OMEROS:BOOK FIVE

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Book Five (Chapters XXXVII-XLIII)

Chapter XXXVII

Part One: The journey from Port of Spain to Lisbon is described in this section. In the first stanza it says “I crossed my meridian” (189) referring to traveling from the Mediterranean to Portugal. It refers to Lisbon as the “mud-caked settlement founded by Ulysses” (189). It talks about the resettling “in the courtyard under the olives” (189) and begins to personify Sunday. The clouds muffle the sound of church bells, and Sunday becomes a “cream suit, with a gray horned moustache” (189). Sunday turns into another day of work, where the people curse at one another and tease sailors about their sea-sickness, “folded over the hulls" (190).

Part Two: This section depicts the arrival on the shore of Portugal. The smells of the spices being exported are present on the wharf, the routes of which are an “unchanging pattern” (191). The poet-narrator stands on the wharf where his shadow is forked and decides he is not like the pilgrims who arrived there before him. He is like the corn that arrived from another coast: an import. He reflects on being chained to other slaves and being sold in a yard. His shadow precedes him, as though it knew the light and the port in Europe where other slaves were bond and sold as well.

Part Three: This section beings with a bronze statue of a horseman on the wharf. The poet-narrator reflects on the statue, saying that there weren't statues like that "above our colonial wharves" (192). Nor did horses trample the Earth in order to recapture the port of Genoa. The narrator dwells on history: "For those to whom history is the presence/ of ruins, there is a green nothing" (192) and that it is "better forgotten than fixed with stony regret" (192). He describes the fluttering pennons and silvery cuirasses of men riding underneath the Roman aqueducts. The men come to offer gifts of Indians and slaves and when they leave the people are left mournful, "their heads hanging like rosaries,/ as shawled fado singers sob in turn to their mandolins" (193).

Glossary:

Port of Spain: the capital of Trinidad and Tobago

Lisbon: capital and largest city of Portugal

Meridian: an imaginary arc on the Earth’s surface from the North Pole to the South Pole that connects all locations running along it with a given longitude.

Flotilla: From Spanish meaning a flota of small ships. A formation of small warships that may be part of a larger fleet.

Fado: Portuguese music genre characterized by mournful tunes and lyrics, often about the sea or the life of the poor.

Chapter XXXVIII

Part I- This section describes the man Walcott sees emerging from the subway with vivid nautical analogies "the winch of his voice,"[193] and "barges of different shoes."[193] He is ragged and hunched over like a typical homeless man. He has mismatched shoes on, and a bottle of booze, "clutching in one scrufulous claw his brown paper manuscript."[193] He ends his journey at St. Martin-in-the-Fields church. The man lays down in the sun, with his hands folded across the booze on his chest. This was Omeros. A deacon, "a raging sparrow of a church-warden,"[194] comes out of the church and picks at the bum until he leaves the church heading back toward the shore. The deacon is satisfied and returns to the church.

Part II- The bargeman stops at the Embankment wall and looks out over London and the Thames. He can see the underlying filth of this great city from his spot. Underneath all the glory of the city there were signs of filth that represented the horrors the people of the city used to create the city. The remnants of slavery haunted the city, but it appeared only someone who was part of the history of slavery could see, or rather, couldn't ignore. The bargeman can speak English, but when he does, he chooses only to mutter. The beauty of the city hides the scars of colonialism with tourism, yet with his view from the underbelly, the bargeman is not fooled.

Part III- This section attacks the colonial power and the hidden abuses caused by colonialism, “barges chained like our islands to the Thames.”[196] This image invokes thoughts of slavery, and how nonsensical it is that islands be controlled by another island thousands of miles away. He identifies aspects of social life, culture, and industry, all of which are controlled by the British Empire, “In the City that can buy and sell us the packets of tea stirred with our crystals of sweat.”[197] He compares the colonized speaking against the colonizer to the annoying sparrow pecking at the royal swan. He ends less than optimistically: “Dark future down darker street.”[197]

Analysis This chapter follows an Omeros-esque character in London as he wanders the city streets with his bottle of booze and haggard clothes. His experience in front of the church is ironic in that the colonial power used religion to "brainwash" and control the behavior of their colonies, yet this man who needs shelter and/food is turned away. He then looks at the London skyline and comments on the filth beneath the fine veneer of the city. The city is a tourist attraction in itself but no one recognizes the contributions of slave labor and the colonies. They are simply a forgotten memory amid the "glory" of the motherland. He looks thoroughly at the many tactics used to subdue and exploit the colonies. Religion, industry, economy, language, education, all managed by England with no thought given to the needs of the citizens of the colony. Now, the horrors of colonialism are shadows beneath the towering London skyline.

Glossary

Charing Cross: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charing_Cross

St. Martin-in-the-Fields: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Martins-in-the-Fields

The Choleric Cleric: http://www.iht.com/articles/1992/04/14/sain.php

Soutane: A cassock.

Dromedary: This is an Arabian camel. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dromedary

Saris: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sari

The Serpentine: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serpentine_(lake)

Margate Sands: A city in Africa.

Chapter XXXIX

Part I The journey continues on into Ireland. Silence surrounds an abbey, and the silence journeys through the church and the city "to hear a brook talk the old language of Ireland" (198). Looking at Ireland, the narrator recognizes "the old shame of disenfranchisement" as he observes the torn country, split by religion and violence (199). There is a comparison of the scenery of Ireland to a religious service. The bargeman's focus is on different bodies of water. Then, his attention moves to a ruined abbey. He specifically says "from this abbey's ruin" (199) which could be referring to the physical as well as the spiritual ruin of the abbey. He shifts from the ruined abbey by saying that if one followed a rook, he/she would see a street where a hearse is waiting. He ends by saying that Ireland did not get "wiser as it got older," referring to the long-lasting tensions dividing the country(199).

Part II He continues to focus on nature images throughout this part as well. This section begins by talking about the land inherited by the Irish and how it contains "stones white-knuckled with hatred" (200). He then turns to an image of the moon "mounting the pulpit of" Sugar Loaf Mountain, again comparing nature to religion (200). He ends with the third image of a cloud hanging from a tree that is "like a shirt stained with poetry and with blood" (200). This is reminiscent of a man hanging "in the orange hour," a politically symbolic color in Ireland (200). This charred cypress tree is compared to Glen-da-Lough's tower.

Part III He leans against a mossy embankment, attempting to embody James Joyce, and then he sees Anna Livia, who is an Irish lesbian and a feminist writer, as well as a character in Joyce's Finnigan's Wake. He says she is the Muse of this "age's Omeros" (200), referring to Joyce as "the true tenor of the place." He wonders where his "gaunt, cane-twirling flaneur" (200) is (a flaneur is an idle man in a town). The narrator blesses himself in the flaneur's (Joyce's) voice and walks up wooden stairs to a restaurant. Someone is playing "There is a bower of roses by Bedemeer's stream" (201) which Maud Plunkett used to play. He sings softly along with the chorus. Then, he sees James Joyce and sees the chorus singing around the piano as the Dead. Maud has brought him from one island to another. He rubs a stone in his pocket that he got from the Martello that had brought Ulysses "to the copper-bright strand" (200). The Martello is a tower in Dublin and is the location for the opening scene in Ulysses. The details of the first scene of Ulysses can be found here, http://www.sparknotes.com/lit/ulysses/section1.html.

AnalysisThis visit to Ireland is meant to show the effects of colonialism in other parts of the world--in this case, the British Isles. There are many political references in this section, specifically about Ireland's divided past: the Loyalists against the Republic. Because this division was also a religious one (Protestants against Catholics, respectively), the chapter demonstrates how religion was used as a means of force in Ireland's history. "Which faith, in a nation / split by glottal scream, by a sparrow's chirrup, / where a prayer incised in a cross, a Celtic rune / could send the horse circling with empty stirrup / from a sniper's bolt?" (199). Just as the colonizer has divided people in St. Lucia, they have torn apart the population of Ireland. In section II, there is a reference to a cloud hanging from a branch "in the orange hour,/ like a shirt stained with blood" (200). The orange hour represents the Loyalist Protestant powers, and the hanging cloud represents a victim of the civil war. Finally, in section III, the narrator has an experience with James Joyce. Joyce wrote an epic novel based off of The Odysseyentitled Ulysses. Joyce is, in a way, Walcott's predecessor. By including Joyce in his own epic, Walcott acknowledges his own attempt at a journey story, yet also detaches himself from the legacy of Joyce.

Glossary

Curraghs: http://www.oldirishimages.com/irish%20life/curraghs/curraghs.html

Salver: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Salver

Sugar Loaf Mountain: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sugarloaf_Mountain,_Brazil

Liffey: http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9048209/River-Liffey

Anna Livia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anna_Livia_Julian_Brawn

Flanuer: the idle man around the town.

Howth: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Howth

Martello: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martello_tower

"yew": a shrub or an archery bow made from the shrub http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/yew

"Glendalough": Glendalough (Irish: Gleann Dá Loch, meaning "Glen of Two Lakes") is a glacial valley located in County Wicklow, Ireland http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Glendalough

Chapter XL

Part I The narrator is now in Turkey: "the mail-packet nibbling the Aegean coast" (201). It is calmed by its own ripples and clings to the branch like a butterfly. "The pillars, the lizard-crossed terraces on the ruined hills are as quiet as a sail" (202). Shawled women are in white villages leaning against the walls and remembering the "statues of alabaster manhood" (202).On the deck, Odysseus hears the hill music through the worm-holes of the mast. The sail clings to the olive branch: the war ship cling to the empire's history like a "a bride on her father's arm scared of her future" (202). Odysseus peels his skin like scrolls of parchment, scrolls of history and the crew are the bronzed statues that are detached from this unlayering of colonial history.They realize it is "feigned" and it is the heart that sounds like the galley-slaves' drums, reverberating the island's history.

Part II The galley-slaves curse "Calypso captain" for his treatment of them and the war and show no sympathy for his disintegrating history. They stop working and the ship is aimless. The war ship now faces back towards the island where "their hunched spines bristled and they foraged the middens of Circe" (203). The slaves tell him that if he wants to reach home, he should beg the wind to help him. His heart has been as hard as the mast of a slave or war ship while he dreams of his homeland and prays to his gods. "May they be as far apart from your wandering as ours in Africa"(203). They still haven't reached home. They return to rowing because they do not want to be lost at sea. They all have a fear of a house not meeting them on their own shore, until they see the lighthouse.

Part III This passage begins with a description of Instanbul's spires that are cloaked like "burnoosed Turks" (204) or the floating muck of Venice probed by a gondolier, a rower in a small boat or gondola."The honeyed twilight cupped in long, shadowed squares, the dripping dungeons" is compared with "cellos in concentration camps, with art next door to the ovens" (205). The vanity of the spires and bells pardon themselves, repeating that art and power are the same and the narrator challenges them to tell this to a slave who works on the outer edges of the empire, on the island of St. Lucia for example, and they have to have sheer will power to excuse the beauty of the art-"fountains of naiads and lions"- when it is built on their sweat and labor.

Overall ThoughtsPerhaps they are remembering the strength and grandeur of the empire. The war fought for St. Lucia has left ruins on the hills and they are as quiet as the sails of the ships that brought the empire to St. Lucia, or Helen. The women remembering the statues are perhaps remembering the strength and grandeur of the empire. the The silence implies a deceptive destruction. Like Circe's enemies, the slaves were taken to St. Lucia and transformed into animals.Now Odysseus hears the music of the island still penetrating through the colonizer's efforts to impose European culture upon the island.The colonial history is the bride afraid of the future because the empire has fallen and two histories exist and both attempt to usurp the other. The narrator finds the cities hard to bear because they hide their history of slavery and colonialism. The captain and crew, the colonizer and post-colonial subject, are afraid that they have been alienated from their homes and their identities and they realize they are dependent on each other to reach home. After so much displacement and violence, is the island their home? The Holocaust is used to illustrate the horror of beautifying a place like Istanbul or Venice that is somehow involved with the genocide and annihilation of a people, culture, and history.

Glossary

burnoose: cloak

Calypso: was a sea nymph and the daughter of the Titan god Atlas. She imprisoned Odysseus on her island Ogygia.

Circe: was a sea nymph/queen goddess who used magical potions to transform those that offended her into wild animals.

Chapter XLI

Part I:The narrator is now looking at U.S. history of slavery and comparing that build up of society to the Roman Empire where Greek slaves were given positions as “aesthetics instructors (206)”. But the new empire is the U.S. whose history has deep prejudice and neglect for the slaves. Slavery in the U.S. is often limited to “Southern towns and plantations (206)” but racism and discrimination occurred in the North where slaves fled and found persecution. This “shadow” of a past is still lingers in the present (206).

Part II: In this world there is still a presence of colonialism in the U.S. many Indians were sent from their land. The land of the Indians was destroyed by the colonizer “who changed the ground under the bare soles of a race (208)". They reaped the land of its trees and resources so “entire cultures/ lose the art of mimicry (208)” this was a method that Caesar started. The process of decolonization happened with the onset of WWI with “the shot heard around the world (208)”. But still these previously colonized lands hold the “empire's sin (208)” the freed race of the black man is still trapped by their past enslavement.

Part III: The story teller sees the reflection of colonialism looking at the water of Boston Harbor (209) and he can not separate himself from the slave history of the past. He wishes that colonialism could fade but he knows it cannot. He sees the sad truth that he has been given privilege and opportunity from the history of slavery “where the mouse-claw of the ivory grips, the grooved brick of colleges, while a yellow tractor/ breaks the Sabbath (209)”. He cannot take that benefit from himself like one cannot take the “sifting wit from the chaff, the thorn out of Thoreau/ the mess from Emerson(209)” The narrator uses his privilege and past of being a victim to colonialism to help him be witness to slavery “ to link me closer to them by that mental chain (210)”.


Analysis: The image of autumn is brought up through out this chapter. Part I looks at the “leaves on an autumn lake (207)” in Part II there is “the groan of the autumn wind (208).” The narrator is looking at the past of colonialism and wishing that that history would fade. That history could turn and fall. This chapter looks at the empire of the U.S. this land was built upon the oppression of slaves. The repercussions of colonialism still exist in the foundations standing today. The pain of slavery still persists today in our racism and discrimination.

Glossary: Athenian demos- common people of Greek state http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/demos

Solon- a skillful law giver or senator http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/solon

Chapter XLII

Part I. The section begins at sunrise with a Polish immigrant waitress pouring our poet-narrator a glass of coffee. He is captivated by her beauty and compares her bustling around the restaurant to an immigrants trials and tribulations. Her story resonates with that of much of the Caribbean as she and the islands have the same sort of displacement and dislocation in common. Her sad smile sends him thinking of her history; her country held under a “sagging regime” (211) that crushed her language, the scenes of her country through a train window as she departs, and then the immigration papers where her name never fits and her photo is taken. He thinks of the hope of a new life in a new country, Canada, and compares her to a birch tree in the snow as he attempts to read her name. He says that there are days when we do not approach the future “however simple” (212) it is, but instead “leave part of life in a lobby whose elevators divide and enclose us” (212) and we are caught in the past. He describes a window where there is an emptiness behind the curtains. Rather than seeing “fall in Toronto” (212) the curtains reveal the past of Poland, where the language of the people “was seized by its police” (212) and the waitress, Nina Something, as he calls her, was born into “that other servitude” (212). He then gives the last names of three famous Polish men: Zagajewski, Herbert and Miolsz.

Part II. The narrator describes the winter, leading up to seeing Catherine Weldon running. Winter is a desolate time that foreshadows the next section. It is November, "Sober month." Fall is finished and winter approaches, signs of the changing seasons apparent in the drizzling rain and the lights coming on at an earlier hour. The willows have not blackened yet. The sky is described as racing through the first snow “like a shaggy wolf” (212) with a rabbit caught in its maw as snow like flour blows past the “grey window” (212). The poet-narrator says he saw Catherine Weldon running in the wind.

Part III. This section begins to describe how the Native Americans were pushed aside by the encroaching settlers. “The ghost dance of winter was about to start” (213) refers not only to the onset of winter, but to the religious movement of the Native Americans as the fought to preserve their way of life. Snowflakes appear on the windows, the lake is frozen, “a lantern lit the wolf’s heart” (213), and the plants slumbered. The sun sets as a thunderhead rolls over the Great Plains, described like a Native American warrior “flour-faced, crow-bonneted” (213) but “wearily” (213) “carrying its own death inside it” (213). The storm will be its own end. A red god left with autumn and the early white winter, as the “red” (213) Indians were swept away by the white men who cut short their reign over the plains.

Analysis: The poet-narrator's contemplation of the immigrant waitress and her possible history initiates a chapter that deals with identity and displacement. The language of her country was enslaved as well as its people, but the three poets the poet-narrator lists at the end of the first section were all prominent figures in the decolonization of the language and through language, the people. The second and third parts of Chapter XLII and the first two parts of Chapter XLIII similarly deal with the enslavement and displacement of a people, but this time the people concerned are the Native Americans. The presence of the snow throughout the chapter evokes a desolate winter scene full of the color white, in contrast with the red of the Native Americans.

Glossary:

Adam Zagajewski: Polish poet, author and essayist. Known for exposing the “falsity of the official language” and leading the poetry movement of the “Generation of 1968.” Wikipedia entry.

Zbigniew Herbert: Polish author, poet, essayist and playwright. His poetry stresses the importance of humans and human dignity, but embodies a fatalistic tone in which humans are subject to fate. He was also a member of the Polish resistance movement during WWII.

Czeslaw Milosz: Won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1980. He was a Polish-American poet, author and translator. Wikipedia entry.

Catherine Weldon: A widow and artist from New York who joined the Native Americans in their fight against the encroaching frontier. She was the private secretary to Sitting Bull during the Ghost Dance movement, a religious revival amongst many Native American tribes that would eventually figure prominently at the massacre of Wounded Knee.

Ghost Dance movement: Religious movement among certain Native American peoples that eventually frightened the white frontier people. Wikipedia entry.

Chapter XLIII

Part I: The narrator describes the attack on the Native Americans participating in the Ghost Dance movement in this section. It was snowing on the Great Plains, graying Catherine Weldon’s hair. She remembers how a girl holding a snow globe had similarly turned a miniature world to whiteness. The Ghost Dance was assembling once more. Crows circled over their lands now. The snow is compared to “bits of another broken treaty in the wind” (214). Suddenly, it seems that the spear-like pines are too many and she hears rifle-fire and cannons. There is smoke and snow cloud, and the dead Sioux, Dakota and Crow warriors are softly covered with snow after the massacre of the Ghost Dance participants.

Part II: In an echo of Achille’s vision of the slaves being taken away, he watches men chained together being taken away by the cavalry. He “watched until they were a line of red ants” (215) and then moaned as the last of them disappeared. Then, just as Achille returned to the village, the narrator went down to the Indian camp from the Parkin farm to find a dog and a child left behind. Inside one tent, “white-eyed Omeros” (216) sits in perfect stillness. The narrator thinks he must be deaf as well as blind because he does not stir, but then Omeros lifts a rattle and makes a warlike sound. He goes back outside and wonders where the women and children are, then is confronted by a frozen Sioux warrior. The sight inspires thoughts of the war flags and the rattling sound they make. He hears a child’s cry, but never sees the child or dog. The narrator walks among the carnage “like a Helen among their dead warriors” (216).

Part III: The narrator wonders through the city, remembering the girl who spoke the name "Omeros" for him and trying to remember the place where she lived. He is caught up in his memories as he travels through an isolated winter similar to the one he imagined Catherine Weldon. The narrator states that he had no power to change the events that took place, but that he felt that if it had happened before it would happen again. Omeros speaks from the tent, telling of how the Ghost Dance united the tribes as they hurtled toward their fate, growing tired of fighting the “White Bear” (217). The narrator tells Catherine to look, to see that the fight is over, that she has been “saved” (217). But rather than rejoicing in her “rescue,” she grows weary as the world changes and spoils around her. She says that she loved snow once, but now she fears it. The entire scene is bleak white and grey, all frozen and cold. Again he wanders through an uninhabited city, waits for a trolley, and remembers another time when they had waited for one together. He rides, watching the houses, thinking he sees hers and then saying that it is not, whether or not he believes his own words.

Glossary:

Massacre at Wounded Knee: Description of the events at Wounded Knee with an eyewitness account

Chalet: a type of building or house in the Alpine region made of wood.

Lance: become a catchall for a variety of different pole weapons based on the spear.

Piebald: an animal, such as a horse or ball python, that has a spotting pattern of large unpigmented (sometimes expressed as white) areas.