Book One (Chapters I-XIII)
Part I. While smiling for tourists who are taking his picture, Philoctete* tells them (it seems) the story of the making of the fishermen’s canoes, and also, “for some extra silver,” shows them a scar on his leg made by a rusted anchor. Cutting down the tall cedars from which the canoes were made is described as a murder. An iguana—a significant figure since the island is said to have been originally called “Iounoaloa,” “where the iguana is found,”—witnesses the murder of the trees. The iguana’s gaze takes place “in a pause that lasted for centuries,/ that rose with the Aruac’s smoke till a new race/ unknown to the lizard stood measuring the trees.” The measuring and cutting down of the trees therefore marks the beginnings of colonialism: “These were their pillars that fell, leaving a blue space/ for a single God where the old gods stood before.” The image of the chainsaw killing the trees also indicates that the change taking place here is connected to technological change.
Part II. Achille is the central character in this part. He sees the hole left by a fallen tree. Was he part of the tree-felling crew? Unclear. The destruction of the trees is described as the destruction of a tribe: “The bearded elders endured the decimation/ of their tribe without uttering a syllable….” The poem goes on to describe the journey of the fallen trees—described as dead bodies—on a flat-bed truck; burning out hollows in the trees to form canoes; and a priest blessing the new canoes. The name or inscription on Achille’s canoe is In God We Troust. Achille knows it’s misspelled but says “Is God’ spelling and mine.”
Part III. Achille wakes up when it is still dark, locks his hut, and walks through the town “past sleep tight houses,” counting the stars. He hears the roosters “their cries screeching like red chalk drawing hills on a board,” He arrives at the concrete shed or depot where the canoes are stored. He is described as going to meet the surf; the surf is personified, compared to Achille’s teacher, thus connecting it with the roosters’ cries. The fisherman pass around a flask of absinthe (liquor), and get ready to begin their day.
Overall thoughts: On the surface, the poem is describing an everyday scene, but as it uncovers the history of the canoe, one senses that everyday experience is charged with meaning—with a past that haunts and shapes the feelings and perceptions of the characters. There is a sense, though this is not clear, that we are seeing the world through the eyes of Philoctete and Achille, not seeing them from the outside. At least one connection between Philoctete and his Greek namesake is revealed in this chapter, that is, that they both have festering wounds. Connections between Walcott’s Achille and Homer’s Achilles are not quite clear yet.
Philoctetes: “The son of Peoas, king of Meliboea, at the eastern coast of Thessaly. He was a close friend of Heracles, and he received the hero's bow and arrows when no other than he would light Heracles' funeral pyre. With seven ships Philoctetes sailed along in the expedition against Troy. When they stopped on the island Chryse to get supplies, he was bitten by a snake. The wound caused by the bite began to fester and produced such a horrible smell that the others could no bear it. On Odysseus' advice and at the order of the Atreidae, he was left behind on the island of Lemnos, where he spent ten long years in sufferance and loneliness. However, because an oracle had prophesied that Troy could not be taken without the aid of Heracles' never missing arrows, Odysseus and Neoptolemus were send back to Lemnos to fetch Philoctetes. When they returned at Troy, Philoctetes' wound was healed by Asclepius (or Machaon). By killing Paris, Philoctetes accelerated the downfall of Troy. According to some sources, he went to Italy on the return voyage from Troy, where he founded Brutti in Petelia (Strongoli). His person is the subject of tragedies by Aeschylus, Sophocles, and Euripides.” (Source: Micha F. Lindemans, www.pantheon.org/articles/p/philoctetes.html).
Achilles: Achilles’s story is quite involved: he is the hero of Homer’s Illiad. You can read more about him at www.pantheon.org
Gommier: This is both the name of a certain type of resinous tree (like eucalypus, etc); and it is the name for traditional canoes from the Antilles. This site has a picture of some half-finished gommiers from St. Lucia.
Here’s a complete gommier with its sail (more on this site about gommier construction, but all in Italian).
Here is a detail of a finished gommier with its name painted on it: Mefiez-vous des Amis—Beware of Friends.
Part I. Hector and a host of men launch their boats together, setting out to sea as they do every day. Going to the sea is like beginning a story, it allows a new tale to begin each time they embrace the sea. First they remove the dead leaves, and then they loose the “flour-sack sails” (9) as Hector makes a ceremonial thanks to the sea. Philoctete, described as having hair like the surf foam, is also in attendance. He bears a wound “like a radiant anemone” (9) that came from an anchor. He sees the canoes off before retreating to Ma Kilman’s shop where she provides him with white rum. He cannot join the other men because of the stench of his sore and the pain it causes him. Meanwhile, the pirogues set out with their various names evident. Hector hopes to return before the “conch-colored dusk low pelicans cross” (11).
Part II. The first time the reader encounters Seven Seas, his resemblace to Homer, or Omeros, is startlingly clear. Seven Seas wakes and sets his saucepan cooking. His actions are described in great detail, particularly in relation to the sounds they make. He sees “with his ears” (11) because he is blind. His dog waits outside while he considers the pirogues at sea and continues cooking. A disease had taken his sight, but his last vision was of the sunset. Now he moves “by a sixth sense” (12) because “his blindness was not the end” (12). “It was not a palm-tree’s dial on the noon sand” (12). In other words, it did not make him into nothing. Instead, he embraced his sixth sense and his hearing, using his body to feel the sunlight and his ears to hear the movements of the world around him. The imagery describing his surroundings is rich and vibrant like the image in his mind’s eye as he reconstructs a vision of his world through his other senses. His eyes are “egg-white” (12) from the blindness. The speaker is born, called forth by the sound of the sunrise’s breath. The speaker invokes Omeros and proceeds to speak of the island in terms of images from the Odyssey as well as the native landscape. He compares the lighthouse to the Cyclops and describes the sea as an atlas. Always appealing to Omeros, the speaker paints a vivid picture of the lighthouse hurling a boulder into the stars. Then he speaks of “a black fisherman” (13) studying the “opening line of our epic horizon” (13) and returns to the canoes, moving inward to the island and its harbor. It was the sound of the name, “Omeros,” (13) that initiated this sight of the island as an epic land. A girl has spoken the name, “Omeros” (13).
Part III. The narrator describes the way hearing a Greek girl say the name "Omeros" instead of Homer affected him. The deep, rich sounds of the name evoked all sorts of memories and connetions between the parts of the word, the sea, and the Caribbean. The girl who spoke the name says it once more, “O-meros” (14). She says that his name is such in Greek as she strokes a small bust. The narrator is reminded of Seven Seas. He jokes about how Homer and Virg are the names of farmers in New England and that the “winged horse guards their gas station” (14). When he says, “Omeros,” the “O” is the sound of a “conch-shell’s invocation” (14) while the “mer” was a play on the words for “mother” and “sea” and the “os” was the sound of a bone (14). The name and its hidden meanings stayed with him as he watched the girl, whom he calls Antigone, turn to say that she wanted to leave America to return to Greece. He describes her in terms of the sea and surf, her skirts like the ocean and the bust watching. Below the floor are memories of slavery, manacles and horrors. The speaker says that had the bust known of these things, it might have turned away “to do what the past always does: suffer, and stare” (15). The girl lays down and her face emerges from her black hair as he approaches her. She moans, her throat compared to a vase once more, and the speaker says that the sound is not for “kings floundering in lances of rain” (15) (Odysseus), but for “the prose of abrupt fisherman cursing over canoes” (15).
Overall Thoughts: Part I is the launching of the pirogues, the beginning of the journey. The reader finally sees the canoes reaching their element and the trees are at last vessels on the ocean. More information about Philoctete’s injury and his place in the community is provided, and now we know that he cannot join the other men as they set sail. In Part II, Seven Seas is subject to a similar state of isolation due to his being unable to go out to sea. Although blind, Seven Seas is completely self-sufficient. It seems that his blindness has enabled him to see the world in a completely different way, as the inability to use his sight forces him to pay attention to his other senses to the point that he can “see” with his ears. In a way, he is Seven Sees as well as Seven Seas, because he sees more than any of the sighted people. He is meant to invoke an image of Homer/Omeros. The narrator is born in this chapter as well, right when the invocation to Omeros occurs. “A noun gently exhaled from the palate of the sunrise” (12) because the “I” for at least the rest of the chapter. Part II ends with “Omeros” spoken by a girl, the word “humming in the vase” (13) of her throat, which leads into Part III. Like a memory called forth by saying the name “Omeros” the scene between the Greek girl and the narrator plays out. The narrator describes how he heard the Greek name for Homer and the impact it had on him. The name stayed with him and engendered several new meanings based on the sounds the word holds. Part III also ends with the comparison of the girl’s throat to a vase again, the vase that held the name of “Omeros” (13).
Font: A fountain, a receptacle for holy water.
Amidships: Toward the middle of the boat.
Pirogue: A canoe made from a hollowed tree trunk, a piragua.
Myrmidons: A loyal follower. Also a member of a legendary Thessalian people who accompanied their king Achilles in the Trojan War.
Sea-almond: Tropical almond tree native to New Guinea.
Antigone: Daughter of Oedipus and his mother.
Part I. This chapter opens with Hector yelling at and accusing Achille of stealing or “borrowing” a bailing tin from his canoe. Hector throws several insults at Achille that are chiefly aimed at Achille’s tendency to inflate his self-importance in everyday situations. "Who do you think you are? Logwood Heart?/ You think you’re king of Gros Ilet, you tin-stealer?” (16). Hector challenges Achille and reveals his cutlass causing Achille to put the tin back and draw his blade. The two square off and the villagers come out of the shade to watch and follow the confrontation. It begins to rain as the two face off in the shallows of the ocean and Hector cuts Achille’s shirt near the shoulder. Though no one was really hurt in this tussle it is stated that when Hector cut his shirt he also tore at Achille’s heart. Achilles feels shame in the form of anger towards his fellow fisherman. They fight over a meaningless tin that serves as an outlet for their mounting anger and jealously over Helen. They fight over the idea of her more so than her as an actual living woman, “The duel of these fishermen/ was over a shadow and its name was Helen” (17). She represents their dreams as well as the island itself so to lose her would mean isolation and a meaningless role for them.
Part II. Ma Kilman’s bar, the oldest in the village, is described in vivid detail for us as we get a sense of scene and surroundings. She looks up the street and sees “the blind man” (Seven Seas) sitting in the shade with his dog. The old man appears to be talking to himself and singing and Ma catches bits and pieces but does not understand, “But his words were not clear./ They were Greek to her. Or old African babble” (18). It is discovered that Ma helps Seven Seas to withdraw his Veteran’s Compensation every month and that he has no self-pity or complaints about his situation like other Vets. This act of kindness on Ma’s behalf shows us that she is an attentive and caring woman who notices and knows a lot about people, maybe more than is natural. Soon Philoctete comes hobbling up the street and automatically Ma prepares his “medicine” (flask of white acajou, jar of Vaseline, and a basin of ice) for him as he sits down at the bar. He sits there all day drinking and anointing his wounded shin with Vaseline. We get a glimpse into Ma Kilman’s world and how she is caring and helpful to these old men in the village.
Part III. During this section Philoctete is sitting at Ma’s bar "The No Pain Cafe" and she asks him what is wrong. He states, “I am blest wif this wound/…which will never heal” (18-19). Here again the wound is compared to sea creatures as it has been before which shows Walcott’s connecting themes to the sea. We learn that the injured old man believes that his wound is connected to ancient slave ancestors and the struggle of the black race. “He believed the swelling came from the chained ankles of his grandfathers./ Or else why was there no cure?/ That the cross he carried was not only the anchor’s/ but that of his race” (19). This stresses his desire for a cure and frustration that the wound is making no progress in healing. Soon Philoctete is passed out, no surprise to Ma, and he is compared to “a mummy embalmed in Vaseline and alcohol. She whispers to him about a magical flower or root that her grandmother used that could rid him of his wound and it’s poison, but she does not know where it is. He thanks her and leaves. This interaction provides us with insight into Ma’s utilization of the ancient voodoo ways and may explain how she knows so much about the island and it’s people.
Notes: The beginning of this chapter shows the mounting tensions and battle between Hector and Achille over Helen. We can only assume that the fight is not over yet and that there are more interactions and drama to come. Helen is of the utmost importance to both men and their lives, reputations, and friendships are suffering because of their desire for her. The later parts of this chapter give us a view into Ma Kilman as a character and how she interacts with the villagers. We also get a preview into her reliance on the voodoo ways.
Acajou-A medicinal preparation yielded by the mahogany tree (Oxford English Dictionary)
Gros Islet- The northern most town on the island, a sleepy fishing community. <http://www.guidetostlucia.com/townsandvillages.html> go here for pic and more info on St. Lucia
Logwood Heart- A particular tree which is known in French Creole as the “capeche” (phoetic) tree. It is a very hard wood and nearly impossible to chop down due to the hardness of the wood. Termites are not found on this type of tree at all. It is like a scrub tree, the tallest of which may reach about 15 ft. in height. In addition to the hardness of the wood, its branches are very thorny. In creole the word for heart is “chay” (phonetic) and often a hard hearted person is called “che capeche.”
Part I. The scene begins in a logwood grove that was once part of an old sugar estate, which is now abandoned; the remains of the estate are described as, "the only ruins/ left here by history, if history is what they are" (20). Philoctete keeps a garden of yams near a stand of cacti, which he gets to by going through the estate, and there are also sheep there, described as "repeating his name" (20). Philoctete, as he moves through the yams, thinks about his future death, and the ant imagery seen previously in the poem reappears when his head is described as "a market of ants" (21). Additionally, the yams leaves are compared to "maps of Africa" (20) in this passage, implying that the natural world is the key to finding a way back to lost ancestral roots. However, Philoctete's wound begins to hurt him badly as he walks and sees distant smoke and the priest, and Philoctete chops the yams down with his cutlass, exclaiming, "you all see what it's like without roots in this world!" (21), implying that the foreign presence destroys any means so simple as following a map to reclaiming culture. Interestingly, he "hack[s] every root at the heel" (21), which could be a subtle nod to the heel as a weakness of Achilles in the Iliad. After the yams are cut down, Philoctete weeps, and the scene (similar to the felling of the trees) is described as a "massacre" (21). The section concludes with Philoctete feeling "an ant crawling across his brow" (21), the breeze, and looking up at the sky as a bird lands on a branch, "without a cry" (21).
Part II. Philoctete is watched by the bird in the opening of this section; it then flies away toward the sea, and Philoctete lies on the ground, looking up at the sky, described as having shifting geography (the clouds): again, the natural world seems to be a kind of map, though here it is inconstant, always changing. Philoctete decides to ask God's pardon, presumably for the killing of the yams– a seemingly ironic choice, as the image of the priest immediately before Philoctete rages and cuts the yams down implies an element of culpability in Christianity. Then, he hears the sound of "warriors rushing towards battle" (22), which is actually the noise of the wind blowing the dead yams, connecting the natural world to war and implying that the old traditions, even rootless, do not give in so easily as it might seem. Herdsmen are then described in a kind of aside as wining no victories and as being the ground, thus connecting the people of the island to it; not rooted like plants, but part of the island itself, the foundation of it. Finally, Philoctete decides to be patient and endure the pain of his leg like a horse would put up with a sore, and upon making this decision, his leg, when he tests it, feels weightless.
Part III. This section shifts into first-person narration of a scene at a restaurant as told by the poet. In the scene, a waiter scurries about with drinks, waiting on the tourists until, frustrated, he stops. Then, the narrator catches sight of what he first thinks is a panther. Subsequently, "the mirage/ dissolve[s] to a woman with a madras head-tie" (23), a woman who appears proud and has come to the restaurant looking for a job. A tourist asks who she is, and a waitress, scornfully commenting on the girl's pride, answers that her name is Helen. She is described as being incredibly beautiful, with a face like an "ebony mask" (24), which implies that she is strongly connected to the African heritage of the island natives. This Helen is both a mundane figure, a woman looking for work, and a mirage, something unreal; she encapsulates the duality of St. Lucia itself, an island sometimes known as the Helen of the Caribbean.
Helen of Troy: Helen in the Homeric epics was the most beautiful woman in the world, the daughter of Zeus and Leda. She was married to Menelaus, but later went to Troy with Paris, a Trojan prince. Menelaus mustered armies to forcibly bring her back to Greece, causing the Trojan War. After Troy fell, Helen returned to Greece with Menelaus. (More information)
Lawrence of Arabia: A British military man and diplomat involved in the Arab Wars. Lived 1888-1935. (More information)
Madras: A light cotton fabric of various weaves, especially one in multicolored plaid or stripes. (dictionary.com) (Image)
Salope: French slang, equivalent to "bitch."
Part I. Major Dennis Plunkett and his wife Maud sit enjoying their Guinness and ale, respectively, while watching "the clouds in full canvas steer towards Martinique" (24). The usual silence fills the air as the two sit and contemplate different thoughts. The reader learns that this ex-patriate couple came to St. Lucia since Major Plunkett's wound to his head. Their marriage described as "a silver anniversary of bright water/ that glittered like Glen-da-Lough in Maud's home county?" (25) perhaps illustrates the first reference to Mauds desire to return to her native Irish home while Dennis finds solace and health amidst the warm sunrays of St. Lucia. Major Plunkett goes on to recount his nightmarish days from the war, remembering "the dead face down in the sand, beyond Alexandria" (26) and "their corpses black in the shade of shattered tanks/ their bodies dragged like towels to a palm trees shade (26). Plunkett feels as if khaki shorts and relaxed appearance suggest that he has forgotten his service in World War II when the opposite is true. Major Plunkett's narration of his war days is halted when his wife grips his fingers at the sight of tears forming in Dennis's eyes.
Part II. Major Plunkett continues to tell tales of his wartime escapades, in particular, he recalls his memories up until he is injured, though he cannot fully remember all the details. The narration is suddenly interrupted by a note from Walcott exclaiming "This wound I have stitched into Plunkett's character./ He has to be wounded, affliction is one theme/ of this work, this fiction, since every "I" is a/ fiction finally" (28). As Walcott stresses early into the plot, each of his characters is wounded in one way or another because affliction is one theme of this work" and he goes on to admit bluntly that "every 'I'" including the narrator's own "is a fiction." Plunkett then tells of his first sighting of Maud while hospitalized after his war injury. The reader then learns that though the couple has alienated themselves on a foreign island, their only regret is the fact that they have no son.
Part III. This part begins with a narration from Maud's perspective as she takes notice of a familiar black girl in a yellow frock. This figure is Helen, the ever-beautiful girl whom Walcott makes a personification of St. Lucia, the object of his epic. The narration then transitions smoothly into the head of the major once more where connections between the Trojan war at Troy can be made quite easily when compared to the battles fought by both English and French sides in attempt to dominate the island. Again, his thought is interrupted by the waiter asking to close the Major's tab. There is a clever comparison between the signing of the cheque and the final peace treaty signed at Versailles while Helen still represents the island of St. Lucia in her beauty and grace, so much so that Helen "seemed to drift like a waif" (29). It is clear that Walcott has made Helen an intensely yearned for object, for "the true bounty was Helen" (32).
This chapter sets the stage for future character collapse in the hands of lust and desire. We are given a taste of the sweet and beautiful Helen and can only assume that she will be the demise for many characters to come. Interestingly enough, we begin to see hints of the Major's obsession with Helen in that he decides the history of Helen and her neglected should be recorded: "Helen needed a history,/ that was the pity that Plunkett felt towards her./ Not his, but her story. Not theirs, but Helen's war" (30). Every thought about Helen in the major's head is synonymous with the beauty and splendour of the island on which he finds peace and consolation.
kraal: 1 a: a village of southern African natives b: the native village community2: an enclosure for animals especially in southern Africa (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/kraal)
Pro Rommel, pro mori: Latin, meaning 'For Rommel, for death'. Walcott's use of Latin carries echoes of the Aeneid and the foundation of Latin Italy. Erwin Rommel, a German general, led the Afrika Korps in North Africa and was defeated by the British at El Alamein in 1942 (Bib:PWE), (http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/omeros/tag/pro_rommel/)
Tobruk and Alamein: Tobruk is a town, seaport, municipality, and peninsula in northeastern Libya, near the border with Egypt, in North Africa. Alamein is a town in northern Egypt on the Mediterranean Sea coast. It is located 106 kilometres (66 mi) west of Alexandria and 240 kilometres (149 mi) northwest of Cairo. (http://www.wikipedia.org)
Part 1. We are told of Helens rebellious and independent spirit and her unwillingness to be made an object of desire to give the tourists that visit the island a free thrill. This fierce and quick fury at the lack of respect the tourists have for the people of the island is demonstrated in the passage that describes the ingenious and provocative Helen shows he defiance to adhere to the unjust rules of the island that prescribe her to do what the tourists want and not to complain. “…so she tell the cashier that wasn’t part of her focking pay, take off her costume, and walk straight out the hotel naked as God make me…” (33-34, Walcott). This defiance is not sparked out of totally virtuous intentions however, since it is revealed later in this part that Helen is pregnant and doesn’t know who the father is. This pregnancy is what sparks her conversation with some other village women about Helen seeking employment but not being a desired employee by the hotels and restaurants of the island, with the women being seemingly unsurprised by Helens situation.
Part II . is a turning point for Helen, continuing to be interspersed with imagery from Homers Iliad. The smoke that is present in this passage seems to be a precursor to the images of the burning of Troy that is in the next part of the chapter. The passage describing Helen walking along the beach, carelessly singing a song that could be seen as having an overtone of foreboding while, while the smoke swirls around her could be seen as an image of Helens uncaring attitude to her situation and how little she will let the outside world control her life.
Part III. We see this sense of control over her own life in Part three, where after describing what could have also been a battle scene from the Iliad with images of Troy and the village being tangled together, confusing the ancient battle with the life of the villagers, Helens new form of employment is described. She has made herself a hair braider to the tourists among the street vendors of the village, making her own way in the world instead of accepting the fact that no one on the island sees having a forward thinking woman as part of their staff as a good thing. Helen is also compared to a panthress, with sleek and deadly feline grace being attributed to her form as she works, mesmerizing those who watch her as she moves among booths of brightly colored patterns and tourist souvenirs.
Overall Thoughts: This chapter continues the parallels of this poem and the ancient epics of Homer. The battle of Troy, as well as a battle between the namesakes of two great Grecian heroes’ is being fought. The chapter focuses on Helens role in the poem, with the news of her pregnancy perhaps setting up an impending battle over her between Achille and Hector, just as the epic poems of Homer describe. The constant comparisons of life on the island and these poems seem to be a device Walcott is using to show how the western world imposes its beliefs and histories onto those that it conquers and how they allow no room for any other history, a history of the people living in the shadow of this new “modern” civilization, to continue or develop. Now that the history the conquerors have always adhered to is in place, it is expected to continue to be adhered to, as this poem describes. Yet the subtle changes that Walcott makes in the island versions of battles and dilemma’s shows the islands view of the world and how its people feel subservient to the white tourists of the imposed western world, and how they are breaking through these modern ideals to create their own ideas and history once more.
Machineel: The Manchineel tree (Hippomane mancinella) is a species of flowering plant in the spurge family (Euphorbiaceae), native to the Caribbean and Central America. The name "manchineel" (sometimes written "manchioneel") as well as the specific epithet mancinella is from Spanish manzanilla ("little apple"), from the superficial resemblance of its fruit and leaves those of an apple tree. A present-day Spanish name is in fact manzanilla de la muerte, "little apple of death". This refers to the fact that manzanilla is one of the most poisonous trees in the world. (http://www.wikipedia.org)
Argonauts: The Argonauts were the heroes who sailed with Jason on the Argo, in quest of the Golden Fleece. They are often called the "Minyans," because of the tribe and region from which Jason came, but many of them came from other parts of the Greek world. (http://www.pantheon.org)
Part I. Market place had an "iron roar". There were cabbages and bananas from Pharaoh’s caskets, lemons; everything was on display in order to please the implacable Caesars. Dead rebel slaves, virgins being given to Conquistadores. The market had Rome and Antilles history. Brass basins that are never equal, like the old world and the new. Achille and Helen are in the market. Achille wants to hold her basket for her, she refuses. She disappears in her yellow dress among the people in the market. Achille follows her to the harbor’s rim. She tells him to leave her, but he pushes her against a van, he releases a panther. She claws at him and bites her. Hector comes and tames the Panther (Helen). Achille felt ashamed. Hector and Helen left and Achille picked up the fruit. Helen is what everyone wants on the Island. She could be considered the beauty of the Island. Walcott describes her, as a Panther, wild and untamed, not like the tourists blindly following their tours. This section also tells us that Helen is the reason for some tension between the shipmates. The narrator comments on the market. He comments on the difference between the old world and the new. The fact that the new world will never be able to be like the old world because of the fact that tourism is ruining and exploiting it.
Part II. Helen had not been home, he remember when he had lost faith in Helen, even on theclearest of days. Achille needed money, but he did not tell Helen. Achille was diving for conchs on a breezy morning. He piled the conch aboard. He looked up and saw Helen with another man, he saw Helen and Hector. He stayed in the water and carefully tugged the canoe and put the anchor aboard. He started to wonder if God was the only thing you could trust now, because he was now horned like the island. For a long time he had sensed that Hector was not honest with him. He carried the conchs safely. He could have gotten his license seized for taking conchs. He then decided to give the conchs back to the sea because they were not more his or Helen's than the seas. This act did not bring him peace. Achille is willing to do anything for Helen. He was willing to do illegal things just so that he could support her. Then when he realized that she was unfaithful, he decided that it was not worth it to steal from the ocean. In this section the fact that Helen is wearing a yellow dress signifies that she is somewhat of a coward for going around with another man.
Part III. In the boat they were shipmates, but something was knowing at the foundation of their friendship, as if they had reached their peak and was now declining. He thinks of when he married Helen in the shade of the almond trees. He thinks of where they almost become one person in the calm cove at noon. Where a barrier reef is vaulted by white horses. They slept in a zebra-streaked afternoon, on a white quilt, they could hear the town. Then he woke troubled from a shallow sleep to find another person in his bead, breathing under the linen. The he draws the person closer with an invisible rope. He leaves her in bed and goes to the verandah and looks down at the town. Hector and Achille got along well on the boat, but their friendship was ruined by Helen. Achille is imagining what it was like to have Helen. The great feeling of being in bed with her and swaying in the wind as one. This vision he has of her is something that he might not have again, just like his friendship with Hector.
Overall Thoughts: This chapter is all about Helen. Helen could be the symbol of the island. She manipulates all of these men so that she can get by. All of these men would do anything for her, and she knows it. This chapter shows how Achille is fighting tourism by diving for conchs and not participating in tourism.
redoubt: noun:1. A small and usually temporary defensive fortification. 2. A defended position or protective barrier. 3. A secure place of refuge or defense; a stronghold. (http://www.dictionary.com)
Etruscan: Etruscan civilization is the modern English name given to the culture and way of life of a people of ancient Italy and Corsica whom the ancient Romans called Etrusci or Tusci. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Etruscan_civilization)
Part I: In the island’s museum there is a wine bottle crusted in fool’s gold from beneath the sea, theorized by experts that it either sank from a ship blown by a hurricane out of Cartagena, or that it came from a sunken ship in the Battle of the Saints. Yet as time goes on, the myth about the relic widens until the bottle was from the sunken Ville de Paris. Even when the experts lost interest, the villagers kept faith in the significance of the bottle and the world it came from. Achille, not believing in the myth of the sunken ship, decided to dive down to find money (or assumedly relics he could sell for money) to win Helen back. The rest of Part I describes him diving down, sinking quickly not only from the cinder block tied to his heel, but his “stone heart” (44) and fears that maybe it was too late for Helen to love him.
Part II: Down in the dark depths of the ocean among turtles and sea horses, Achille questions himself and why he is there. “What on earth had he come for, when he had a good life up there? … Wasn’t love worth more than the coins of light pouring from the galleon’s doors?” (45). The bottom of the ocean was not a world for the living. Achille continues to question his trespass into the world of the dead until he sees the galleon, and sees the coins. But it haunts him and he rises again not only to the surface of the sea but back to the world of the living and back to finding wealth in the world of the living by fishing (“once more the whelk was his coin, his bank the sea conch”). Though he loses faith in the ship below, it stays a “spectre” on his conscience, haunted by the underworld he had seen.
Part III: Philoctete tries to make peace between Hector and Achilles in their conflict over Helen, telling them that they are both men. He tells them that they share their bond with the sea, a force powerful enough to change cedars into canoes. He says that a woman can do what she likes, but men are bound by their work. But neither man listens to Philoctete.
Analysis: The theme of money plays an important role in this chapter. Achille journeys to the bottom of the sea, the metaphorical underworld, in order to find money to win Helen back from Hector: “Money will change her” (44). As Helen is the symbol of the island, this takes on a greater meaning. Money would of course change Helen, but it also was the driving influence behind the colonizing forces on the island, twisting the humanity within both colonizer and colonized. When Achille journeys to this watery underworld, he is haunted by the feeling that the dead are guarding the wealth beneath the sea. It is as though he sees the destruction that money has already caused on the island, and doesn’t want to perpetrate those lingering evils.
Ville de Paris: a three-decked French flagship. The ship was finished just too late to fight in the Seven Years War. Used in the American War of independence, the ship lasted until the battle of saints in 1782, where she was taken when the British fleet, led by George Rodney, defeated the French Fleet, led by Comte de Grasse.
Cartagena: City on the Northern coast of Colombia, which was a major center of early Spanish settlements in the Americas, and was named after the port of Cartagena in Spain.
Battle of the Saints: Took place April 9-12, 1782 and was a victory of a British fleet over a French fleet in which 1 ship was sunk and there were hundreds of casualties; named after the Saints, a group of islands between Guadeloupe and Dominica.
Part I. begins with hurricane season striking the island of Saint Lucia and Achille finding work on Plunkett’s pig farm with his friend Philocete. On land, Achille found “no scorching gunwales/ where the hot oars idled, no sea with its bleached sails” (48). Maud complains of the “climates lacked subtlety” (48). Then the climate portrayed as having a mind of its own answers this with rain, wind, and lightening. “Prognostications*/ of a grumbling sky that underlined each omen--” (49) that are given by the sudden storm that crashes over the land. These signs point to just more then bad weather in the time ahead. Lightening and kerosene lamps illuminate life in Achille’s home. Helen is with Hector and Achille is left with “rain on a galvanized* night/” (49). Outside rain pours as “cloud galleons” (50) fight and then the one galleon is sunk. The ghosts of the galleon, the climate, and Helen keep him awake.
Part II. instead of Hector being with Helen he is out battling the floods that threaten to take away his canoe. The “black rain” (50) takes Hector and his canoe far from shore, while Hector “paddled hard with the short oar to come about, / but he paddled air” (51). Giving up the canoe, he makes a desperate swim for the shore against the wave’s swells. “Once he caught the beat, he could swim/ with the crumbling surf, not against the seas will/” (51). Hector lets the sea overpower him and at intervals Hector swims furiously onward towards land. Caught within the body of the waves he fights for each breath of air and for what little control he can. A give and take battle of nature versus man, only in Hector’s case he is at the mercy of the “sea’s will” (51). Until Hector “felt the swirl/ of fine sand” (51) within the water, he knows he is close to shore.
Part III. “the Cyclone, howling because one of the lances/ of a flinging palm has narrowly grazed his one eye/” (51) this connotation refers to the Cyclops from The Odyssey. Gods come to life and the hurricane is created from their fete* in the sky. “All the village could do was listen to the gods in session, / playing any instruments that came into their craniums" (52). The music the gods dance to is created from the god's instruments that make the storm. The river floods from the downpour of rain and flows into the sea. “They saw the mess the gods made in one night alone, / as Lightning lifted his stilts over the last hill/” (54) the village is in ruin. “There would be brilliant days still, / till the next storm, and their freshness was wonderful” (54) the climate has cleansed the land and reasserted how wild it remains despite colonization. The landscape is rejuvenated through the hurricane and the villagers start anew with the season.
Overall, this chapter introduces the concepts of nature’s elements as the gods and the connection of these elements are loosely related to Homer’s Odyssey, which are named Cyclone/Cyclops, Zeus, and Ogun. This chapter does foreshadow hardships the characters will face in the coming chapters with the natural signs of weather changing from the calm to the worst. At the end of this storm, though with the island renewed can the reader see the oncoming storm ahead as good for the characters or bad in the end? Nature is a force to be reckoned with, but in Omeros nature takes the forms of various gods. Can these gods be associated with the characters? Natural phenomena such as hurricanes are described by the gods as having a feast. What comes from the feasting? Nothing but a mess for the villagers of the island? The reader can assume that chaos is coming in one form or another ahead for the characters.
Following definitions are from Dictionary.com:
Prognostications: to predict according to present indications or signs; foretell. Not just the foreshadowing of the storm is happening here, but the characters are feeling a change/charge in the air.
Galvanized: 1. To stimulate or shock with an electric current. 2. To arouse to awareness or action; spur. (Eg: Achille is feels this charge in the air by the elements and feels his emotions being stirred about Helen and Hector. Beneath this Achille feels a deeper pull of ghosts that could be from his past and present.)
Fete: A festival or feast.
Part I. The rainy season has come. Plunkett realizes that he is isolated from the workers, because he owns the place. He is also becoming more isolated from Maud, “in the lamplit house which each horizontal gust/ blew farther from him.” (55) There are repeated images of Maud’s lilies, first as a symbol of forgotten pain, and then personified as choosing death by drowning. She manages to save the lily bulbs, which transitions us to images of artifacts she brought from her home (Ireland) a lamp, a piano and songbook. The piano drove Plunkett crazy, so as an act of retribution he gulped his tea since he knew it particularly bothered her. This section closes with the rain again, but this time the rain is outside, and also the tears both are shedding. Though they are together, they are unable to cry together. They are isolated from each other, even if they are physically near each other.
Part II. Plunkett and Maud explore the island after the rainy season has passed, it is now winter. The word History is capitalized, and of course, it is not the history of the people who live there, but the history imposed on them. Of the inhabitants “Their past was as flat as a postcard, and their future,/ a brighter and flatter postcard…” (57) Only people who were tourists of that culture would be able to see it as a two-dimensional object. Ma Kilman is introduced in this section, a woman known to practice religion that came from Africa. A tour is given of Plunkett and Muad’s explorations. The images presented contrast from bright and sparkling like you would see in an advertisement to dank and dirty reminders of the Holocaust. Their trip stops when the car breaks down, and that place reminds them of a pair of businessmen who had packed up and went home.
Part III. Plunkett relates to the island almost as if he was born there. He has no desire to return to his place of birth, and wonders why anyone would want to. Maud on the other hand cannot find anything to like about it. “The moisture rotting their library; that was the worst./ It seeped through the shawled piano and created/ havoc…” (61) Helen is compared to the shifting patches of sunlight, and then we are taken to Maud’s blooming garden. He sees a butterfly, on a blade (of grass perhaps?) and feels stalked since this reminds him of Helen. He begins to feel oppressed by this paradise. Adam and Eve are mentioned, and they feel like they are in the Garden of Eden before the fall. They took in the moment of peace, and then returned to the real world.
This chapter is important in establishing the relationships. First, the relationship between Maud and Plunkett is seen as lonely. Second, their relationships to the island are dissimilar. Many religious images are brought up; in Part I the original sin is compared to Plunkett’s experience in the war. In Part II, Ma Kilman hesitates before taking communion. In Part III, the place where they stop on their outing across the island is compared to Eden before the original sin, but in the beginning of the section the woodsman was said to be carrying snakeheads.
Plunkett: there was a Saint Plunkett, though I am not sure what the connection would be http://www.catholic-forum.com/saints/sainto13.htm
Lily: the following is the detailed and interesting explanation of the meaning of lily: Purity, modesty, virginity, majesty, it's heavenly to be with you. The white lily is linked to Juno, the queen of the gods in Roman mythology, by the story that while nursing her son Hercules, some excess milk fell from the sky creating the group of stars we call the Milky Way, and lilies were created from what milk fell to the earth. The Easter lily is also known as the symbol of the Virgin Mary. http://marriage.about.com/od/flowers/a/flowermean_2.htm
Seychelles: a small island country in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Madagascar http://www.cia.gov/cia/publications/factbook/geos/se.html
Bendemeer’s stream: an Irish ballad, probably found in a book of sheet music like Airs from Erin http://spikesmusic.spike-jamie.com/irish/13/BENDEMEERS-STREAM.pdf
Anse La Raye: a small village in St. Lucia http://www.anselaraye.com/
Part I. This section begins with the line “Pigs were his business” (63). Here it is learned that Plunkett owns a pig farm. Directly after this line a parallel is drawn between the pigs and the way the native, lower class, black citizens are forced to live. They were not the ones who had “designed the Attic ideal of the first slave-settlement” nor were they the ones who “laid out narrow-gauge pipes for buckets, but none for sewers” and finally they were not the ones who “sucked the cane till sugar was played out” (63). Each one of these lines clarifies that the ones who did make things the way they were/are were the white colonialists, the “swinish” Empires. Although the Empire is swinish, the people controlled by at “had splendid habits of cleanliness” (64).
At this point, the narrative specifically points out these traits in Helen. Helen is a maid for Maud and Plunkett and does her work very well, too well in fact. Helen “kept the house as if it were her own” (64) and by doing so creates a power struggle between herself and Maud. Maud feels that Helen has destroyed her own possibilities by acting as the mistress rather than the maid. The situation is catalyzed by a “pale lemon frock” that Helen “claimed Maud gave her but forgot” (64).
Plunkett decides to stay out of the disagreement and recognizes the symbolism of the dress that “had an empire’s tag on it” (64). Again, the metaphor of people as pigs is used mentioning “kids racing like piglets” (64). Plunkett muses that if history sees the black people of the island as pigs then it is history that made them that way. He likens history to Circe, the character in the Odyssey who changed Odysseus’ men into swine. Plunkett decides to research and find the true history of the black people of the island.
Part II. Plunkett begins his research and becomes quite withdrawn; his life becomes “increasingly bookish and slippered, like a don’s” (65). Maud worries that his might somehow be linked to his wound from the war. Maud brings him his tea only to return later and find it untouched; he does not speak to her. She takes her tea alone in the garden surrounded by her flowers. She returns and sits beside Plunkett, but still he does not talk. Maud at this point “had never felt more alone” (65). She leaves Plunkett and goes to work on her needlework alone upstairs.
Part III. This section contains Maud’s musings of what she imagined living in the Caribbean would be like. She imagined a house surrounded “with trees [she’d] read of” (66) and flowers she had never seen. She imagined the sound of cicadas and “martins at dusk with their crisscrossing stitches” (66). When she arrived she saw the house was actually had an “Unapproachable cliff on one side,” which seemed foreboding but which in reality was “a nesting place for folding herons and gulls”(66). Her table was set out as well as her candlesticks in Dennis’ honor. She wonders if she had “put on airs, to think of dinner- candles and flags and lances since” (66) her wedding. She remembers the way Helen use to serve her, how she would “step back in shadow that blent with her fine skin’s” (66) and laments those times when Helen was merely a servant who would perform her duties and then disappear. Maud remembers these things a “clear as a dream but more real” (67). She muses that “folks lived for centuries” like her “with candles and airs on the piano” (67). She then remembers the canoe she saw earlier that said “In God We Troust” this being Achille’s canoe.
Overall Thoughts: This is the first chapter in which the character of Maud is explored and the reader is given the change to experience the world through her point of view. Although she is mentioned in chapter five as well as chapter ten, she is always simply shown as Major Plunkett’s wife. Chapter eleven is the first time the reader is shown Maud’s emotions towards her husband and Helen. The yellow dress is a key part of this chapter in that it shows the power struggle between the mistress and the maid. It is also important because in previous chapters Plunkett becomes enamored with Helen when she is wearing the yellow dress. Maud does not realize it yet, but Helen had amassed more power than just the running of the house. Other important aspect of Maud’s life is shown in this chapter, her flowers. Later in the book, Helen comes to the house asking for money and destroys some of Maud’s flowers. Though Maud still gives her, the money the destruction of her flowers and her acceptance of it hold symbolic meaning. Helen has power over Maud.
Another important portion of this chapter is the way Plunkett applies the metaphor of the pigs of his farm to history and people. He sees that history has made the black of the island pigs, but in reality, it is the empire that was swinish.
Allamanda: also known as Yellow Bell or Golden Trumpet, is a genus of tropical shrubs or vines with hairy seeds, native to South and Central America. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allamanda)
ikons: icons, or iconography of Catholic idols
Remembrance Day: also known as Poppy Day, Armistice Day (the event it commemorates), or Veterans Day in the United States is a day to commemorate the sacrifices of members of the armed forces and of civilians in times of war, specifically since the First World War. It is observed on 11 November to recall the end of World War I on that date in 1918. The day was specifically dedicated by King George V, on 7 November 1919, to the observance of members of the armed forces who were killed during war; (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Remembrance_Day)
Part I. The author describes how his house used to be a printery, he mentions how, for his father, this place was home. The father shows him a self-portrait that he had written, in it we can see where both of their lives blend, and the author tells him "they are one voice." Although the authors father didn't inherit his fathers fame, he did inherit his will, as he prefers verse to fame, and "never felt part of that foreign machinery known as Literature." And so did the author inherit will from his father. The father died on his birthday, like how Hamlets father died in the story-the parallel brings some peace- "Death imitating art, eh." After a short discussion about the growing grapes, the author asks "What was Warwick doing, transplanting Warwickshire." I think this was meant as sarcasm on the author's behalf (Warwick was the name the bastard father christened the authors father, for his shire (presumably in England). I think the sarcasm implied that place(Warwickshire) is foreign and cannot be included in " this obscure Caribbean port."
Part II. Begins as an observation of the town. An observation of the white town, who looks out onto the black people who walk by barefoot all day long. The whites look upon the blacks "high brown life as a souvenir" and nothing else from their windows, which "framed their unshifting lives." The part is ended with "As iron bells ruled the town, and the poui flowers fell," the white religion has begun to dominate and black culture has begun to dissolve.
Part III. In this part, the author mentions "passing brown phantoms in white-drill suits" on the way to paradise. "A paradise I had to believe to enter." He mentions the grille pattern of shade that the pillars have formed on the drill suits, he mentions how the asphalt is so hot that it is deserted, only passed by one or two cars. Then they come to paradise, "a green square cut into smaller squares./ And the light from a bluer postcard filled its sky/ and it seemed, from his steps, that water sprang in plumes/ from the curled iron green fountain at its centre." This paradise belongs to the white man, another life- "But I did not ask him about the other life,/ because the white shadow I had made from my mind/was vague in its origin and thin as belief." The image the author had made in his mind about the white mans world is vague- "unsigned as an Easter lily, fresh as the wind"- it is as if he does not wish to know anything concrete.
Overall Thoughts:The chapter begins with the author reminiscing about his past childhood and how he is connected to his father. Then he also draws the paralell that he is not like his fathers father, they lived in two different worlds, one is 'warwickshre' and the other an 'obscure Caribbean port.' Worlds that wil never be able to assimilate completely. Then he makes a commentary on the way the social construction of the town is currently. The whites look out upon the blacks from their windows and see them as some kind of 'souvenir.' He that the bells are now replacing the poui flowers that used to dominate the town, now the iron bells do. Then the author explores the white mans world, a 'paradise,' but one that the author had to believe existed ( maybe he is implying it is a paradise of mental construction). Despite the exploration, the author wishes to not question about the other life.
This chapter signifies the beginning of finding a new history for the author, he is trying to remember his past and assimilate it into his world that is now. And what is happening in his world now is the two cultures converging and each trying to be part of each other; Maud and Plunkett exploring the island, Hector working on the white mans land, Ma Kilman craftily ignoring the white woman (Maud?). I was kind of confused about the voice in this chapter, especially Part I, it took a while to figure out who was speaking.
Portia: Character in Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice. She is a wealthy heiress from Belmont. Portia’s beauty is matched only by her intelligence. Bound by a clause in her father’s will that forces her to marry whichever suitor chooses correctly among three caskets, Portia is nonetheless able to marry her true love, Bassanio. Far and away the most clever of the play’s characters, it is Portia, in the disguise of a young law clerk, who saves Antonio from Shylock’s knife. (http://www.sparknotes.com/shakespeare/merchant/terms/char_2.html)
Angelus: The Angelus (lat. Angel) is a Christian devotion in memory of the Incarnation (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angelus)
Veni Creator: One of the most widely used hymns in the Church, Veni, Creator Spiritus (www.preces-latinae.org/thesaurus/Hymni/VeniCreator.html)
Part I. This chapter continues on from the previous with the unnamed narrator who is actually Walcott. He is describing his childhood, where he lived – “where alleys ended in a harbour/ and Infinity wasn’t the name of our street;” (71), and memories he has of time spent with his father at the barbershop. The barbershop plays an important role for the town. Not only is it where men go to get cuts and shaves, but also it is a source for knowledge: book knowledge, history, and politics. The Barber is the “town anarchist,” apparently from another small island that the colonizers refused to recognize as a “nation or a people” (72). The Barber is the Macandal (Alejo Carpentier’s Kingdom of This World)-type figure, trying to raise the people’s awareness of their right to live a better life, to fight against colonialism. “When he raged, his indignation/ jabbed the air with his scissors, a swift catching flies, / as he pumped the throne serenely round to his view” (72). To further explain the injustice done to the blacks, the Barber quotes Shylock from Shakespeare’s “The Merchant of Venice.”
Part II. Father and son are at the wharf watching a massive ocean liner/cruise ship. The liner signifies colonization, corruption and the awful ways the blacks have been forced to undertake in order to make a living. The young boys float along side the ship doing tricks for the tourists and fighting for the coins they throw. The tourists take pleasure in this like watching hungry dogs fight over a scraps of meat. Warwick talks about “Helens from an earlier time” (73) - the women who carry baskets of coal up the smokestacks for practically slave labor. Walcott’s father watched them as a child “climb/ like ants up a white flower-pot, baskets of coal/ balanced on their torchoned heads” (73). He describes these scenes as his first glimpse into hell. It is a scene that continues into the present time in which his son lives.
Part III. Walcott is older now. Warwick is making a parallel between the work of the women walking and carrying endless buckets of coal to the work of his son, writing page after page. Warwick tells his son the horror of watching these women, seeing how retched their lives are, and the image that “will stay in your head/ as long as a question you have no right to ask” (74). Because of the horrible situation the people are in and the impact viewing these women has on Warwick and his son, he asks is son to honor them in his writing, “your own work owes them/ because the couplet of those multiplying feet/ made your first rhymes” (75). Turn the energy and pain of the women into words and it will be, “the chance you have now, to give those feet a voice” (76). The father concludes by kissing his son and saying he is off to the barber for a “good talk and serious trim” (76).
This chapter signifies the beginning of action by the colonized. People are becoming aware that a revolution is in order. Through things such as writing, they are hoping to get the word out about how bad the situation is, and also to give the people strength and hope. The position of the narrator in this chapter is interesting as he is definitely part of the same community and time/situation of the other characters, but is also omniscient about the other characters not included in his chapters. This gives Walcott an interesting position as he is a character in his book but also constructing it, hence acting as the poet/narrator. At this point in the poem, only the previous chapter is told from this specific narrator’s point of view.
Terza rima: Walcott’s Omeros is written as an epic poem in three line stanzas, reminiscent of Dante’s form in The Inferno. http://www.english.emory.edu/classes/Handbook/terzarima.html
Shylock's quote: The quote from Shylock in Part I is significant because in The Merchant of Venice Shylock is outraged that he being discriminated against because he is a Jew in a Christian setting. This is an interesting connection as the Barber identifies with Shylock’s outrage at being discriminated against, and takes his feelings of equality a step further by the fact that he is an Adventist and is identifying with a Jew.
To bait fish withal: if it will feed nothing else, it will feed my revenge. He hath disgrac'd me and hind'red me half a million; laugh'd at my losses, mock'd at my gains, scorned my nation, thwarted my bargains, cooled my friends, heated mine enemies.And what's his reason? I am a Jew. Hath not a Jew eyes? Hath not a Jew hands, organs, dimensions, senses, affections, passions, fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer, as a Christian is? If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us, do we not die? And if you wrong us, shall we not revenge? If we are like you in the rest, we will resemble you in that. If a Jew wrong a Christian, what is his humility? Revenge. If a Christian wrong a Jew, what should his sufferance be by Christian example? Why, revenge. The villainy you teach me I will execute; and it shall go hard but I will better the instruction. (The Merchant of Venice, III, i, 60-63)
Garvey: Black Nationalist from Jamaica. http://www.swagga.com/marcus.htm