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The Schooner 'Flight' -- Derek Walcott

(Poem #1041) The Schooner 'Flight'
   1. Adios, Carenage

 In idle August, while the sea soft,
 and leaves of brown islands stick to the rim
 of this Caribbean, I blow out the light
 by the dreamless face of Maria Concepcion
 to ship as a seaman on the schooner Flight.
 Out in the yard turning grey in the dawn,
 I stood like a stone and nothing else move
 but the cold sea rippling like galvanize
 and the nail holes of stars in the sky roof,
 till a wind start to interfere with the trees.
 I pass me dry neighbour sweeping she yard
 as I went downhill, and I nearly said:
 "Sweep soft, you witch, 'cause she don't sleep hard",
 but the bitch look through me like I was dead.
 A route taxi pull up, park-lights still on.
 The driver size up my bags with a grin:
 "This time, Shabine, like you really gone!"
 I ain't answer the ass, I simply pile in
 the back seat and watch the sky burn
 above Laventille pink as the gown
 in which the woman I left was sleeping,
 and I look in the rearview and see a man
 exactly like me, and the man was weeping
 for the houses, the streets, that whole fucking island.

 Christ have mercy on all sleeping things!
 From that dog rotting down Wrightson Road
 to when I was a dog on these streets;
 if loving these islands must be my load,
 out of corruption my soul takes wings,
 But they had started to poison my soul
 with their big house, big car, big-time bohbohl,
 coolie, nigger, Syrian, and French Creole,
 so I leave it for them and their carnival --
 I taking a sea-bath, I gone down the road.
 I know these islands from Monos to Nassau,
 a rusty head sailor with sea-green eyes
 that they nickname Shabine, the patois for
 any red nigger, and I, Shabine, saw
 when these slums of empire was paradise.
 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.

 But Maria Concepcion was all my thought
 watching the sea heaving up and down
 as the port side of dories, schooners, and yachts
 was painted afresh by the strokes of the sun
 signing her name with every reflection;
 I know when dark-haired evening put on
 her bright silk at sunset, and, folding the sea,
 sidled under the sheet with her starry laugh,
 that there'd be no rest, there'd be no forgetting.
 Is like telling mourners round the graveside
 about resurrection, they want the dead back,
 so I smile to myself as the bow rope untied
 and the Flight swing seaward: "Is no use repeating
 that the sea have more fish. I ain't want her
 dressed in the sexless light of a seraph,
 I want those round brown eyes like a marmoset, and
 till the day when I can lean back and laugh,
 those claws that tickled my back on sweating
 Sunday afternoons, like a crab on wet sand."
 As I worked, watching the rotting waves come
 past the bow that scissor the sea like silk,
 I swear to you all, by my mother's milk,
 by the stars that shall fly from tonight's furnace,
 that I loved them, my children, my wife, my home;
 I loved them as poets love the poetry
 that kills them, as drowned sailors the sea.

 You ever look up from some lonely beach
 and see a far schooner? Well, when I write
 this poem, each phrase go be soaked in salt;
 I go draw and knot every line as tight
 as ropes in this rigging; in simple speech
 my common language go be the wind,
 my pages the sails of the schooner Flight.
 But let me tell you how this business begin.
-- Derek Walcott
 Section 1 of "The Schooner 'Flight'", from "The Star-Apple Kingdom", 1980.

 "The Schooner 'Flight'" is a truly marvellous poem. Walcott/Shabine's
odyssey through the past and present of the Caribbean is rich in symbolism
and history; it's full of wonderfully quotable truths:
        "I have Dutch, nigger, and English in me
        and either I'm nobody, or I'm a nation."
 But for me, what makes the poem special is its language. Walcott begins in
stately, flowing English, but as the lines go by, the cadence of the
Caribbean seeps into his verse like summer sunshine, until his words are
"soaked in salt", his "pages the sails of the schooner Flight". Like I said,
truly marvellous.



Is it plagiarism to reproduce one's own work? Or merely laziness? Either
way, it doesn't bother me overmuch :). Here's part of my commentary to a
previous Walcott poem on the Minstrels; much of what I wrote about
"Midsummer, Tobago" (Poem #993) applies equally well to today's poem:

Walcott's poems are about voyages. Not necessarily physical ones; he's
equally concerned with the links that connect past and present, and the
journeys of the mind between them. He fills his verse with ruminations on
the nature of memory and the creative imagination, the history, politics and
landscape of the West Indies, his own life and loves, and his enduring
awareness of time and death. These themes are explored with insight and
tact; they are also, in Walcott's hands, infused with the rarest of
qualities, a sense of _place_.

Walcott's poems are excellent proof of the fact that it is possible to write
"poetically" using free verse. His language is elegant and evocative and
never forced; his merging of various linguistic influences (the vibrant
Creole of his native Caribbean, the stately Latin and Greek of the
classics,the workaday English of his Boston years) gives his poetry a
richness and texture lost to many more traditional poets, while the absence
of formal structure gives it a suppleness equal to the demands of his


53 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Treena T. Balds said...

Even at the start of this poem, the images point to
the transience of all that surrounds the persona. The
“sea soft” (apart from the dovetailing of form and
function in the way the soft words ride the tongue
like a wave) illustrates the speaker’s frenzied and
undefined loyalties that are the basis of the poem.
Walcott’s metaphor for leaving, “blowing the light
out,” is a fine literary achievement, and demonstrates
how a writer seeks, probes, and is rewarded by finding
the one thing that joins two separate images. The
culmination of the metaphor is realized in the
reader’s gut. The persona stands out in this changing
place, standing “like a stone,” as he is (not quite)
perceived as dead and unchanging by his neighbour.

The speaker’s bitterness and disillusionment is
evident in the way he spits wrath upon the familiar
things that come across his path. The language, the
use of the common vernacular, increases the
authenticity not only of the speaker, but of his
frustration—the way it forces him into the language of
his deepest sensitivity. He does not fit—he has lived
there all his life, and still he has no concrete place
there. The multiplicity of the images—the islands, the
languages, finds its reflection in his pedigree. And
his displacement is also a result: “either I’m nobody,
or I’m a nation.”

The speaker wavers, spirit almost separating from
body, as the leaving mingles with the desire to stay.
The images reflect this, “the sea heaving up and
down,” swinging like the pendulum of his desires. The
lines, “I know when dark-haired evening…there’d be no
forgetting” seem to challenge both the classic
optimism(Homer’s “rosy-fingered dawn”), revealing the
other face of the day, and the romantic notion that
“our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting”
(Wordsworth's Intimations of Immortality ), insisting
that sleep and forgetfulness will never come here.
(Here Walcott echoes the disillusionment of the modern

Genius of internal rhyme is revealed in many lines, as
in describing the schooner’s “bow that scissor the sea
like silk.” The hull divides the sea in the way this
traveler is divided in his desires, divided from his
home and family, which he loves “as poets love the
poetry that kills them, as drowned sailors the sea.”
Then “Adios Carenage” ends with the speaker’s poetic
intentions, intentions that I can attest are nothing
less than realised.

Treena Balds

Jesus loves you.
Big Him up!!! Ev'rytime...

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