Two brief selections today that caught my eye. I’m mesmerized at how Walcott plays with words and images, dances between his native Caribbean and Homer’s epic world. It’s almost as if his poem is a palimpsest written on top of Homer, the remembered lines of the ancient epic dancing faintly under Walcott’s bold lines. It’s literary and self aware and yet has such a playfulness to it that it doesn’t seem ponderous at all.
O open this day with the conch’s moan, Omeros,
as you did in my boyhood, when I was a noun
gently exhaled from the palate of the sunrise.
A lizard on the sea-wall darted its question
at the waking sea, and a net of golden moss
brightened the reef, which the sails of their far canoes
avoided. Only in you, across centuries
of the sea’s parchment atlas, can I catch the noise
of the surf lines wandering like the shambling fleece
of the lighthouse’s flock, that Cyclops whose blind eye
shut from the sunlight. Then the canoes were galleys
over which a frigate sawed its scythed wings slowly.
In you the seeds of grey almonds guessed a tree’s shape,
and the grape leaves rusted like serrated islands,
and the blind lighthouse, sensing the edge of a cape,
paused like a giant, a marble cloud in his hands,
to hurl its boulder that splashed into phosphorus
stars; then a black fisherman, his stubbled chin coarse
as a dry sea-urchin’s, hoisted his flour-sack
sail on its bamboo spar, and scanned the opening line
of our epic horizon. . .
. . . I said, “Omeros,”
and O was the conch-shell’s invocation, mer was
both mother and sea in our Antillean patois,
os a grey bone, and the white surf as it crashes.
and spreads its sibilant collar on a lace shore.
Omeros was the crunch of dry leaves, and the washes
that echoed from a cave-mouth when the tide has ebbed.
The name stayed in my mouth….
from Omeros by Derek Walcott, Chapter 2
In the first section when he says, “I was a noun gently exhaled from the palate of the sunrise,” I’m somehow put in mind of Dylan Thomas’ Fern Hill.
I really like the image, “the sea’s parchment atlas,” it brings to mind the joy of tracing the places in a book onto a map, connecting the geography of the imagined and the real.
“scanned the opening line
of our epic horizon” just sends chills down my spine.
In the second section, where he’s reveling in the sounds of the name, puts me in mind of some of Seamus Heaney’s verses or maybe Margaret Atwood. I love the physicality of that final line, “the name stayed in my mouth.”