'A Far Cry From Africa' by Derek Walcott
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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 civilizations 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?
Editor 1 Interpretation
A Far Cry from Africa by Derek Walcott: A Literary Criticism and Interpretation
Have you ever read a poem that made you question your identity, your roots, and your place in the world? A poem that left you struggling to reconcile the conflicting emotions of guilt, anger, and empathy? A poem that deftly weaves the personal and the political, the historical and the contemporary, the local and the global? If not, you should read A Far Cry from Africa by Derek Walcott, a poem that epitomizes the power of poetry to engage, challenge, and transform.
Context and Background
Before delving into the poem itself, it's important to provide some context and background about the poet, Derek Walcott, and the historical and political circumstances that inspired the poem. Derek Walcott (1930-2017) was a Caribbean poet, playwright, and essayist who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992. He was born and raised in Saint Lucia, an island in the Lesser Antilles, and later lived and worked in Trinidad, Jamaica, and the United States. Throughout his career, Walcott explored themes such as colonialism, identity, race, language, and myth, drawing on his Caribbean heritage and his global experience to create a unique and powerful voice.
A Far Cry from Africa was written in 1962, a pivotal year for many African countries that gained independence from European colonial powers. It was also a tumultuous year for Kenya, a British colony that was struggling to achieve independence through a violent and divisive struggle known as the Mau Mau Uprising. The poem is thus situated at the intersection of the Caribbean and Africa, as Walcott, a Caribbean poet of African descent, reflects on the complexities and contradictions of his identity and his relationship to Africa and its struggles.
Structure and Style
A Far Cry from Africa consists of seven stanzas, each with six lines, and follows a regular rhyme scheme of ABABCC. The poem is written in free verse, which means that it doesn't conform to a specific meter or rhythm, but rather uses the natural cadence and intonation of speech. This gives the poem a conversational and intimate tone, as if the speaker is addressing the reader directly and sharing his thoughts and feelings.
The poem also employs a range of figurative language and imagery, such as allusion, metaphor, simile, and personification, to convey its meaning and evoke its emotional impact. For example, the title itself is a metaphor that suggests a sense of distance, disconnection, and difference between the speaker and his African heritage. The first stanza uses a simile to describe Africa as a "hot, white, inhuman" beast that threatens to devour the speaker, who is "puzzled in the glare" of its eyes. This metaphorical portrayal of Africa as a savage and alien force reflects the colonial and racist stereotypes that were prevalent at the time, but also subverts them by showing the speaker's ambivalent and conflicted attitude towards Africa.
Themes and Interpretation
A Far Cry from Africa explores a variety of themes and issues, such as:
Identity and Alienation
At its heart, the poem is a meditation on identity and alienation, as the speaker grapples with his dual heritage and his sense of belonging. On the one hand, he feels a deep connection to Africa and its struggles, as he shares its history of oppression and resistance, and its cultural and spiritual legacy. On the other hand, he feels estranged from Africa and its realities, as he was born and raised in the Caribbean and has never set foot in Africa. This tension between affinity and distance creates a sense of dislocation and ambivalence, as the speaker tries to reconcile his African and Caribbean identities.
Colonialism and Violence
The poem also touches on the themes of colonialism and violence, as it alludes to the history of European imperialism in Africa and its legacy of exploitation and brutality. The reference to "the screeching of the adhan" in the second stanza is a reminder of the Muslim call to prayer, which was one of the few sounds that could be heard over the din of colonialism. The reference to "the hunter crouching with his rifle" in the third stanza is a metaphor for the colonizer's aggression and domination, as he sees Africa as a prey to be hunted and conquered. The reference to "the white men on the verandah" in the sixth stanza is a critique of the colonial mentality that sees Africa as a primitive and inferior culture that needs to be civilized and controlled. These images and allusions create a sense of anger and indignation at the injustices of colonialism and the violence that it engenders.
Empathy and Guilt
However, the poem also shows a nuanced and complex attitude towards colonialism and its impact on the speaker and his African and Caribbean kin. The line "I who am poisoned with the blood of both" in the fourth stanza is a powerful admission of the speaker's complicity in the violence and oppression that he condemns. It suggests that he is not just a victim or a bystander, but also a perpetrator and an inheritor of the colonial legacy. This paradoxical position generates a sense of empathy and guilt, as the speaker struggles to come to terms with his role in the history and the present of Africa and the Caribbean.
Resistance and Hope
Finally, the poem offers a message of resistance and hope, as the speaker affirms his commitment to the struggle for justice and freedom, both in Africa and the Caribbean. The line "I who have cursed / The drunken officer of British rule" in the fifth stanza is a reference to the speaker's political activism and his opposition to the colonial regime in the Caribbean. It also suggests that he sees the struggle for independence and self-determination as a common cause between Africa and the Caribbean. The line "Now I am branded by malice or indifference" in the seventh stanza is a recognition of the challenges and obstacles that the speaker and his fellow activists face, but also a defiance and a determination to persevere. This spirit of resistance and hope is what makes the poem a rallying cry for all those who seek to overcome the legacy of colonialism and create a better future for themselves and their communities.
In conclusion, A Far Cry from Africa is a remarkable poem that combines poetry and politics, personal and historical, local and global, in a way that is both challenging and inspiring. Through its structure and style, its themes and imagery, its language and tone, the poem captures the complexity and ambiguity of the speaker's identity and his relationship to Africa and its struggles. It also offers a critique of colonialism and violence, a sense of empathy and guilt, and a message of resistance and hope. It is a poem that speaks not just to the past, but also to the present and the future, as it invites us to reflect on our own identity, our own heritage, and our own role in the ongoing struggles for justice and freedom.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Poetry is a powerful medium that can evoke emotions, stir up memories, and inspire change. One such poem that has stood the test of time is Derek Walcott's "A Far Cry From Africa." This poem is a masterpiece that explores the themes of identity, colonialism, and violence. In this article, we will delve into the poem's meaning, structure, and literary devices to understand why it is a classic.
The poem begins with a vivid description of Africa's landscape, with its "sun-cracked thorn" and "drumming of the ear." The speaker is nostalgic for his homeland, but he is also conflicted. He is torn between his African heritage and his European education. He feels like an outsider in both worlds, and this sense of displacement is a recurring theme throughout the poem.
The second stanza introduces the theme of colonialism. The speaker describes the "white soldiers" who have come to Africa to "civilize" the natives. He is critical of their arrogance and their disregard for African culture. He also acknowledges the violence that has been inflicted on his people, saying, "I who am poisoned with the blood of both, where shall I turn, divided to the vein?"
The third stanza is a turning point in the poem. The speaker shifts his focus from Africa to himself. He acknowledges his own complicity in the violence that has been inflicted on his people. He says, "I who have cursed the drunken officer of British rule, how choose between this Africa and the English tongue I love?" This line is significant because it shows that the speaker is not just a victim of colonialism but also a participant in it. He is torn between his loyalty to his African heritage and his love for the English language, which is a legacy of colonialism.
The fourth stanza is a powerful indictment of violence. The speaker describes the "deadly embrace" of violence that has engulfed Africa. He is critical of both the colonizers and the colonized, saying, "those with eyes sharp with betrayals, the wrist swollen with slaughter." He is also critical of himself, saying, "I who have aged with grief at the alienating strife."
The fifth stanza is a plea for reconciliation. The speaker acknowledges that the violence in Africa is not just a result of colonialism but also a result of tribalism and other internal conflicts. He says, "I who have lost my landscape, have lost my tribe, and tongue, and arms, have nothing left to lose but my soul." This line is significant because it shows that the speaker is willing to let go of his tribal identity and embrace a more universal identity.
The sixth and final stanza is a call to action. The speaker urges his fellow Africans to rise up against the violence and oppression that has been inflicted on them. He says, "Shamed by mimicry of Europe, betrayed by African timidity, we who wished to change our fate, have turned into your mercenaries." This line is significant because it shows that the speaker is not just a passive observer but also an active participant in the struggle for liberation.
The structure of the poem is significant because it mirrors the speaker's internal conflict. The first two stanzas are a celebration of Africa's beauty, but they are also a lament for what has been lost. The third stanza is a turning point in the poem because the speaker shifts his focus from Africa to himself. The fourth stanza is a condemnation of violence, and the fifth stanza is a plea for reconciliation. The sixth stanza is a call to action, and it brings the poem full circle.
The poem is also rich in literary devices. The use of imagery is particularly effective in evoking the beauty and violence of Africa. The use of repetition is also significant because it emphasizes the speaker's internal conflict. The use of irony is also present in the poem because the speaker is torn between his African heritage and his European education.
In conclusion, "A Far Cry From Africa" is a classic poem that explores the themes of identity, colonialism, and violence. The poem is significant because it shows the complexity of the African experience and the internal conflict that many Africans feel. The poem is also significant because it is a call to action, urging Africans to rise up against the violence and oppression that has been inflicted on them. Derek Walcott's "A Far Cry From Africa" is a masterpiece that will continue to inspire and challenge readers for generations to come.
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