A Far Cry from Africa
A Far Cry from Africa
Derek Walcott 1962
Derek Walcott’s “A Far Cry from Africa,” published in 1962, is a painful and jarring depiction of ethnic conflict and divided loyalties. The opening images of the poem are drawn from accounts of the Mau Mau Uprising, an extended and bloody battle during the 1950s between European settlers and the native Kikuyu tribe in what is now the republic of Kenya. In the early twentieth century, the first white settlers arrived in the region, forcing the Kikuyu people off of their tribal lands. Europeans took control of farmland and the government, relegating the Kikuyu to a subservient position. One faction of the Kikuyu people formed Mau Mau, a terrorist organization intent on purging all European influence from the country, but less strident Kikuyus attempted to either remain neutral or help the British defeat Mau Mau.
The ongoings in Kenya magnified an internal strife within the poet concerning his own mixed heritage. Walcott has both African and European roots; his grandmothers were both black, and both grandfathers were white. In addition, at the time the poem was written, the poet’s country of birth, the island of St. Lucia, was still a colony of Great Britain. While Walcott opposes colonialism and would therefore seem to be sympathetic to a revolution with an anticolonial cause, he has passionate reservations about Mau Mau: they are, or are reported to be, extremely violent—to animals, whites, and Kikuyu perceived as traitors to the Mau Mau cause.
As Walcott is divided in two, so too is the poem. The first two stanzas refer to the Kenyan conflict, while the second two address the war within the poet-as-outsider/insider, between his roles as blood insider but geographical outsider to the Mau Mau Uprising. The Mau Mau Uprising, which began in 1952, was put down—some say in 1953, 1956, or 1960—without a treaty, yet the British did leave Kenya in 1963. Just as the uprising was never cleanly resolved, Walcott, at least within the poem, never resolves his conflict about whose side to take.
Derek Walcott was born January 23, 1930, in the capital city of Castries on the eastern Caribbean island of St. Lucia, a territory at that time under the dominance of Britain. While the official language of St. Lucia was English, Walcott grew up also speaking a French-English patois. Both of his grandfathers were white and both grandmothers were black. From the beginning, Walcott was, in terms of St. Lucia, a bit of an outsider. In a poor, Catholic country, his parents were middle class and Protestant: his mother was a teacher at a Methodist grammar school who worked in local theater, and his father was a civil servant by vocation and a fine artist and poet by avocation. Walcott’s father died shortly after Derek and his twin brother were born. The Walcott home was filled with books, paintings, and recorded music. Derek studied painting and published, at age fourteen, his first poem. At eighteen, Walcott borrowed two hundred dollars from his mother to publish his first book, 25 Poems. To pay back his mother, he sold copies of the book to his friends.
In his early years, Walcott was schooled on St. Lucia, but in 1950, he attended the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, getting his degree in 1953 but staying on one more year to study education. From 1954 to 1957, Walcott taught in Grenada, St. Lucia, and Jamaica, and wrote and produced plays along with his brother, Roderick. In 1954, Walcott married. Since then he has been married three times and has had three children. In 1958, his play Drums and Colours earned him a Rockefeller grant to study theater in New York City. Alienated in the United States, Walcott returned
to Trinidad in 1959 to found, with his brother, The Trinidad Theater Workshop, a project that lasted until 1976. From 1960 to 1968, Walcott also wrote for the local newspaper, the Trinidad Guardian.
Walcott has taught in both America and the West Indies and has earned numerous awards. He has taught at New York University, Yale, Columbia, Harvard, and, since 1981, at Boston University. Walcott has won numerous awards: in 1965 he received the Royal Society of Literature Heine-mann Award for The Castaway and Other Poems; his play Dream on Monkey Mountain earned the 1971 Obie for the most distinguished off-Broadway play; in 1977 he was awarded a Guggenheim and in 1981 a MacArthur Foundation Award. In 1992, however, Walcott received literature’s highest honor, the Nobel Prize. The author of more than twenty books, Walcott continues to write, paint, and direct.
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: 5
‘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? 10
Threshed out by beaters, the long rushes break
In a white dust of ibises whose cries
Have wheeled since civilization’s dawn
From the parched river or beast-teeming plain.
The violence of beast on beast is read 15
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 20
Of the white peace contracted by the dead.
Again brutish necessity wipes its hands
Upon the napkins of a dirty cause, again
A waste of our compassion, as with Spain,
The gorilla wrestles with the superman. 25
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? 30
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?
The first three lines depict the poem’s setting on the African plain, or veldt. The nation itself is compared to an animal (perhaps a lion) with a “tawny pelt.” Tawny is a color described as light brown to brownish orange that is common color in the African landscape. The word “Kikuyu” serves as the name of a native tribe in Kenya. What seems an idyllic portrayal of the African plain quickly shifts; the Kikuyu are compared to flies (buzzing around the “animal” of Africa) who are feeding on blood, which is present in large enough amounts to create streams.
Walcott shatters the image of a paradise that many associate with Africa by describing a landscape littered with corpses. He adds a sickening detail by referring to a worm, or maggot, that reigns in this setting of decaying human flesh. The worm’s admonishment to “Waste no compassion on these separate dead!” is puzzling in that it implies that the victims somehow got what they deserved.
The mention of the words “justify” and “colonial policy,” when taken in context with the preceding six lines, finally clarifies the exact event that Walcott is describing—the Mau Mau Uprising against British colonists in Kenya during the 1950s. Where earlier the speaker seemed to blame the victims, he now blames those who forced the colonial system onto Kenya and polarized the population. They cannot justify their actions, because their reasons will never matter to the “white child” who has been murdered—merely because of his color—in retaliation by Mau Mau fighters or to the “savages,” who—in as racist an attitude as was taken by Nazis against Jews—are deemed worthless, or expendable. (“Savages” is a controversial term that derives from the French word sauvage meaning wild, and is now wholly derogatory in English. Walcott’s use of “savage” functions to present a British colonialist’s racist point of view.)
Walcott shifts gears in these lines and returns to images of Africa’s wildlife, in a reminder that the ibises (long-billed wading birds) and other beasts ruled this land long before African or European civilization existed. The poet also describes a centuries-old hunting custom of natives walking in a line through the long grass and beating it to flush out prey. Such killing for sustenance is set against the senseless and random death that native Africans and European settlers perpetrate upon each other.
These lines are simultaneously pro-nature and anticulture. Animals kill merely for food and survival, but humans, having perfected the skill of hunting for food, extend that violent act to other areas, using force to exert control—and prove superiority over—other people; they seek divinity by deciding who lives and who dies. Ironically, wars between people are described as following the beat of a drum—an instrument made of an animal hide stretched over a cylinder. Walcott also points out that for whites, historically, peace has not been the result a compromise with an opponent, but a situation arrived at because the opposition has been crushed and cannot resist anymore.
- Bill Moyers interviewed Walcott, primarily on the subject of empire, for his A World of Ideas, released by PBS videos in 1987.
- A cassette titled Derek Walcott Reads (1994) is available from Harper Collins.
These lines are difficult to interpret, but they appear to be aimed at those judging the Mau Mau uprising from a distance—observers who could somehow accept brutality as necessary and who are aware of a dire situation but wipe their hands, or refuse to become involved, in it. The poet appears to condemn such an attitude by comparing the Mau Mau Uprising to the Spanish Civil War (1936-39). Leaders of France and Great Britain wanted to avoid another war that would engulf all of Europe, so they introduced a nonintervention pact that was signed by twenty-seven nations. Nonetheless, the Insurgents, or Nationalists, (under the leadership of General Francisco Franco) were aided by and received military aid from Germany and Italy. The Loyalists, or Republicans, had no such backing; they fought valiantly but were outmanned, lost territory, and were eventually defeated in March of 1939. Line 25 presents a cynical view of the Mau Mau Uprising as just another colonial conflict where gorillas—negatively animalized Africans— fight with superman—a negative characterization of Europe.
This stanza is a change of scene from primarily that of Africa, to that of the poet. Walcott, being a product of both African and English heritage, is torn, because he does not know how to feel about the Mau Mau struggle. He certainly is not satisfied with the stock response of those from the outside. Walcott is sickened by the behavior of Mau Mau just as he has been disgusted by the British. By the end, the poet’s dilemma is not reconciled, but one gets the sense that Walcott will abandon neither Africa nor Britain.
Violence and Cruelty
The wind “ruffling the tawny pelt of Africa” refers to the Mau Mau Uprising that occurred in what is now independent Kenya, roughly from October 20, 1952, to January of 1960. During this span, the white government called an emergency against a secret Kikuyu society that came to be known as Mau Mau and was dedicated to overthrowing the white regime. Against the backdrop of a cruel, long-lasting British colonialism erupted the more short-term cruelty of Mau Mau insurrection. While some versions have it that Mau Mau was put down by 1953 and others by 1956, the government kept the state of emergency in place until the beginning of 1960. It is the violence of Mau Mau that most disturbs Walcott, apparently because it makes Africans look even worse than their British oppressors. There were many stories of Mau Mau violence directed at whites, the animals owned by whites, and at other Kikuyus who refused to join Mau Mau. The violence was especially grisly since many of the Kikuyus used a machete-like agricultural implement, the panga, to kill or mutilate victims after killing them. One such murder—one that Walcott could be describing in “A Far Cry from Africa”—was reported of a four-and-a-half-year-old white child. And on March 26, 1953, in the Lari Massacre, Mau Maus killed ninety-seven Kikuyu men, women, and children, apparently for collaborating with the British. But it was not only the violence of insurrection that terrorized animals, whites, and Kikuyus, but also the reportedly gruesome Mau Mau oathing ceremonies in which initiates pledged allegiance to the Mau Mau cause. A Kikuyu schoolmaster gave this account of a ceremony initiating seven members: “We were ... bound together by goats’ small intestines on our shoulders and feet.... Then Githinji pricked our right hand middle finger with a needle until it bled. He then brought the chest of a billy goat and its heart still attached to the lungs and smeared them with our blood. He then took a Kikuyu gourd containing blood and with it made a cross on our foreheads and on all important joints saying, ‘May this blood mark the faithful and brave members of the Gikuyu and Mumbi [analogues of Adam and Eve] Unity; may this same blood warn you that if you betray secrets or violate the oath, our members will come and cut you into pieces at the joints marked by this blood.’” Before Mau Mau, one gets the impression that Walcott was not so torn between Africa and Britain; he may have viewed British
Topics for Further Study
- The phrase “far cry” from the title of Walcott’s poem has several possible meanings. Try to identify them all.
- Research the history of various countries in Africa, focusing on colonial rule and the quest for independence. Discuss how circumstances have changed for these countries in the post-colonial era.
- Have a discussion about the cultural heritage of class members. If possible, make family trees.
colonialism as arrogant, ignorant, and cruel, and Africa as victimized. But then, when Africans themselves turned violent, Walcott was torn and could not so easily side with Africans against the British.
There are many clashes in this poem. The first image signalling conflict is the hint of a storm brewing in the opening lines where Kikuyu flies feed upon the land and maggots upon dead Mau Mau. Here is the first of several culture clashes: pro-Mau Mau pitted against anti-Mau Mau Kikuyu. And within this, a subconflict also exists between those Kikuyu believing that the rights of the individual (“these separate dead”) do not necessarily violate those of the group and those convinced that individual rights do violate group rights (the Mau Mau philosophy). In lines six through ten, there is also the clash between the culture of those outside the uprising and those killed by it, outsiders (“scholars”) with the luxury of judging the conflict, and insiders (victims) for whom no explanation is sufficient. There are also the outsiders of stanza three, surmising that the conflict is not worth their compassion or involvement, a position against which victims would vehemently argue.
Within the poet, all of these exterior clashes also rage. Walcott is pro-African and pro-Kikuyu but anti-Mau Mau, is pro-English (as in culture and language) but anti-British (as in colonialism), an outsider to the conflict, but an insider in the sense that within his body exist both English and African blood. These conflicts yield up the main confrontation of the poem, that between Mau Mau and the British, and the conflict within the poet about which side to take. Walcott is, then, completely conflicted: while both an outsider and insider he is ultimately unable to be either. While both British and African, he is unable to sympathize with either. While both pro-revolutionary and anti-violent, he cannot defend the uprising or completely condemn it. Still, he feels he must face these clashes, rather than wish or rationalize them away. From the cultural clash on the continent of Africa, the poem moves to the battlefield within the poet—a place less violent but more complex, since Walcott is, at the same time, on both sides and neither side.
“A Far Cry from Africa” contains four stanzas of mostly iambic tetrameter. Actually, the poem starts off in iambic pentameter, the prevalent form of poetry written in English, but it soon veers off course metrically—a change that reflects the changing scene and perspective in the poem—with lines of varying length and number of stresses. A point of consistency is Walcott’s use of masculine endings (lines ending with accented syllables) and masculine rhymes (one syllable rhymes). Rhyme is as irregular as meter. The rhyme scheme of the first stanza might be rendered ababbcdecd or ababbaccad. On the other hand, both of these schemes leave out the related sounds in “Jews,” “flies,” “seize,” and “policy” that give this stanza two basic end sounds upon which lesser or greater variation occurs. The second stanza has its fourth and seventh lines rhyming and also lines five, ten, and eleven. In stanza three, the scheme is abba, but in stanza four there is only the rhyme of its sixth and eighth lines. In sum, then, a loose rhyme scheme for two stanzas is present, but none for the other two. Fluctuation between rhyme and non-rhyme, rhyme and near-rhyme, between iambic tetrameter and iambic pentameter lends itself, though loosely, to the poet’s own unresolved schism between Africa and Britain.
Most of the area of contemporary Kenya was made a suzerain by the Imperial British East African
Compare & Contrast
- 1958-64: This period of civil war in Africa’s largest country, Sudan, comes to an end in the October, 1964 revolution when a student is shot and killed. A general strike and protests bring down the military junta.
1999: CBS News reports that slavery is “alive and well in Sudan.” Islamic groups, taking only women and children of the Dinka tribe in raids, use them as sexual servants, housekeepers, and farmhands. Dinka slaves are sold for about $50, the price of a goat.
- 1962: The long, immensely expensive Ethiopian-Eritrean War (1962-1991) begins after Ethiopia cancels Eritrean autonomy within the Ethiopian-Eritrean federation, in effect since 1952.
January, 1999: Eritrean news reports that 243 Eritreans are rounded up, jailed, and deported from Ethiopia. To date 49,500 Eritreans have been deported from Ethiopia.
- 1962: Civil war begins in Rwanda (1962-63), as Tutsi military forces try to gain control of the new country after the majority Hutus had won control in free elections.
1998: In Rwanda, during the course of the year, 864 people are tried for the 1994 genocide in which between five hundred thousand and one million are slaughtered in the Hutu government’s attempt to wipe out the Tutsi minority. Civil war follows the 1994 genocide, and the Tutsi Rwandan Patriotic Front defeat the Rwandan military, which, with an estimated two million Hutus, flee Rwanda into neighboring countries.
Company in 1888. The British government then took over administration in 1895, calling the area a “protectorate.” White settlers started moving in, cutting down trees, and amassing estates (some of the largest were over 100,000 acres). The migration of both whites and Indians continued, unabated. The settler built roads and a railroad, and, over time, dispossessed a great many Kenyans— mostly Kikuyus—of their land. Once dispossessed, Kikuyus were forced, through tax, work, and identity-paper schemes—and by outright force—into employment, primarily as servants on white estates. To gain back self-government and their land, the Kikuyu Central Association sent representative Jomo Kenyatta to England in 1929. During the next sixteen years, Kenyatta tried unsuccessfully to convince England to alter its method of government in Kenya; he returned to his home country in September of 1946.
In 1947, Kenyatta became president of the Kenya African Union (KAU), a nationalist party demanding an end to the numerous injustices of white rule. These demands were met with British resistance or excuses. While Kikuyus at large were becoming increasingly angry at white rule, a militaristic wing emerged, The Kenya Land Freedom Army, from which the organization Mau Mau grew (origins of this term are unknown but most agree it began as a derogatory label of settlers). On August 4, 1950, Mau Mau was declared illegal, even though the government knew little about it except that militant Kikuyus were winning over, coercing, or forcing other Kikuyus to take an oath against foreign rule. Then, on October 20, 1952, after Mau Mau killings of European cattle and the execution of a Kikuyu chief loyal to the British, a state of emergency was declared and an order sent out for the arrest of 183 people. Kenyatta was one of those arrested and, after a trial, was incarcerated for masterminding Mau Mau. Though this charge was never confirmed, he was imprisoned for seven years.
While fearful whites collected guns to protect their lives and property, the first Kikuyu murder of a white settler occurred a week after the emergency: the settler was hacked to death with a machete-like tool, a panga. Some thirteen thousand people and untold animals were to be killed in the Mau Mau anticolonial struggle, most of them Kikuyus. By 1953, the guerilla fighting force of Mau Mau had largely been defeated, and by 1956, the fighting had mostly stopped; the unequal political, economic, and social conditions leading to Mau Mau’s rise, however, were still in place. While the state of emergency continued, governmental reforms between 1953 and 1960 did attempt to appease further threats from Mau Mau. The state of emergency finally ended end in 1960, likely well after Walcott finished writing “A Far Cry from Africa.” Kenyatta was released from prison in 1961, Kenya gained its independence in 1963, and Kenyatta assumed the presidency in 1964, the same year Martin Luther King received the Nobel Peace Prize.
Walcott was most likely in the English-speaking Caribbean when he wrote “A Far Cry from Africa,” an area, like Kenya, under the domination of the British. It was not until the 1930s, at a time of Caribbean social unrest, that even political parties were allowed and universal suffrage introduced. The growth of nationalism and the effects of World War II led to increasing pressure from West Indians for Britain to loosen its grip. So, in 1958, a federation including most of the English-speaking Caribbean islands was formed to prepare for eventual independence. Increasing friction between the archipelago and Britain led to Trinidad and Tobago, as well as Jamaica, withdrawing from the federation and becoming independent in 1962. Walcott’s home island, St. Lucia, would not gain its independence until 1979, sixteen years after Kenya attained hers. During the period of greatest Mau Mau activity, Walcott was attending university in Jamaica. Until 1960, he spent most of his time teaching in West Indian schools and working in theater with his brother. It is likely that Walcott’s West Indian origins, linked back to part of his family’s original homeland in Africa, and the domination of both his country and Kenya by Britain spurred him to take special note of events in Kenya—events that at the time could have been a specter of a similar future for England’s Caribbean colonies.
When analyzing “A Far Cry from Africa,” most critics comment on the poem’s message and what it reveals about the poet, rather than the technical aspects of its creation. In an article titled “West Indies II: Walcott, Brathwaite, and Authenticity,” Bruce King remarks, “The poem is remarkable for its complexity of emotions” and that it “treats of the Mau Mau uprising in terms that mock the usual justifications for and criticisms of colonialism.” King notes that the narrator is stricken with “confused, irreconcilably opposed feelings: identification with black Africa, disgust with the killing of both white and black innocents, distrust of motives, love of the English language, and dislike of those who remain emotionally uninvolved.” In his article “Ambiguity Without a Crisis? Twin Traditions, The Individual and Community in Derek Walcott’s Essays,” Fred D’Aguiar also deals with the division at the heart of the poem: “Already there is the ambivalence which hints at synthesis at the heart of the proclaimed division, a wish to artificially expose long buried oppositions between ancestries in need of reconciliation if the artist—and his community—are to grow.” Though the poet seeks reconciliation, he does not appear to achieve it, which only accentuates his dilemma, a point Rei Terada makes in his Derek Walcott’s Poetry: “His often antholologized early poem ‘A Far Cry from Africa’ (1962), for example, places the poet ‘Between this Africa and the English tongue I love.’ Even in this poem, however, betweenness is not a solution, but an arduous problem. Even here, betweenness cannot adequately conceptualize the poet’s position, since betweenness doesn’t necessarily question the authenticity of the oppositions supposedly surrounding the poet.”
David Donnell, who teaches at the University of Toronto, has published seven books of poetry. His work is included in the Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry and his volume Settlement received Canada’s prestigious Governor General’s Award. In the following essay, Donnell analyzes “A Far Cry from Africa” as the poet’s personal credo.
A Credo in Isolation
Even the title itself of Derek Walcott’s lovely poem “A Far Cry from Africa” suggests that the author is writing about an African subject and doing so from a distance. It’s an apt title, to be sure; Walcott is of African descent but was born and raised in what we might call the southeast corner of the American sphere without in any way encroaching on West Indies’ independence. Writing from the beautiful island of St. Lucia, Walcott feels, as a well-educated and totally independent black West Indian, that he is indeed at some distance from Africa and the brutal atrocities of whites against blacks and blacks against whites that he has been reading about in Kenya, a large African state famous for its Veldt and for its extraordinary wildlife—giraffes, antelope, even rhinoceros.
The title “A Far Cry from Africa” may have a second meaning in addition to the obvious geographic and personal sense the author feels. The title also seems to say, “well, look, this is a far cry from the Africa that I have been reading about in descriptions of gorgeous fauna and flora and interesting village customs.” And a third level of meaning to the title (without pressing this point too much) is the idea of Walcott hearing the poem as a far cry coming all the way across thousands of miles of ocean—the same routes, perhaps, as the Dutch ships of the late seventeenth century—to land in his accepting ear on the island of St. Lucia. He hears the cry coming to him on the wind. He writes, in the first line of his poem, “A wind is ruffling the tawny pelt / Of Africa.” He has seen photographs of Kenya. He knows that light brown and yellow, of various shades, are two of the most prominent colors of this large African state; they are veldt colors, and there are lions out on the veldt.
“Kikuyu,” in the second line, is the only African word in the poem. The Kikuyu were a Kenya tribe who became Mau Mau fighters in a grass-roots effort to oust the British colonial administration of Kenya. Walcott, as if mesmerized, describes the Mau Mau fighters as moving with extraordinary speed—they know the geography of their country and they “Batten upon the bloodstreams of the veldt.” The use of the word batten is interesting; it generally means to fasten or secure a hatch on a ship. The upsurge of violence is justified in some ways perhaps, but what rivets Walcott’s attention, because he’s a well-educated man and a humanist, is given very simply in the following image, still from the powerful opening stanza: “Corpses are scattered through a paradise.” Walcott, born on St. Lucia, a lovely island with a fairly low economy, would like to believe that Africa is just as paradisial and peaceful as the West Indies.
Most of Walcott’s poems since the early 1960s have been written in very open but quite controlled language. “A Far Cry from Africa” is such a compressed and tightly structured poem that the author tends to cover the ground he wants to talk about point by point and sometimes with what we might call caricatures, or images verging on caricature. “Only the worm, colonel of carrion cries: / Waste no compassion on these separate dead!” He follows this surprising image with two very sharp lines about the foolishness of statistics and alleged political scholars who want to discuss fine points. And then he ends his powerful opening stanza by saying, “What is that to the white child hacked in bed?” Or to Kenyans, he says, who are being treated as if they were “expendable.” What appears to horrify Walcott partly in the case of Kenya is that the conflict and savagery taking place are happening on the basis of color; his reaction is almost Biblical in its unusually compressed and angry personal credo. At no time in this poem does he waste his time referring to any particular historical agreement. He sees the tragedy as essentially human tragedy, and the violence on both sides as essentially inhuman.
Walcott’s dilemma seems to be very much in synch with some of the participants in this poem. “Threshed out by beaters,” he says at the beginning of the second stanza. The poet has dealt with his initial horror at these events in Kenya and has outlined his initial focus on the general area of comment. He seems to see in this second stanza what he regards as the acceptable violence of nature or “natural law” as having been turned into a nightmare of unacceptable human violence based on color. “Beaters” on big game safaris in Africa are the men who beat the brush, sometimes singing or chanting as they do so, and flush out birds and animals for the hunt. Of course, in a lot of cases, beaters will flush out a variety of animals they hadn’t expected.
“A Far Cry from Africa” continues this meditation on the landscape of the Kenyan veldt by saying, “the long rushes break / In a white dust of ibises whose cries / Have wheeled since civilization’s dawn / From the parched river or beast-teeming plain.” Walcott’s image of Africa may strike some readers as a bit innocent, but it doesn’t seem to be in any way affected or insincere as he expresses himself in this personal credo. Quite the contrary; it seems idealistic and uplifting, although it does leave the reader—and perhaps Walcott as well—in the position of saying, “How can we prevent these outbreaks of violence?” Or, perhaps more specifically, “How can we be fair?” Should the United Nations have intervened on behalf of the Kenyans? This is a very intense and bitter poem—a lashing out at injustice and an attempt to formulate both some distance for the writer as well as a sense of his own eventual or fundamental juxtaposition to the uncomfortable and agonizing subject.
Anthropologists, both American and European, have published an enormous amount of material in the twentieth century on different questions of social personality, physicality, and to what degree many of our fundamental social responses—for example, defensiveness, lust, comfort, and pride— seem to have an animal basis. Walcott lashes out at both sides of the Kenyan situation from a position in which he strongly and intensely believes that human and animal are not only different but should be regarded at least as absolute opposites. He seems to know and be aware of the fact that they are not truly absolute opposites. But a large portion of the middle of this poem is Walcott’s expression of his coming to terms with human nature and the mixed good and bad, up and down, nature of history.
“A Far Cry from Africa” is such an agonizing and didactic personal poem, and such a tightly structured poem in which Walcott never relaxes and explains to the reader in casual asides that he himself is of African descent, that some readers may at first feel that the poem is more a comment on news of the day than it is a personal response, and a credo, and to some extent a partial deconstruction of his own credo. There is a weighing of different examples from the Kenyan upsurge in this poem, and the writer obviously wants to come out on top of his own material; he wants to see the argument in a perspective that makes some kind of sense, and he doesn’t want to get swallowed by his own feelings of anger and outrage at these events.
And so we have the “Kikuyu” and violence in Kenya, violence in a “paradise,” and we have “Statistics” that don’t mean anything and “scholars” who tend to throw their weight behind colonial policy. Walcott’s outrage is very just and even, perhaps by the standards of the late 1960s, restrained. And his sense of amazement and awe, and his desire to love the Africa he describes, surges at one point when he notes what is probably a fairly salient and typical detail of Kenya, how “the long rushes break / In a white dust of ibises whose cries / Have wheeled since civilization’s dawn ....”
Of course the African continent is nothing if not enormous. The range of geography and of fauna and flora seem to be extraordinary. Different cultures are in different kinds of motion in various parts of the continent. The north of Africa contains some of the old Arabic civilizations of the eastern
What Do I Read Next?
- The anthology Modern African Poetry (1984), edited by Gerald Moore and Ulli Beier, includes poems by 64 poets from twenty-four African nations, including three poets from Kenya of the same generation as Walcott.
- Orientalism (1979) by Edward Said is a pioneering work in postcolonial studies. Although it mostly centers on the Muslim world (including north Africa), the book is a must for the student wanting to understand the roots of Western imperialism as its ideas were disseminated through intellectual practice.
- Ella Shohat and Robert Stam’s Unthinking Eurocentrism (1994), a text of multicultural media studies, links the often separated studies of race and identity politics on the one hand, and on the other, third-world nationalism and (post)colonial discourses.
- Gayatry Chakravorty Spivak’s The Post-Colonial Critic: Interviews, Strategies, and Dialogues (1990) speaks to questions of representation and self-representation, the situations of postcolonial critics, pedagogical responsibility, and political strategies.
half of our world, including Libya, which is across the Mediterranean from Italy, and Egypt, where historical records show at least one or more black African Pharaohs before the period of time described in the Bible’s New Testament. Walcott may or may not be interested in these ideas; he may or may not have visited Africa at some time. We have to concentrate on the poem and on what happens in the poem. How does he develop his sense of weighing these different negative facts of violence in a paradise of ibises and different cultures?
Walcott could be a little more informative in this poem. For example, he could allude to some of the newspaper reports that he’s been reading; he could mention a particular town in Kenya, or a local hero. Even though he identifies Kenya and the
“What appears to horrify Walcott partly in the case of Kenya is that the conflict and savagery taking place are happening on the basis of color; his reaction is almost Biblical in its unusually compressed and angry personal credo.”
great veldt and begins with a powerful opening line that sets the tone and motion for the whole poem (“A wind is ruffling the tawny pelt / Of Africa”), he still wants this poem to be timeless and to apply to other situations in different parts of the world. Near the end of the poem, however, having accomplished his first objective, the charting of the Kenya upsurge and his own humanistic denunciation of brutality, Walcott does come into “A Far Cry from Africa”—and he does so very dramatically.
Perhaps the most brutal and categorical movement in the whole poem occurs after that lovely image of the “ibises” wheeling in historical patterns since “civilization’s dawn.” Frustrated with every aspect of this brutal color war in Kenya, Walcott comes up with an image that more or less generalizes the history of English, European, and African wars: “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.” In this powerful image, coming to the penultimate point of the poem, Walcott says basically that everybody dances, everybody gets emotionally intoxicated with the egoism of taking sides, everybody in that kind of situation is listening to a drumbeat of some kind or another. “Brutish necessity,” he calls it, comparing the Kenyan fighters to the revolutionaries in Spain: “A waste of our compassion, as with Spain / The gorilla wrestles with the superman.” At this point, Walcott seems to have spoken out on the issue, identified the problem, and to some degree disposed of the whole subject.
But there is more to “A Far Cry from Africa” than what we have read so far. There is, as a matter of fact, the very fulcrum of his being so involved and so intense about the subject in the first place: not just humanistic anger, but also a very personal outrage. “I who am poisoned with the blood of both, / Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?” he says as a beginning to the last stanza. Born and raised in St. Lucia, educated in the British system, and an omnivorous reader by the time he was in high school, Walcott is very much a citizen of the world. Quite a well-known poet by the time he was in his twenties, Walcott had, by the time he wrote “A Far Cry from Africa,” spent considerable time in Trinidad, working on different theater projects, and he had also been exhibited as a talented painter.
One of the most moving aspects of this poem, once the reader accepts the very terse, basic, logical arguments regarding the struggle in Kenya, is the general image of the poet/author at the end of the poem. He has no choice but to watch both sides rather sadly continue their violence against each other. But he ends this powerful polemic with six devastating lines: “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?” And of course, Walcott has never turned from Africa or gone to live there. He has continued writing and publishing and has, since the 1980s, become famous all over again for an enormous book-long Homeric poem about the islands, the Caribbean, the Mediterranean, and the coming together of a multiple of cultural convergences.
Source: David Donnell, in an essay for Poetry for Students, The Gale Group, 1999.
Jhan Hochman, who holds a Ph.D in English and an M.A. in cinema studies, is the author of Green Cultural Studies: Nature in Film, Novel, and Theory (1998). In the following essay Hochman examines the role of animality in “A Far from Africa.”
When most of us think of Africa, one of the first things that comes to mind are the animals—lions, elephants, zebras, giraffes, rhinos, hyenas, etc. And although the issues of Walcott’s “A Far Cry from Africa” are cultural—are concerned with people—animals materialize throughout the poem in generally two ways. As kinds, such as flies and ibises, animals are compared similarly to particular groups of people. But as a kingdom, as in “animal kingdom,” animals are largely contrasted to humankind, even though Walcott does acknowledge a shared animality.
The opening image of “A Far Cry from Africa” is “A wind ... ruffling the tawny pelt / Of Africa.” A pelt, in this case, most likely refers to the furry or hairy skin of an animal, such as a wild cat, dog, or antelope. Not only is the continent of Africa associated with animals in Walcott’s poem, but it is represented as an animal. The specific topography referred to is the “veldt,” a Dutch Afrikaans word meaning field or a flat grassland or prairie with few or no trees. Within this landscape are (as one might expect to find around large animals) insects, specifically flies. The flies Walcott mentions, however, are not really flies, but metaphors for the Kikuyu, a tribal people of Kenya living in the region long before Europeans arrived. This is a controversial metaphor, indeed: likening African tribal people to pesty insects sucking the blood out of Africa.
The metaphor of the Kikuyu as flies is developed further. As flies lay eggs that turn into maggots (Walcott’s “worms”), the Kikuyu also brought forth something considered unappealing by Walcott: Mau Mau, a secret terrorist organization. The Kikuyu were an influential people whose economy revolved around agriculture. Their land was increasingly taken by white “settlers” when Britain, in 1895, turned what is now The Republic of Kenya into the East African Protectorate. The Kikuyu were forced off their land and into servitude. Kikuyu anger over this predicament increased and reached its peak with the Mau Mau Uprising against the British regime. Mau Mau began as a militant faction of the Kikuyu, the Kenya Land Freedom Army, and became a secret society bent on expelling the British from Kenya. From 1952 to 1956, it engaged in a bloody terrorist campaign; Mau Mau was infamous for its hackings and mutilations of whites, animals owned by whites, and Kikuyus who refused to join Mau Mau or who collaborated with the British. (Though the British defeated Mau Mau, the country of Kenya earned its independence in 1963 from colonial rule.)
It was reports of this violence that reached other parts of the world and must have appalled Walcott to the extent that he compared Mau Mau to maggots eating away at a field of corpses. One might infer here that Walcott is not just appalled, but ashamed at Mau Mau because he is, himself, part African. His problem is that Mau Mau might synecdochically (in a substitution of part for whole) become all Africans, even all black peoples. Mau Mau became so infamous that it was used as a verb in American slang; “to Mau Mau,” meant to threaten or terrorize. In comparing Mau Mau to maggots, Walcott is distancing himself from Mau Mau and against the synecdoche, Mau Mau equals all black peoples.
The second stanza begins with ibises, large birds related to herons and storks. The ibis was a favorite animal of the ancient Egyptians, becoming not only the incarnation of the god Thoth—patron of astronomers, scribes, magicians, healers, and enchanters—but a bird whose appearance heralded the flooding Nile, the season of fertility. In this stanza, (white) ibises are apparently being hunted by black Africans, which could be read as a metaphor of black Mau Maus “hunting” white estate owners and farmers. Some reading this poem are apt to synecdochically understand the white ibis, intuitively or intellectually, as a good symbol. Once the association is made, whites hunted by Mau Mau can seem blameless, guiltless, and good. Further, calling white ibises inhabitants of Africa since “civilization’s dawn,” makes it seem as if whites resided in Africa even before the Kikuyu. While the metaphor of “ibis equals white person” may work with the thrust of the poem, it is far too positive an image to represent the whites who took Kenya away from Kenyans.
The third stanza may be read as two comments made by an outsider to the Kenyan conflict that justify complacency. The word “brutish” comes from the Latin brutus, meaning heavy, inert, and stupid; it most commonly refers to beasts. Walcott’s outsiders to the uprising complacently remark that nothing is to be done since Africans are possessed by “brutish necessity” to wipe their bloody hands upon “napkins of a dirty cause.” “Napkins” indicate a civilized nicety, and the “dirty cause” of the British is known as the “white man’s burden“—the purported altruistic duty of white people to “civilize” black people. The other comment in this same stanza made by outsiders about the Mau Mau Uprising is: “The gorilla wrestles with the superman.” The “gorilla” represents black Africans and the “superman,” white Brits. Walcott’s outsider considers both sides of the conflict reprehensible: that Africans, like gorillas, are not civilized, and that Brits, like Nietzsche’s overweening superman, are too civilized—so arrogant as to think it their destiny to rule the nonwhite world. The speaker of this section apparently wants nothing to do with Africans, Mau Mau, or imperialism. Walcott is disgusted by both views put forth in this stanza, not only because they are distasteful, but because he cannot so easily remove himself from the conflict since he is “poisoned with the blood of both.”
Walcott, or the persona of the outsider, has compared people to animals, but, in the second stanza, animals are contrasted with people:
The violence of beast on beast is read
As natural law, but upright man
Seeks his divinity by inflicting pain
The “is read” makes the speaker seem just barely willing to go along with the thrust of the first statement. He does seem, however, in agreement with the second idea—that man does indeed seek “his divinity by inflicting pain.” With these two thoughts, beasts come out better than “upright man” since animals do what they must do, and do not seek divinity through inflicting pain.
Although Walcott never solves—within the poem—his problem of loyalty, one thing does look clear-cut: Walcott believes that humans, unlike animals, have no excuse, no attractive rationale, for murdering noncombatants in the Kenyan conflict. While we cannot be sure if Walcott, at this point in his life, was a pacifist, he does make plain in “A Far Cry from Africa” that whatever the rightness of the Mau Mau cause, its mode of operation was shameful. We geographical outsiders might be apt to agree. Still, Mau Mau’s swift, rude terror would better represented if juxtaposed against the knawing, polite oppression of British imperialism. Unfortunately, Walcott only briefly mentions the vivid extremity of British practice (“The drunken officer of British rule” and “dirty cause” do not do justice to the extent of British injustice), making it far easier to condemn Mau Mau. Walcott’s dilemma (and ours) might have been more righteously difficult had the poem added a few stanzas condemning the British. Instead, Walcott displaces a political situation in which large numbers of people suffered and died to the “action” inside himself—personal shame and confusion. In the process of shaming Mau Mau by claiming its members do not even measure up to animals, both Mau Mau and animals are demeaned. At the end of “A Far Cry from Africa,” Walcott appears as torn about his identity as both animal and human as his identity as both African and European.
Source: Jhan Hochman, in an essay for Poetry for Students, The Gale Group, 1999.
Aviya Kushner, who is the poetry editor for Neworld Renaissance Magazine, earned an M.A. in creative writing from Boston University, where she studied under Derek Walcott, among others. In the following essay, Kushner analyzes “A Far Cry from Africa” as the speaker’s quest self-description.
Island boy. That’s how Nobel Prize-winning poet Derek Walcott often describes himself, in both his poems and his conversation. However, that simple self-portrait can be misleading. At best, it’s only part of the story of a man whose wanderings have produced rich, skillful, multilayered poems that draw on the poetic tradition of many nations, ranging from modern England, Russia, and Spain to ancient Greece.
Of course, the island bit has some truth to it. Walcott is a major English-language writer who was born—and still lives, for part of the year—in the multilingual Caribbean. His accent and warm manners are from the tiny, tourist-attracting island of St. Lucia, but his heroes in both his reading and writing have taken him far past the sunny, postcard blue-and-green Caribbean landscape. Walcott’s historical conscience also extends far past the island’s borders, and his readers live all over the world.
Walcott is so admired in England that he was mentioned in leading newspapers as a possible candidate for the position of Poet Laureate when Ted Hughes died. For a son of the colonies, being named England’s chief poet would certainly be an impressive turn of events. But that irony of personal success amid his native country’s history as a conquered land has not been lost on Walcott. His precarious perch between two cultures has become a key subject for him.
In fact, this lifelong conflict between his tiny native island and the wider world, between his love of English and his knowledge that it is the colonizer’s tongue and the oppressor’s language—and thus part of its power—is a factor in the depth and strength of Walcott’s poems.
Many poems are built on ambivalence, and “A Far Cry from Africa” is an example of how a masterful poet can mold ambivalence into art. In this poem, Walcott extends his ambivalence about the English language and the heritage it bears to everything—meter, subject matter, and even the choice of English as a language to write in. While the poem starts off in the iambic pentameter Walcott has mastered—the bread and butter of poetry in English—the poem soon veers course metrically, just as it changes place, perspective, and point of view. Like ownership of countries and empires, everything here is subject to change.
Much of the poem can be read in more than one way, starting with the title. At first glance, if “a far cry” is read as “a subject far removed from daily reality,” “A Far Cry from Africa” is a title that might apply to most of Walcott’s work. With a few exceptions, he is not influenced by the sound or tradition of Africa, but rather the titans of Western poetry. Personally close to Russian-born Joseph Brodsky and Canadian-born Mark Strand, a deep admirer of Britons Edward Thomas and W. H. Auden and Russian poet Marina Tsvetaeva, Walcott frequently writes homages to his favorite writers. African writers, however, rarely figure among Walcott’s models.
But the “far cry” of the title can also be taken literally, as simply a cry from a far place. This is supported by the poem’s opening lines, which detail human misery and the cries that must come with it. The phrase then leads into a questioning of colonization and the pain it has brought. The poem subsequently details a deep, personal division that is paralleled by the double meanings of the title and much of the poem. As the poem progresses, it questions itself, and it ends in a series of questions.
This division mirrors the speaker’s feelings about Britain’s colonization of so many countries. Despite the violence, Walcott the poet cannot fully condemn the colonizers because he has taken so much from them. His vocation—English—comes from the colonizer, and yet, as a moral human being, he feels he must condemn colonization.
Naturally, this produces an inner division. By the final passages, the rumbling references to a divided self have reached a shriek. This division is the heart of the poem, but it is only clear at the end. Therefore, all of the stanzas fall more easily into place if they are read as steps to the crucial line in the last stanza: “I who am poisoned with the blood of both / Where should I turn, divided to the vein?”
Now it makes sense to return to the beginning. Every word in the poem is part of the step-by-step march to that deafening moment of self-division at the end. The poem starts with a personification of the entire continent, and this speaker-Africa parallel continues to some extent throughout. For a poem that moves to the grandiose, its first step looks modest: “A wind is ruffling the tawny pelt / Of Africa.” But like Walcott’s characterization of himself as merely “a man who loved islands,” this first line is misleadingly simple. A trip to the dictionary is one way to uncover the layers of the poem.
... “A Far Cry from Africa’ is an example of how a masterful poet can mold ambivalence into art.”
The word “pelt” is normally defined as the skin of an animal (with fur or hair still on it), and so the opening line compares the continent to an animal, with “tawny pelt” possibly evoking the color of the African desert. But there’s more. “Pelt” can also be human skin, and here, the wind is ruffling the pelt of a person. What seems modest is actually horribly frightening. Finally, “pelt” as a verb means “to strike,” an image that begins a few lines later.
In the second line, the pace quickens. “Kikuyu, quick as flies, / Batten upon the bloodstreams of the veldt.” After the confident iambics of the first line and a half (trademark Walcott), the poem draws on alliteration, forsaking meter as primary device for other poetic tools. The alliteration of “Kikuyu/quick” and “batten/bloodstreams” physically speeds up the poem; the action parallels the sound. Kikuyu are indigenous African people, and here they are rushing to feed upon the streams of blood in the level grassland of the continent. In this landscape, people feed off people. This is a ghastly paradise, populated with scattered corpses.
Amid all of the hubbub, the smallest of creatures—the worm—wily and slinky, loudly warns those who would be compassionate. Walcott injects some humor into the gruesome scene, with the characterization “colonel of carrion” depicting the worm as king of those who prey on flesh. Suddenly, Walcott takes us out of this frightening, jumbled-up world and anchors it in “statistics” and “scholars” who try to justify colonial policy. Once again using alliteration to point to a turn in the poem, the speaker puts the spotlight on those who write and think but don’t really look at a hacked child or a dead savage rotting in the desert.
The reference to “statistics” and “scholars” borrows from W. H. Auden’s famous poem “The Fall of Rome,” in which an “unimportant clerk” writes “I DO NOT LIKE MY WORK” on a pink official form. Here, too, Walcott mixes the fall of an empire with a humorous jab at bureaucrats and their statistics.
Apart from that slight tangent for some humor, stanza one sticks to its mission—to set a scene. It also shows off some poetic gymnastics, pushing alliteration and rhyme as far as they can go. Slant rhymes such as “pelt/veldt” and “flies/paradise” share space with conventional rhymes such as “bed/dead.” Most important in its role of scene-setting, the first stanza ends with questions, which are integral to this poem. Just as the title proclaims “A Far Cry from Africa” and then the first line proceeds to set a scene in Africa, the questions announce that the poem will offer a far cry from answers. This is a poem about far cries, about divisions of the self, a gulf as wide as a continent—all contained within one man.
While the first two lines of stanza one were all iambs, for a lulling, ta-tum sound, the second stanza begins quite differently. Instead of a light ruffling, there is the loud “Threshed by beaters, the long rushes break.” The plants that are used for mats or furniture bottoms are literally broken by beaters, which are revolving cylinders that chop up stalks or brush. “Beaters” also recalls “to beat” or “to conquer,” a major theme of the poem. This technique of a noun that also resonates as a verb was seen earlier with the word “pelt.”
Once again, as in the first stanza, sound is king. “Threshed” is a single, forceful syllable, placing a clear stress on the stanza’s first word. “Rush” and “break” reinforce the sensation of power and violence. The speaker is getting ready to roll out some grand ideas, with that kind of drumbeat sound. And so “have wheeled since civilization’s dawn” does not come as a huge surprise. The phrase “civilization’s dawn” lets the poem shift from a scene in Africa to a rumination on the world itself—to the history of man.
“Civilization’s dawn” also recalls the Bible’s book of Genesis, which is why the poem’s quiet opening followed by loud, active rumbling seems so familiar. In the next few lines, Walcott takes that opening image of paradise marred by violence coupled with a personal conflict and expands it into a tale of humanity—a sorry story repeated throughout human history:
The violence of beast upon beast is read
As natural law, but upright man
Seeks his divinity by inflicting pain
While English naturalist Charles Darwin may have proclaimed survival of the fittest as natural law, and while in the creation story God may have granted animals to men to eat, the speaker here sees man as a conqueror attempting to mimic God. According to the Biblical story, God has power over all things, including, of course, the power to give life. Man can be God-like by literally lording power over his fellow man. The speaker here questions the wisdom of having mere people possess so much power over their fellow men.
The next stanza begins with another shake to the reader and another powerhouse image—“brutish necessity” wiping its hands “upon the napkin of a dirty cause.” The word “Again” signals the stanza will continue what the other stanzas have done. As we have seen, each stanza’s first few words are crucial to the poem’s overall structure, and this stanza is no exception.
“Again” means that this story has happened many times over, and the repetitive questions at the end reinforce the feeling of a cycle. These are questions the speaker has asked himself many times before. This is a story of conquest and divided loyalties that snakes back to the Bible, and later, to the great empires that rose and fell and figure so prominently in Walcott’s work. Here, for example, Walcott deliberately alludes to the Bible and mentions Spain. (“A waste of our compassion, as with Spain ...”) Finally, like the earliest Greek epic poets, Walcott is fascinated by senseless brutality of man over man and how even great humans are tripped up by their simple human nature.
These grand ideas should not distract from the tools of poetry that are used here, since they point to meaning. The careful rhyme throughout the poem is especially important as the ending nears. The “flies/paradise” lines that came early on have already focused a spotlight on line endings, and the last few create an interesting juxtaposition of “live” and “love.” The speaker seems to be realizing that how he lives and what he loves are not compatible. Though his elegant, Westernized lines that draw on the classical epic and lyric traditions are indeed “a far cry from Africa,” Walcott nevertheless realizes that his life—what makes him live—is wider than the Western canon. He must address those close to him who are struggling to live. He cannot turn from Africa, despite all the years, the accolades, and the devotion to its oppressors’ tongue.
And so, in this poem that evokes a continent, a world, and an entire history of the world in four stanzas, the speaker faces Africa and uses its desert and its violence as a means of looking at himself. The only conclusions he reaches, though, are a series of questions. All of the violence and self-division reach an intense pitch with those final questions:
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?
Fittingly, the poem ends in the word “live.” For this speaker, questioning and living are one and the same. Forming questions into art—in perfectly controlled lines, displaying all of poetry’s power— is how this poet approaches a crisis of identity. Somehow, a speaker nearly ripped apart by inner conflict produces a poem that races up and down but, in the end, seems overwhelmingly whole. Despite the questions, the mission of self-description within the context of history is accomplished.
Source: Aviya Kushner, in an essay for Poetry for Students, The Gale Group, 1999.
Brown, Stewart, ed., The Art of Derek Walcott, Mid Glamorgan, Wales: Seren Books, 1991.
D’Aguiar, Fred, “Ambiguity Without a Crisis? Twin Traditions, The Individual and Community in Derek Walcott’s Essays,” The Art of Derek Walcott, edited by Stewart Brown, Mid Glamorgan, Wales: Seren Books, 1991, pp.157-70.
Delf, George, Jomo Kenyatta: Towards the Light of Truth, Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1961.
Hamner, Robert D., Derek Walcott, New York: Twayne, 1993.
Hamner, Robert, D., ed., Critical Perspectives on Derek Walcott, Washington, D.C.: Three Continents, 1993.
King, Bruce, “West Indies II: Walcott, Brathwaite, and Authenticity,” The New English Literatures: Cultural Nationalism in a Changing World, New York: St. Martins, 1980, pp. 118-39.
Terada, Rei, Derek Walcott’s Poetry, Boston: Northeastern University Press, 1992.
Baer, William, ed., Conversations with Derek Walcott, Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996.
This text contains eighteen interviews spanning the period from 1966 to 1993. Also included is a good bio-chronology of Walcott’s life.
Grant, Nellie, Nellie’s Story, New York: William Morrow, 1981.
For those wanting a firsthand account of what it was like to be a white farmer in Kenya during the period of 1933 to 1977, this is a valuable text.
Huxley, Elspeth, compiler, Nine Faces of Kenya, New York: Viking, 1991.
For firsthand accounts by both blacks and whites who lived in Kenya during Mau Mau, this is an excellent source. The book is divided into themes: Exploration, Travel, Settlers, Wars, Environment, Wildlife, Hunting, Lifestyles, Legend, and Poetry.
Walcott, Derek, Collected Poems: 1948-1984, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1986.
This collection contains “A Far Cry from Africa” and 135 other poems, from Walcott’s first major book, In a Green Night, to Midsummer.