Caribbean: Mimicry or Mimesis through the Poetry of Derek Walcott

Egbert R. Higinio

In Dangriga, Belize, the virtuous cultural activist Pablo Lambey gave this adopted son several spades to dig deep into the soil of learning. He also taught how you must look out to the sea to increase the horizon. I now reminisce on his wisdom that encouraged me to leave my books at times to walk in the neighborhood and make friends. "Go out, make friends and stop cloaking yourself in dem books," he would say. Perhaps he should never have started. Two houses east, I found a long-winded Benjamin Nicholas; and about five houses south, I stumbled on a contemplative Rudolph "Pen" Cayetano. All this occurred in the mid 1970s. I had lived at 33 Oak Street almost five years before meeting the two noble gentlemen. In the mirror of my eyes, Benji and Pen reflected a truth that we can represent life through art. The splash of bright colorful still-life paintings of Benji and the moving shadows and deep varied colors of Pen's work, created an addictive tension within me. I kept going back, from one to the other.

When I discovered the genius of Benji and Pen, I almost decided to give up academic studies and — if I was not careful — become a painter. I was amazed at their mastery and mesmerized by their knowledge and advancement with so little formal schooling in this art.

Artistic talents abounded in Dangriga. Some played musical instruments like Corro, Cookie and the now world famous Junior Aranda. I remember Cookie and Junior Aranda visiting my home and trying to teach me to play the guitar and sing Paranda songs. For me, these honorable gentlemen created a peaceful world from their own image and likeness. They brought comfort and hope in our lives through their creations. I wanted to be like them yet carry on with my studies; but how could I merge studies with artistry? The best I could do is to hold their art in worship.

As much as these artist loved their work I loved them more. Of course, I got on their nerves several times, especially Benji and Pen. They must have considered me a smart high school student against whose curiosity one must guard. To teach me or distract me, I don't know which, they loaned me books. Benji shared Gaugin's collection; and Pen shared mostly about Dali.

Many times my visit ended with head-on-collision arguments. For I would sit in their make-shift studio for hours, saying nothing and just allowing myself to be one with the painting. Then, I'd dare to ask them for pieces of their paintings to exhibit at the town's cultural arts show. And instead of just handing over one or two paintings each of them would resist, using a litany of advice on the caring of paintings. I had to listen to questions like: whose idea was this? Who would carry the paintings back and fro? Who would be caring for them and preventing spectators from touching them? I had to listen to their suspicions like: perhaps I should seriously consider buying more for my own collection of paintings and use those for future exhibits. That the mayor should buy paintings and put them in his council chamber. That perhaps I was just intent on making fun of their hard work. And if all the time I was visiting to scheme on their paintings! Then I had to listen to lectures: If I knew how much time, hours, weeks and months of effort went into a painting! And if I could place a dollar value on each painting how much would I be willing to pay if one got damaged! I was always mute to their abuse. I never had answers for these questions. I loved the art only for its art sake and I wanted the world to see the work of geniuses in my home town. Of course, I tried to understand their concerns but I could not comprehend why they didn't want to exhibit their paintings.

I could not fathom either why the community did not purchase their art work. Things changed a few years after. The world got wind of their art work. The Caribbean Conference of Churches bought a mimic of Dali's Jesus Christ painting from Pen. The Pelican Resort purchased several pieces of Benji's Garifuna cultural thematic works. Yes, things changed. Classmate Sydney Mejia composed "Ahmuti." Pen and his Turtle Shell band revolutionized traditional punta music to develop the genre of punta-rock. After leaving Lord Rhaburn, Mohobub Flores established his space among the icons of punta-rock while further down south of Belize, Andy Palacio succeeded in penetrating the international market.

Punta-rock like the classical traditional punta of the Garifuna people ought to reflect changes and struggles of the Garifuna community. I talk about a Garifuna culture and art that has been pressurized by economic needs yet that same pressure enhanced it to a stature of diamonds. Artists are keenly aware of this. Much more so than the state, art workers know the invaluable potential of culture, as it is manifested through music. For example, recall the appropriation of punta-rock song "Conch Soup" by Banda Blanca of Spanish Honduras, who saw the value of a local cultural production. Banda Blanca has received credit internationally for something created out of Dangriga No, I will not talk about that type of mimicry. It's an example of international plagiarism and theft — a violation of copyright laws of which none existed in Belize. Dangriga's "Conch Soup" became internationally recognized as "Sopa de Corracol" with all its rhythm and lyrics intact. The only difference was that it was translated into another language. It's mimicry at the lowest level.

Culture and the arts can walk together, like wife and husband, as a potential viable economic industry to feed a community. A cultural industry engraves a community's space on the marble stone of a world map. We need our own national map. Tourists will not be attracted to our shores solely to eat burgers and French fries. I propose, like Philip Lewis, they want to "...see a new Belize." A tourist looks for the community's soul expressed in art.

Dangriga, Belize, at one time, was like a mural. It's cultural art represented life. Listen to Mohobub's song "Thanksgiving." Listen to Pen's "Mahogany." Listen to Junior Aranda's "Baiba lau Bibe le." Yet the artists in Dangriga struggled. They are not recognized at home. I guess that artists during the time of the Renaissance had this problem. The struggles of Dangrigan artists seem not unique to Belize. Other Caribbean artists have had the same struggles with their art work.

Today, I focus on the small Caribbean island state of St. Lucia where Derek Walcott's long struggle took form from about 1948 till the time he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992. In discussing Walcott, it is convenient to study his poetic art to extend a dialogue of how artist can imitate the work of others and imitate life. The development of this discussion walks us through definitions of mimicry, imitation, and mimesis. The final part of this presentation briefly explains how Aristotle's theory of mimesis is applied to art as an imitation of life.

In this presentation, I use art and literature interchangeably for we can use poetry or prose writings as pictures in words. It has been established that all art may be a representation of a representation, or representation of another art form or of life. My study spends time with discussing the task of creation as a method of imitation, mimicry and mimesis. I will not discuss another form of mimicry which Henry Louis Gates Jr., refers to as "the trope of the Talking Books," where one book is in response to another book. I believe the significance of that discussion merits another presentation in another literary tradition. Neither will I venture to discuss our traditional cultural dances as forms of imitation, for that too will need more time and space for discussion.

An Analogy of Walcott's Poetry

The poetry of Derek Walcott may be better presented by making comparisons and analogies. In his Mirror and The Lamp, Abrams posits that we critics of literature on the one hand, and, art in general, have the arduous task of discussing art by (a) explaining it through metaphors, (b) showing how the work of art relates to other "prototypes," (c) comparing art with reality and (d) explaining its inter-connectives with other universal themes or things (30). This phenomenon is not limited to the arts, for example, even languages of natural sciences, claims Abrams, appear handicapped without the usage of figures of speech to give broader perspective to the nature of scientific objects when they are being described. The course for the literary critic has been to use "parallels" associated with the object under review that may cast some light, albeit dimly, on some aspects of its art form. The parallel is the formula which, according to Abrams, utilizes "the better known to illuminate the less known" (31). I use his advice to explore a discussion of Walcott's poetry. Since my curious mind keeps wanting to find out "What is its nature or What's it like?" (Abrams 32).

The analogy often used in discussing art forms has been "the mirror image." This image illuminates the nature of objects and has been a favorite with aesthetic theorists since Plato's time. Abrams suggests that it was Plato who seemed to have been the first to introduce "the reflector analogy" to describe the nature of art work. References to the analogy of the looking glass became handy to analyze and reflect on art forms. Within this category of analysis, paintings, for example, have been looked upon as a form of mirror or representation to illustrate their relation to the natural picture and the mind of the painter. The painter's mind mirrors the color of the thing on canvas. The "mirror image" created becomes either filled or obscured by images that have influenced the artist. I would like to suggest that we can extend this argument of "mirror image" to relate to Walcott's artistry which can be said to reflect influences of his precursors whom he mirrors or imitates. In this study, I compare his work with three poets whom he imitates.

In our study of Caribbean poetry the critic may utilize, with limitations, the concept of mirror, imitation and assimilation. We are warned in Terada's Derek Walcott's Poetry that there are serious limitations in the use of the word "assimilation." In Terada's opinion, this definition obscures the concept of imitations since it suggests that the origins of the literary model should be undetected. Terada quotes Pigman who warns that, under careful scrutiny, the concept of the Renaissance "assimilation" and its "transformative imitation metaphor" contains contradictions. G. W. Pigman III states in his "Versions of Renaissance Imitation" that:

[T]ransformation of the model into something new and different, especially when transformation is conceived as the means of hiding a text's relation to its model, calls into question the possibility of identifying the model.

For models of transformation we can refer to the works of eighteen century English novelists Samuel Richardson in his creation of Pamela. Critics compare Pamela to Richardson's rival and contemporary Henry Fielding's Joseph Andrews/Shamela as models for example. On a similar note James Joyce models his Ulysses by using the classical works of The Odyssey by Homer. In like manner, we study how Walcott's formula for his writing Omeros and The Odyssey draws succor from both Joyce and Homer. In music, I reflect on Stevie Wonder's "Tomorrow Robins Will Sing" as assimilating and transforming dance hall reggae.

Assimilating, Imitating and Mirroring

Poetic imitation raises controversy among several scholars who have critiqued Caribbean art, ideas, cultures and customs. When Caribbean novelist and critic V.S. Naipaul authored the novel The Mimic Men, he allegorically purports that mimicry best describes the intellectual discourses of Caribbean artists and activists who articulate a Caribbean discourse. Naipaul's indictment supports a traditional colonial concept which argues that West Indians merely copy European artistry and literary traditions. Naipaul eclipses the possible emergence of any Caribbean art tradition when he prophesies a preconceived notion of "non-originality" by questioning, for example:

How can the history of the West Indies futility be written? What tone shall the historian adopt? The history of the islands can never be satisfactorily told. Brutality is not the only difficulty. History is built around achievement and creation: and nothing was created in the West Indies.
[Derek Walcott: The Caribbean: Culture or Mimicry 1974: 51].

Naipaul sets out to classify Caribbean artistry within the narrow constraints of defining mimicry, a lower and debasing representation of art. Naipaul the critic commits artistic mimicry to connote servility and mockery. Within this mimicry/originality dichotomy, Terada describes Naipaul's concept of mimicry to be a "representation of representation, a repetition of something itself repetitious" thereby setting limitations to the concept of imitation. In essence mimicry here represents an imitative act which lacks any depth or "real" meaning. By using such an analogy Naipaul insinuates that for the Caribbean poets, and by extension other artists, to present any original work of art it must be, to the spectator, a kind of representation for which there has been no precedent whatsoever in the world. This, according to several critics, deviates from the definition of "mirror of art." It creates a problem for new writers — artists, in general, — and for critics who look for masterful models in the artistic works of various canons. The foundation for charges of "non-originality" seems centered on an indifference to all art and appears to take a negative position to the history of art itself.

A counter argument to the indictment of Caribbean mimicry surfaces from Derek Walcott who states that:

To mimic, one needs a mirror, and if (to) understand Naipaul correctly,....[n]o gesture, according to this philosophy, is authentic.... the indictment ...[then] contains an astonishing truth...(for) all endeavor in this half of the world, in broader definition: the American endeavor... is mimicry [italics mine].
(The Caribbean: 53)

Divine inspiration on imitation may come to us from Ecclesiastics I.9 where it is stated:

What has been is what will be,
and what has been done is what will be done again;
there is nothing new under the sun.
Is there anything of which one can say,
"See! This is something new?"
It was here already, long ago;
it was here before our time.
(From NRSV)

Mimicry, imitation, mirror or assimilation analogies seem often inter-dependent and, some times, appear synonymous. In his critical essay The Muse of History Walcott admits having mimicked the work of predecessors to avoid the frequent problem of young inexperienced writers and artists. Walcott too is a painter and very much familiar with the problems in developing his skills in painting. In his What The Twilight Says Walcott suggests that:

Thus, while many critics of contemporary Commonwealth verse reject imitation, the basis of the tradition, for originality, the false basis of innovation, they represent eventually the old patronizing attitude adapted to contemporaneous politics, for their demand for naturalness, novelty, originality, or truth is again based on preconceptions of behavior [54].

Walcott declares that there is much need for an artist to have a period of apprenticeship. There must be times when one must humble oneself to imitate the works of masters. To fear imitation is to be obsessed with the minor issues of a small mind.

Naipaul's accusation of mimicry makes Walcott posit that "when language itself is condemned as mimicry, then the condition is hopeless and men are no more (reduced to) jackdaws, parrots, myna birds, apes" (Walcott: The Caribbean: Culture or Mimicry, 53).

The debate of Caribbean imitations and assimilation has made some scholars charged Walcott for allowing himself to be greatly influenced by British canons and other Western poets. They claim that perhaps he may be ailing from "the linguistic equivalent of colonial nostalgia and cultural assimilation" (Terada 48). Another criticism leveled at him comes from those who declare Walcott to be a traitor for choosing to write in a language that mimics the colonial elite and for neglecting his native St. Lucian Creole. Yet still from across the seas, the guardians of British literary traditions see Walcott's poetic appropriations as theft. Many express dissatisfaction that Walcott has not yet fully "assimilated" Western traditions enough and so they concentrate their remarks on the validity of his ventriloquism.

Walcott's ventriloquism appears to draw succor from the canonical works of Andrew Marvell, Ezra Pound, John Donne, Sir Thomas Browne, T.S. Eliot, W.H. Auden and Yeats, to mention a few. We begin the analysis of his work with a study of "In A Green Night".

"In A Green Night"

In a Green Night

The orange tree, in various light,
Proclaims perfected fables now
That her last season's summer height
Bends from each overburdened bough.

She has her winters and her spring,
Her moult of leaves, which in their fall
Reveal, as with each living thing,
Zones truer than the tropical.

For if by night each golden sun
Burns in a comfortable creed,
By noon harsh fires have begun
To quail those splendours which they feed.

Or mixtures of the dew and dust
That early shone her orbs of brass,
Mottle her splendours with the rust
She sought all summer to surpass.

By such strange, cyclic chemistry
That dooms and glories her at once
As green yet aging orange tree,
The mind enspheres all circumstance.

No Florida loud with citron leaves
With crystal falls to heal this age
Shall calm the darkening fear that grieves
The loss of visionary rage.

Or if Time's fires seem to blight
The nature ripening into art,
Not the fierce noon or lampless night
Can quail the comprehending heart.

The orange tree, in various light,
Proclaims that fable perfect now
That her last season's summer height
Bends from each overburdened bough.

The title of the poem "In A Green Night" comes from line eighteen of Andrew Marvell's "Bermudas." In "In A Green Night," Walcott dwells on a domestic scene as perceived from a Caribbean vantage point. Walcott examines nature as a living thing by giving it a Caribbean tropical mortal quality. While Marvell's "Bermudas" speaks of an ideal voyage to an "eternal spring;" Walcott, by contrast, describes an orange tree which grows "green yet ageing," suffering from the "cyclic chemistry" of "moult," "dew and dust," and "rust" and "blight" (Terada 49). Marvell's voices seem to be reminiscing on England's religious intolerance and praise the newly found "isle" as a natural "temple". Walcott's lyric appears to disapprove of Marvell's poetic rhetoric by pointing out that religion, nature and art, and all such things, are perishable; and that "each living thing" can be "doomed" and "gloried" by its mortality as in "By noon harsh fires have begun / To quail those splendours which they feed."

Andrew Marvell

Where the remote Bermudas ride
In the ocean's bosom unespied,
From a small boat, that rowed along,
The listening winds received this song.

"What should we do but sing his praise
That led us through the watery maze,
Unto an isle so long unknown,
And yet far kinder than our own?
Where he the huge sea-monsters wracks,
That lift the deep upon their backs,
He lands us on a grassy stage,
Safe from the storms, and prelate's rage.
He gave us this eternal spring,
Which here enamels everything,
And sends the fowl to us in care,
On daily visits through the air.
He hangs in shades the orange bright,
Like golden lamps in a green night,
And does in the pom'granates close
Jewels more rich than Ormus shows.
He makes the figs our mouths to meet,
And throws the melons at our feet,
But apples plants of such a price,
No tree could ever bear them twice.
With cedars, chosen by his hand,
From Lebanon, he stores the land,
And makes the hollow seas, that roar,
Proclaim the ambergris on shore.
He cast (of which we rather boast)
The gospel's pearl upon our coast,
And in these rocks for us did frame
A temple, where to sound his name.
Oh let our voice his praise exalt,
Till it arrive at heaven's vault:
Which thence (perhaps) rebounding, may
Echo beyond the Mexique Bay."

Thus sung they, in the English boat,
An holy and a cheerful note,
And all the way, to guide their chime,
With falling oars they kept the time.

Walcott has gone so far as to echo Marvell's "Bermudas" poetic tetrameter structure. He has written eight quatrain verses compared to his precursor's forty lines. Like Marvell, Walcott's first and last quatrains stand apart from the other intervening quatrains. Walcott's last stanza repeats almost exactly the first, making the poem adopt a sphere — like an orange, making the shape of the orange's inside corresponds to the metaphorical body of the poem to reveal a form of spherical "mortal imperfection." The first and last quatrains of "Bermudas" stand apart because they belong to Marvell's main narrator. Marvell's intervening lines quote the song of a group of English sailors passing by the "isle" in a small boat. The opinions of the song do not belong to Marvell's narrator, nor to Marvell. Using this writing technique Marvell plants a seed to foreshadow the fall of paradise in "Bermudas." Similarly Walcott's paradise becomes fallible since it has been equated to the cyclic nature of an "orange tree" who

... has her winters and her spring,
Her moult of leaves, which in their fall
Reveal, as with each living thing,
Zones truer than the tropical.

In "Bermudas," paradise cannot be sustained, or "[borne] twice;" its "price" is too expensive to maintain and so a foreshadowed fall is established. Marvell's pilgrims sound "holy and cheerful," but they proceed on to another Eden, "all the way, to guide their chime, / With falling oars ... kept the time." "Bermudas" itself does not allow the possibility of paradise to be found within this earthly "time."

From a tropical perspective it does seem that Walcott's "In A Green Night" mirrors more about an "isle" than in Marvell's "Bermudas." Walcott's local focus has allowed us to find extensive sympathies with life on an "isle." By focusing on life on the "isle" Walcott's gains credibility. Marvell's lyric, however, has come to the same conclusion; that is, that the "isle" becomes no paradise for both. Hence, from a thematic viewpoint Walcott's poem complements Marvell's.

Many of Walcott's poems have the same relation with canonical poets. Often his poems begin with markers of intertextuality as epigraphs, quotations, and conspicuous allusions. The mimicry or echoes of Walcott poetry can be traced to many other poets.

"Ruins of a Great House"

Ruins of a Great House

though our longest sun sets at right declensions and makes but winter arches, it cannot be long before we lie down in darkness, and have our light in ashes . . .
Browne, Urn Burial

Stones only, the disjecta membra of this Great House,
Whose moth-like girls are mixed with candledust,
Remain to file the lizard's dragonish claws.
The mouths of those gate cherubs shriek with stain;
Axle and coach wheel silted under the muck
Of cattle droppings.
Three crows flap for the trees
And settle, creaking the eucalyptus boughs.
A smell of dead limes quickens in the nose
The leprosy of empire.
"Farewell, green fields,
Farewell, ye happy groves!"
Marble like Greece, like Faulkner's South in stone,
Deciduous beauty prospered and is gone,
But where the lawn breaks in a rash of trees
A spade below dead leaves will ring the bone
Of some dead animal, or human thing
Fallen from evil days, from evil times.

It seems that the original crops were limes
Grown in the silt that clogs the river's skirt;
The imperious rakes are gone, their bright girls gone,
The river flows, obliterating hurt.
I climbed a wall with the grille ironwork
Of exiled craftsmen protecting that great house
From guilt, perhaps, but not from the worm's rent
Nor from the padded cavalry of the mouse.
And when a wind shook in the limes I heard
What Kipling heard, the death of a great empire, the abuse
Of ignorance by Bible and by sword.

A green lawn, broken by low walls of stone,
Dipped to the rivulet, and pacing, I thought next
Of men like Hawkins, Walter Raleigh, Drake,
Ancestral murderers and poets, more perplexed
In memory now by every ulcerous crime.
The world's green age then was a rotting lime
Whose stench became the charnel galleon's text.
The rot remains with us, the men are gone.
But, as dead ash is lifted in a wind
That fans the blackening ember of the mind,
My eyes burned from the ashen prose of Donne.

Ablaze with rage I thought,
Some slave is rotting in this manorial lake,
But still the coal of my compassion fought
That Albion too was once
A colony like ours, "Part of the continent, piece of the main,"
Nook-shotten, rook o'erblown, deranged
By foaming channels and the vain expense
Of bitter faction.
All in compassion ends
So differently from what the heart arranged:
"as well as if a manor of thy friend's . . ."

Walcott's "Ruins of a Great House" appears to reflect on John Donne's "Relic" and at the same supports the theme of Sir Thomas Browne's "Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial." Walcott's poem projects little stylistic difference from these canons. His visitations review the same theme, mainly perhaps to assert a Caribbean difference or style to the text of the canon, thereby making a point about the shortcoming of the canon's masterpiece.

In "Ruins of Great House," Walcott does an archeological probing of history. By reviewing British claims of imperial authority. He tells that the British were once upstart colonial subjects too. As a poet and colonial outsider Walcott assumes the role of the "the padded cavalry of the mouse" who climbs the grillework wall with his pen and poem to re-examine the ruins of a colonial empire and meditates on the demise of its imperial beauty. Some critics claim that Walcott climbs "the grille ironwork" constructed by "exiled craftsmen" whose primarily aimed to protect "the great house from guilt." But such guilt cannot be protected from "the worm's rent," the leveler of death. I take it that the worm's rent may be Walcott himself. But his thoughts or meditations on this ruin sparks a "coal of compassion" for the colonials as mortals similar to his rage over the knowledge that a slave could have been a victim of the "great house." Hence, the poet is caught between compassion for "the imperious rake" and for the slave. He experiences within his racially mixed identity a conflict which seems difficult to resolve. We conveniently describe this as "between" conflicting emotions, yet the two emotions must be perceived as one. Therefore we slowly advance to introduce the idea of mimesis. Art grapples with representing or imitating an action of life in thought.

With reference to the content of the poem, Walcott's epigraph in "Ruins of a Great House" has intertextual reference to Browne's "Urn Burial" and its closing quotation refers to "Meditation XVII" of Donne's "Devotions." The content of the poem unearths the theme of colonial power during the period of slavery as he imagines that "some slave is rotting in this manorial lake." By studying the ruins of a civilization as an archeologist, rather than the slave or heir, Walcott follows Browne, whose Urn Burial provides the epigraph of the poem. Browne believes that the urn upon which he reflects are Roman's — the one time colonizers of Britain. He relates to his urn in the same way that Walcott relates to the ruins of a Great House.

When asked whether anything remains after civilization we are told: first, that — "The rot remains with us, the men are gone;" and the other answer makes reference to "ancestral murderers an poets... [who] as dead ash ...[are]...lifted in a wind" and "fans the blackening ember of the mind. In effect Donne's "ashen prose" affects the living "ember" of the living poet's mind. Walcott appears to express his meeting with Donne as a contest between ash and ember; two entities of fires battling for space within the poet conscience. Walcott has a deep devotion for the famous quotation of Donne's Meditations which provides him source of his affliction for the ruin. Donne's "Devotion" states that:

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee. Neither can we call this begging of misery or a borrowing of misery, as though we were not miserable enough of ourselves but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of neighbors. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did; for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by it and made fit for God by that affliction.

Donne refutes those who would ignore the misery of others by using property as a figure of affliction. Donne and Walcott discuss the property of affliction from different angles in their respective prose and poem. Donne takes a British colonial vantage point while Walcott uses the point of view of the colony. Walcott, therefore appropriates a piece of Browne's and Donne's poetry as his own property, claiming it "as if a manor of [his] friends or of [his] own."

"A Far Cry from Africa"

Through forms of mimicry or mirror Walcott continues to find relevance in assimilating the works of literary canons. In her essay "Walcott versus Brathwaite" Patricia Ismond, a postcolonial critic, explains why so many Caribbean literary critics have placed Walcott's poetry amidst Caribbean poetic controversy. Possible estrangement for Walcott comes within the context of a Caribbean society's quest for political liberation, national independence struggles, anti-colonial fervor, and, in some quarters, Afro-centric Caribbean self-identity. Caribbean readers can choose between the poetry of Caribbean buffs Edward Kamau Brathwaite and Walcott. Some prefer Brathwaite because he gains acclamation as the artist who represents an Afro-centric experience of Caribbean Blacks in a New World and expresses the varied socio-economic conditions affecting a dispossessed people. Walcott, on the other hand, has been noted as a vague poet who essentially pursues a personal endeavor and is inaccessible to many ordinary Caribbean folks.

A Far Cry from Africa

A wind is ruffling the tawny pelt
Of Africa. Kikuyu, quick as flies,
Batten upon the bloodstreams of the veldt.
Corpses are scattered through a paradise.
Only the worm, colonel of carrion, cries:
"Waste no compassion on these separate dead!"
Statistics justify and scholars seize
The salients of colonial policy.
What is that to the white child hacked in bed?
To savages, expendable as Jews?

Threshed out by beaters, the long rushes break
In a white dust of ibises whose cries
Have wheeled since civilization's dawn
From the parched river or beast-teeming plain.
The violence of beast on beast is read
As natural law, but upright man
Seeks his divinity by inflicting pain.
Delirious as these worried beasts, his wars
Dance to the tightened carcass of a drum,
While he calls courage still that native dread
Of the white peace contracted by the dead.

Again brutish necessity wipes its hands
Upon the napkin of a dirty cause, again
A waste of our compassion, as with Spain,
The gorilla wrestles with the superman.
I who am poisoned with the blood of both,
Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?
I who have cursed
The drunken officer of British rule, how choose
Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?
Betray them both, or give back what they give?
How can I face such slaughter and be cool?
How can I turn from Africa and live?

In his poem "A Far Cry From Africa" Walcott asserts a unique view about the issue of Caribbean identity:

I who am poisoned with the blood of both,
Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?
I who have cursed
The drunken officer of British rule, how choose
Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?
Betray them both, or give back what they give?
How can I face such slaughter and be cool?
How can I turn from Africa and live?

The poem contains tension between the African oral traditions and European 'written' literary tradition. The poet struggles with his love for both; and, yet fears their rejection. He realizes that he cannot belong to both cultural houses at the same time. With the realization of an impossibility, he appears undecided and commits to both houses.

Critics maintain that Walcott's poem reveals a sense of lost hope, a person on a quest searching for an identity. For some Caribbean individuals one cannot, in reality, be totally indifferent to, what I would call, their other 'cultural-half.' Walcott's poem embodies the pursuit to find another voice. "In A Far Cry" he attempts to find that voice that speaks to two cultural houses. He tries to chart a different course by stating that he would like to be "[b]etween this Africa and the English tongue I love."

"How can I turn from Africa and live?" tells us that Walcott refuses to renounce his African roots. He questions whether he should "[b]etray them both or give back what they have given." To "give back" "to both" would be to keep the oral African tradition alive and to continue writing English verses like the poems he has written.

We note that Walcott does not offer a solution to the problems which he poses. He has been "poisoned with the blood of both, /Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?" He has directed himself to take a 'middle of the road policy', a neutral and non-aligned stance of "betweenness". This "betweenness" does not offer a clear position for literary action nor for action in real life. He has skeptically described the African Kikuyu war as "A wind [...] ruffling the tawny pelt/ Of Africa" and adds that the "delirious" outbreaks of violence make sycophants have "Statistics justify and scholars seize/ The salients of colonial policy." Judging from the destruction of the war to both races, Walcott finds no right sides to choose; for the war sacrifices both "the white child" and makes the black "savages, expendable as Jews." His choice is to stay "between" the two cultural identities.

Yet amidst this psychological battle ground, Walcott has not separated and detached himself from neither problem. He has incorporated some indifference by taking up a position within the poem's structure. By extension, the poem replaces that "betweenness" of conflict.

This identity problem has not been peculiar to Caribbean writers like Walcott. In 1926 Langston Hughes also questions the mixed feelings he had toward his identity in his poem "Cross."


My old man's white old man
And my old mother's black.
If ever I cursed my white old man
I take my curses back.

If ever I cursed my black old mother
And wished she were in hell,
I'm sorry for the evil wish
And now I wish her well.

My old man died in a fine big house.
My ma died in a shack.
I wonder where I'm gonna die,
being neither white nor black?

Similarly in Belize, I kept studying the reason for Evan X Hyde "Super High" in which Hyde denounces racial purity. The poem begins by recognizing the mixed feelings one has when born with more than one cultural entity.

Super High

I'm the son of a buccaneer
And a black woman
I'm the son of a Spanish man
And a Carib woman
I'm the son of a Creole man
And an Indian woman
I'm the son of an English Soldier
And a mingo whore
I'm the son of love
I'm the son of sex
I'm the son of violence
Damn you, racial purist
I am Belize
I am the shining sun
I'm black, sucker
I'm gold and brown
And white and yellow
And bad
I'm the burning Sun
I'm cooking and
I'm smoking
I'm going to eat your head off
Crush your ribs
Kick out your seed
Son of a bitch
You gon find out.

Walcott, Hughes and X Hyde do not reject any of their cultural houses. The inner tensions make no suggestions of abandoning." For Walcott's part he gives the notion that he would prefer lay claim to both houses by standing "between." In his critical essay "The Caribbean: Culture or Mimicry" Walcott claims that "there was such a moment for every individual American, [when] that moment was surrender and claim, both possession and dispossession. The issue was the claim"[54].

In addressing the identity issue I posit that Walcott imitates Hughes' stance, and in like manner all three writers struggle with the theme of race. The tensions in Walcott and Hyde offer neither active synthesis nor separation as a form of solving problems, but incorporates the state of being 'different' within themselves.

The Notion of Mimesis

In "A Far Cry From Africa" Walcott stands a midst the pain of both cultural groups, mimicking and mirroring the absurdity of the conflicts. In providing some light to the concept of poetry as imitations Heidegger writes in "The Thing" that "man can represent, no matter how, only what has previously come to light on its own accord and has shown itself to him in the light it brought with it." In this way mimesis relates with representation of thought. To say that the literary work of Walcott is a mimesis/representation of reality, ideas, emotions can become apparent and self-evident in oneself. Derrida provides an explanation which points to mimesis as a form of imitation that provides the notion of representation of something in the traditional sense of "apparentness." This maybe difficult to show since "betweenness" of emotion can only be explained as an intangible action of the mind.

The tension of identity appears well developed in the three poems and mirrors the indecisiveness which further illustrates how the poetic drama adopts to imitations in life and can hopefully help us to subsequently define the mimetic character of poetry.

The mirror as an analogue to poetry, however, suffers from the obvious defect that its images are fleeting. Hence Walcott's idea of "betweenness" appears fleetingly inadequate. Obscurity can best describe the "mirroring and mimicking" nature of some present day poetic expression. Point to note is that the thought of "betweenness" does not a provide a practical image to represent the internal psychological conflict that Walcott and the other poet have experienced. Rather the concept that the poet reflects helps and enables us to discriminatory look upon the verbal artistry of Walcott as mimesis which is a form of an imitation or representation of the internal conflict that he experiences when torn between two cultures that he loves. Hyde suggest we "damn ...[any] racial purist." Here, he emphacizes that solutions cannot come easily.

For the most part, mimesis focuses our attention on the subject matter of a work and its model in reality. The danger of comparing art as representation is that it makes us neglect influences on art. Abram's imitation/mirror concept can be extended to "mimesis." I see mimesis offering a deeper representation of Naipaul and Walcott's issues of mimicry. Since mimicry signifies a representation of representation, mimesis allows one to expand the discussion a little further and to evaluate representation of art. While mimicry sheds some negative associations on representation and overshadows deeper positive meanings of a work, mimesis unfolds different levels of expressions and interpretations. Mimesis applies more to a mode in which the original appears or shows itself distinct from the modern. According to Heidegger mimesis cannot be limited to an understanding of the Greek experience of aletheia in which thought and the process of an idea becomes an example of mimesis. Mimesis is not just a copy or imitation of the original — for example of a poem. It is more than a representative of a "prototype" — like another type of poem. To me it is more than a mode or manifestation of the original idea which involves reflection on the original.


There are several example in the Caribbean of sense-impressions that represent various degrees of our reality which we can assign to mimesis. A sculptural work of Belize's George Gabb reproduces real life shapes, perhaps abstractly. Garifuna music and lyric move certain emotions into effect like the types we experience in real life and sometime forces us to meditate. All art forms reproduce sensory responses that are true to life. This theory has roots in Aristotle's argument who, like Sir Philip Sydney, postulates that the poet like another artist does not regurgitate only facts but presents a more accurate account of reality. According to Sydney the poet "doth grow in effect another nature." Ezra Pound would state that our task is to imitate nature and represent it through new models.

It refreshes me to learn from a person of Walcott's stature. He suggests that it is virtually impossible not to study, imitate or mimic the writings or works of precursors. As critic, Walcott welcomes the idea of apprenticeship for artist — what others have referred to as imitation. Any fledgling Belizean, Caribbean or American ought to heed what Walcott has advised. It has helped to find his own place within the literary tradition. The tradition, any tradition, like the English literary tradition has no sole proprietor. The English language is nobody's property. It is the property of imagination. All artists should revisit the art of masters and impose their images, explore new concepts and use universal themes appropriate to their own cultural and local landscape.

We should be encouraged by the advancement of artist apprentices from Dangriga and other Caribbean communities who persevered in imitating the works of masters. As some world renown writer has it stated: the masters as our guides and not our commanders.

Works Cited

Allison, Alexander, Editors Emeriti: Herbert Barrows, Caesar R. Blake, Arthur J. Carr et al. The Norton Anthology of Poetry. Shorter 4th Edition. W. W. Norton & Company. New York 1996.

Alleyne, Keith. "Epitaph For the Young." In Critical Perspectives on Derek Walcott. Washington DC: Three Continent P Inc., (1993): 98-105.

Atkins, G. Douglas. Reading Deconstruction Deconstructive Reading. Kentucky. The U P of Kentucky, 1983.

Baer, William Ed. Conversations With Derek Walcott. Mississippi: U.P. of Mississippi, 1996.

Collymore, Frank. "An Introduction to the Poetry of Derek Walcott." Critical Perspectives on Derek Walcott. Washington DC: Three Continent P Inc., (1993): 87-95.

Clark, Timothy. Derrida, Heidegger, Blanchot. Great Britain: U of Cambridge, 1992.

Durix, Jean-Pierre. Mimesis Genres and Post-colonial Discourse: Deconstructing Magic Realism. London: Macmillan P Ltd., 1998.

Hammer, Robert D. Critical Perspectives on Derek Walcott. Washington DC: Three Continent P Inc., 1993.

----. Derek Walcott, Updated Edition. New York: Twayne P, 1993

----. Epic of the dispossessed: Derek Wallcott's Omeros. Missouri: U of Missouri P, 1997.

Hirsch, David H. The Deconstruction of Literature: Criticism after Auschiwtz. Hanover and London: Brown U P, 1991.

Lenz, Gunter H., Hartmut Keil, Sabine Brock-Sallah (Editors). Reconstructing American Literary and Historical Studies. Frankfurt am Main. St. Martin's P, 1990.

Norris, Christopher. The Contest of Faculties: Philosophy and Theory after Deconstruction. London and New York: Methuen, 1985.

----. The Deconstructive Turn: Essays in the Rhetoric of Philosophy. London and New York: Methuen, 1984.

Sallis, John. Edited. Deconstruction and Philosophy: The Text of Jacques Derrida. Chicago and London: The U of Chicago P, 1987.

Terada, Rei. Derek Walcott's Poetry. Boston: Northern U P, 1992.

Walcott, Derek. Collected Poems 1948-1984. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986.

----. The Arkansas Testament. New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 1987.

----. "The Caribbean: Culture or Mimicry." Critical Perspective On Derek Walcott. Washington D.C., Three Continents Press, Inc. 1993: 51-57.

Egbert Higinio, 2002.

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