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Derek Walcott by Robert D Hamner

Derek Walcott: A Superlatively Gifted Craftsman by Jacques Compton

Encyclopedia of World Biography on Derek Alton Walcott

 

 

 

DEREK WALCOTT
by 
Robert D Hamner

Born: Castries, St. Lucia; January 23, 1930

Principal collections

In a Green Night: Poems 1948-1960, 1962; Selected Poems, 1964; The Cast-away and Other Poems, 1965; The Gulf and Other Poems, 1969, 1970; Another Life, 1973; Sea Grapes, 1976; The Star-Apple Kingdom, 1979; The Fortunate Traveller, 1982.


Other literary forms

There is debate as to whether Derek Walcott is first of all a poet or a playwright since his writing has from the beginning been devoted equally to poetry and drama. His work in theater led him to found the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in 1959 (Port of Spain, Trinidad), where he served as producer-director for almost twenty years. Even during this period many of the plays he was writing were poetic. During his Workshop tenure, he was also arts columnist for the Trinidad Guardian, frequently reviewing plays, books, painting exhibitions, and films, occasionally speaking out on behalf of creative artists in the West Indies. His Obie award-winning play Dream on Monkey Mountain (1967) was televised by NBC in 1970. Recordings include a reading of his own work by Caedmon, Poets of the West Indies; and the sound track of The Joker of Seville (1974) by Semp Studies, Ltd. (Port of Spain).


Achievements

Proclaimed an accomplished poet upon the appearance of his first book of poems (printed privately in 1948), Walcott has steadily gained a wider, international audience. Success has also attended his work as the leading dramatist of the West Indies. The Negro Ensemble company production of Dream on Monkey Mountain in New York led to an Obie Award in 1971. In 1974, the Royal Shakespeare Company commissioned him to write The Joker of Seville. Many of his plays are performed in the United States, England, and Europe.

Critical recognition has led to numerous honors: among them, the Guinness Award for Poetry, 1961; the Royal Society Literature Award for The Castaway and Other Poems, 1965; the Cholmondeley Award for The Gulf and Other Poems, 1969; the Jock Campbell Award for Another Life, 1973; and the Welsh Arts Council International Writer’s Prize, 1980. In 1957, he received a Rockefeller grant to study theater in New York.

As a poet living and writing in the West Indies from the 1960’s through the 1970’s, Walcott demonstrates that a Caribbean artist can be successful without emigrating to one of the metropolitan centers. More than that, he incorporates the landscape and unique themes of the West Indies into his work, making them available not only to his own people but to the outside world as well. Being of mixed blood, living as an artist in a society of transplanted cultures – from Africa, Asia, and Europe –and inheriting the history of conquistadors, slaves, indentured servants, and colonial rulers, he is peculiarly well qualified to speak for twentieth century man.

In the final analysis it may be that his greatest contribution to letters is his assimilation of past literary masters along with the various cultures of his Caribbean heritage. At one time or another, he echoes the English Meta-physicals, Irish novelists, T. S. Eliot, Bertolt Brecht, the Japanese Noh theater, St.-John Perse, and various island dialects. Leading figures in the poetry and plays include Adam and Eve, Robinson Crusoe, Christopher Columbus, Don Juan, Henri Christophe, and numerous other less notable representatives of various races. He runs the gamut of language from high seriousness to the vulgar. In between there are humor, music, and the words of living men.


Biography

Derek A. Walcott was born with twin brother Roderick on January 23, 1930, in Castries, the capital of St. Lucia. On both the maternal and paternal sides of his gamily, he was descended from a white grandfather and black grandmother. The fact that his family was Methodist in predominantly Catholic St. Lucia added further to the difficulties of his identity. The death of his father shortly after he was born was compensated for the friendship of the painter Harold Simmons, whose influence is commemorated in Walcott’s autobiographical poem Another Life. Simmons encouraged him to see the unexplored beauty of his native surroundings and the expressive forms of the great artists of Europe.

Although birth on an obscure island could easily suggest cultural deprivation, Walcott argues that his classroom experience of classical literature and history – Greek, Roman, British – was vital and inspiring. That, together with the African slave-tales still current on the island, led him at an early age to admire both sides of his dual heritage. As is indicated in his Introduction to Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays, he now sees irony in the fact that while he regretted not being blacker and poorer, he still wrote his early play Henri Christophe: A Chronicle (1950) in highly elaborate Elizabethan verse.

His early poetry reflects the same paradox including personal and regional subject matter in verse forms highly imitative of Andrew Marvell, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound. Rather than denying either the island or his classical sources, he makes the fortunate choice of blending them. His resolution is recorded poetically in Another Life; he assumes "Adam’s task," the naming of things in the New World.

Using money borrowed from his mother, he had his first book of poems privately published and then sold copies in the streets of Castries. With his brother and a few friends he founded the St. Lucia Arts Guild in 1950, the same year in which he received a British Colonial Development Scholarship to attend the University of the West Indies in Jamaica. After taking his baccalaureate in 1953, he married Faye Moyston in 1954. They spent a year in New York on a Rockefeller grant in 1958, then settled in Trinidad, where a year later he began the Trinidad Theatre Workshop.

After his first marriage ended in divorce in 1959, he married Margaret Maillard in 1962. From the two marriages, he has three children; his son Peter is the eldest. Evidence of his personal struggle to remain in the Caribbean and support himself as a writer is contained in many of the articles he wrote for the Trinidad Guardian. He often used his column in the 1960’s and early 1970’s as a forum to define the characteristics of West Indian arts, and to argue the cause of a national theater. He succeeded in establishing his career in the West Indies before finally moving to the United States in the late 1970’s. Following divorce from his second wife and resignation from the Trinidad Theatre Workshop in 1977, Walcott has taught in various universities. He now resides in Brookline, Massachusetts, teaching at Harvard and Boston College, while continuing to write poetry and drama and directing theater productions.

Analysis

What will deliver the New World black from cultural servitude, Derek Walcott argued in 1970, can be nothing less than the forging of a new language, the re-creation of names for things in the New World. Revolutionary as his cords may sound, his formula is not a simplistic call for mere change. Rejecting the divisive claims of extremists for racial "purity," he calls for creative use of the West Indian’s innate schizophrenia, an "electric fusion of the old and the new." He has been criticized for being too Western, for not being "African" or "West Indian" enough, but he has made the difficult decision to accept all sides of his multiple heritage. Walcott is thus unintimidated by the term "assimilation."

With the multifaceted culture of the West Indies on which to draw, Walcott has rich poetic sources. His favorite themes center on individual struggles to reconcile the disparities of human existence – past and present, black and white, individual and society, poet and audience. For the problems delineated in his poetry and plays, Walcott offers no easy solutions. For the problems delineated in his poetry and plays, Walcott offers no easy solutions. It is their complexity that matters, together with the aspects of human nature that they reveal. Beginning as a skillful craftsman dependent upon his admired predecessors, he progresses to a fully mature poet, speaking in his own voice, resonant with the sounds of the greatest poetry in the language.

Significantly, the title of Walcott’s first major volume, In a Green Night, is taken from Andrew Marvell’s "Bermudas," a poem about the European encounter with a tropical paradise. Walcott’s poem "Ruins of a Great House" takes up the story after slavery and imperialism have made their marks. Referring to Rudyard Kipling, then to Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir Francis Drake, and some unnamed slave whose remains lie rotting beneath an abandoned estate, the narrator reflects bitterly on abuses inflicted by "Bible and by sword." His anger is deflected, however, when, in the light of Hon Donne’s "Meditation XVII," he recalls that England had also suffered its colonial past. The poem ends with a line from Donne, the narrator contemplating the implications of his turn of thought. More explicitly, "A Far Cry from Africa" raises the question of the speaker’s having to choose between ancestral Africa and his birthright in the English tongue.

From In a Green Night to The Gulf and Other Poems, through Selected Poems and The Castaway and Other Poems, there is a certain degree of overlap because each successive volume reprints material from the one before it. Cumulatively, they reflect Walcott’s widening range of interest. There are the occasional dialect poems with frequent references to West Indian landscapes, but added to the echoes of foreign influences the new settings in North and South America, England, and Europe become more frequent. Each of these volumes contains its share of outstanding poems, but the one book which is most representative of Walcott’s work is his sixth, Sea Grapes.

Walcott’s Sea Grapes is his first organically unified collection. A pattern of subtle links brings together virtually every aspect of his poetry. The title poem, which comes first, signals that a circular voyage is about to begin. The homeward bound Caribbean schooner is transposed into that of Odysseus, returning from the victory at Troy. By means of another classical allusion, the poem returns to the New World. The blinded Cyclops heaving his boulder at Odysseus creates a ground swell of waves which carry their rhythm all the way to Caribbean shores. Thus does Walcott pay homage to his poetic origins. "Sea Grapes" takes as its theme the timeless division within man between "obsession" and "responsibility." This is but another version of the polarities of Walcott’s life and work. On the one hand there is intuitive feeling (associated with the African races), and on the other hand reasoned restraint (a characteristic attributed to Caucasians). The moment of human feeling, not race, is the issue in this poem. The conclusion is that while the classics offer some consolation from age to age, they do not eliminate the agony of choosing.

Although much of the territory of Sea Grapes has figured in Walcott’s earlier work, there is no redundancy. Not only does Walcott exercise greater control over a style which was once elaborately Elizabethan, but in his maturity, he also modulates individual poems and seems to weigh them in their interrelationships throughout the entire collection. While each poem retains its integrity, there are movements or groupings of ideas which work together. Subtle transitions from one center of interest to the next are provided at key junctures so that overall continuity is discernible.

Geography, with inevitable cross-cultural references, provides the key to the three major movements of the collection. "Sea Grapes" begins the largest section, twenty-one poems concentrating on the Caribbean and ending in a tribute to St. Lucia. Three poems devoted to Frederiksted in the Virgin Islands draw attention to the corruption of tourism. Then, after a two-poem interlude invoking art, Walcott offers three philosophic verses on one of his favorite subjects, Adam in Eden. One of these, "New World," exhibits his bitter humor. Having lost Eden, Adam and the serpent look to the New World for profit. Adam’s descendants, at least those who continue to betray their "brother," then become the object of political satire in the next eight poems. Disgusted with the long history of changes which makes no difference, he reaches the conclusion in "Bread Song" that the tribal creed requires letting things remain the same.

Relief from satirical bitterness is provided in "Natural History," a poem which paves the way for the more constructive attitude that dominates the crucial poems rounding off the first section of the book. It recounts man’s evolutionary development from a "walking fish" into the atomic age. Leading up to the centerpiece of the collection, "Names" refers to the many fragments of the Old World that have washed up on Caribbean shores, among them, Canton, Benares, Benin, Castile, and Versailles.

"Sainte Lucie" comes as the dramatic climax of the first section of Sea Grapes. As the book’s centerpiece, it is the longest and most stylistically diverse poem in the book. In the first two of the five subdivisions comprising "Saint Lucie," Walcott runs through the local place names and the French patois that give his birthplace its unique identity. Following this, the third division is a local conte (narrative song) in patois which is translated in the fourth section into English. Rhythm arises naturally from the spoken words, sometimes merely relying on a succession of names of places and native fruits, at others turning to dialogue between speakers, ebbing and flowing until it reaches a prayer of adoration at the end. The fifth and concluding part, subtitled "For the Altar-piece of the Roseau Valley Church. . . ," centers upon a mural created by Walcott’s friend Dunstan St. Omer (the "Gregorias" of Another Life). In the mural, St. Omer depicts not ethereal saints, but the local people engaged in their daily lives. Admitting that Roseau valley is not Eden, Walcott still finds faith and the "real faces" of angels among the people.

Combining the spiritual and the everyday in "Sainte Lucie," Walcott displays the balance of perspective that keeps him from straying from the discipline required by his art. There is in this regard a parallel with Walt Whitman, another "national" poet, whose name is invoked in "Over Colorado," the poem which opens the second major section of Sea Grapes. Recalling Whitman here, Walcott suggests that visionary prophecies have gone awry in places other than the West Indies.

One of Walcott’s aim in this fourteen-poem group is to re-create various foreign scenes; another is to acknowledge his gratitude to certain writers: Pablo Neruda, James Joyce, Joseph Conrad. One of the most notable poems in this division, "The Bright Field," introduces a man steeled against the massiveness and noise of London, reminiscing about bullock-carts in cane fields far away. Images coalesce and distance evaporates in the thought that birds circling overhead in London beat their wings to the same rhythm as pelicans in his native skies. With a slightly different emphasis, "The Bright Field" takes up a familiar theme from "Ruins of a Great House" (In a Green Night). While the earlier poem presents a painful confrontation with West Indian history, "The Bright Field" affords a unification of apparent opposites: colonized individual and colonial metropolis, rural past and urban present. Touching as he does the outer points of his extended world, Walcott returns with the interchanging images of "The Bright Field" to his beginning in the West Indies; thereby, the structure in Sea Grapes completes its circle.

"Dark August" introduces the concluding group of eleven poems in a voice more somber than before, denoting wisdom acquired through experience. The speaker observes that he is slowly learning to love dark days and bitterness. In "The Morning Moon," he can express pleasure in the cycles of nature, down to the white hairs appearing in his beard. Similarly in "To Return to the Trees," he finds gray symbolizing strength. Like the trees of the title, the speaker sends down the roots of his language, securing his hold on the earth.

With this final stanza Walcott settles upon the core of his strength. Sea Grapes exemplifies his adept handling of each level of written and spoken language. Whether in the patois of St. Lucia or in the pages of the classics, his treasured sources serve him well both in poetry and in drama.

Since much of his poetry has been composed for the stage, it would be useful to take into consideration the characteristics of Walcott’s poetic drama. Like his early lyrics, the early plays clearly reveal specific influences. Despite their obvious West Indian content, Henry Christophe is Elizabethan and The Sea at Dauphin (1954) is deliberately modeled on J. M. Synge’s Riders to the Sea (1904). Once again, however, he found a means of harmonizing foreign influences and native elements. While studying in New York in 1958, he discovered – through Betolt Brecht’s adaptation of Noh and Kabuki theater – a precedent for the kind of dramatic creation that he envisioned for the West Indies. Looking to Brecht’s example, he could combine poetry with song, dance, acting, mime, symbolism, and masked pageantry, and hold all together with a narrative line.

Although Walcott credits Brecht and Oriental artists for their inspiration, it should be noted that all of the elements that he came to use are readily available in the West Indian carnival (with which he was familiar from an early age) and that he began experimenting with stylized production techniques before his acknowledged encounter with Brecht; Drums and Colours (performed April, 1958) introduces carnival players, and Ti-Jean and His brothers (1957) has mime, masked characters, and ritualistic overtones.

Walcott’s fusion of themes and forms from diverse sources is powerfully illustrated in his recent collection The Star-Apple Kingdom, a vigorous affirmation of the West Indian milieu. The opening poem, "The Schooner Flight," is narrated in patois by a seaman-poet, Shabine. Recalling his past and conducting the reader through a brief history of his life, he arrives at the position of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, appreciating the simple things. Recounting, without approving, the inequities of West Indian existence, Shabine adapts and lives fruitfully.

The title poem focuses on a Jamaican inheritor of the colonial past. In a dream sequence of satirical bitterness, he thinks of the new power brokers and exploiters who corrupt the potential of newly acquired self-determination. At dawn, the dream subsiding, he retains a moderate anger over injustices, but reaffirms commitment to his island. As his eye falls upon a map, he envisions the archipelago from Jamaica to Tobago as a line of turtles, attracted like lemmings by a yearning for Africa. Crying out a warning with "anger of love," he comes to himself and his anguish dissolves. His reconciliation with the present reality is fittingly underscored by the final image: he calmly "cracked the day open and began his egg." This playful turn of phrase is vintage Walcott who remains appreciative of the Metaphysicals’ verbal dexterity; it concludes an energetic and precisely orchestrated volume, the achievement of a mature poet in the full possession of his own style.

From the beginning of his career, Walcott has eschewed originality merely for originality’s sake. His preference is to adapt that which is available, no matter what its source, to his own design. As a result, he not only prolongs an already rich tradition, but he also infuses it with further riches drawn from his West Indian environment.

Major publications other than poetry

PLAYS: Henri Christophe: A Chronicle, 1950; The Sea at Dauphin, 1954; Ti-Jean and His Brothers, 1957; Drums and Colours, 1958; Dream on Monkey Mountain, 1967; The Joker of Seville and O Babylon!, 1978; Rememberance and Pantomime, 1980.

Bibliography

Baugh, Edward. Derek Walcott: Memory as Vision: Another life, 1979.

Hamner, Robert D. Derek Walcott, 1981.

____________. "Derek Walcott: His Works and His Critics – An Annotated

Bibliography, 1947-1980," in Journal of Commonwealth Literature. XVI, no. 1 (1981), pp. 142-184.

Robert D. Hamner

Source: Critical Survey of Poetry: English Language Series, V. 7

Frank N. Magill, ed

Salem Press, Englewood Cliffs, 1982

 

Derek Walcott:
A Superlatively Gifted Craftsman
By Jacques Compton

 

In an address I delivered at the Central Library in Castries some time ago and which I had entitled The West Indian Contribution To Western Christian Civilization, I informed the audience that the closest thing to the ancient Greek City states were the West Indian islands.

I reminded the audience, also, that when one considers the considerable contribution the ancient Greek City states had made and which forms the basis of Western Civilization it is not size, it is not strength, it is not power, it is what one does with what one has that matters.  And the West Indian islands, show that one can have very little and still achieve the things which stand out among the greatest achievements of mankind.

St. Lucia has produced two Nobel Prize winners in one generation, one in science that is, economics and the other in humanities, that is literature.  Those are remarkable achievements by any standard in an island only 14 by 27 miles.

I know of over 140 literary prizes which are offered every year to writers of distinction, be they novelists, short story authors, prestigious.  The Nobel Prize in literature is one of the awards stipulated in the will of the late Alfred Nobel, the Swedish scientist who invented dynamite.  The awarding authority is the Swedish Academy in Stockholm .

The first English writer to have received the Nobel Prize in Literature was Rudyard Kipling in 1907, and the first black writer to receive it was Wole Soyinka of Nigeria in 1986.  Derek Walcott’s closest friend, the Russian poet, the late Joseph Brodsky, was the winner in 1987.

Derek Walcott had been recognized years ago as a superlatively gifted and disciplined craftsman.  He is a write who has never been satisfied with his progress and development, and one can discern the constant improvement in his work with each new volume of poetry and each new piece of dramatic creation.

Whatever the subject that one pursues one ought always to strive for perfection, for improvement and for greater excellence.  My motto which I coined in my favorite classical language, Latin, is Aut Opimum, Aut Nihil (Either the best, or nothing).

Our two Nobel Prize winners were the products of the education system in St. Lucia at the time.  An education system that was thorough.  The achievements of the late Sir Arthur Lewis and Derek Walcott are also laudatory tributes to the caliber of people who had been their teachers.  In those days teachers taught.  People did not enter the teaching profession for want of something better to do, as happens now.  They felt their calling almost from their student days and they went into the school system with an obsessive dedication and with one aim – to teach, and, always, to get the best results from their students.

Castries , in those days, had only four primary and two secondary schools, but they produced an army of educated people.  It is true that the syllabus was geared towards the academic, but the products of those schools went on to become lawyers, doctors, architects, engineers, judges, economists, historians, educators and writers.  They were able to go into those professions because they had been taught all the rudiments of the English language and that mastery enabled them to read and to grasp the contents of any textbook with absolute ease and clarity of perception.  They also left the formal school system with the mastery of at least one foreign or classical language.  In St. Lucia , that classical language was Latin, the basis of Standard English.

That classical language also gave them a consummate competence in the use of English.  That grounding in Latin Grammar and sentence structure, where every word in a sentence mattered – for it had a specific role to play in that sentence – ensured that students were able to master that English language both orally and in writing.

What those products of the old school system have done, today’s youth would do well to emulate.

It has become fashionable in certain circles here to sneer at excellence, to reject and to laugh at standards; to accept values that are foreign and inimical to us.  But what people like Sir Arthur Lewis and Derek Walcott and the other West Indian writers have been doing (Roger Mais, George Lamming, Wilson Harries, Sir Vidia Naipaul, CLR James) is to create values of which we can be proud.  In the French Antilles, Aime Cesaire, Edourd Glissant, Patrick Chamoiseau and Leon Damas are doing the same.

Edward Brathwaite of Barbados , historian and poet, experimented with the elements that were about him and created works of art that are closer to the West Indian people, to express the unique experience of the West Indian people.  He has put it beautifully in one of his poems where he says:

 

            “I must be given words to shape my name to the syllable of trees

            I must be given words to fashion futures like a healer’s hand

            I must be given words so that the bees in my blood’s buzzing brain of memory will make flowers, will make             flocks of birds,

            Will make sky, will make heaven,

            The heaven open to the thunder-stone and the volcano and the unfolding land.”

 

Walcott has been accused by some of his critics for being too Eurocentric in his writing, simply because he uses the English language so superbly.  He read the best of the English classics, yes.  He absorbed everything that was worth absorbing from them, naturally.  He learned from them how to handle language.  But those images which occur and recur in his poetry are not European.  They are St. Lucian for the most part, or West Indian, generally.  His feet are firmly planted in the West Indian soil.  There were no Chantal’s, no Makaks, no Souris , no Afas, nor any of those enduring and notable personages, peasants all, in the European works that Mr. Walcott had read and whom we encounter in his plays…  He wrote about Castries, about Choc Bay, about Roseau, the Maboya Valley, about the village of Dennery (Imprisoned in these wires of rain I watch this village stricken with a single street…), about Choiseul (The marlwhite road, the Doree rushing cool through gorges of green cedars), defining, in the process, The several postures of this virginal island, as he says in one of his poems. 

Not all that he saw pleased him.  Some things made him, sorrowful and reflective.  But, as a genuine artist, he could not stand aside and ignore them; he could of avoid them.  He was moved by what he saw and experienced, and in one of his poems, he confesses:

“All that I have and want are words

To fling my griefs about

And salt enough for these eyes.”

Another great West Indian poet, one of the most formidable of black intellectuals still alive today, Aime Cesaire of Martinique , had felt the same compulsion to write about what he saw around him:

“A sea of griefs is not a proscenium

A man who wails is not a dancing bear. “

Therefore he vowed:

“I should arrive lithe and come back to this land of mine and should say to this land whose mud is flesh of my flesh: ‘I wandered for a long time and I am returning to the deserted foulness of your wounds’.

I should come back to this land of mine and Say to it: ‘Embrace me without fear … If all I can do is speak, at least I shall speak for you’.

And I should say further: ’My tongue shall serve those miseries which have no tongue, my voice the liberty of those who founder in the dungeons of despair.’”

The classics imposed and encouraged a discipline that is entirely absent in modern-day popular literature.  Those works on which Mr. Walcott grew up are called classics because the stories are universal; they are models in entertainment value and of excellence.  Walcott did not reach there by attending blockos every weekend, by indulging in illicit drugs and wasting his leisure hours in idleness and other puerile pranks.

No.  He read and he wrote, seeking to improve upon everything that he had done before, for always he strove for excellence, for greater perfection.  Indeed, in one of his early poems written at the age of nineteen, he confesses:

“… I seek

As climate seeks its style, to write

Verse crisp as sand, clear as sunlight,

Cold as the curled waves, ordinary

As a tumbler of island water.”

The world acknowledged his success in that endeavor and bestowed upon him the highest honor.

 

The Star – January 21, 2004

 

 

Encyclopedia of World 
Biography on Derek Alton Walcott

Nobel Prize winning poet and dramatist from the West Indies, Derek Alton Walcott (born 1930) used a synthesis of Caribbean dialects and English to explore the richness and conflicts of the complex cultural heritage of his homeland.

Derek Alton Walcott was born in Casties, St. Lucia, West Indies, on January 23, 1930. The son of a civil servant and a teacher, he was of mixed African, Dutch, and English heritage. He received a B.A. from St. Mary's College, St. Lucia, in 1953 and attended the University of the West Indies at Kingston, Jamaica. A Rockefeller fellowship brought him to the United States in 1957; he studied under the American stage director Jose Quintero, returned to the islands in 1959 to found the Trinidad Theatre Workshop. He taught in St. Lucia, Grenada, and Jamaica and at many American universities: Boston, Columbia, Harvard, Rutgers, and Yale.

Walcott was married to dancer Norline Metivier and had three children by previous marriages. Unlike fellow West Indian writer V. S. Naipaul, he kept a home in Trinidad and was a familiar and revered figure in his homeland. Walcott received a five-year "genius" grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 1981.

Central to both Walcott's drama and his poetry is an exhilarating tension between two disparate cultural traditions, the Caribbean and the European. Sometimes the two idioms jostle uncomfortably; yet upon occasion they combine with stunning effect to form a brilliant synthesis.

Walcott observed: "My society loves rhetoric, performance, panache, melodrama, carnival, dressing up, playing roles. Thank God I was born in it...." In his dramatic works, this vivacious island culture, with its historical roots and its political subtexts, takes precedence. Henri Christophe: A Chronicle (1950), his first play, explores the popular story of a 19th-century slave who became king of Haiti. Another early play, The Sea at Dauphin (1953), experiments with French/English island patois, transforming it into a powerful poetic tool. Dream on Monkey Mountain (Obie Award winner, 1971) illustrates the way the dreams of a poor charcoal vendor, however flawed and quixotic, help preserve tribal memories within the sterile colonial world. O, Babylon (1974) employs interludes of dance, along with a contemporary score by Galt McDermott, to recount events in a small Rastafarian community during the 1966 visit of Haile Selassie.

In all these dramas, Walcott struggled to be true to his roots without sacrificing literary virtuosity.

He was eager to incorporate native elements, "chants, jokes, folk-songs, and fables," into his dramas;" to write powerfully ... without writing down ... so that the large emotions could be taken in by a fisherman or a guy on the street"; "to get something clean and simple into my plays ... something Caribbean"; and to achieve a balance "between defiance and translation." The central character of Remembrance (1979), a retired schoolteacher of Port of Spain who loses one son to a revolution, another to the "slower death" of art, may reflect his powerful, if conflicting, loyalties.

While Walcott's plays were often commended for their colorful performances, they tended to meet resistance from more stringent critics. Pantomime (1978), which examines the ambiguous relationship between a Tobagan innkeeper and his servant, is one example. Though Walter Goodman found it "fresh and funny ... filled with thoughtful insights," Frank Rich downgraded the play for lacking the "esthetic rigor" of Walcott's poetry.

This poetry is, indeed, extraordinary--complex, powerful, almost Elizabethan in its delight in form, its flamboyant eloquence and lush imagery. From the beginning--his first poem was published in a local newspaper when he was 14--Walcott sought inspiration among great poets of the English language; Shakespeare, Marvell, Auden, Eliot, Lowell. Nevertheless, Caribbean rhythms, themes, and idioms inevitably find their way into the verse--through vivid dialect personae like Shabine, the sailor in The Star-Apple Kingdom (1979), often regarded as the poet's alter-ego; in the perennially anguished voice of a "divided child," "schizophrenic, wrenched by two styles," that lurks beneath the cosmopolitan surface.

Walcott's range as a poet was remarkably varied and generous. Another Life (1973), a sweeping, open-hearted narrative, can be ranked among the best verse autobiographies in the language. The exuberant ten-poem sequence The Star-Apple Kingdom, which consolidated Walcott's stature as a major poet, features multiple narrative voices tracing the arc of the Caribbean archipelago through space and time, with near-epic scope.

In The Fortunate Traveler (1981) the poet chronicled provocative journeys of self-discovery through New England and the American South to Dachau and other places that illuminate his sense of himself as artist and man. The 54 separate poems in Midsummer (1984), a diary in verse, offer a year's worth of meditations on approaching middle age, divided linguistic allegiances and the consolations of art. The Arkansas Testament (1987) contains a stunning love sequence, along with the powerful title work, a further exploration of the poet's role as racial and cultural exile. This poignant, accomplished volume shows the poet working at the height of his powers.

Walcott's other popular poems include "A Far Cry from Africa" (1962), "Codicil" (1965), "Sainte Lucie" (1976), "The Schooner Flight" (1979), and "North and South" (1981). Collected Poems (1948-1984) (1986) provides an excellent selection of his work.

In 1997, Walcott published a collection of poems entitled The Bounty. The opening (title) poem, an elegy to the author's mother elegy to the author's mother, is followed by a series of poems that evoke the island of St. Lucia. A later volume of poems, Tiepolo's Hound (2000), weaves together a biography of the Carribean-born painter Camille Pissarro with Walcott's own life story.

Walcott's epic-length Omeros, which echoed the Iliad and the Odyssey was chosen by The New York Times as one of the best books of 1990. Omeros took up the classic themes of abandonment and wandering, but it also revealed Walcott's love for his native Caribbean. During an interview, Walcott once described the fondness he had for his native homeland surrounded by the sea: "nobody wishes to escape the geography that forms you. In my case it is the sea, it is islands, I cannot stay too long away from the sea."

In 1992 Walcott received the Nobel Prize in literature. His verse play The Odyssey was produced on stage in New York and London in 1993.

Walcott used his talents to create a world of a different kind when he collaborated with musician Paul Simon on the Broadway musical The Capeman (1998). Although the musical bombed on Broadway, it attempted to do what no other musical had done in the past: focus on the real fears of New York's poor. Also in 1998, Walcott returned his attention to his home land with a collection of essays about West Indian culture entitled What the Twilight Says.Walcott's contributions to West Indian drama and poetry were immense. He created a world-class theater ensemble in a post-colonial environment and used his poetic skills to describe the culture and beauty of his Caribbean.

In 2001, Farrar, Straus brought out The Haitian Trilogy. In the book, three plays, Henri Christophe, Drums and Colours (originally commissioned in 1958), and The Haytian Earth, tell the story of the West Indies as a four-hundred-year cycle of war, conquest, and rebellion.