The rich metaphors and descriptions in Derek Walcott’s poetry render the Caribbean world where he grew up almost tangible: the tropical ocean air; the warm beaches; the birds and sea creatures that populated the coasts—and the specter of colonialism, too, lingering on after the dissolution of centuries-long European control.
Saint Lucia, the island in the West Indies where the Nobel Prize-winning poet was born and raised, passed from French to British rule and back more than a dozen times between the 17th and 19th centuries. The island didn’t begin moving toward full independence from Britain until the late 1950s, when Walcott, then almost 30 years old, was just beginning his literary career.
That history looms large in poems like 2010’s “The Lost Empire,” in which Walcott explores the end of colonial control, and its legacy:
And then there was no more Empire all of a sudden.
Its victories were air, its dominions dirt:
Burma, Canada, Egypt, Africa, India, the Sudan.
The map that had seeped its stain on a schoolboy’s shirt
like red ink on a blotter, battles, long sieges.
Dhows and feluccas, hill stations, outposts, flags
fluttering down in the dusk, their golden aegis
went out with the sun
Read the full poem here to see more of Walcott’s world.