For every poet, it is always morning in the world.
Derek Walcott's words. I was saddened to hear tonight of the death of this great poet, a contemporary and friend of Seamus Heaney. I first read Walcott's work about 20 years ago when I was teaching his poetry for a course comparing writers of the 1890s with the 1990s. I was immediately attracted to this most maritime of poets - it is as if a tropical wind is blowing in off the sea and infusing his words.
He came from the small Caribbean island of St Lucia and his work fused the tradition of English and European literature with the richness of his West Indian heritage. He was a playwright and a painter as well as a poet, each discipline nourishing the others.
Re-reading some of his poems tonight his words acquire an added poignancy:
My first friend was the sea. Now, is my last.
(from "The Schooner Flight")
I am your poet, yours,
all this you knew,
but never guessed you'd come
to know there are homecomings without home.
In the shallop of the shell,
in the round prayer,
in the palate of the conch,
in the dead sail of the almond leaf
are all of the voyages.
(both extracts from "Homecoming: Anse Le Raye (for Garth St Omer)")
Amongst his many awards was the Nobel prize for literature (1992). In 2011 his collection White Egrets won the T S Eliot prize. The final poem in this highly accomplished volume imagines that
This cloud is a page between whose fraying edges
a headland with mountains appears brokenly
and the scenery he goes on to describe is the writing of the poem until finally
a cloud slowly covers the page and it goes
white again and the book comes to a close.
The last lines of his moving elegy "Landfall, Grenada (for Robert Head, mariner) are a fitting tribute to him today:
Deep friend, teach me to learn
such ease, such landfall going,
such mocking tolerance of those
neat, gravestone elegies
that rhyme our end.