This weekend is Pentecost, and since I'm having some busy days this blogpost will be rather short and feature one of my favourite poems from my favourite poet, Derek Walcott (b.1930). The poem is one of the earliest of Walcott's printed poems (printed in the 1960s), and this can be seen in his mingling of Caribbean culture and European literary tradition which is particularly visible at this stage of his verse. The struggle to carve out an identity that embraces Walcott's Afro-Caribbean as well as European roots has always pervaded his poetry, and I've gone into greater detail about this elsewhere.
In Pocomania, Derek Walcott describes a Caribbean ritual of folk-religiosity whose name, possibly coming from "little madness", was applied to Jamaican religious ritual in the 1860s during what was known as the Great Revival. The popular atmosphere is invoked through Walcott's use of vernacularisms like "De sisters" and "De bredren", while echoes of the traditional English poetry is found in the verse form, the use of Capital letters and references to Yeats ("death in life", see Sailing to Byzantium) and Blake ("eye" and "eternity" as rhymes, see The Tyger). Such allusions to great anglophone poets is also particularly typical of his early verse, as seen in his Ruins of a Great House.
De shepherd shrieves in Egyptian light,
The Abyssinian sweat has poured
From armpits and the graves of sight,
The black sheep of their blacker Lord.
De sisters shout and lift the floods
Of skirts where bark n' balm take root,
De bredren rattle withered gourds
Whose seeds are the forbidden fruit.
Remorse of poverty, love of God
Leap as one fire; prepare the feast,
Limp now is each divining rod,
Forgotten love, the double beast.
Above the banner and the crowd
The Lamb bleeds on the Coptic cross,
De Judah Lion roards to shroud
The sexual fires of Pentecost.
In jubilation of The Host,
the goatskin greets the bamboo fife
Have mercy on those furious lost
Whose life is praising death in life.
Now the blind beast butts on the wall,
Bodily delirium is death,
Now the worm curls upright to crawl
Between the crevices of breath.
Lower the wick, and fold the eye!
Anoint the shriveled limb with oil!
The waters of the moon are dry,
Derision of the body, toil.
Till Armageddon stains the fields,
And Babylon is yonder greeen,
Till the dirt-holy roller feels
The obscene breeding the unseen.
Till those black forms be angels white,
And Zion fills each eye.
High overhead the crow of night
Saint Lucia scenery, Petit Piton and Gros Piton
Courtesy of Telegraph