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Derek Walcott’s Another Life: from Death to Celebration

Dominique DELMAIRE

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  • 1  All references to Derek Walcott’s poem are given in Collected Poems 1948-1984.

1When he writes in Another Life1 that “a man lives half of life, / the second half is memory” (243), Derek Walcott seems to be acutely aware that all autobiographies are, to some extent, written from “that bourne from which no man returns,” imposing that “auto-thanatographic perspective” which Ghyslain Lévy (80) considers as another name for writing. The “lived” part of Walcott’s life may itself have been little else than death in disguise from the very outset, if we are to believe the poet’s friend, Gregorias, when he declares, “The thing is you love death and I love life” (206). The poet himself confesses that he “dressed too early for the funeral of this life” (281).

2Yet, the poem ends with an ode to Gregorias, culminating in a jubilant address: “Gregorias, Apilo!” (294). Clearly, by then, the perspective is no longer thanato-centered, even though Gregorias is “a man exhausted” (272) who tried to take his own life. Another design and another voice seem to have taken over. How has such a transformation been made possible in the course of those four books? What stages has the persona had to go through in order to utter this final cry of celebration? These are the questions which I propose to address in the present essay.


3Death, which seems indeed to pervade every area of his life and island at all times, is emblematized in the figure of the “absent master,” who could equally stand for Harry Simmons, the poet’s father, or God, all three dead or about to be (see Baugh and Nepaulsingh 188). Ultimately, it is the poet’s death which is intimated by the phrase, since Walcott’s “elegy to Simmons is also about himself, his own fears and struggles” (98). Because he is conscious “of the imminence of the same dangers in his own life” (98), the poet too runs away from the “reaper” “with his scythe” (205) “who stalks nearer” (275) before it is “Too late, too late” (273). Among “the death-notes already sounded in Book One, as in the memory of the funeral of the young boy’s coeval, Pinkie, and the idea of the ultimate fading of memory” (95), one could list the evocation of his mother’s house in chapter 2 (155-7) — with terms such as “old,” “unuse,” “cracked,” “snap,” “unsilvering,” “lice,” “termites,” “consume,” etc. — or the depiction of some of the poorer parts of the island, “where the death rattle / gargles in the shale” (278) amidst “the smell from the armpits of cocoa / from the dead, open mouths / of husked nuts” (279). The “threat of human disintegration” (Ismond 208) and “the fear of the inchoate” (209) lurk close to civilization, as “[o]ne step beyond the city was the bush” (167). In addition, “[o]ne step behind the church door stood the devil” (167), and evil in the guise of the persona’s “lechery like a mongrel nosed the ruins, / past Manoir’s warehouse” (232) while “lecherous, lecherous, sighed the insucked water” (228) and “[l]ight flushed its crimson like an obscene rose” (167). Love itself partakes of this deathliness. Like the “Reaper,” Anna is portrayed as “sickle-armed” (202), and she is likened to both “gorgonizing Judith” and Circe (203), capable, that is, of changing men either into stones or into pigs, in other words of castrating them, as the reference to “Holofernes’ lantern” (203) indicates.

  • 2  Unless otherwise specified, the translations of French authors are mine.

4Yet, the more death contaminates life, the more the poet will attempt to keep it at bay, he who insists that he “write[s] of a man whom life, / not death or memory, grants fame” (273). The very existence of the monumental autobiographical poem called Another Life testifies to his desire to recapture and immortalize the past, entering “that race against time which is the construction of the text” (Lejeune, Pacte 280; my translation),2 for, as Alain Robbe-Grillet puts it: “That’s what death is… Constructing a story would then be — more or less consciously — pretending to fight against it” (27).

The aesthetic g(l)aze

5“Life is less than literature,” declares Walcott (in Baer 89). “Otherwise, you would not work for the immortality of the poem.” Another Life is certainly a magnificent illustration of this belief, and many critics have highlighted the intensive patterning at work in the poem, that sense of form which true Aristotelian mimesis tries to attain as it processes the raw material of reality. Baugh and Nepaulsingh consider that “in eventually becoming a poem, Another Life was only heightening or taking to an extreme conclusion a process that had been manifest in it from the beginning, a process of transforming mere autobiog­raphy into art” (195).

6This process of “heightening” relies in part on what has widely been analyzed as a lifting of the mundane onto a mythic plane, which gives “wider significance to topical experiences” (Durix 22). When Anna becomes “all Annas” (238), when “in the dead sail of the almond leaf / are all of the voyages” (286), when “[t]hese dead, these derelicts, / that alphabet of the emaciated” become “the stars of [his] mythology” (164) — heraldic men” (217) —, “the achieved effect of this is to make of one time, all time, and of one place an archetype for all places,” concludes James Wieland (179).

  • 3  It is noteworthy that in now obsolete English to glaze can mean “to stare.”

7But the heightening is also a result of the glazing of significant objects, which brings out their “radiance” (155) and preserves them in some glassy aesthetic eternity. Glass by itself seems to have that capacity to immortalize what is contemplated through it: “I saw, as through the glass of some provincial gallery / the hieratic objects which my father loved” (183). Similarly, the poet wishes his memory to be preserved as if “sealed in glass” (250), just as “the island and Anna would survive / (…) inviolate, under / their sacred and inverted bell of glass” (256) when he leaves for Jamaica. To that capacity, a window pane adds a photographic perspective, as indeed it frames a piece of reality in a potentially artistic, or at least imaginative, manner: “look[ing] from the bus window” (184), the persona literally paints over the scene before his eyes, “multipl[ying] the bush with savages, / speckl[ing] the leaves with jaguar and deer, / [and] chang[ing] those crusted boulders / to grey, stone-lidded crocodiles.” It is a process that also occurs in the natural world, when elements or animals are endowed with the ability to gaze — quite often, in fact, aided by camera lenses, as when “dark water’s lens ha[s] made the trees one wood / arranged to frame this pair” (235) or when, in “Tarpon,” the “eye’s lens” (61) of the fish seems to stare at the onlooker. Halfway between the glass pane and the camera lens, glasses — the recurrence of which Kerry-Jane Wallart has pointed out (106) — perform the same function of promoting artistic vision, notably in the case of Harry Simmons, who wears “spectacles thick as a glass paperweight” (147). For Walcott glass(es), glaze and gaze are more than mere paronomasias: they are near-synonyms.3 There might lie part of the reason why the process of aestheticization of reality is doomed to fail, as a better understanding of the role of gazing in Another Life will make clear.

Gazing and its dangers

8In spite of the poet’s intention to “begin until this ocean’s / a shut book” (145) and no longer “a book left open,” autobiography’s dream of artistic consummation is wishful thinking, if only because, as Monika Lee puts it, “the silences contain the most of a subject’s life and thinking” (173). Therefore, both poetry and autobiography, as totalizing endeavors, threaten the very existence of language:

Poésie et autobiographie sont les réalisations successives d’un même comportement dans le langage: à partir d’amorces de langages réunies en un corpus, essayer de manifester, par un travail de construction, un secret, une règle, aboutir à une expérience totale dont on n’est pas long à comprendre qu’elle serait, en même temps que la pleine réalisation du langage, sa disparition ou son éclatement, c’est-à-dire la mort” (Lejeune Pacte 250).

9More importantly, by “heightening” reality, the poet is guilty of “the noble treachery of art” (236), which will “lock” into death the “images” (236) of what he seeks to preserve and thereby “betrays”: “[t]he hand she held already had betrayed / them by its longing for describing her” (236) or by making her the literary “Anna of the steaming stations” (238). It is not simply a case of freezing the past through writing it down (what Lévy calls “le figement rétrospectif de la vie dans l’écriture,” 9): the very process of representation — and at the core of it, gazing — in effect destroys what it endeavors to represent. Kerry-Jane Wallart rightly emphasizes the role of photography in “this thanatography, this putting to death of the real by painting as well as by poetry” (Wallart 105; my translation), quoting: “all that town’s characters, its cast of thousands / arrested in one still! / As if a sudden flashbulb showed their deaths” (151). What photography makes especially obvious is the destructive power of gazing.

10“Gorgonizing” Anna has “stone-grey eyes” (202) that seem to cast a spell on whatever or whoever she looks at, a power which the poet apparently partakes of as they “sit by the stone wall” (230) and

all changes to grey stone,
stone hands, stone air,
stone eyes, from which

  • 4  My emphasis.

irisless, we stare,4

  • 5  See “the heart congealing into stone” (265), “Love is a stone / that settled on the seabed / under (...)

11wishing the sea were stone, this stoniness being undoubtedly on the side of lifelessness in Walcott’s Collected Poems.5A similar petrification occurs when the gazer is nature itself or an animal. For instance, “dark water’s lens had (…) / arranged to frame” (235) the two lovers in more than one way. A few lines down, “the same lens held them” emprisoned in the “self-delighting, self-transfiguring stone / stare of the demi-god” that now “grew on each one” (236). Staying under any gaze is fraught with danger, be it that of “God’s eye glazed by an indifferent blue” (14) in “Origins” or that of “the enormous, lidless eyeball of the moon, / dumb” (264) in Another Life: “The moon came to the window and stayed there. / He was her subject” (148); he might therefore end up just like those children who “have drunk the moon-milk / that X-rays their bodies,” “their flesh like flaking stone, / poor negatives!” (151), for the moon — sometimes significantly likened to “a reading glass” (149) — is wont to “[maintain] her station” by “the shells / of gutted offices barnacling the wharves / of the burnt town, her lamp / baring the ovals of toothless façades” (147), as if rejoicing in the spectacle of devastation.

  • 6  Cf. Joyce: “Her glazing eyes, staring out of death, to shake and bend my soul” (Ulysses 16).
  • 7  Which echoes “the black mouth” of the “swamp”(59).

12The sea’s gaze — or its grin — can render speechless and impotent: “the sea’s huge eye stuns you / with the lumbering, oblique blow / of its weary pelagic eyelid” (198) and “the sea’s grin stupefied” (218). The worst is that, as seen previously in the case of the poet and Anna, this deadly stupefaction becomes a shared quality, as if the object of the gaze was contaminated by the gazer and could then contaminate others in turn. In “Lampfall” (95), typically, the speaker seems to have appropriated, and can now see with, the “aged eyes, / (…) [the] dead green, glaucous gaze” of the “old fish” to which he is “hooked.” The notion of mutual fascination becomes obvious when one recognizes in this old fish an avatar of the tarpon — in the eponymous poem (61) — whose “gold eye” (61) remains “open” (62) even in death, and which is therefore as much looked at as looking, thus causing anguish by evincing the blind stare of death6 and its corollary, the “gaping” mouth7 (61) — reflecting the “sea’s grin” —, both evidence of the inescapable link between the scopic and the oral drives. To cite Lacan, “il y a un appétit de l’œil chez celui qui regarde. (…)  l’œil porte avec lui la fonction mortelle d’être en lui-même doué (...) d’un pouvoir séparatif” (131). Being stared at is tantamount to being devoured.

  • 8  See Merleau-Ponty: “comme l’ont dit beaucoup de peintres, je me sens regardé par les choses [...] (...)
  • 9  See Lacan: “nous sommes des êtres regardés, dans le spectacle du monde” (87).
  • 10  Walcott, Ms One (83); quoted by Baugh and Nepaulsingh (204).

13Gazing or being gazed at — now both seemingly equivalent, very much in keeping with phenomenology8 and psychoanalysis9 — thus appear to be lethal. This is possibly because, in Walcott’s view, the real is unbearable, as “we are self-devoured by the ordinariness of truth.”10 The clarity of “the plain truths he seeks” (Baugh and Nepaulsingh 203) as well as their reflection in his poetry (“my poetry (…) “is becoming terrifyingly plain to me, (…) like a vase or a glass of water” — quoted in Baer 11-12) are simply too much to bear at this stage. The real needs to be opaqued, mediated as it were: “Le verre, la vitre, viennent fort souvent s’interposer entre la chose et l’œil comme une opacité, une médiation qui viendraient troubler toute transparence possible” (Wallart 100). Glass, window panes, tears, or even sweat all contribute to this self-imposed obscurity (“I practise blindness,” 160) which, though ultimately aiming at another, more spiritual, kind of vision, like that of the numerous blind writers or “Santa Lucia, / patroness of Naples” (218) featured in the poem (Wallart 100-1), does impair the poet’s vision for the time being.

  • 11  Another possible reading of the same line is of course “like glass / which the years divided” (or (...)

14Those “[t]ears, [which] like slow crystal beetles, crawl the pane” (274),work as a screen between him and the outside world onto which his own feelings and emotions (his “premonitions” in this case) can be projected, since, as “Elisabeth once wrote,” “we make glass the image of our pain”(106). This occurs especially when in midlife he gets “nearer the weak / vision thickening to a frosted pane”(136). Only his own image is then reflected off the window pane, as in “A Village Life” (“I stare through glass, / my own reflection there, at / empty avenues, lawns, spires, quiet / stones,” 81), thus restricting, or even barring, access to others and the world. Glass panes become metaphors for painful separation, such as that effected by time, for instance: “like glass / the years divided”11 (271), he laments on a visit to his island many years later. The comment made by Jean-Michel Maulpoix about late nineteenth-century French poets such as Baudelaire or Mallarmé would fittingly apply to Another Life:

Au lieu de permettre au sujet de s’échapper vers le céleste ou vers le monde, la fenêtre poétique lui renvoie en miroir, à travers les figures d’autrui, sa propre image. Elle devient ce ténébreux lieu de voyance où la vie tout entière se réfléchit et où le “je” kaléidoscopique du poète vit et souffre “dans d’autres que lui-même” (Les Fenêtres). Elle participe donc à la dépersonnalisation et à la pluralisation du “moi”, voué à une infinie réflexion et à une kyrielle de “je suis” (90-1).

15Further on, Maulpoix explains: “Le sujet lyrique (…) se cherche, se perd puis se retrouve, dans un constant jeu de miroirs et d’illusions. Plus qu’un autre, il courtise cette “maîtresse d’erreur et de fausseté” qu’est l’imagination” (375). That is precisely what the poet seems to be doing, looking at his self-reflection as “three lives dissolve in the imagination, (…) fade from a mirror clouding with this breath” (257) and erasing what the imagination retrieved and magnified earlier — ”Harry, Dunstan, Andreuille.” All is indeed illusion as “not one is real” and “they all exist, they never have existed” (257) at once. The persona is left facing his multiple and varying selves in a solipsistic, deceptive and frustrating “mirror, where a generation yearned / for whiteness, for candour, unreturned” (146).

Staging the self

  • 12  Baude (262), commenting on Georges-Emmanuel Clancier’s autobiographical poems, Passagers du temps.

16To some extent, identity breaks up into a multiplicity of selves in any autobiographical project, because of the time gap between who the poet was then and who he is now, and his consequent splitting-up into “the writing I and the you of memory,”12 whom the persona may address “either to comfort him (…) or to upbraid or disown him” (Lejeune Pacte 17) — as is the case with “You had begun to write those letters to no one” (251) or “How often you have felt you have wasted your life / among a people with no moral centre” (264). Sometimes, “the ineluctable duality of the grammatical ‘person’” (Je est un autre 34) takes the form of a division between the persona and the third-person character whom the former portrays as himself seen from a distance.

17With Derek Walcott, these features acquire remarkable prominence. As the author himself wrote in the essay out of which grew Another Life,

  • 13 MS One (9). Quoted in Baugh (90).

All autobiographies should be in the third person. (…) ‘I’ should be known as ‘him’— an object distant enough to regard dispassionately (...) Everything else is the old zealous heresy of thinking the self central and therefore supreme. The true autobiographer will cultivate the schizophrenic gift.13

18EdwardBaugh has analyzed in detail how this “gift” is put to use in Another Life:

Very markedly in Another Life (…), the ‘I’ of the narrator-protagonist is continually changing places with the narrated ‘he’. Sometimes the ‘I’ and the ‘he’ become ‘you’, an intermediary between the two other selves, the ‘other’ face in the mirror which the self acknowledges and interrogates. This interrogation dramatizes the idea that autobiography (…) is self-address. (…) In Another Life the pattern of pronoun shifts between first, second and third person is established from the outset. We move from ‘I begin here again’ to ‘There / was your heaven!’ (145) to ‘He rose and climbed towards the studio’ (146). (90)

19From that moment on, the enunciation has, in Lejeune’s words, “dramatized itself” (Je est un autre 36); it has “unfolded into a spectacle” for the reader, a spectacle which, as Wallart has pointed out about Another Life, should be correlated to the spectacles or glasses that crop up repeatedly in “a world which is explicitly, histrionically that of a verbal and pictorial representation displayed as such everywhere” (106; my translation). An example of how the multiple selves of the persona sometimes seem to be shown interacting on a stage is, early on, when the plural narrator (us) of “Let us see” (147) pans up to, and focuses on, the newly described Harry Simmons welcoming the autobiographical character depicted at a younger age.

20We are back to Maulpoix’s analysis, having come full circle; not only does narcissism breed “kaleidoscopic” images of the self, but the reverse is also true: the danger with splitting oneself into several “persons” is that it may obviously “accentuate what one precisely claims to avoid, narcissism” (Je est un autre 44). According to Judith Harris, Another Life as a whole may, in fact, originate in a narcissistic perspective. Commenting on the epigraph to “The Divided Child” from Malraux’s Psychology of Art, she remarks that “here, a narcissistic gaze mirrors the Self through an Other, as Cimabue saw himself through Giotto, birthing a double consciousness” (300). It is therefore no surprise that the landscape itself should be hypnotized by its own image and tempt the onlooker, “[s]tunned by [his] image” (236), to drown in its lethal reflection:

Magical lagoon, stunned
by its own reflection!
The boat, the stone
pier, the water-odorous
boathouse, the trees
so quiet they were always
far. I could drown there. (228)

  • 14  A pane which, as seen previously, reflects the speaker’s own image like a mirror, in fact.

21Fortunately, “[t]ime cuts down on the length man can endure / his own reflection. (…) Only tyrants believe / their mirrors, or Narcissi, brooding on boards, / before they plunge into their images” (441) and any “unsilvering mirror finally / surrender[s] her vanity” (156). In order to get cured of “the frailty of that insubstantial or absent gaze, comparable to a mirror rather than a pane (Maulpoix 363) —”I have learnt to gaze / on life indifferently as through a pane of glass,”14 says the persona in “A Village Life” (80) —, the poet has to relinquish the chimeras of his solipsism and therefore willingly endure a form of death, since these have proven to be an effect of his rejection of it.


  • 15  Like the Spartans at Thermopylae, as suggested by Baugh and Nepaulsingh (282).

22Baugh and Nepaulsingh have shown how, in Another Life, the poet’s “choice of art as religion” (178) in the footsteps of Matthew Arnold leads him to embrace the classical concept of “imitatio Christi”, including, obviously, its most far-reaching implications. It is significant that, within a few lines of declaring that he “endured no reflections” (281), he “laughed at [his] death-gasp in the rattle / of the sea-shoal(282), suggesting that, by then, he who “yearned to suffer for that life”(184) had now completed that process. Just like Christ, he has drunk the bitter cup down to the dregs; in other words, he has become humble enough to “have swallowed all [his] hates” (282), asked for forgiveness (“you, master and friend, / forgive me!” 282; “Forgive me, you folk, (…) forgive our desertions, you islands, 293) and transcended his own passions (“burnt out desire, / lust,” 290). to the point of now being capable of wishing peace on both heaven and hell (“Rest, heaven. Rest, hell,” 287) and preparing for death (“combing, uncombing my hair,”15 290).

  • 16  Cf. Baude (257, 262, 264) about Clancier.

23Now, accepting death for a persona engrossed in a multi-faceted self might precisely mean letting go of self-centeredness. Commenting on the passage about the Carib Sauteurs, Sarah Phillips Casteel remarks that “Another Life resists egocentric autobiography” (17). Indeed, with his consciousness “expanding through time and space” (Wieland 178), the poet seems to have acquired the capacity to empathize with all people (“I am all, I am one / who feels as he falls with the thousand,” 214) and to become one with the whole universe: “I knelt because I was my mother, / I was the well of the world, / I wore the stars on my skin” (281).16 “He identifies with the mythic Sauteurs,” says Durix (16-17). He thus gradually moves toward a “Homeric model of a self that is altogether less individuated, less clearly marked off from others, less unique” (Phillips Casteel 27), like that which will define Omeros. And, because as of chapter 7, (183) “Walcott’s imagination,” as Nanna Wilson-Tagoe argues, “is less self-consciously playful, less involved with its own dazzle, it becomes totally involved with the reality it creates” (Brown 57). In other words, as he is no longer fascinated by the mirages of self, he can genuinely welcome otherness, whether it be the other person (his wife — whom he praises as the true other that the second grammatical person normally designates when he declares, “Holy were you, Margaret” (290), thus “embracing a relationship” (Buber 21) — or his “two dear daughters” thanks to whom his life is “balanced” — 289) or the “real” in a broad sense  (“I am inured / only to the real (…) as the real / rock I make real,” 290) from which he now refuses to run away (“escape? No,” 290).

24The poet has in a way anticipated on the prayer which he will say in “The Hotel Normandie Pool” (“The prayer is brief: That the transparent wrist / would not cloud surfaces with my own shadow, / and that this page’s surface would unmist / after my breath as pools and mirrors do,” 440) by having renounced telling his story in his own name (“You want to hear my history? Ask the sea,” 282) and thus relinquished the “shadow” of self on the mirror and the page. (Significantly, all that he has to look at himself as he gets reconciled with the “real” is an “ageing mirror that blinds,” 290) As in Stephen Dedalus’s conception of the artist in the dramatic form, “the personality of the artist (…) refines itself out of existence, impersonalizes itself” (Joyce Portrait 215), maybe reaching what Stéphane Mallarmé famously encapsulated as “la disparition élocutoire du poète,” a condition understandably “quite contrary to the pre-requisites of autobiography” (Lejeune Pacte 246).

  • 17  See Baugh and Nepaulsingh (325); note to lines 3291-2.
  • 18  Maulpoix (231) quoting Nietzsche.

25Yet, by accepting this self-extinction, by surrendering to a stronger will than his (“I leapt for the pride of that race / at Sauteurs! An urge more than mine,” 281), the persona, just like Moses striking the rock in obedience to God’s command,17 ultimately “opened / to His gift!” (282), that is, to the water gushing forth from the rock of the “real” or to the resurrection “into another light” (151), like the Arawaks who “leap into the light” (214) or Gregorias who “had entered life” (272) after attempting suicide. Self-dissolution conditions artistic, and spiritual, vision; indeed, just as “[t]here are already, invisible on canvas, / lines locking into outlines” when “[t]he visible dissolves / in a benign acid” (197), similarly it is to death (Harry’s, that is, by proxy, the poet’s) that the “work” of art, begun in “twilight” (145) and “its light compounded in that mortal glow” (294), owes its completion (282). But the water pouring forth from the rock may also stand for the ecstatic voice of celebration, “the poetic act par excellence” (Maulpoix 403), since “through [poetic singing] the poet (…) ‘triumphs over the subjective’ and ‘frees himself from the ego.’”18


26To be sure, the so-called “trance” (184) in chapter 7 which the persona remembers experiencing when he was fourteen and which Wieland presents as a Wordsworthian “merging of self and landscape” (15) does not qualify as real ec-stasy (i.e. the condition of being outside oneself, what Maulpoix describes as “le ravissement du sujet dans le langage,” 17), as it is characterized mostly by descriptive self-awareness: “I dissolved,” “I was seized,” “I drowned,” “I began to weep, / inwardly, without tears, with a serene extinction / of all sense,” etc. (185). Typically, having self-consciously displayed himself in the act of prayer, the poet reverts to aesthetic self-distancing, speaking of himself in the third person, in the following section (III).

27In true celebration, by contrast, “the world (…) comes first, causing wonder, and the ‘self’ is initially but a thrill, a tremor” (Maulpoix 415) which soon billows into an exclamatory address to the world:

Le poète semble mis en demeure par le monde de prendre la parole. Son intériorité est moins souveraine qu’elle paraît: par l’exclamation, elle vient à la rencontre de ce qui est, elle l’appelle, le désigne, lui répond déjà en plaçant la voix à une certaine hauteur, de plain-pied avec la nature. L’exclamation possède une valeur extatique: on y voit le poète sortir de soi, en état d’enthousiasme, de lyrisme...  (Maulpoix 227; my emphasis)

28Thus the persona can exclaim:

O simultaneous stroke of chord and light,
O tightened nerves to which the soul vibrates,
some flash of lime-green water, edged with white—
“I have swallowed all my hates.” (282)

29The “I,” as Maulpoix notes about a poem by Saint-John Perse, “defines the origin of the invocation” (415) but is not foregrounded. The lyrical voice gives full, enthusiastic expression to “the tremendous elation” (Walcott in Baer 53) of the poet about to fulfill “Adam’s task of giving things their names” (294), an elation which appears as the ecstatic echo of the jubilation of the world itself equally involved in the universal act of celebration:

the waves clapped their hands, hallelujah!
and the hills were joyful together,
arpeggios of lizards scuttled the leaves, (207).

30Then can indeed occur an unalloyed “merging of self and landscape” (Wieland 15) where “wonder” (7-8 below ) is as much a feature of the world as of the poet:

The sun drumming, drumming,
past the defeated pennons of the palms,
roads limp from sunstroke,
past green flutes of grass
the ocean cannonading, come!
Wonder that opened like the fan
of the dividing fronds
on some noon-struck Sahara,
where my heart from its rib cage yelped like a pup
after clouds of sanderlings rustily wheeling
the world on its ancient,
invisible axis,
the breakers slow-dolphining over more breakers,
to swivel our easels down, as firm
as conquerors who had discovered home. (195)

31The initial alliterative plosive (/d/) fuses both the speaker’s opening exclamation and the “drumming” carried out by the sun itself into one celebratory act, powerfully echoed by the ocean’s euphoric entreaty, “come!” (l. 6) whose “cannonading” amplifies the sound of the persona’s heart “yelp[ing] like a pup” (l. 10) and resonates in the velar plosives of “green flutes of grass” (l. 5) or the “conquerors” (l. 16). This wealth of alliterations — in virtually every line — is, along with semantic repetitions (l. 2, 14), a feature of “a speech (…) which does not balk at verbal expenditure” (Maulpoix 228) and which will expand rhythmically as well, shifting on occasion from duple to triple meter (the latter being conspicuous in line 10 in particular).

32Repetition similarly defines the celebratory passage preceding the persona’s reconciliation with the “real”: “but my son, my sun, / holy is Rampanalgas and its high-circling hawks, / holy are the rusted, tortured, rust-caked, blind almond trees, / your great-grandfather’s, and your father’s torturing limbs,” (289). The multiple forms it takes (that of a pun on “my son, my sun;” anaphoric in “holy;” polyptotonic in “rusted”/”rust” or “tortured”/”torturing”) all contribute to the jubilant welcoming by the speaker of a variegated world in which dualities have been smoothed over. Both good and evil are being sanctified by the celebration, after the speaker has wished both heaven and hell rest (287).

33This paves the way for the poet’s ultimate greeting, “with elation,” of the “stranger” in himself, not in a narcissistic and solipsistic way, but as part of the wider disinterested acceptance of otherness which originally made celebration possible:

The time will come
 when, with elation,
 you will greet yourself arriving
 at your own door, in your own mirror,
 and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

  and say, sit here. Eat.
 You will love again the stranger who was your self. (“Love after love” 328)

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1  All references to Derek Walcott’s poem are given in Collected Poems 1948-1984.

2  Unless otherwise specified, the translations of French authors are mine.

3  It is noteworthy that in now obsolete English to glaze can mean “to stare.”

4  My emphasis.

5  See “the heart congealing into stone” (265), “Love is a stone / that settled on the seabed / under grey water” (336), “the dead lizard turning blue as stone”(362), “grey, stone-lidded crocodiles” (184), “the skull’s stone eyes”(482), to quote only a few.

6  Cf. Joyce: “Her glazing eyes, staring out of death, to shake and bend my soul” (Ulysses 16).

7  Which echoes “the black mouth” of the “swamp”(59).

8  See Merleau-Ponty: “comme l’ont dit beaucoup de peintres, je me sens regardé par les choses [...] de sorte que voyant et visible se réciproquent et qu’on ne sait plus qui voit et qui est vu” (181)

9  See Lacan: “nous sommes des êtres regardés, dans le spectacle du monde” (87).

10  Walcott, Ms One (83); quoted by Baugh and Nepaulsingh (204).

11  Another possible reading of the same line is of course “like glass / which the years divided” (or broke up). It is that of Claire Malroux in her translation of the poem (Derek Walcott, Une Autre vie. Paris: Gallimard, 2002): “verre que fragmentaient les ans” (161). My interpretation rests on the syntactic break after “glass” and also on the significance of the glass pane as separation in the first line of the chapter (“Smug, behind glass, we watch the passengers,” CP 271), itself consistent with the symbolic purport of the “sacred and inverted bell of glass” (256) — see above.

12  Baude (262), commenting on Georges-Emmanuel Clancier’s autobiographical poems, Passagers du temps.

13 MS One (9). Quoted in Baugh (90).

14  A pane which, as seen previously, reflects the speaker’s own image like a mirror, in fact.

15  Like the Spartans at Thermopylae, as suggested by Baugh and Nepaulsingh (282).

16  Cf. Baude (257, 262, 264) about Clancier.

17  See Baugh and Nepaulsingh (325); note to lines 3291-2.

18  Maulpoix (231) quoting Nietzsche.

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Dominique DELMAIRE, « Derek Walcott’s Another Life: from Death to Celebration », E-rea [En ligne], 5.1 | 2007, document 5, mis en ligne le 15 juin 2007, consulté le 28 janvier 2020. URL : ; DOI : 10.4000/erea.182

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Dominique DELMAIRE

Université Lumière - Lyon 2
Dominique Delmaire is associate professor in the department of English at Lyon 2 University where he teaches second-year and master’s classes on Caribbean poetry (James Berry, Edward Kamau Brathwaite and Derek Walcott in particular). The author of L’Ascèse de l’écriture dans la poésie de George Mackay Brown (1999), he has published mostly on Scottish poetry, from Robert Burns to Norman MacCaig.

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