back to the morning of the world. In his case, the mornings before exploitation, colonialism. But also in the now to see the world as it is, to fall in love with it in spite of the changes history imposes. To see beauty there still.

In his Nobel Prize speech Walcott also said this as he described the region of his birth, the Antilles:

I am not re-creating Eden; I mean, by “the Antilles”, the reality of light, of work, of survival. I mean a house on the side of a country road, I mean the Caribbean Sea, whose smell is the smell of refreshing possibility as well as survival. Survival is the triumph of stubbornness, and spiritual stubbornness, a sublime stupidity, is what makes the occupation of poetry endure, when there are so many things that should make it futile. Those things added together can go under one collective noun: “the world”.

This is the visible poetry of the Antilles, then. Survival.

Survival. Its own poetry. Our survival, its own poetry, until we die. And maybe if we are able in our lifetime, as Walcott was, we can capture through art some part of the world and our life in it and that becomes its own survival. Past us. Past Walcott. His poetry, its fragments, what has survived. Still survives in words.

Walcott’s words may survive but that doesn’t remove the sorrow of his passing. The difficult challenge to love this world in spite of its sorrows. My beloved, my wife Somae, reminded me this morning of Walcott’s poem Oddjob. It was already in my heart. A poem of such sorrow, sorrow opened with such tenderness, in this case, sorrow over the death of a beloved dog, Oddjob. And isn’t this so true what Walcott says right at the start of the poem. Such a daring telling. No showing or image coming first, except for the title, image, enough.

These knock-me-over lines:

We prepare for one sorrow,
but another comes.

Oddjob, a Bull Terrier

You prepare for one sorrow,
but another comes.
It is not like the weather,
you cannot brace yourself,
the unreadiness is all.
Your companion, the woman,
the friend next to you,
the child at your side,
and the dog,
we tremble for them,
we look seaward and muse
it will rain.
We shall get ready for rain;
you do not connect
the sunlight altering
the darkening oleanders
in the sea-garden,
the gold going out of the palms.
You do not connect this,
the fleck of the drizzle
on your flesh,
with the dog’s whimper,
the thunder doesn’t frighten,
the readiness is all;
what follows at your feet
is trying to tell you
the silence is all:
it is deeper than the readiness,
it is sea-deep,

The silence
is stronger than thunder,
we are stricken dumb and deep
as the animals who never utter love
as we do, except
it becomes unutterable
and must be said,
in a whimper,
in tears,
in the drizzle that comes to our eyes
not uttering the loved thing’s name,
the silence of the dead,
the silence of the deepest buried love is
the one silence,
and whether we bear it for beast,
for child, for woman, or friend,
it is the one love, it is the same,
and it is blest
deepest by loss
it is blest, it is blest.

Derek Walcott from Sea Grapes in Derek Walcott – Collected Poems 1948-1984
A silence blest by loss. Reasons for still seeking beauty. For speaking what still survives! The poetry of Derek Walcott and what his words bring back to life. To beauty.

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