Tuesday, May 22, 2007



The Poetry of Robert Frost: The Collected Poems, Complete and Unabridged, Ed. Edward Connery Lathem
(Henry Holt, New York, 1969)

Collected Poems 1948-1984 by Derek Walcott
(Noonday Press, New York, 1987)

What the Twilight Says: Essays by Derek Walcott
(Farrar Straus & Giroux, New York, 1998)

“The World Is Too Much With Us”: Landscape and Wholeness

Robert Frost’s “Directive” & Derek Walcott’s “Sainte Lucie” (Sections I and II)

I. Introduction

In Larry Levis’s essay “The Gazer Within,” he states that:

…the authentic experience of any worthwhile landscape must be an experience of my own humanity…I am filled by, looked at by, the landscape itself; the experience is not that of a mirror’s but a true exchange, until even something as negligible as some newspapers lifting in the wind on a street, at night and before a rain, are somehow soiled by an ineradicable humanity, and by the presence of the dead, of the about to be born. (73)

Landscape—a framework of images that acts as a poem’s central trope—represents the conflicted, internal states of a speaker and inhabits a poem as its organizing system. Landscape moves the reader through the poem that also employs various modes of diction and syntax to craft the images in relation to the speaker’s internal concerns. And as Levis states, landscape must intersect with the speaker, and “be an experience of my own humanity.” Having written a poem, the poet has chosen the details of the poem’s landscape to become symbolic of the exchange. Richard Wilbur reminds us that Yeats once wrote that poets are “happy when for everything inside us there is a corresponding something outside us” (Wilbur, 103). It begins with, to use Levis’s title, the gazer within: this gazer looks out to the world to find the “corresponding something outside” him to make his “inside” objective. Thus, even something that seems as “negligible” as blown newspaper becomes “authentic” and “worthwhile” because it has been seen with the gazer’s humane eye. This objective realm between the outside world and his inner being is an “exchange” because the objective becomes the subjective—the border between the two blurs to the extent that the poet and the landscape become two halves of the “experience” denoted in a poem.

But this exchange cannot only exist between the landscape and the individual gazer. Levis’s statement is a “revision” of the Romantic lyric tradition—one that described an individual presence in the outer landscape to reflect the speaker’s interior condition—that incorporates a communal “presence of the dead,” the alive, and those “about to be born.” The “ineradicable humanity” the landscape interacts with and is “soiled by” is a life-force that cannot be erased away. The “true exchange” comes to fruition when this landscape comes in contact with a human presence, an “ineradicable humanity.” This exchange suggests that the individual presence in a poem is as much acted upon by humanity as by the resources of landscape. It is this revelation about humanity, the individual, and landscape that reminds Levis that the exchange implicates others as well as his own self. Through this new lens, the individual reaches a greater understanding of the self and of his place within a larger community.

To fully understand this exchange, it is necessary to look to the lyric Romantic tradition Levis is in dialogue with, which first explored this exchange. M.H. Abrams defines the Romantic lyric poem in his essay “Structure and Style in the Greater Romantic Lyric” as one that:

begins with the description of a landscape visited in maturity, evokes the entire life of the poet as a protracted meditation on things past, and presents the growth of the poet’s mind as an interaction with the natural milieu by which it is fostered, from which it is tragically alienated, and to which in the resolution it is restored, with a difference attributable to the intervening experiences; the poem ends at the time of the beginning. (527)

In the Romantic lyric, the self acts as a lone individual in the outer world. The landscape serves as the point from which the meditation expands outward. The poet describes the landscape as a static, fixed object, and this source of observation propels him to meditate. But, as the poet meditates, his footing within the physical world blurs. Once suspended, the poet reaches an epiphanic moment that involves spirituality and the alienated self in the landscape with which he is familiar. The poet returns to the source he has meditated from, and due to the interaction between the mind and the outer world, finds it altered from its original view.

William Wordsworth’s “Lines Composed A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting The Banks Of The Wye During A Tour. July 13, 1798” (“Tintern Abbey”) and Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Mont Blanc,” illustrate this. In “Tintern Abbey,” Wordsworth writes that there exists “in the mind of man: / A motion and a spirit, that...rolls through all things” (99-102), while in “Mont Blanc” Shelley states that “The Everlasting universe of things / Flows through the mind, and rolls its rapid waves” (1-2). The spiritual diction—“motion,” “spirit,” “Everlasting,” “flows,” and “rolls”—suggests that the individual facing nature attempts to return to the original source from which he has been “alienated.” For the Romantics, nature is a source of health, rejuvenation, and “ineradicable humanity” because humans are a part of that larger flow and scheme. Levis “revises” this ideal to incorporate a sense of other people as part of this wholeness. His more humane ideal sets up a triangulation of nature-self-collective, whereas the Romantic takes into consideration only the nature-self.

It could be said that one evolutionary strand of post-Romantic poetics seeks to make the issue of community or social coherence accountable to an individual lyric voice. Abrams further defines the lyric as a “deliberate endeavor to transform a segment of experience broken out of time into a sufficient aesthetic whole” (532). In the contemporary tradition, the lyric has been revised so that the landscape reflects the image of the individual as seen in the mirror of Nature and of a collective humanity. The community of the speaker’s world—the human presence apart from the individual speaker—represents the poem’s “humanity.” The language, through careful consideration of image, diction, syntax, and tone, effects a reconstitution of communal fragmentation. In other words, the poem’s world speaks to the speaker’s complicated emotional and social position. When the poem’s landscape has been fragmented, the speaker uses the landscape and the people within that landscape to show the complexities of the human condition and the struggle therein. This essay will examine how Robert Frost’s “Directive” and Derek Walcott’s “Sainte Lucie” (particularly sections “I” and II”) establish the landscape and the sense of wholeness and community after the landscape has been cracked in some way.

Frost and Walcott, as direct yet contrasting descendents of the Romantic poets, “revise” the Romantic lyric to include the collective where the preceding ideal focused only on the individual. “Directive” is in direct dialogue with Wordsworth’s sonnet “The World Is Too Much With Us.” The first line of Frost’s poem is “Back out of all this, now too much for us.” Published in 1947, “Directive” may have been informed by America’s historical condition at the end of World War II, but it is largely concerned with erosion and destruction as symbols of human losses through time: historical pain, loss of agricultural life, the unstoppable passage of time, abandonment of place and memory, and the diminishment of roots and origins. The destruction the poem enacts in the beginning, and the abandoned places Frost describes near the end, are metaphors for any loss. As the speaker moves the reader through the poem’s journey, “Directive” becomes a construction of what is no longer. The landscape begins with images of wreckage and move backwards to images of youth and fertility.

For “Directive” to enact this multi-tiered exchange, the poem must first create a structural grid to operate from. Frost navigates the reader via the form of blank verse, dictions that evoke destruction and fertility, and syntactical structures that consist of interweaving simple-declarative imperatives with consciously-formed winding passages that describe place in present newness and past erosion. This short and long syntactical deployment structures the reader’s sense of time. As the poem begins with a physical world “burned, dissolved, and broken off,” and ends with the source, a “children’s playhouse” and “waters and watering place,” the landscape is a symbol that interacts with speaker and community to try to make sense of its wholeness.

In “Sainte Lucie,” Derek Walcott, a Caribbean-born poet from the island of Saint Lucia, addresses the effect colonialism has had on the landscape, the individual, and the entire community. Walcott employs different syntactical devices throughout the five-section poem. The first section is formed entirely of sentence and clause fragments. Section “II” creates its heavily fragmented lens via a collage-effect of different dictions and syntactical structures. Walcott layers the diction of multiple languages—English, Patois and French—without any transition or transliteration of the non-English words, thus reflecting a fragmented speaker in his landscape and community. The fragmented syntactical phrases expressively break up meaning as they incorporate images of the landscape. The interweaving shifts in diction and syntax make whole in the first section what is fragmented in the second. In the third section, he recounts a narrative creole song (conte) that he translates into English in the fourth, showing two, separate linguistic and cultural identities side by side. The fifth section, “For the Altarpiece of the Roseau Valley Church, St. Lucia,” brings together landscape, people, and the individual self in that landscape.

II. Robert Frost’s “Directive”

The speaker in Frost’s “Directive” is a guide who takes the reader on a journey through the landmarks of time, personal history, and memory. The syntactical shifts throughout the poem enable the speaker to act as a figure of authority and as an equal companion. In its commanding yet guiding tone, the speaker addresses the reader as “you” and as the title indicates, guides the reader through the poem’s directive statements. Frost first establishes this soothing tone through prosody. By incorporating an American vernacular into the formal, metered blank-verse line, the tone feels calm and gentle.

To persuade the reader along, Frost uses a graduated tone that becomes increasingly commanding as the poem progresses. He begins by addressing the reader with the conditional—“if you’ll let a guide direct you / Who only has at heart your getting lost” (8-9). Through the use of contraction, the address, “if you’ll let,” syntactically shifts to colloquial English and lessens the formality of the guide’s voice, establishing an inviting, fatherly voice and friendly tone. The hypothetical “if” implies that the reader has the ultimate authority on whether or not to join the speaker, and the phrase “at heart” lends an unassuming air. The speaker takes on a role as companion, hoping the reader will join him as they dawdle together through a journey in time.

However, the tone becomes increasingly authoritative. In the lines “You must not mind a certain coolness from him / Still said to haunt this side of Panther Mountain. / Nor need you mind the serial ordeal / Of being watched” (17-20), the tone is slightly more assertive. The phrases “must not” and “need not” imply that the speaker understands the reader’s possible hesitance but urges the reader to continue. Even though it is clear that the speaker is in full control of the journey, the diction effects a tone that is both authoritative and companionable.

The first imperative address doesn’t occur until the poem’s middle lines, “As for the woods’ excitement over you / That sends light rustle rushes to their leaves, / Charge that to upstart inexperience” (22-24). The qualifier “as for” with the imperative “charge that to” again gives the tone a supportive but commanding quality. The reader’s mistrust of the “woods’ excitement” is quickly answered by the one-line imperative “Charge that to upstart inexperience” to urge the reader to continue. When the speaker commands us to “make yourself up a cheering song” (28), “pull in your ladder road behind you / And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me” (36-37), and “Weep for what little things could make them glad” (43) without justification, the reader is able to acquiesce in the poem’s final line, “Drink and be whole beyond confusion” (61), due to the tone’s gradation from welcoming to directive.

In addition to reinforcing the rhythmical meter and vernacular voice, integrating the hypothetical statement, “if you’ll let a guide direct you,” accounts for the reader’s own suspicion. Throughout, the speaker acquiesces to this suspicion with a solicitous tone: “You must not mind a certain coolness from him” (17), “Nor need you mind the serial ordeal / Of being watched” (19), “As for the woods’ excitement over you…Charge that to upstart inexperience” (22-24). The tone of the poem’s speaker is constructed around what the reader experiences.

In addition to tone, the poem also moves the reader through the line; each line acts as a unit and ends at the end of a clause or sentence. There are only two sentences in the first 17 lines. The first sentence ends at line seven; the second sentence spans over ten lines, ending at line 17. With the long, sinuous syntactical structure of these lines, the poem enacts a meditative movement back in time, from the present-day “all this now” (1) to the far, geologic past of the Ice Ages, its “quarry” (10), “enormous Glacier” (16), and “great monolithic knees” (11), and engenders the breadth and expanse of time that the poem’s journey encompasses.

Back out of all this now too much for us,
Back in a time made simple by the loss
Of detail, burned, dissolved, and broken off
Like graveyard marble sculpture in the weather,
There is a house that is no more a house
Upon a farm that is no more a farm
And in a town that is no more a town. (1-7)

Here, Frost orders the landscape temporally so that the images themselves move backwards. For example, the poem begins with images of death (“graveyard marble sculpture”) back to the obliteration of rural life (“The house that is no more a house / Upon a farm that is no more a farm”) to arrive at the physical markings left on the physical landscape by glaciations (“The ledges show lines ruled southeast-northwest / The chisel work of an enormous Glacier / That braced his feet against the Arctic Pole”).

The first seven lines use anaphora to enact this meditation in the past: “Back out of all this now too much for us,” “Back in a time made simple by the loss…” These repetitive constructions act as the poem’s temporal indicators. The break in the second line—“Back in a time made simple by the loss / Of detail, burned, dissolved and broken off”—illustrates the shifts between past and present. At first, the first two lines imply a movement back to a landscape of wholeness, away from what is “too much for us.” But instead, Frost shifts from the past’s preserved landscape to the present’s already-eroded landscape. The line break of “loss / Of detail, burned, dissolved and broken off” demonstrates the difference between the past preserved in memory and the present wear and destruction “of detail.” In other words, the landmarks in a person’s memory, “house,” “farm,” “town,” are “simple” for their “loss of detail.” To contrast, a present time holds the burden of wreckage in all its detail: “wear of iron wagon wheels” (14), “ledges show lines” (15), and “chisel work of an enormous Glacier” (16). The first seven lines effect this winding syntax back in time via an inverted grammar that delays the subject and verb until the fifth line, where it reaches its second anaphora—“There is a house that is no more a house / Upon a farm that is no more a farm / In a town that is no more a town…” Again, Frost uses syntax to shift between time and memory. In memory, the mind envisions a house, a farm, and a town, but in actuality they are “no more.” The ordering of the syntax enables the poem to evoke this shift without needing verb tense to indicate time.

The road there, if you’ll let a guide direct you
Who only has at heart your getting lost,
May seem as if it should have been a quarry—
Great monolithic knees the former town
Long since gave up pretense of keeping covered.
And there’s a story in a book about it:
Besides the wear of iron wagon wheels
The ledges show lines ruled southeast-northwest,
The chisel work of an enormous Glacier
That braced his feet against the Arctic Pole. (8-17)

The first sentence starts in the past, in memory, but the second shifts back to the present. The first half of the second sentence is constructed in perfect conditional. The main clause of the sentence—the road there may seem a quarry—is overshadowed by the perfect conditional address (as if it should have been) to the speaker. The syntax illustrates the speaker’s intent, “who only has at heart your getting lost.” Following the long dash in line 10 is an image of what the town used to be. The dash underscores the parallel between “quarry” and the qualifying image of the quarry’s personified “monolithic knees.” A quarry is “a rich or productive source” (Webster’s New World Dictionary, 391). The image symbolizes the reader’s expectation of the road in the past, “great monolithic knees,” and its present eroded state, “the former town / Long since gave up the pretense of keeping covered.” Frost also uses the conjunction “And” to separate the image of the “quarry” and further describe the worn town. The “And” used after the period in line 12 indicates the continuance of the sentence and the description of “the former town’s monolithic knees.” Line 13 echoes the construction of line five: “There’s a story…” This phrase is followed by a colon and like the dash after “quarry,” what follows the colon qualifies the preceding pronoun “it.” The last lines of this sentence—“The ledges show lines ruled southeast-northwest, / The chisel work of an enormous Glacier / That braced his feet against the Arctic Pole”—refer back to the “quarry,” though this time the image connotes a different definition: “an open excavation or pit from which stone is obtained by digging, cutting, or blasting” (391).

The images are first described in terms of their eroded condition, “wear of iron wagon wheels” and “ledges show lines,” and then in terms of what caused the erosion, “The chisel work of an enormous Glacier / That braced his feet against the Arctic Pole.” In ordering the syntax by the image’s present condition and describing what acted on the image to lead to its condition, the syntax shifts the placement of time. Like Abrams’s model of the Romantic lyric, the poem begins with a speaker (and assumed reader) in the present looking back at a landscape; in this case, one that has suffered two kinds of erosion. In the recent past, the wagon wheels have traveled over the roads repeatedly, scoring the road and the landscape. In the further past, the glacier chiseled and lined the road with its advance and retreat. The phrase “Besides the wear...” suggests that along with the wagon wheels, the glacier also wore away the landscape. Breaking the line between “chisel work of an enormous Glacier” and “That braced his feet” delays the subject’s (“glacier”) physical action, “braced his feet,” not the erosion the glacier caused.

After the extended syntax of the first 17 lines, the syntax becomes much more direct and linear in its phrasing and clauses. The sentences continue to shorten until the final three lines—all of them end-stopped sentences. After line 17, the syntax complicates time throughout the poem by suddenly shifting from past to present, despite being written in present tense. Unlike the beginning inverted lines, these sentences are simple declarative and do not suspend their subject:

You must not mind a certain coolness from him
Still said to haunt this side of Panther Mountain.
Nor need you mind the serial ordeal
Of being watched from forty cell holes
As if by eye pairs out of forty firkins.
As for the woods’ excitement over you
That sends light rustle rushes to their leaves,
Charge that to upstart inexperience.
Where were they all not twenty years ago?
They think too much of having shaded out
A few old pecker-fretted apple trees. (18-28)

The diction alludes to a landscape that incorporates “the presence of the dead” and the individual presence, both of the speaker and reader: “haunt,” “being watched,” “as if by eye pairs out of forty firkins,” “light rustle rushes.” The phrase “still said” implies that others have felt the glacier’s ghostly presence as the reader “must.” Frost personifies the glacier and the woods, giving human sense to geological formations and erosions. In strong contrast with the glacier, the woods are brand new. The antecedent “they” in “they all” and “they think” refers to the woods in line 23. The wind-shaken trees feel “light rustle rushes to their leaves.” Before the glacial movements, these new trees didn’t exist (“Where were they all not twenty years ago?”). Frost’s diction choices differentiate between the different ages of the trees: “excitement,” “inexperience,” and “not twenty years ago” refers to the young age of the woods, while “shaded-out,” “pecker-fretted,” and “old” refers to the past, the apple trees which the new woods “shaded out.” The apple trees, by implication, are representative of an older, human cultivation of the landscape, while these new woods are representative of a new, freewheeling growth. But Frost gives them a light-hearted personification with the human-like, excitable pronoun, “they.”

The poem’s first 28 lines are concerned with personifying nature and images of cold dissolution (graveyard marble, the road worn by wagon-wheels, shaded-out apple trees), but not with human presence. Frost gradually moves from a detached view of the abandoned landscape to a tender configuration of humanity and cultivation. The first human doesn’t arrive until line 29:

Make yourself up a cheering song of how
Someone’s road home from work this once was,
Who may be just ahead of you on foot
Or creaking with a buggy load of grain. (29-32)

The poem from here on becomes concerned with people and the ghostly presence they’ve left on the landscape. The tense shift from past (“once was”) to simple present (“may be”) suggests how time becomes malleable in memory. We don’t remember experiences as past but in a fixed, present state. Frost breaks the line between “was” and “who” to delay the action and the surprising figurative image of the worn road in order and create a parallel construction.

Once Frost integrates the human presence, the “Someone,” the poem addresses the landscape as it stands inside a human collective, and does so in the lines, “The height of the adventure is the height / Of country where two village cultures faded / Into one another. Both are lost” (32-35). This is a crucial moment in the poem. Because the landscape consists of images that no longer exist, a ghostly presence, an “ineradicable humanity,” haunts the poem. Despite what seems an absence of humans, Frost evokes human presence by charging the eroded landscape with what he imagines was there once, or could be now: the shaded-out, pecker-fretted trees; eye pairs out of firkins; the road it once was; someone ahead on foot creaking with a buggy of grain; coolness from a glacier haunting a mountain. The poem arrives at a divergence of humanity and landscape. This divergence is the first time in the poem Frost ends a sentence and begins a new one in the same line: in line 34, one sentence ends at “Into one another” and the poem’s shortest sentence follows: “Both of them are lost.” The two villages merge the way humanity and landscape merge in the poem—the villages are personified via the diction “each other,” “them,” “lost.” Frost uses syntax and image to illustrate the interchange between the missing human presence and the acted-upon landscape. As a result, neither humanity (community) nor the physical landscape is separate. Both are incomplete, “lost.”

Like the village cultures and the worker “ahead of you on foot,” the speaker and reader are both lost in memory, time and landscape. The first true directive and command to the reader is composed of the same syntax as the poem’s first address that invited the reader on the journey, and the lines following parallel the syntactical structure of the poem’s beginning lines:

And if you’re lost enough to find yourself
By now, pull in your ladder road behind you
And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.
Then make yourself at home. The only field
Now left’s no bigger than a harness gall.
First there’s the children’s house that is no more a house,
Some shattered dishes underneath a pine,
The playthings in the playhouse in the children. (36-43)

The phrase “ladder road” doubly refers to the ladder used to enter the playhouse and the road which the speaker and reader have been traversing. The antecedent is the place to which the guide directs the reader, the place where “The height of adventure is the height / Of country...” The syntax is also in dialogue with the poem’s beginning lines. The first address to the reader, “The road there, if you’ll let a guide direct you / Who only has at heart your getting lost” (8-9), is echoed in lines 36-38: “And if you’re lost enough to find yourself / By now, pull in your ladder road behind you / And put a sign up CLOSED to all but me.” Both passages use condition and contraction: “if you’re” and “if you’ll.” The passage “lost enough to find yourself” also refers to the earlier “who only has at heart your getting lost.” The line “First there’s the children’s house that is no more a house” uses the same syntactical structure as the beginning lines, “There is a house that is no more a house / Upon a farm that is no more a farm / And in a town that is no more a town.” A harness gall is a “sore on the skin of a horse’s back, caused by rubbing or chafing from a harness or loose saddle” (571). This image illustrates time’s erosion via its scale; an entire field diminished to the size of “a harness gall.”

The poem’s final lines dramatically return to the source of wholeness, of water and childhood. As in the Romantic lyric, the poem’s ending circles back to its beginning, metaphorically (it speaks of the place “Back out of all this...Back in a time made simple by the loss”) and syntactically:

Weep for what little things made them glad.
Then for the house that is no more a house,
But only a belilaced cellar hole,
Now slowly closing like a dent in dough.
This was no playhouse but a house in earnest.
Your destination and your destiny’s
A brook that was the water of the house,
Cold as a spring as yet so near its source,
Too lofty and original to rage.
(We know the valley streams that when aroused
Will leave their tatters hung on barb and thorn.) (44-54)

The house is absolutely destroyed—only a grid of foundation in which the lilacs are growing like potted plants is left. When Frost states that the cellar hole is “closing like a dent in dough,” he suggests that the foliage is so thick that any touch to its surface can’t dent it. Nature has encroached upon the house the way the woods “shaded out” the agricultural apple trees. The beginning of this passage parallels the beginning, but it does so not by mere repetition, but by answering the questions proposed in the opening lines. If the reader began the journey thinking it a quarry, the guide consoles us by giving us the exact time and place “made simple by the loss”: a playhouse. The first reference to the “house that is no more a house,” “the children’s house of make-believe,” is followed by images evoking the destruction left in their absence: “Some shattered dishes underneath a pine, / The playthings in the playhouse of the children. / Weep for what little things made them glad.” The playthings and shattered dishes remain in the playhouse, but the human communal presence of the children is not there. The word “shattered” used to describe the once-inhabited playhouse emphasizes the fragmentation and search for wholeness.

Like the image of the geological erosion of the glacier, the natural source of water enables Frost to return to images of destruction and loss. The line inviting the reader on the journey, “The road there, if you’ll let a guide direct you / Who only has at heart your getting lost, / May seem as if it should have been a quarry,” is answered in “Your destination and your destiny’s / A brook that was the water of the house.” Like the opening lines, Frost manipulates the syntax to delay the direct object of the line, the core of the sentence. Although the road is the subject, the quarry (“a rich, productive source” and “a mine”), is the pivot of the poem’s argument. The grammar is inverted in both cases. We are given the direct object before the subject-verb agreement, “The brook that was the water of the house” follows “Your destination and your destiny’s.” The poem has truly arrived backwards. The brook is “cold as a spring as yet so near its source, / Too lofty and original to rage. / (We know the valley streams that when aroused / Will leave their tatters hung on barb and thorn.)” The diction uses word-play and incorporates the intimate human landscape. The words “lofty” and “rage” operate geologically and as personification. The word “lofty” refers to both a human’s arrogance and a mountain peak’s height; “rage” to both the forceful motion of a spring and to anger. In the last eight lines, the speaker finally takes a presence in the poem and speaks for himself. It is in these lines that the poem arrives at unity. Frost integrates community, landscape, and individual:

I have kept hidden in the instep arch
Of an old cedar at the waterside
A broken drinking goblet like the Grail
Under a spell so the wrong ones can’t find it.
So can’t get saved, as Saint Mark says they mustn’t.
(I stole the goblet from the children’s playhouse.)
Here are your waters and your watering place.
Drink and be whole again beyond confusion. (53-60)

All the images of the landscape culminate in its fullness—the aging tree by the waterside, the broken Goblet, the Grail, the children’s playhouse. As the poem first directed us to a world of Troy in ruins, Frost’s reference to Saint Mark, the Grail, and the broken drinking goblet call us back towards legend and the epics of wholeness and fraternity, like “Beowulf” and “The Legend of King Arthur.” The religious diction at the end of the poem, “goblet,” “Grail,” “spell,” “saved,” “waters” implicate this ideal of wholeness in the landscape. The “instep arch” personifies the “old cedar,” referring back to the glacier that braced his feet against the Arctic in the beginning of “Directive.” After the loss of the village cultures, of landscape, and of memory, the religious charge of water, the source, invoke a spirit in the poem, one that has been in contact with both a human spirit and the spirit of the landscape. The inclusion of the world “beyond confusion” speaks to the alienation Abrams refers to in the Romantic lyric poem, and it is the source of water that ultimately connects the humans with the landscape, making both whole. It is here where the speaker and reader can return for the “ineradicable humanity” and for the “true exchange” between landscape and community, between fragmentation (the goblet, broken, is found in the arch of an old cedar) and wholeness.

III. Derek Walcott’s “Sainte Lucie”

A. I: The Villages

Like “Directive,” “Sainte Lucie” sets up the context of memory through a weathered, broken world haunted by the innocence of child-play. Similar to Frost’s playhouse, the place of child-play represents the source of wholeness and unity. Further, Walcott juxtaposes a destroyed, acted-upon landscape in the present with past images of children playing. This section—one long sentence running through 23 lines—builds prepositional phrases upon each other. And of the 25 used throughout the section, 17 serve as the beginning of a line:

Laborie, Choiseul, Vieuxfort, Dennery,
from these sun-bleached villages
where the church-bell caves in the sides
of one grey-scurfed shack
that is shuttered
with warped boards, with rust,
with crabs crawling under the house-shadow
where the children played house
a net rotting among cans, the sea-net
of sunlight trolling the shallows
catching nothing all afternoon,
from these I am growing no nearer
to what secret eluded the children
under the house-shade, in the far bell, the noon’s
stunned amethystine sea,
something always being missed
between the floating shadow and the pelican
in the smoke from over the next bay
in that shack on the lip of the sandspit

whatever the seagulls cried out for
through the grey drifting ladders of rain
and the great grey tree of the waterspout,
for which the dolphins
kept diving, that
should have rounded the day. (1-23)

Lines two and 11 begin with “from these;” five and six with “with,” and 16 and 17 with “in” and are contained between the vague “something” and “whatever.” The repetition in structure and preposition gives the poem a sense of unity. The repetition of other diction occurs throughout the poem as well. Lines six and seven both use the word “house”: “house-shadow” and “house;” line eight begins with “net” and ends with “sea-net,” lines 13 and 15 refer to shadow: “house-shade” and “floating shadow,” and lines 20 and 21 use “grey” and end with images of water: “rain” and “waterspout.” Walcott also creates unity through sonic repetition with alliteration and consonance: lines three and six, “church-bell caves” and “crabs crawling;” line four, “grey-scurfed shack that is shuttered,” lines 16 to 18, “smoke,” “shack,” “sandspit,” “seagulls;” line 21 “great grey,” and lines 22 and 23, “dolphins,” “diving” and “day.”

Almost every line is end-stopped by punctuation or a prepositional phrase. The only exceptions are eight, 13, 16, and 22. These end on a living thing (“pelican”) or part of the landscape that has been personified, i.e. “sea-net / of sunlight trolling the shallows” is given the characteristics of a fisher. But none of these images reveal themselves until the following line.
The first ten lines are informed by images which are earthly, rustic, and eroded: “sun-bleached,” “caves in,” “grey-scurfed,” “warped,” “rust,” “rotting.” Walcott juxtaposes these with the image of child-play, the source of youth and childhood. The poem’s tone changes, however, when we arrive at the subject and verb of the long sentence in line 11 (“I am growing...”). The second half of the poem is then filled with images that lose grounding in the physical and take on an ethereal quality: “shade,” “amethystine,” “ladders of rain,” “floating shadow.” In contrast to the “crabs crawling” and the “children / under the house-shade,” this latter half is formed of living things airy in nature and suspended from the ground: “pelicans,” “seagulls,” “water spout” (of a whale), and “dolphins.” To achieve wholeness, Walcott balances the poem between earthly village-life and the paradisal Saint Lucia and its lyrical “secret.” Like the “I” in “Directive,” this first person is a conduit of unity among elements of human community and natural sublimity. In the Romantic outer world, the individual’s journey into landscape is about returning to the place where the self has not yet been “alienated.” And as in “Directive,” when Walcott asserts he is “growing no nearer / to what secret eluded the children,” he suggests that childhood is the last time the individual can reach the source and be redeemed from alienation. This section creates a landscape of encompassing breadth, imagistically and stylistically. The ending image further culminates the section’s wholeness, as the dolphin evokes the image of a circle as it “rounds the day.”


In the long poem’s second section, Walcott breaks apart the landscape he unified in “The Villages” by layering incomplete syntactical structures and various dictions of English, his indigenous Patois, and French. In order to explore how colonialism has affected Walcott’s view of language, Walcott does not define the Patois, but places the words next to its closest English referents, allowing the reader to see each language as separate yet unified, thus enabling Walcott to capture the duality of the fragmented and the whole. In addition, Walcott chooses English diction that evokes the history of the colonialism of other cultures, ones more commonly known than the history of a small Caribbean island. In this way, the landscape illustrates the duality Walcott has with language and how landscape reflects one’s identity.

Through the first 19 lines, Walcott uses this layered diction to address the physical landscape. No Patois word is directly translated, and the English only serves as context for reference. As Walcott catalogues the crop fruit of his island landscape, the poem takes us through history and time, from the colonial past of the island to Walcott’s own engagement with language.

Pomme arac,
otaheite apple,
pomme cythère,
pomme granate,
the pineapple’s
Aztec helmet,
I have forgotten
what pomme for
the Irish potato,
the cherry,
by the crisp
au bord de la ‘ouvière. (1-19)

The first crop takes the reader to the first human established on the island. The word “pomme arac,” a “bright red fruit with velvety white interior,” is a hybridization of the French word for apple, “pomme,” and the Arawak (“arac”) Indians, the tribe to first populate the island. The fruit bears the burden of the island’s colonist history with France and the history of the Carib Indians who ritually ate the Arawak tribe (Coburn, 5).

The next two images blend the Patois with the closest English equivalents. An “otaheite,” a “pear shaped, apple-crimson fruit,” is juxtaposed with the English “apple,” which is wedged between “pomme cythère,” “a golden, bitter apple.” A “pomme cythère” is an actual apple where an “otaheite,” an “apple-crimson fruit,” has the qualities of one. Thus, the word “apple” is wedged in between the two Patois words for Caribbean fruit similar to apples. Situating English this way enables Walcott to transpose a meaning understood to his English-speaking readers while giving the reader two foreign words. The words “pomme granate,” (pomegranate) are sandwiched between “pomme cythere” and “moubain.” This is important to his implication of the landscape as whole because both “pomme cythere” and “moubain” are names for “golden apple.” The golden apple symbolizes the Christian paradise, and implies that St. Lucia is a kind of Eden. Historically, the pomegranate fruit’s seeds are a symbol of fertility and abundance for the Jewish. In Asia, pomegranates are offered to wedding guests to toss on the floor of the honeymoon suite to insure fertility for a newly-wed couple. The French for pomegranate is “grenade,” which suggests a bomb that scatters shrapnel like fruit scatters seeds, so that despite its paradisal landscape, the Eden metaphor is still fraught with complication given Saint Lucia’s history of colonialism, slavery, and poverty.

The French were the first to colonize Saint Lucia. As a result, the island has adopted the indigenous languages of Patois and Creole, dialects based on the constructs of French. Walcott transitions from the apple of paradise to crops that bear legacy to that colonialist history. The word “z’anananas” in line six refers to the French and pidgin word for pineapple, “anana.” By using “Aztec” to describe a fruit that grows in his own Caribbean soil, Walcott gives his reader most likely unfamiliar with Saint Lucia’s history an allusion to the Spanish invasion of the Aztecs in Mexico, a more familiar context of a colonized land. By using the helmet as a symbol of Mexico’s colonialist history, the choice in diction allows Walcott to project an entire indigenous people onto his own island landscape. And because the images in the first stanza build on each other without transition, the landscape and the individual speaker both become complicated with the traces of colonialist conquest and the physical landscape being described. In addition, the speaker evokes the fragmentation of lingual identity via juxtaposition of the varied layers of diction spliced together.

Walcott invokes another historical reference in the lines, “I have forgotten / what pomme for / the Irish potato” (10-12). Here, Walcott merges the French and English: the word “pomme” refers to “pomme de terre,” the French word for potato, which is followed by the English “potato.” Placing “Irish” next to “potato” also brings many associations: the potato famine in Ireland, the potato imported by the Spanish from the Andean Mountains, the Irish’s own experience with English colonization that forced them to increase their dependence on the crop itself. The apples, bananas, pineapples and potatoes of the poem are emblems of commerce and plunder, and the things done to lesser countries in the name of commerce and religion. St. Lucia is plundered by Spain, commercially, linguistically, and religiously. The Aztec defeat as shown in the pineapple is a shadow of that plunder; the potato famine is another shadow. He closes these series of images with the “z’aman / sea-almonds / by the crisp / sea-bursts, / au bord de la ‘ouvière.” The “z’aman,” like “otaheite,” is placed next to the closest English referent, “sea-almonds.” The last line in this description implies the trying colonialist burden of the island when Walcott uses the French phrase, “au bord de la ‘ouvière,” on the edge of struggle. When Walcott declares, “Come back to me / my language. / Come back, / cacao, / grigri, / solitaire…” he attempts to make whole what has been fragmented by unifying these layers of language and landscape without denying their fragmentation or pulling apart.

Walcott then fuses his images of the island’s agriculture with an encompassing description of the physical landscape:

Come back,
the scissor-bird
no nightingales
except, once,
in the indigo mountains
of Jamaica, blue depth,
deep as coffee,
flicker of pimento,
the shaft light
on a yellow ackee
the bark alone bare
en montagnes
en haut betassion
the wet leather reek
of the hill donkey. (22-41)

The “cacao” is an apt transition from the detailed cataloguing in the previous lines because the cacao bean is another crop of the island that refers to a colonialist history: the Caribbean natives forced to work the cocoa plantations as slaves once the Europeans settled on the island. Further, the cacao fields and the “grigri,” fruit-bearing palm trees, are a distinct, wide-spanning feature of the island. The next two images describe birds native to the island. The “solitaire” is known throughout the region as a “mountain whistler” for its mournful, shrill song. The “ciseau,” the scissor-tailed frigate bird, is unique for its seven-foot wingspan and angular silhouette that can be seen throughout the island. It’s also important to note the line that precedes these images, “Come back to me, my language. / Come back.” Since the island’s colonialist and linguistic history is so fragmented, Walcott looks to the landscape’s essential features—high palm trees, the breadth of the cocoa plantations, soaring birds—to seek wholeness where it is lacking in language. Further, this is the only complete sentence and imperative in the section, spanning two short lines and formed with a direct subject-verb.

Walcott juxtaposes the images of the “solitaire” and the “ciseau” with that of the nightingale to represent his struggle for unity. Hoping to find the European songbird that has been such an emblem of Western literature, as represented by Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale,” Walcott’s images of the Caribbean landscape set against “no nightingales” are his own argument for his “revision” of the Romantic lyric. Walcott yearns for the lineage of the nightingale to represent his idea of wholeness, a bird familiar to him as part of the tradition of Western literature. But the only emblems he can find in his own landscape, his “ciseau” and “solitaire,” are alien to the Western world. When Walcott does find a nightingale in the “indigo mountains,” the image is tainted with the plant’s history of slave labor. The use of “indigo” complicates the image as it associates its unusual color with the mountains. In addition to the dye, the word also refers to the plant the dye is made from, giving the image an earthly quality. Walcott describes the images without a defined syntactical structure and stacks each image on top of the next. And because each image directly associates to the one next to it, Walcott fuses dramatically different facets of the landscape together to create a unity that has a crystalline structure. Walcott repeats this pattern in the last lines of the first stanza. As with the birds, he categorizes these images by sense. The first image, “coffee,” evokes smell, taste, and sight. Like the preceding images, it refers to the landscape and the history of trade and commerce of the island. Coffee is made in Jamaica’s Blue Mountains, which expands on the initial image of the indigo mountains. The “pimento” in the following line is a spice that encompasses varied flavors: nutmeg, clove, cinnamon, and pepper. Like its Blue Mountain coffee, Jamaica is also known for growing the highest quality of pimento in the world. Walcott uses these images as a claim for the island’s Eden-like qualities. The “shaft light / on a yellow ackee” conflates the sense of sight. The “ackee” is Jamaica’s national fruit and one of the two main ingredients in its national dish, ackee and salt fish. Walcott wants the landscape alone to hold the beauty of the fruit as a beam of light reflects down on the tree. But all of these images are merged with commerce. The beautiful Blue Mountains are burdened with the trade of coffee, the smell of the pimento with the problematic commerce.

Walcott shifts from the images of the magnificent birds and world-famous pimento and coffee to images of the landscape’s elements. Unlike the sweet child-play of the first section, the elemental landscape in the second section is the “wet leather reek” of the donkey and the plain bark on the fruit tree. The word “betassion” in line 39 is the French equivalent to “savage,” and suggests that to Walcott, the source is a person that is rough and uncivilized. It also refers to the fierce and brutal attack of St. Lucia’s conquerors. To Walcott, the savage is likened to the features of the landscape from which Walcott has been alienated: bare bark of a tree, “jardins” (gardens), and “montagnes” (mountains). The placement and use of diction suggests that the savage is like the reek of “wet leather” on a “hill donkey.” The clarification of “wet leather” refers to the burden of labor and the commercial, man-made products from that labor.

As the poem progresses, the syntactical structures shift from a scaffolding of different language dictions to a linear structure more inclusive in terms of parts of speech, such as prepositions and verbs. The first three lines of the second stanza, “Evening opens at / a text of fireflies / in the mountain huts” (43-45) are a dramatic shift from the last stanza’s layers of subject after subject. The first two lines form an independent clause further clarified by the prepositional phrase “in the mountain huts.” As in the previous stanza, the next six lines are formed with words that describe what takes place “in the mountain huts”:

ti cailles betassion
the black night bending
cups in its hard palms
cool thin water (46-51)

Walcott shifts from the vernacular English of the preceding prepositional phrase to a layering of Patois. A “hut” suggests a makeshift dwelling in which savages or aborigines take shelter. The Patois for tea and quail, “ti” and “cailles,” precede the French word for savage, “betassion.”

The “black night,” symbolic of the landscape, is personified via the subject-verb structure, evoking a human-like sky with its gerund, “bending,” and possession of a human body part, “its hard palms.” The remainder of the second stanza uses a construction similar to the first stanza. The next line uses direct subject-verb syntax and asks, “this is important water, / important? imported?” The importance and purity of water, Walcott implies, like all of the products of the landscape, are soiled by the burden of trade. The stanza forms a unity by fusing images of commerce with what Walcott sees as fundamental to the island:

water is important
also very important
the red rust rum
the evening deep
as coffee
the morning powerful
important coffee
the villages shut
all day in the sun. (55-63)

The repeated image of the coffee, “the evening deep / as coffee,” is enclosed between “the red rust rum” and “the morning powerful.” This merging of diction alludes to both the landscape and its imported, “important,” products. The image refers back to the first mention of the indigo mountains in line 30. The lines, “the villages shut / all day in the sun,” call our attention back to the first section and its ethereal landscape. The fact that the villages are “shut all day” suggests that the villages have been drained of activity. Further, the people are not working the plantations of the “important coffee,” because the villagers are harvesting the coffee in the fields. Walcott also evokes ambiguity in the landscape by appropriating the “be” verb to the description of commerce, “water is important,” “this is important water.” The images not burdened with commerce have no verb. Using diction and syntax, Walcott creates a landscape both commercial and pure.

The third stanza uses a similar syntactical structure as the previous two. The first line’s prepositional phrase, “In the empty schoolyard” (65), locates the reader, just as in the first lines of the previous stanza. The stanza also ends on part of the landscape: “and the small rivers / with important names.” The middle of the stanza syntactically mimics the stanza before it. Walcott again appropriates human qualities for the landscape by using the subject-gerund personification in lines 67 and 68, “the fruit rotting / yellow on the ground” while the human (“teacher dead”) mentioned in the preceding line is a fixed part of the island. In this case, the fruit takes on a human presence because of the dead teacher it has been juxtaposed with. The next six lines are filled with images whose diction refers to previous stanzas. The lines all start with the appositive “the,” just as in the preceding stanza. Lines 75-77 use the same pronoun-be verb-subject construction (“so you is Walcott? / you is Roddy brother? / Teacher Alix son?”) to ask a series of questions about a single subject. Both stanzas close with an image of the landscape clarified by a prepositional phrase: “the villages shut / all day in the sun” and “and the small rivers with important names.” The diction further creates a kind of fullness through its integration of the fragmented parts:

In the empty schoolyard
teacher dead today
the fruit rotting
yellow on the ground,
dyes from Gauguin
the pomme arac dyes
the earth purple,
the ochre roads
still waiting in the sun
for my shadow,
Oh, so you is Walcott?
you is Roddy brother?
Teacher Alix son?
and the small rivers
with important names. (65-79)

The words “fruit” and “yellow” refer to “pomme arac” in line 1, also repeated in line 70 (“the pomme arac dyes”). The words “dyes,” “the earth purple,” and “ochre” refer chromatically to the indigo mountains in line 30. The word “dyes” serves as both a noun for the blue dye and as a verb; the “pomme arac” is one of the original sources of the landscape that stains the “earth purple.” Gauguin serves as a metaphor for Western voyeurism of tropical, exotic imagery. The post-Impressionist French-Peruvian painter, who immigrated to France at age 24, spent the end of his life in Tahiti painting the island’s nude women as the figure of Eve in paradise. The reference suggests the exploitative manner the West Indies is depicted in art, and that the Western world sees the Caribbean as Edenic, despite its burden of colonialism.

This passage, like Frost’s abandoned playhouse, is filled with haunting absence. The “empty schoolyard” implies the absence of children and the “teacher dead” intensifies the ghostliness of the present landscape. The phrase “my shadow” refers to the search the speaker begins “Sainte Lucie” with: “I am growing no nearer / to what secret eluded the children / under the house-shade” (11-13). Walcott searches for the source in real people. The shadow is a symbol for his twin brother, “my shadow, / Oh, so you is Walcott? / you is Roddy brother?” Walcott reaches the source by merging the individual with his family and the community of the island. The “empty schoolyard” and “teacher dead” symbolize his own community, i.e. “Alix,” Walcott’s mother. To complicate it even further, Walcott creates a third layer that incorporates the source of water, “and the small rivers / with important names.” The words “small” and “important names” imply that the small rivers have been given grand colonialist names.

The next two stanzas use structure to give the poem unity. The third stanza does not end with a period but flows into the next stanza. The syntax of these stanzas is also more whole; each phrase that has a person as its subject has a qualifying verb. In addition, each image is also expanded with adjective or metaphor. The first two lines of the third stanza, “And the important corporal / in the country station,” unify the second and third stanzas by continuing with the same syntactical structure from the preceding stanza, “and the small rivers / with important names.” The lines “in the country station / en betassion” (81-82) also have a similar syntax to the first two lines of the second stanza, “In the empty school yard / teacher dead today.” The prepositional phrase locates the reader in the island’s geography, followed by the living thing inhabiting that location, and what that living thing is doing. The place in both phrases is a contained, man-made construction—in stanza two a schoolyard, and in the penultimate stanza a “country station.” A “country station” refers to lodging for tourists in outdoor destinations, as well as a watch-tower for guards or “corporals.” The following images of Walcott’s St. Lucia take in the collective community, himself, and the outer landscape:

And the important corporal
in the country station
en betassion
looking towards the thick
green slopes of cocoa
the sun that melts
the asphalt at noon,
and the woman in the shade
of the breadfruit bent over
the lip of the valley,
below her, blue-green
the lost, lost valleys
of sugar, the bus rides,
the fields of bananas
the tanker still rusts
in the lagoon at Roseau,
and around what corner
was uttered a single
yellow leaf,
from the frangipani
a tough bark, reticent,
but when it flowers
delivers hard lilies,
pungent, recalling (81-104)

Like the Gauguin allusion, the “corporal” in the country station is looking on the landscape through the window as if it were a painting. But instead of Gauguin’s colorful nudes, Walcott’s images are his own, real Saint Lucian natives. In the third stanza, there are two references to a human presence: “en betassion,” (“savages”) in line 83, and “the woman in the shade” in line 88. The humans are fused with the landscape. Walcott calls back the “cacao” image, but this time he uses the informal term “cocoa” for the powder derived from the bean instead of its agricultural name. By replacing it with a term associated with human consumption instead of one evoking a slave history, Walcott reclaims the history he urged in lines 22 and 23 to “Come back / cacao...” He describes the cocoa as “thick green slopes,” merging the island’s physical hills with the powder. Walcott reclaims the landscape by stripping the images of their colonialist past. The “betassion” aren’t referred to as plantation slaves but witnesses “looking towards the thick / green slopes.” Instead of personifying the landscape as human, the humans are, in a way, personified as earth. The “sun that melts / the asphalt at noon” isn’t personified like the night in the previous stanza. But the woman is personified as earth through juxtaposition: “and the woman in the shade / of the breadfruit bent over / the lip of the valley, / below her, blue-green / the lost, lost valleys…” (88-92) Walcott uses “lip,” a body part indicative of female sexuality, to lend the characteristics of the Saint Lucian earth. With the juxtaposition of the woman with “valley” and “breadfruit,” the woman also becomes a symbol of fertility and abundance. Further, because the image of the woman “in the shade” follows that of the “sun that melts / the asphalt at noon,” which is also in dialogue with the first section’s “sea-net / of sunlight,” and the penultimate stanza’s “still waiting in the sun / for my shadow,” the woman symbolizes the source, the “secret / under the house-shade” where the children played. This is a crucial difference in the structure of the last two stanzas in that Walcott now directly appropriates the landscape of source to the human in the earth, where the previous stanzas addressed the idea of the shadow-source in the form of a question. It is only when the living woman is fused with the “valley” that Walcott finds the original source of renewal, the “secret” that “rounded the day.” The next few lines’ images refer to the colonialist and commercial history that Walcott has shed now that the poem has arrived at its source: “the lost, lost valleys / of sugar, the bus rides, / the fields of bananas / the tanker still rusts” (92-95). The repetition of “lost” and the diction of “sugar,” “bus,” “fields,” “bananas,” and “tanker” refer to the colonial history Walcott built up in the preceding stanzas and to the conquest of the European settlers (tanker). Walcott links the shed colonialist images with the poem’s final images of the “frangipani” and “women” with “around what corner / was uttered…” (97-98) Walcott suggests, through the layering of different images and clauses, that one will miss the island’s true landscape and history if one focuses only on its history of conquest or commerce. The “frangipani,” a tree from the jasmine family, produces white “pungent” blossoms. Walcott uses the native plant to extend the metaphor of woman as earth. The three-tiered image represents wholeness because it expands outwards and culminates into a depiction of landscape that incorporates humanity, earth, history, and purity. Walcott describes the frangipani as “a single / yellow leaf” and “tough bark, reticent” that “when it flowers / delivers hard lilies, / pungent…” The diction works to create an image that is at once “hard” and as delicate as a “single” leaf. The flower recalls the names and bodies of the women whose names associate colonialism and war: “Martine,” “war-like,” “Eunice,” “good victory,” and “Lucilla,” the third-century saint martyred in Rome whom St. Lucia was named after. The woman, by any name, is described in terms of the earth:

Martine or Eunice
or Lucilla,
who comes down the steps
with the cool, side flow
as spring water eases
over shelves of rock
in some green ferny hole
by the road in the mountains,
her smile like the whole country,
her smell, earth,
red-brown earth, her armpits
a reaping, her arms
saplings, an old woman
that she is now
with other generations of daughters flowing
down the steps,
gens betassion,
belle ti fille betassion,
until their teeth go,
and all the rest. (106-126)

Walcott uses juxtaposition to appropriate the characteristics of the landscape onto the woman. The phrase “who comes down the steps / with the cool, side flow / as spring water eases” lends the water’s flow to the woman’s walk. The simile “her smile like the whole country” also transposes the landscape’s traits onto the woman. When Walcott places the woman’s body next to parts of the earth—“her smell” (also referring to the frangipani’s pungent perfume) and “earth, / red brown earth,” “her armpits” and “reaping,” and “her arms” and “saplings”—the woman becomes the landscape. When the human merges with landscape, humanity takes on as much importance as the earth, and the “gens betassion” (savage people) symbolize real humanity as a result of this exchange instead of as slaves, “belle ti fille betassion” (beautiful daughter savages). Walcott can embrace the island due to this exchange between humanity and landscape. When he addresses the women, he refers to himself as part of the landscape:

O Martinas, Lucillas,
I’m a wild golden apple
that will burst with love
of you and your men
those I never told enough
with my young poet’s eyes
crazy with the country,
generations going,
generations gone,
moi c’est gens St. Lucie.
C’est la moi sorti:
is there that I born. (128-139)

Finally, Walcott reaches wholeness with a paradise freed from the burden of colonialism. This time the speaker is given the qualities of the landscape, of the symbolic “wild golden apple / that will burst with love…” Walcott embraces the “country, / generations going, / generations gone” now that the landscape has been “soiled by an ineradicable humanity.” When Walcott ends the poem with “moi c’est gens Ste. Lucie / C’est la moi sorti: is there that I born” he embraces not only the history of Saint Lucia by speaking in French, but embraces language when he defines the non-English words in the final line.

IV. Conclusion

I have always seen the use—and the reception—of language as a subjective act. In childhood, I was immersed in a world of people speaking in Mandarin, a language I could barely understand. When my father would perform ancient and contemporary plays in Mandarin for the local Chinese community, I would fixate on the strange sounds of their dialogue, which was as incomprehensible as opera. My confusion only thickened when I became an adult thrown into the social constructs of Americans, facing each day with colloquialisms and idioms I had never heard before: “that’s old hat,” “be careful you don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,” “red herring,” etc. The image-based phrases transferred meaning in such a figurative way that I found them puzzling. The idioms of contemporary American vernacular and the Mandarin dialogue of my father’s plays contained a kind of logic or code for which I didn’t have the tools to connect meaning. When I used these expressions, it was only out of imitation, an effort to become part of a world where I could use the same linguistic structures as others to communicate my own inner thoughts and feelings.

To me, poems seemed to operate via a similar sociolinguistic system I didn’t have access to. I felt displaced from certain poems because they seemed to use cultural or social referents from a construct I wasn’t familiar with. Certain narrative poems humorously described an American experience using cultural referents that would evoke an immediate response of laughter, leaving me dumbfounded, as if I had missed the punch line. When these references were used, I felt ejected from the poem’s argument just as I had been in the conversations of my youth.

To contrast, when I read poems that used landscape as a kind of logic to portray the speaker’s interior, I felt I had access to the poem’s meaning and resonance, to that poem’s self. Landscape, I felt, allowed me a way into the poem objectively. This framework enabled me to visualize the physical images used in the poem through the lens of my own perspective, my own experiences with that terrain, and see my own interior in a way that was visceral and metaphorical.

In the poems “Directive” and “Sainte Lucie,” both poets arrive at their “revision” of the Romantic lyric from startlingly different scopes of landscape. Frost’s rural New England earth is burdened by physical and agricultural erosion and loss. Walcott’s Eden-like Caribbean island of Saint Lucia bears the complications of colonialism, conquest, and trade. Each poet represents the divide and coming together in the self by demonstrating that divide and merging in the physical landscape. This exchange and interchange between landscape and humanity transposes humanity onto the earth, and the earth onto the self. By showing what has been fragmented in the humans and the physical world, Frost and Walcott demonstrate the humanity “as ineradicable,” both from the landscape, and the speaker himself.


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Wilbur, Richard. “Poetry and Happiness.” Responses: Prose Pieces, 1953-1976. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976.

Wordsworth, William. “Lines Composed A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, On Revisiting The Banks Of The Wye During A Tour. July 13, 1798.” English Romantic Writers. Ed. David Perkins. 2nd ed. Orlando: Harcourt Brace & Company, 1995.


Addie Tsai holds an MFA from Warren Wilson College. Her work has appeared in American Letters & Commentary, Forklift, Ohio, Born Magazine, Caketrain, and NOON: A Journal of the Short Poem. Tsai received a Pushcart nomination in 2006 and received third place in the Tin House Summer Literary Seminars contest for her poem "The Language of Breaking." She lives in Houston, Texas.


At 11:31 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Kweyol Dictionary edited by David Frank and endorsed by the Ministry of Education of the government of St. Lucia lists 'bitasyon' (Kweyol spelling of 'betassion')-N plantation, estate, countryside.

Hope this clears up the reading of the term. My ancestors raised families in these wooden lean to houses. Poverty does not equate savagery.


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