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Goats and Monkeys -- Derek Walcott

Guest poem submitted by Ameya Nagarajan:
(Poem #1319) Goats and Monkeys
 '...even now, an old black ram
  is tupping your white ewe.'
                 -Othello

 The owl's torches gutter. Chaos clouds the globe.
 Shriek, augury! His earthen bulk
 buries her bosom in its slow eclipse.
 His smoky hand has charred
 that marble throat. Bent to her lips,
 he is Africa, a vast, sidling shadow
 that halves your world with doubt.
 'Put out the light', and God's light is put out.

 That flame extinct, she contemplates her dream
 of him as huge as night, as bodiless,
 as starred with medals, like the moon
 a fable of blind stone.
 Dazzled by that bull's bulk agaisnt the sun
 of Cyprus, couldn't she have known
 like Pasiphae, poor girl, she'd breed horned monsters?
 That like Euyridice, her flesh a flare
 travelling the hellish labyrinth of his mind
 his soul would swallow hers?

 Her white flesh rhymes with night. She climbs, secure.

 Virgin and ape, maid and malevolent Moor,
 their immortal coupling still halves our world.
 He is your sacrificial beat, bellowing, goaded,
 a black bull snarled in ribbons of blood.
 And yet, whatever fury girded
 on the saffron-sunset turban, moon-shaped sword
 was not his racial, panther-black revenge
 pulsing her chamber with its raw musk, its sweat
 but horror of the moon's change,
 of the corruption of an absolute,
 like a white fruit
 pulped ripe by fondling but doubly sweet.

 And so he barbarously arraigns the moon
 for all she has beheld since time began
 for his own night-long lechery, ambition,
 while barren innocence whimpers for pardon.

 And it is still the moon, she silvers love,
 limns lechery and stares at our disgrace.
 Only annihilation can resolve
 the pure corruption in her dreaming face.

 A bestial, comic agony. We harden
 with mockery at this blackamoor
 who turns his back on her, who kills
 what, like the clear moon, cannot abhor
 her element, night; his grief
 farcially knotted in a handkerchief
 a sibyl's
 prophetically stitched rememberancer
 webbed and embroidered with the zodiac,
 this mythical, horned beast who's no more
 monstrous for being black.
-- Derek Walcott
Walcott is West Indian, from the island of St. Lucia. He came from a
mixed family, with two white grandfathers and two black grandmothers. He
grew up familiar with English and his problem is one faced by most
post-colonial writers, he does not fit in the native tradition but he
does not fit in the British traditon, and he is troubled both by his
ease with the English language and his alienation from English
experience.

This poem rewrites Othello, and it is really interesting because its
sympathetic to Othello while still granting him agency, Walcott
completely deletes Iago and Othello is no longer a pawn.

What I love most about Walcott is his almost intoxicating use of
imagery. He does go overboard in one or two places, but most of the time
he manages to pick the most evocative images to convey impressions. Call
him impressionist if you wish!

[Minstrels Links]

Derek Walcott:
Poem #993: "Midsummer, Tobago"
Poem #1041: "The Schooner 'Flight'"

4 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Matt Chanoff said...

I loved the first two stanzas of this. At first I thought I was reading some piece from Shakespeare's Othello that I didn't remember -- maybe just my own poetic incompetence, but still, high praise. At the same time, the opening reminded me of Yeats -- Turning and turning in a widening gyre..." (something like that).

But with " Virgin and ape, maid and malevolent Moor,..." I think Walcott starts to go wrong. Both the virgin and ape trope and the "maid and malevolent Moor" alliteration are just a bit tone-deaf, a bit over the top.

Likewise, I think the extended moon metaphore, beginning with " And so he barbarously arraigns the moon ..." works less and less well. In the earlier sections, the sun, moon, earth, and firmament metaphores work well partly because they are fluid, played loosely. But beginning here, it takes on the character of a schoolbook simile: she is like the moon. Just like the moon she does this and that, bla bla bla. It's strained and faintly embarrasing.

Still, the thing is shot through with pretty phrases and imagery. Also, I kind of like the title, even though it doesn't fit at all (Monkeys? Or is Othello the goat and Desdemona the monkey? And why plural?)

Matt

Stephen Pecha said...

Act IV--Othello, after striking Desdemona in a jealous fit, in front of newly arrrived officers from Venice, bids them to dine with him that night, and concludes "Welcome to Cyrpus--goats and monkeys!"

Viagra Online said...

Interesting blog, this is a good poem for me to collect in my drawer. I didn't have any poem about monkeys, if there any other you have stocked let me know and give it to me.

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