Derek Walcott Midsummer I


Derek Walcott

Midsummer – I

First thing I notice is Walcott’s use of imagery. In recent years, I have been paying close attention to the use of descriptive techniques in fiction; some writers that come to mind for their particularity: James Salter, Kiran Desai, Junot Diaz, Jadie Smith, Dinaw Megestu. In poetry, I notice Derek Walcott doing the same, with even greater poetic energy. He produces a powerful effect on the reader.

In a way, the form or technique itself is an important part of the poem, its content. Here the poet is making use of an extended metaphor as he contemplates the scenery. Like the poet, we willingly linger a little longer as he plays with the image of the cloud as an unreliable record-keeper. Then we move on to the image of sunlight which helps him connect Caribbean islands and settlements to Rome.

His description has the power to surprise us because it is unusual. Take a few lines about his description of flying. “The jet bores like a silver-fish through volumes of cloud.” Later, as it reaches the Caribbean, “the jet’s shadow ripples over green jungles as steadily as a minnow through seaweed.” Secondly, emotions are neatly nestled into images: “the highways long as regrets”, “bright suburbs fade into words–Maraval, Diego Martin”, “sharp exclamations of whitewashed minarets.” At the end of the poem, he appears to be describing the moment the plane lands and the effect it has on him:

“It comes too fast, this shelving sense of home–
canes rushing the wing, a fence; a world that stills stands as
the trundling tires keep shaking and shaking the heart.”

Though unusual, the descriptions appear logical, because he is playing with an extended metaphor of natural elements being overlaid by the human element. An example: “Skimming over an ocher swamp like a fast cloud of egrets/are nouns that find their branches as simply as birds.” He is here intent on yoking together terrain and geography with the act of writing. He calls the scenery “pages of earth” and describes the canefields as being “set in stanzas.” The combination of geography with the cultural element (as well as the writer’s emotional experience) produces a marvelous effect.

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