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1Jyoti Raj Boken

Dr. Ira Raja

M.A. English (Final)

13th April 2016

Walcott and the inescapable Cosmopolitanism of the Caribbean

In the world of growing inter-connectedness and globalization, the idea of Nation state

has lost its proficiency. Its crises have rendered it no more an antagonist to the idea of

Cosmopolitanism. To protect its identity it requires an international cosmopolitanism. Ulrich

Beck reinforces this idea by saying that the interaction between the two “-isms” alters

Nationalism but supplements it with the

The inclusion of the other, openness to the world,

Indeed the transnational re-foundation of the national.(1357)

The identity of a nation is now founded on its international discourse with the outside world.

These interactions are no longer monetary or social but cultural and ideological. This paper will

discuss the idea of necessary cosmopolitanism through the life and works of Derek Walcott.

Derek Walcott is a Caribbean writer born on the island of St. Lucia. The pluralist

society of St. Lucia had exchanged hands among the French and the British for fourteen times

before the British gained total control in 1814. Colonialism commenced the flux of migrants with

the settlement of the new government and the arrival of indentured labors from the east.

Therefore, the Caribbean accommodates diverse cultures (Hindu, Muslim, Chinese, etc.) and

languages (creole, pidgin and patios). This multiculturalism has been an inspiration for Walcott.

As he says in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech

I was entitled to the feast of Husein, to the mirrors and crepe-paper

temples of the Muslim epic, to the Chinese Dragon Dance, to the

rites of that Sephardic Jewish synagogue that was once on something


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Street. I am only one-eighth the writer I might have been had I contained

all the fragmented languages of Trinidad.

Walcott celebrates the cosmopolitan co-existence of these cultures and sees beauty in the

harmony of these fragmented souls. He gives the metaphor of a broken vase glued together by

love. His reverential attitude towards the broken vase is in contrast to the classical European

culture for which a symmetrical vase was an emblem of beauty. Hence, begins a cosmopolitan

discourse of difference (in perspective) with the west.

Walcott’s cosmopolitan is an extension of the island’s cosmopolitanism. His paternal

grandfather was English who had married a local brown woman and settled in St. Lucia. His

maternal grandfather was Dutch who had married an African migrant. In “The Schooner Flight”,

Walcott through Shabine says,

I’m just a red nigger who love the sea,

I had a sound colonial education,

I have Dutch, nigger, and English in me,

And either I'm nobody, or I'm a nation. (CP 346).

Along with these Walcott is a native English Methodist in a dominantly Catholic St. Lucia and

he writes in English on Francophone island. Walcott’s poetry attempts to amalgamate (and

successfully so) these multicultural elements of the islands. His usage of language is one such

example. In Heaney’s essay on Walcott, “The Murmur of Malvern,” he describes Walcott’s 1979

poem “The Schooner Flight” as “epoch-making,” claiming that Walcott had

found a language woven out of dialect and literature,

neither folksy nor condescending, a singular idiom evolved

out of one man’s inherited divisions and obsessions(1)

His historical background has made him a cosmopolitan (‘the citizen of the world’) by default.

To limit his idea of poetry as rooted cosmopolitanism would be parochial. Walcott’s


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poetry is a dialogue between the world of the Caribbean and the world outside. He speaks from

both sides of the political fence without compromising either his Caribbean creole history or his

western education. His poems exemplify the mixing of these two contrasts. They move beyond

the boundaries of St. Lucia and reach the world of Manhattan and Mandelstam. He has not let his

image as Post-colonial Caribbean writer inhibit him from expressing his global experiences as an

artist. He should not be restricted as

.. a man no more

but the fervour and intelligence

of a whole country (CP 277).

Beck has argued that due to rampant globalization, nation states are losing their identity.

In order to survive the homogenizing globalization, nations must join hands as cosmopolitans as

this will provide a chance to survive without getting assimilated in the dominant global culture.

P. Loiusy has similarly commented on the Caribbean that their tension is between their reality

and strong global waves of its neighbor- U.S.A. Caribbean has always been the intersection of

civilizations. Because of this historical fact, the region’s main contribution internationally in the

twentieth century has been in the realm of culture and creative imagination. Walcott is also part

of this imaginative growth. His poetry gives global voice to the unheard people of the Caribbean

whose heart and soul stand the risk of being homogenized in the world. He puts forth their local

spiritual factors which influence their perspectives of their life and the world. So, Walcott has

rightfully called the poetry of the Antilles a ‘survival’. In fact, Cosmopolitanism is a survival

strategy to protect their Creole identity.

Walcott uses English as his first language without any regret. More than appropriation of

the colonizer's language, it is an acceptance of the Caribbean reality. He studied at Oxford

University and read the canons of western culture closely. His constant movement between
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Boston, London, Warwick, New York and the Caribbean has rendered an understanding of the

world cultures. Currently, he is teaching at the University of Essex. He remains at ease within

these frontiers. Paul Breslin has found through his conversation with Richard Montgomery,

Walcott’s stage designer that he moved at ease among prime ministers of island states,

intellectuals, politicians and representatives of American foundations(8). It is reflected in his

poetry where the geographical displacement occurs effortlessly. From : “Egypt, Tobago”, love

poem from his The Star-Apple Kingdom (1979), poems named ‘Forest of Europe’ (1979) and

‘The Fortune Traveller’ (1981) which encapsulates the cosmopolitan world with the erosion of

national sovereignty.

In his collection, “Midsummer” he uses the metaphor of summer heat as purifying fire

which dissolves differences of place and history. The intensity of the heat is too much for even

the poet to handle. At the same time the heat in the north is described as “midsummer’s leaves

race to extinction” and “seethe toward autumn’s fire” (XXIII) (CP 483), whereas on the

Caribbean Islands “noon jerks toward its rigid, inert center” (XXVIII) (CP 488). This delicate

representation of similarities and differences validates Walcott’s poetic expertise. The heat is

same yet the experiences are different. It is cosmopolitanism in its purest philosophical sense

which is saying that mankind is same it’s only their socio-cultural differences which separate

them.

Traveling, a fundamental cosmopolitan feature is an important theme in Walcott’s

poetry. In Arkansas Testament, the cosmopolitan restlessness is evident as the speaker of

‘tomorrow, tomorrow’ says

To have loved one horizon is insularity,

It blindfolds vision, it narrow experience.

This collection is divided into two parts ‘here’ i.e, St. Lucia, Caribbean and the speaker’s home.

And ‘elsewhere’ which mainly stand for the American landscapes. Traveling is Walcott’s
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attempt to overcome the differences between ‘here’ and ‘there’. Traveling is, as Clifford puts it,

human difference articulated in displacement, tangled cultural

experiences, structures and possibilities of an increasingly connected

but not homogeneous world. (2)

To be a Cosmopolitan is to travel and Walcott recognizes that and accepts it as a part of his own

reality in “north and south”

I accept my function
as a colonial upstart at the end of an empire.(CP 405)

In “Midsummer”, he writes about traveling as a way of opening the world for the traveler. He
says
this is the lot of all wanderers, this is their fate,
that the more they wander, the more the world grows wide.(VII)(CP 474)

The hybrid language of Walcott’s poetry mirrors the cosmopolitan culture of St. Lucia.

He uses universal references ranging from Homer to Shakespeare…etc. and phrases from foreign

languages like Latin to enhance the global setting of his poems. Walcott is trying to write a “new

song” of this cosmopolitan world. His attempt is to be universal. In “Origins”, he talks about

how this ‘new song’ will replace the old (CP 15). This ‘new song’ is the mixture of the

multicultural songs of St. Lucia. The Gods that he mentions in this poem are not only the ‘new

Gods’ of western civilization. He also mentions the dying ‘old gods’ whose memory still lingers

in the Antilles.

Colonialism initiated the cultural transaction between the two civilizations but this was

an unequal exchange because the colonizer deemed the natives primitive to maintain their own

social hegemony. To ‘civilize’ them, they introduced western education in the colonies. Walcott

is also their prodigy. This western education of a black man is, in Walcott's words, ‘a
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sensibility...broken and recreated’ for Walcott. It has rendered two colliding voices within the

Caribbean. Heaney has commented on this binary as well.

Humanist voices of [Walcott’s] education and the voices

From his home ground both of which keep insisting on their

full claims, pulling him in two different directions.(6)

Sociologically, this polarity of Ideologies helps form an independent and essential vision of the

international and Caribbean for the contemporary readers on all continents. This fracturing of

identities due to colonialism has opened up the pandora’s box of imagination. Walcott has

explained his position on this divide in the essay "The Muse of History” and his attempts to

overcome it by restrictive dualism, not cursing the colonial past but re-defining the present. He

attempts to move out of this cycle by redefining history itself. As he does in his poems like ‘Sea

is History’ and ‘Goats and Monkeys’. Yet his commitment to the art of writing has aligned him

to homer, Lucretius, Ovid…etc. beyond personal love for race or nation. His friend, Brodsky

exclaims “These are not influences—they are the cells of his bloodstream.”(39)

History has tied him to the world through literature. his rejection of the extremist

Euro classicism as he has defined in “Another Life” “gild cruelty” by seeing

the colors of Hispanic glory

greater than Greece,

greater than Rome. (286)

and extreme Nationalism which fiated on the colonial injustice.

remain fascinated,

in attitudes of prayer,

by the festering roses made from their fathers’ manacles. (286)

Shows the growth of a mature Cosmopolitan writer who wishes to move on and create something
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‘new’ despite history in a world which is always new and startling.

The inherent complexity in Walcott's identity further strengthen his position as a Cosmopolitan

writer because it allows him to not remain stagnant under any category. When asked about his

identity as black poet in a newspaper report, he replies thus,

I can't afford to worry and I don't worry about the idea of being

g a black poet and I don't think black American poets should

do that either," he said. "We must not allow our anger to turn us inward.

Your work loses its universality and becomes boring.

Critics like John McLeod have talked about the dangers of restricting writers like Walcott by

categorizing them as’ colonialist’ writers. Because it ties any cultural activity in the once

colonized world to the age of colonialism and reads the activity as a form of ‘writing back’. This

diminishes the reception range of the text and inhibits the readers ability to approach the

different cultural positions and politics in the former colonies. But this debate between

Cosmopolitanism and Post-colonialism raises the question of the extent to which the conception

of cosmopolitanism as western or colonial. It also takes Walcott’s cosmopolitanism for granted

and dilutes his unique position as just another post-colonial study. Colonialism has played its

part in the Caribbean cultural discourse but art should not be forever tied down to historical

instance. It must remain free to explore and stand beyond man-made boundaries. His literature

is not a literature of revenge and remorse but a literature of the New world whose multi-

dimensionality it so proudly accepts and attempts to define them to the rest of the world.

Walcott’s cosmopolitanism is a unifying force. It unites the colonizer with the

colonized. It unites the Old World and the New World while simultaneously acknowledging the

gulf between them. In this process Walcott takes a nomadic position. His cosmopolitanism

comes from ‘nowhere’ as he writes in “Origins”. He is a ‘nameless’ coming into the world from
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‘nothing’. He stands at the moment of flux between the cultures of the world, ready to accept

them as they are. Despite his commitment to his homeland , he has become a tourist there too.

That is why his description of islands makes its inhabitants both local and stranger at once.

Walcott’s cosmopolitanism is an individual attempt to balance the old and new, the inside and

the outside of the Caribbean world. He has successfully done so by creating a Cosmopolitan

identity for himself and the whole Caribbean.

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Works cited

Beck, Ulrich. “Cosmopolitanism as Imagined Communities of Global Risk.” SAGE

Publications 55.10 (2011): 1346-61. Print.

Heaney, Seamus. “The Murmur of Malvern.” Bloom’s Modern Critical Views DEREK

WALCOTT. Ed. Harold Bloom: Philadelphia. Chelsea House Publishers,2003.

5-6. Print.

Louisy, Pearlette. “Globalisation and Comparative Education: A Caribbean Perspective.”

Comparative Education 37.4(2001): 425-438. JSTORE. Web. 7 April 2016.

Breslin, Paul. Nobody’s Nation. Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press, 2001.

Print.

Clifford, James. Routes: Travel and Translation in the Late Twentieth Century. Harvard:

Harvard University Press, 1997. Print.

Brodsky, Joseph. “The Sound of the Tide.” Bloom’s Modern Critical Views DEREK WALCOTT.

Ed. Harold Bloom. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers,2003. 35-42. Print.

McLeod, John.” “WHEEL AND COME AGAIN:” TRANSNATIONAL AESTHETICS

BEYOND THE POSTCOLONIAL.” Hungarian Journal of English and

American Studies 7.2(2001): 85-99. JSTORE. Web. 7 April 2016.

Walcott, Derek. The Antilles: fragments of epic memory.(1992): NobelPrize.org.Web.7April

2016.

---. Collected Poems 1948–1984. London: Faber and Faber,1992. Print.

---. Arkansas Testament. London: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1988. Print.

---. “The Muse of History: An Essay” The Routledge Reader of Caribbean Literature.

Ed. Alison Donnel and Sarah Lawson Welsh. London: Routledge,1996. Print.