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Derek Walcott Uses Poetry to Explore Themes of Ethnicity Essay

I agree with the fact that Walcott uses poetry to explore themes of ethnicity, cultural chauvinism and political inequality. However, these aren’t the only themes we find in his poetry. He also makes use of themes such as life and death and religion. Sea Canes is one of the poems which includes the themes mentioned above.

In Sea Canes the poet is found observing a landscape in which he can see sea canes and animals, all of this in a miserable atmosphere; “Half of my friends are dead.” Here he also mentions religion and disagrees with it by stating that religion is not necessary to respect the dead. He prefers to remember them exactly how they were, instead of see dead people as something supernatural and much nobler than the living. As he looks to the other side of the sea canes he views a boundary between the world of the living and the world of the dead. He metaphorically says that the owls represent us humans leaving the world of the living to enter the mystical world of the dead.

In The Hawk we can locate clear examples of ethnicity, cultural chauvinism and the clash between western and Caribbean culture. Here he mentions the carnival in Trinidad, and says that the only ones that should attend it are the locals. Later in the poem, Walcott mentions the ethnicity and the races of the people at the carnival. “The negroes, bastards, mestizos, proud of their Spanish blood”, all the people with mixed ancestry who are proud of their Spanish blood, not their native blood. Here Walcott is referring to the colonial powers and their endless control over the Caribbean population. He also compares the Yucatan peninsula with Trinidad. He states that Yucatan has a magnificent landscape while Trinidad has been destroyed during colonialism. Walcott describes the natives as toothless tigers, once powerful and strong but now nothing more than a big defenseless cat “Caribs, like toothless tigers”. Here we can appreciate cultural chauvinism, throughout The Hawk he criticizes colonialism by describing its consequences and shows an enormous patriotism for the Caribbean islands.

Extract J contains also contains themes of cultural chauvinism and life and death. He starts the poem by describing his house in Saint Lucia. He describes the beautiful landscape, nature and the surrounding found in the Caribbean. He subliminally compares the western landscape with the one in the Caribbean, exaggerating the beauty of the tropical islands compared with Europe. He unexpectedly makes a radical change and commences to talk about his dead friend Gregorias. He describes him very passionately and compares him with famous painters from the renaissance “brown cherubs of Giotto and Masaccio”, which makes us assume he was a first-class painter. He feels tremendous affection for him and his death, as he tells us, has dramatically changed Walcott’s life.

The Walk is another poem which describes Walcott’s agony due to the loss of friends. Here he talks about his first wife. He used to walk with her up the hills, until the day she fell ill “You were weak and lame, So you never came”. She then had other interests and finally when she died, Walcott felt completely alone. He repeatedly expresses his grief of having lost his beloved wife and declares that now that she’s dead, these walks are very different for him.

The Bright Field is a further illustration of cultural patriotism and the inconformity of the European culture. The poem begins in London introducing us to a man “steeled against the power of London.” Probably the man is Walcott himself, criticizing the citizens and the city. He says that the city is depressing and most of the time people are found in cemeteries or in the underground. In the second paragraph he talks about the British Empire, the empire that “their sun that would not set was going down” the largest empire in history was now diminishing and weak. This poem is again about Walcott’s cultural past and the former colonial powers that once inhabited his islands.

I agree that Derek Walcott uses his poetry to explore ethnicity, cultural chauvinism and political inequality, he also talks a lot about the colonial influence of the British and the French had on the West Indies. Death appears frequently too reminding us that his personal life also plays an important role in his poetry.


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