Book Six (Chapters XLIV-LV)
Part I: This chapter opens up with a detailed and passionate description of a St. Lucian sunrise and early morning. The poet-narrator is watching the horses being exercised, as a big rainstorm is moving in over the mountains. The rainstorm breaks with a fury, “The sky cracked asunder/ and a forked tree flashed, and suddenly that black rain/ which can lose an entire archipelago/ in broad daylight was pouring tin nails on the roof,/ hammering the balcony” (222). The poet-narrator lies in bed as it pours, thinking of Achille and Hector. He compares the island to Helen again “lost in the haze, and I was sure I’d never see her again” (222). As he thinks this, the rain suddenly stops and the sun comes out, bringing back the horses and grooms. The descriptive language that is used to depict the weather and climate of the island helps to visualize the scene. The weather pattern can be compared to everyday life on the island. The poet-narrator described that after the rain, "there was a different brightness in everything" (222), using rain as a symbol for new beginnings, a symbol used throughout the book.
Part II: It is January and the poet-narrator uses his senses to set the scene of the island. “I heard the sizzle/ of fried jackfish in oil with their coppery skin/; I smelt ham studded with cloves” (223). This vivid use of the senses helps the reader visualize the surroundings and get a feel of winter on the island. Although a short section, it stimulates the senses and sets the story up for what is to come. This section is written with a very nostalgic and borderline reminiscent feel. The reader can really get a sense of the island through the sounds and smells that the narrator is in contact with. They help to show the culture and the local "vibe" of the island. This is important because these are not the types of feelings that one would get at a resort or hotel.
Part III: January on St. Lucia is described as “twin-headed” pitting the past against the present. The past is said to be “born in degradation” while the present promises “…such an elation/ that it contradicts what is past!” (223-224). This contradiction between the degraded past and the elated present depicts the changes going on around the island. The section also displays how the Battle of the Saintes ravaged and scarred the island both physically and emotionally. In the end of this chapter the poet-narrator explains his connection to the island through his senses as shown in the above section, “I lived here with ever sense./ I smelt with my eyes, I could see with my nostrils” (224). These stimulants to the senses could be lost with the changing of the island, the poet-narrator's appreciation for these tastes, smells, sounds, etc. is clearly shown as is the worry of losing them.
Analysis: Overall this chapter uses descriptive language and details about the island as a whole, especially in wintertime. The island is a very stimulating place and one that can be taken in with all the senses. Though it is short and there is little mention of the characters in the poem, it helps to provide setting and surroundings and gives one the sense that something is building in the future. It also sets up the changes that are going on around the island and it gives us a prelude into the looming transition and development on the horizon. The vivid descriptions of the natural part of the island also seem to point to the significance of the natural world in the island culture (a theme reflected throughout other Caribbean literature).
Rivulet: A small stream or river; a streamlet.
Jackfish: A fast, saltwater fish found in inland waters.
Part I: Hector is driving along a road that has steep cliffs that drop into the ocean. He swerves to miss a piglet crossing the road and crashes, “Lodged in their broken branches the curled letters flame” (225). In his wreck under the Madonna of the Rocks, he is unmoving and his pose is compared to a church service that never ends. The symbol of the name of his car, Comet, is explored, “He bowed in endless remorse,/ for her mercy at what he had done to Achille,/ his brother. But his arc was over, for the course/ of every comet is such.”
Part II: The narrator gets into a taxi with a driver who talks about the death of Hector. The drive shows the evolution of St. Lucia from an undeveloped land to commercial one. “That other life going in its “change for the best,/” its peace paralyzed in a postcard, a concrete/ future ahead of it all” (227). The narrator’s artistic side does not want change because art and history are deeply connected with one another. He is afraid will lose his subject matter in the development, “Hadn’t I made their poverty my paradise?” (228). One of his fears has to do with exploiting the history for cheap gain. The narrator fears that his livelihood is in jeopardy as well as the island's way of life.
Part III: The narrator and the driver travel to the turn where Hector lost control and died. The driver says Hector had a nice woman and that maybe he died for her. To this the narrator smugly replies “For her and tourism” (230). He believes that Hector died switching from fisherman to taxi driver, and that the island will do the same when it switches to tourism and commerce. However, the author than begins to question how the tourist perspective of St. Lucia is influenced by his work, Hadn't I made their poverty my paradise? (228). After they visit the scene of the crash there are a series of cuts, as if in a movie that would display the drama and changing of the scene. Although driving was supposed to pay the rent and earn Hector more money; this dream did not reflect the reality of the situation. He felt ashamed and angered by his abandonment of the ocean, “He missed the uncertain sand/ under his feet, he sighed for the trough of a wave/...Castries was corrupting him with its roaring life” (231).
Interpretative Commentary: This chapter not only depicts the death of Hector, but also explains his life in more detail. We get a glimpse into why he changed his job and his lifestyle from sailor to cabdriver, and the struggle that this transition entailed. He gave up the ocean to pay the bills but it was an inescapable part of him. The figure of Hector can be projected onto that of St.Lucia as a whole. The island is undergoing a transition into the modern era. In part II, Walcott writes "Art is History’s nostalgia, it prefers a thatched/roof to a concrete factory, and the huge church/ above a bleached village. The gap between the driver/ and me increased when he said: “The place changing, eh?” (228) Walcott is then forced to ask himself if the poverty inspired by Caribbean tourism, benefits his poetry.
Castries- St. Lucia's bustling capital city. <http://www.geographia.com/st-lucia/lcpnts01.htm>
Madonna of the Rocks- Also sometimes called "The Virgin of the Rocks," refers to two Da Vinci paintings that show the Virgin Mary with Christ and John the Baptist as infants as well as an angel in a rocky setting. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Virgin_of_the_Rocks>
Dakar- The capital and largest city in Senegal. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dakar>
Praslin- The second largest island of the Seychelles. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praslin>
Part I. This section of the chapter describes Hector's funeral. He was "buried near the sea he had loved once" (232), honoring the connection he had abandoned in life. The spot is near where he and Achille fought over Helen. Achille, Helen, Seven Seas, and Philoctete are all present. Philoctete blows on a sea-almond shell. Then, Achille approaches and whispers to Hector's burial mound stories about the river in Africa, calling it his "true home" (232). Achille also brings an oar which he proclaims to be a spear and lays it with Hector– an allusion to the oar/spear from the hallucinatory scenes in Africa. Achille says that he admired Hector, even though Hector had not known it, and says also that he knew Hector better than anyone else. Achille finishes by simply saying, "Sleep good. Good night" (233). Seven Seas and Helen stand back from the burial mound throughout the entire section. Achille lifts the tin he and Hector fought over in apparent acknowledgment of Hector and Helen's connection; Helen merely nods, and the loss of Hector is sealed when "a wind blew out the sun" (233).
Part II. Following Hector's death, Helen becomes more prideful, and the description of her face recalls a tombstone, "a stone/ bracketed with Hector's name; her lips were incised/ by its dates in parenthesis" (233); Helen, and thus St. Lucia, mark and acknowledge Hector's death, and this somehow makes her become more noble and remote: "grief heightened her" (233). She smiles rarely and distantly, never seeming consoled regardless of what others say. Ma Kilman says that Helen is more beautiful because she is pregnant with Hector's child– the last remaining part of Hector. Previously, Helen had admitted to not knowing who the father of her child was; now that he has died, she has apparently decided that it is his.
Part III. This section is largely a description of the island: the sea, the plantains, the winds, the smoke of bonfires. The whole island seems preoccupied by Hector's death in this section, such as smoke smelling of "a regret that men cannot name." (234). The sea, with which Hector is so strongly linked, seems to pervade the natural environment of the island, particularly Philoctete's plantains, which are later described as "a chorus of aged/ ancestors" (235) that surround all the village houses, implying that Hector, in death, has been reunited with an old tradition that had been lost (perhaps by virtue of Achille's whisperings at the burial mound). Philoctete's wound again begins to pain him badly, and he refers to it as his "sin" (235), though there is no further explanation of this.
Overall thoughts: Perhaps Achilles' understanding/appreciation of Hector, at least in part, stems from their shared love of Helen, which is also a shared love of the island itself. Helen, then, representative of the island's old traditions, is carrying the child of Hector, who moved toward modernity in his life. Thus, Helen's child encapsulates the potential for the birth of an integrated way of life on the island. The old plantains "suffer and shine" (235) at the end of this chapter, speaking to a kind of beauty or nobility in the old traditions they represent, even if they suffer by being overlooked as the island turns more attention to industry and, perhaps, ceases to properly hear the plantains' language just as some overlook that of the trees at the start of the poem.
Compère: French for compatriot or comrade.
Plantain: These banana-like fruits are common in Caribbean cuisine. (Image)
Sea almond: (Image). A tropical tree. The shell referred to in the chapter (232) is the brown outer husk seen in the image.
Part I. The chapter opens with Ma Kilman preparing a medicinal bath for Philoctete's leg wound using various plants. Just before she leaves for mass she "let out a soft Catholic curse," because she twists an ankle. Ma Kilman fuses with ease her Catholocism, her accepted links to colonialism, with her Carib identity and scenery: she compares Communion to rain, a rosary to berries, Hail Mary to marigolds, Jesus to anthurium, ect(236). She considers the healing of Philoctete's wound (his "sin") while in church. Since Ma Kilman is previously said to be the only person who can treat the wound, her fusion of old and new seems to impart a kind of deeper knowledge to her that others lack.
Part II. In this section, Ma Kilman goes in search of a plant to heal Philoctete's cut. She is guided by a smell similar to the wound, though the plant making it is unfamiliar. It is described as being "rooted in bitterness" (237); perhaps, similarly, Philoctete's injury is resentment over slavery and the past. This may be referencing a bitterness toward a colonial past, hidden like the plant. After church, Ma Kilman climbs up to the wood in search of the plant, and the section concludes with her moving away from a column of ants that have followed her up the hillside, described as communicating with one another in a language unrecognizable even to her.
Part III. The seed of the mysterious plant, the narrator explains, had been brought over in the stomach of a swift that flew from Africa to St. Lucia, "aim[ing] to carry the cure that precedes every wound" (239). The swift itself died shortly after and was nothing but bones within a year, but a vine grows from the seed she brought; it "grew its own wings, out of the ocean/ it climbed like the ants/ the ancestors of Achille" (239), and the potency of the smell is indicative of the strength of the plant. The plant was brought from the Bight of Benin, a body of water that was key in the slave trade.
Overall Thoughts: Ma Kilman's going to mass shows the remains of Colonial institutions which supplements her creoleness. The plant comes to represent the cure for Philoctete's injury. A plant that made a parallel journey from Africa as Philoctete's ancestors is expected to heal Philoctete's injury and bitterness at the same time.
Anthurium: A type of flower. (Image)
Antipodal: Geography- on the opposite side of the globe; pertaining to the antipodes. (dictonary.com)
Bight of Benin: Also called the Bight Of Bonny: bay of the Atlantic Ocean on the western African coast that extends eastward for about 400 miles (640 km) from Cape St. Paul (Ghana) to the Nun outlet of the Niger River (Nigeria). It lies within the Gulf of Guinea and is bordered by southeastern Ghana, Togo, Benin, and southwestern Nigeria. More information | Map
Logwood: A type of tree. (Image)
Marigold: A type of flower. (Image)
Palanquin: A covered litter carried on poles on the shoulders of four or more bearers, formerly used in eastern Asia. (dictionary.com)
Sibylline: Of, resembling, or characteristic of a sibyl; prophetic; oracular. (dictionary.com)
Part I:In the beginning, the intricate life of insects and human relationships are compared. Beetles and their nature to "bleed the very source that nourishes them" (240), is connected to the control that men and women have on each other in a romantic relationship.”The love I was good at seemed to have been only the love of my craft and nature; yes, I was kind, but with such certitude it made others lonely, and with such bent industry it made me blinde.”(241) Here, he is saying that although he was good at love, it caused bad because by being good at it, it made the other person eventually lonely. Achille realizes that, though his heart is broken, "There is no error in love, of feeling the wrong love for the wrong person"(242). Love can harm, just as it can heal. And though the ocean harmed Philoctete, the sea could also heal his wound. Ma Kilman, the Islands healer teaches this. She goes into the forest, trying to find the cure for Philoctetes leg. Christianity and the Obeah traditions collide, Christianity is her external religion, but internally she knows the Obeah. "So the deities swarmed in the thicket of the grove, waiting to be known by name; but she had never learnt them, though their sounds were within her, subdued in the rivers of her blood"(242). Ma Kilman is searching for a flower that has the cure for Philoctete, it holds the power of the forgotten gods.
Part II: Ma Kilman removes her church hat and wig, as well as her dress, shedding her Christianity. She begins to understand the language of the ants, “the ants talking the language of her great-grandmother, the gossip of a distant market, and she understood, the way we follow our thoughts without any language.”(244) This quote says something about words and thoughts and how they have not been co-existing. What one thinks is not what one says. The ants instill the ancient language and beliefs in her. She thinks back to when “she had ignored the deaf-mute anger of the insect signing a language that was not hers.”(244) However things start to change when the ants instill the ancient language and beliefs in her. They tell her to speak how she feels- by doing so she can face her own reality and history. The ants can also be seen as a metaphor of her slave ancestors, "The generations of silent black workers, their hands passing stones so quickly against the white line of breakers"(244). The silent black workers had no voice, that’s what suppressed them for generations. The ants are the ones who led her to the flower. After unbuttoning her church dress buttons and rubbing dirt in her hair, “she prayed in the language of the ants and her grandmother, to lift the sore from in roots in Philoctete’s rotting skin.”(244) At this moment she feels more alive than ever before and prays to heal Philoctete. After this, “Philoctete shook himself up from the bed of his grave, and felt the pain draining, as surf-flowers sink through sand.”(245) Her experience and realization helps to alleviate Philoctete’s pain.
Part III: The third part of this chapter begins with what followed after Ma Kilman’s epiphany. She is looking back at the history of her family and of her race. She begins to “feel the shame, the self-hate draining from all our bodies.” She now understands that there was no real difference between her and Philoctete. She discusses how the priests consider the obeah- women evil because “ants lent her their language.” This language that allowed “the flower that withered on the floor”(245) to smell sweet again “and spread its antipodal odour from the seed of the swift.”(245) A large woman with a red-berried hat emerges through a “hot meadow of unnamed flowers.”(245)The next scene is beautiful. The woman is walking down a road in the island, “down the broken road”(246) and “past the sun-stricken yards.”(246) After she passes by a small stream, she goes past goats and then she passes a graveyard. She is in an active state when she approaches the end of street. Seven Seas, or Omeros, and a dog sense her shape as she walks by.
Overall thoughts: This chapter focuses on the idea that what harms you also heals you. This is evident in heartbreak healed by love, Philoctete's flower shaped wound being healed by a flower, the ants who destruct helping to create, and the obeah tradition originating from a past of slavery and devestation helping to heal. This chapter also is about some sort of an awakening, a realization. It’s about a woman who accepts her history, sees it for what it is and finally is able to understand her own reality.
Glossary: Obeah- a form of belief involving sorcery, practiced in parts of the West Indies, South America, the southern U.S., and Africa.( http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/obeah)
Antipodal- (in a developing ovule) of or at the end opposite to the micropyle. (http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/antipodal)
Part I: Ma Kilman uses a cauldron left over from the sugar mill days as a bath for Philoctete. She creates a bath using the root and leaves of the flower from the forest. The herbs and plants used in the bath are native to the island. Philoctete enters the water feeling like a little boy. He can feel his infected "petruscent" wound being cleaned and sucked out "like sucked marrow, he felt it drag the slime from his shame"(247). He tries to get out of the bath, but Ma Kilman makes him stay and surrender to the cure. His wound closes, and the question of what else the bath cures is asked.
Part II: Philoctete is restored to his former self. "The bow leapt back to the palm of the warrior. The yoke of the wrong name lifted from his shoulders"(247). This is a possible nod to the Odyssey when Odysseus returns home after his journey and poses as a beggar and uses a fake name to infiltrate his home. When Penelope holds a contest to choose her new suitor of stringing Odysseus's bow, only Odysseus can accomplish the task. He then uses the strung bow to slay all of the suitors who dishonored his house and reclaims his past life. Odysseus returns to his former glory. Philoctete is finally freed from the burden of his wound, and all it represented. He is able to relax, and feels like a young boy. There are several metaphors for breaking free from different forms of bondage. Philoctete's muscles relaxing is equated to "those of a brown river that was dammed with silt, and then silkens its boulders with refreshing strength," (247). He is compared to a horse breaking into a gallop while the rider tries to hold it back. Walcott writes, "The white foam unlocked his coffles, his ribbed shallop broke from its anchor," (247). Philoctete achieves a sense of clarity as, "the water, which he swirled like a child, steered his brow into the right current," (247-8). The steering of his brow, is the setting of mind on the right path. Philoctete thinks back through the history of his culture and people. He realizes the shame of the forgotten culture, and the apparent acceptance of the loss. He recognizes this ignorance as the reason behind why "God pissed on the village for months of rain"(248). But, now Philoctete is reborn, and cries cleansing tears. He became Adam, and the yard became Eden.
Part III: Although not explicitly stated, the narrator presumably changes to Achille, who is feeling his wrong love for Helen leave him. He is clear eyed, no longer blinded by his love. Rain falls on rooftops, and is dried instantly by the sun; a metaphor for lost love. He imagines the rain cooling the bubbling volcano, the Malebolge (Soufriere). This represents a cooling of his intense, burning desire for Helen. Achille realizes that this is the process and proof of a self-healing island. He realizes that his love "was common as dirt"(250). On the island, "every cove was a wound" (249), just as his love for Helen was a wound, yet in his own healing he realizes that the island's wounds can also be healed.
Interpretive Commentary: The theme of the self-healing island continues. The sugar mill cauldron, once used as a tool of the oppressor for slaves, now is turned into Philoctete's cure, perhaps implying that in order to finally heal, the colonized must cleanse themselves from the very source that bestowed upon them all the evils in the first place. The bath acts as a baptism for Philoctete, and he is reborn feeling like a young boy, yet he can only be reborn once he realizes the sins of the past and forgotten history. The sun dries the rain, just as love of Lucia cures Achille's heartbreak. The volcano Malebolge is in actuality named La Soufriere, Malebolge represents the eighth circle of hell in Dante's Inferno. Water is also seen as a cleansing force in this chapter. Both the bath for Philoctete and the repeated mentions of the rain for Achille represent a rebirth or a renewal, washing away negative feelings of shame and loss. The idea of the rain cooling the lava suggests the rain cleansing the island from its sins and also cooling the desire for Helen that burned inside Achille. In the first part of this chapter, the question, "What else did it cure?" (247) is asked, and then answered at the end of the third part, "closing that question" (250). As Philoctete's wound was healed by going to the root of the affliction (represented in the cauldron from the sugar mill), Achille's heartbreak over Helen, and more metaphorically, the heartbreak of the island, can also be healed.
Choiseul: fishing village on the West coast of St Lucia
Old Sugar-Mill Cauldron (picture to show size and shape): Old sugar cauldron
The Volcano, La Soufriere (bottom left of island on map): St. Lucia map
Part I: This chapter begins with Plunkett standing on a verandah in London. As he looks at the shadowed lines of the latticework, he envisions that they are crossing out the plans he and Maud had. On the verandah, the flowers of the allamanda sway as if they were bells keeping time. “‘Time, time’,” swayed the brass bells of the allamanda,” (251). Sparrows are the next element to draw Plunkett’s attention. Their chirps of “Cheap! Cheap!” (251) only reminding Plunkett of how ‘cheap’ England is “…cashing in on decayed gentility/like the sneering portraits in their three-star hotel,” (251). He doesn’t think these are what England should be spending its money on. At the pub, Plunkett makes a joke, saying “It’s the Admiral/Rob-Me, all right,” (251). He is probably referring to Admiral Horatio Nelson who fought in the Battle at Trafalgar in 1805. There is also a monument called Nelson’s Column that stands in Trafalgar to commemorate the Admiral, which is guarded by four bronze lion statues. Towards the end of this section, Plunkett admits that he hates that Trafalgar has become a tourist spot. It makes him feel trapped to hear dialect that no one understands (Caribbean dialect in particular).
Part II: This second section picks up almost right where the first one leaves off. At the end of the last section, Plunkett makes his feelings of all the voices he hears known. This second section begins with those voices fading until Plunkett can only hear his own. Everything that is going on around him keeps bringing about the chance for him to slip into a hallucination from his old war times again. He talks of how he had fought the same war as some of his friends, “but he limped with pride at being the walking wounded/in the class-struggle,” (252). Walcott refers to Plunkett as “Major” in this section, which proves fitting as Plunkett is having battle flashbacks. He misses his island and the “…palm-fronds talking/to each other,” (253). England is clearly different from his home in the Caribbean as far as ‘advancement’ goes, and he doesn’t understand why things have to change and why they can’t stay the same. Thinking of this suddenly makes Plunkett feel small and “…like a strolling statue, passing the News/of the World,” (253). The News of the World was a very popular national red top newspaper that was published in the UK from 1843-2011. It’s here that Plunkett sort of drifts away in his thoughts and we move onto the next section.
Part III: In section three, we switch narrators completely. We are no longer in the mind of Plunkett or listening to anything he says. We move to his wife, Maud’s thoughts. She is also relaxing in a chaise-longue out on the verandah where she finds herself questioning when her life is going to end. “She knew it was coming, but when? In the inert/pasture with its quiet trees? In the wide-open/bay?” (254). We all know and realize that death in inevitable. Walcott goes on to say that Maud “…personified/everything these days,” (254). She hears the flowers screeching because they’re hungry, so she waters them. All of a sudden, everything around her has life; everything is living and has meaning. Again, Walcott leaves us with Maud drifting away in her thoughts for us to ponder as this chapter ends and the next begins.
Interpretive Commentary: I think this chapter is a nice balance between Plunkett and Maud. Both do a lot of reflecting on life and likewise their narration and Walcott's is equally present, which is why both Maud and Plunkett personify just about everything, even though Walcott only mentions Maud's tendency to personify everything. Chapter L is like a look into the past from the present and gives the readers a little bit more insight into who Plunkett and Maud’s characters really are.
"Allamanda": Any of several tropical American evergreen shrubs of the genus Allamanda, widely cultivated in warm regions for their showy yellow or purple trumpet-shaped flowers. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/allamanda; http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Allamanda_-_Kolkata_2011-08-02_4609.JPG "Ersatz": an artificial substance or article used to replace something natural or genuine; a substitute. http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/ersatz
“News of the World”: national, red top newspaper published in the UK from 1843-2011. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/News_of_the_World
“Patois”: a form of language that is spoken only in a particular area and that is different from the main form of the same language. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/patois
Part I: Walcott begins by describing Plunkett’s enjoyment of driving Maud to five o’clock mass. On the way Plunkett passes the roosters and rows of grey workmen. One morning, however, a truck carrying workmen nearly hits him and Maud, and the driver yells, “Move your ass Honky!” (255). Plunkett immediately stops the car and approaches the truck of workmen the way a drill sergeant would. He yells at the driver and demands the keys to the truck and won't calm down until the driver tells Plunkett that he’s Hector. Plunkett immediately calms down, makes small talk and then returns to his “Rover.” He tells Maud that the whole thing was his fault and restarts the car.
Part II: Plunkett’s wanderings during the mass Maud is attending. He parks the Rover heads down Bridge street as the sun is just beginning to rise. He thinks of one sunrise in Libson where “he had wondered/ where in this world he and his new wife could settle/ to find some peace” (259). The narrator alludes to the midshipman as Plunkett walks along the dock, “He Strolled. His hunger was/ pierced by the smell of coffee. He was repeating/ with every step of his forked shadow the same pace/ as the midshipman, centuries ago, reading/the italics of Dutch ships by moonlight” (257) (Walcott possibly referencing a similar fate, since the last thing the midshipman did was read the name of the French Ville de Paris.) Plunkett stops to examine his favorite boat, which is an old freighter “welded to the wharf by rust/ and sunsets” (258). Clouds began to roll in and his stomach growled; he realized he only had a little time to go to the bakery before he had to pick up Maud after mass. This bread is named, “His Bread of Heaven/ laced with salt butter, his private communion” (259). The use of capitals here possibly suggests the increasingly stronger and more religious significance of Plunkett’s role in life.
Part III: Plunkett picks up Maud and they head home. The focus turns to Maud and her thoughts about death. “She smelt mortality in the oleanders/ as well as the orchids; in the funeral-parlour/ reek of stale water in vases,” (p.260) which makes it seem that she has accepted her death. “She didn’t garden that morning. Sick of Flowers./ Their common example of bodily decay/ from the brown old age of bridal magnolias// to the sunflower’s empire that lasted a day/ By Bendemeer's stream. Nature had not betrayed her/ she smiled, lying in her bed” (260). It is here that Maud passes away as she has wanted and accepted.
Analysis: from the beginning the chapter foreshadows Maud's death. Plunkett seems to be focused on the little details in life that make him happy as does Maud. The freighter could be a symbol for Plunkett and to a degree, Maud; they planned, perhaps, to leave the island one day, but became comfortable there. The way each is reflecting is the way family members tell stories after a funeral or before a funeral to help alleviate the pain of losing a loved one. When she dies, Maud has come to terms with St. Lucia as a kind of home.
Part I: The section focuses on Plunkett’s journey through his emotions regarding Maud’s death: "The morning Maud died he sat in the bay window” (260). She dies reading his letters, "Loosened from their ribbon, his fleet of letters sailed their mahogany bed close to a Macaulay and a calf-bound Gibbon, an empires bookends” (260). The line refers to works of history lining the Plunkett's bookshelves: for Macaulay (Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1800-1859) most likely his renowned 'History of England,' and for Gibbon (Edward Gibbon, 1737-1794), 'The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire' (1776). The section continues with all the ways Maud sustained Dennis throughout their life, describing her role in it through different metaphors pertaining to kingdom, to piano and to land. She is his queen, his orb and his scepter (a staff held by a ruling monarch) and even his shire. Further evidence of this appears in foreshadowing, "this is her shroud, not her silver jubilee gift" (89). Maud's death signals end of an era. These sentiments were written in his letters to her, which were kept in a chest. These were the letters she was reading when she died. The ending image is of him laying down on her in sorrow: "he stretched beside her, as if they were statues on a stone tomb, so still” (261). It is as if he wanted to die with her suggested by the image of his stillness and its metaphor to statues in a tomb. Laying there with her he can hear the sounds of life continuing in its smallest moments: “he heard the groan of the sun-expanded board on the hot verandah, and from the roofs downhill a bucket rattling for water, then the dry cardboard rattle of breadfruit leaves” (261). The ending image of the bay-window sill which brings the poem back full circle to the opening image of where he was the morning Maud died. This circular end emphasizes that fact that she is dead and he is still alive and very much without her.
Part II: This section opens with symbols that represent the Plunketts' life. The opening line of the second stanza, “all an empire's zones, lay spilled from a small tea-chest" (261), describes a memory box containing these mementos of their life. The section continues with each stanza representative of a specific aspect of their life. It speaks of the "yellowing teeth of the parlour piano"(262), significant of time passing, Maud no longer playing it. The line, "His will be done, O Maud, His kingdom come, as the sunflower turns” (262) implies the understanding of that time and how it’s passed and of life creating and moving along.
Part III: In this section the point of view shifts, leading into the next chapter. It is Walcott who comes back into narrative, "There was Plunkett in my father, much as there was my mother in Maud"(263). He brings in the aspects of his own life and their parallel to the Plunkett's. He speaks of the garden, the stories told, including Helen, but his poignant parallel is when he compares himself to Telemachus, the son of Ulysses in the Odyssey, who searches for news of his father after him being gone to war for 20 years. It touches again on his relationship with his own father. It ties into the poignancy of his parallel to Plunkett, who never had a son. When the short section ends with ". . .an empire's guilt stitched in the one pattern of Maud's fabulous quilt” (263). It is a description of the empire as England and their guilt being stitched into Maud's quilt, a quilt patterned after the birds of the island.
Notes The first section Muad dies, and the second is Plunkett remembering their life together, a natural nostalgic succession to the death of a loved one. It seems to be a transitory chapter all in all, opening with the death of Maud and Dennis' reaction and ending with Walcott's combination of the Plunketts, his life and the story itself.
'Seychelles': archipelago nations, we've seen this before in this order: "seashells.seychelles" or "seychelles. seashells"
'Dhow': sailing vessel
'Dragoons': member of British army; to coerce someone into doing something
'dacoits': member of band of armed robbers from India or Burma
'feluccas' : wooden sailing boat
'Zoauve' : was the name given to certain infantry regiments in the French army, as well as, to units in other armies which imitated the dress or drill of French zoauves.
'Mafeking' : The Siege of Mafeking was the most famous British action in the Second Boer War. It took place at the town of Mafeking in Africa.
'Rangoon': Former capital of Burma, since renamed
'bougainvilleas': genus of a flowering plant
Part I: The narrator attends Maud's funeral and speaks from his own perspective in this section. While observing the Major (Plunkett) standing "straight as a mast without a sail," (264) Helen catches his attention. The narrator struggles to concentrate on anything other than Helen's beauty, hidden behind her veil, but incessantly taunting the back of his consciousness. As the funeral hymn playing the background comes to a close with Plunkett's amen, the narrator then describes the lull before "the Father" speaks. This "gap" is compared to "the chasm that widened at Glen-da-Lough," (264) Maud's home town. In the next few lines, the narrator is drawing attention to disconnect between the religion the Major is attempting to create with his "Xeroxed sheets" (265) and the Caribbean chapel they physically occupy. His attention then shifts to Achille as we wonders, "Why should he be here, why should they (Helen, Achille, Philoctete) have come at all." (265) The narrator suspects that this group is actually only there to continue the mourning of Hector, and he cannot help but feel enraptured and touched by Achille's "grace" and sorrow at the funeral. Achille's "charity of soul" is in fact more "piercing than Helen's beauty," (265) a seemingly challenging feat to accomplish.
Part II: WIthin this section the reader finds out how the narrator and the Major are linked:"the Major had trained us all as cadets" (265). The narrator then seems to step away for a moment and become the author as the effort the Major puts into Maud's funeral is compared to the author's own attempt to accurately portray his thoughts on paper. Moments of meta-narrative weave throughout the funeral as the narrator/author explains, "I was both there and not there. I was attending/ the funeral of a character I'd created;" (256). We are then brought back to the earlier parallel made between his own mother and Maud: "to see light going/ from her image, and that image was my mother's/. . .Join, interchangeable phantoms"(266). In the joining of the character of Maud and his mother, the narrator reveals his own inspirations for and connections to the story he is telling. In the Major's final hymn, sounds begin to soar around like birds, and Achille takes notice of the swift and other birds on Maud's quilt, the one she has in previous chapters been described sewing. The swift is an image that has been carried throughout the poem as a guide, the bird of the Caribbean, and possibly a representation of the poem itself. The suggestion in this ending image is that the author's story is in Maud's quilt, within the birds telling the story of the island: ". . .but all the horned island's birds. . .silently screeching there"(267).
Part III: As Plunkett takes his wife's coffin out of the church he looks first at Achille and Philoctete, and then at Helen, whose blatant reaction is to turn away. All three seem to be feeling a sense of guilt, as implied by Achille's "red hands", Helen turning her veil away, and the play-on-words of "guilt" and "gilt" (267). Walcott, as narrator, comments on the detachment of the people there with their short smiles of "gracious detachment, but with no special surprise/ at their devotion" (267). Achille waits until the aisle is cleared and heads out. Helen then approaches Achille and states,"I coming home"(267).
This chapter brings us through Maud's funeral, start to end, and serves to reveal more about the author's own connections with his story and characters, as well as the challenges of writing. As we as readers are increasingly let into this world of the author, the actual telling of the story becomes more complex through use of meta-narrative, but a sense of resolution is also beginning to emerge. Achille's mourning and acceptance of Hector's death, Helen's coming home, and the contact between Achille and Plunkett are all forms of release and resolution.
Baize : woolen cloth often used for billiards tables (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baize)
Glen-da-Lough : Maud's hometown in Ireland
Larches : Large conifer trees native to the cooler temperatures of the northern hemisphere (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Larch)
Les Nympheas : Series of Monet's water lily series paintings. Pictures seen here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Water_Lilies
Missals : liturgical book containing instructions and texts necessary for performing Mass throughout the year (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Missal)
Nib : sharpened point of quill
Saltibus : city in St. Lucia
Part I: Chapter fifty-four shifts from the perspective of Major Plunkett to the narration of the poet/writer. The narrator sees Plunkett at the bank the day after Maud’s funeral. One of the banana farmers in line makes a rude comment about Plunkett collecting insurance, presumably Maud’s, very quickly and the narrator chastises him. The narrator realizes how similar Plunkett and the farmers are: “he was one with the farmers, transplanted to the rich dirt / of their valleys, a ginger-lily from the moss” (268). The narrator critically examines Plunkett’s role in the Caribbean and compares him to “a white, red-knuckled heron / in the reeds, who never wanted the privilege / that peasants, from habit, paid to his complexion” (268). The narrator recognizes Plunkett’s farcical position as colonial gentry and understands Plunkett retains his class respect by using the language of the colonizer “from the height of his pig-farm” (269). Plunkett tells the narrator he should come over and see the quilt Maud had been embroidering for years, and the narrator thinks back to his youth when Plunkett acted as the narrator’s childhood “Sergeant Major” forcing him into learning of the Island's colonial past. Plunkett saw the education of the native children as “his duty / to make us all gentlemen if not officers.” (270)
Part II: The narrator thinks about the morning he and Plunkett see Helen on the beach. Both men use different ways of relating to her, “two opposing stratagems / in praise of her and the island” (271). Plunkett looks at Helen through a historian’s eyes, trying to fit her into a historic metaphor. The narrator admits he’s no better, and he painted a portrait of the Caribbean Helen as a mirror of Helen of Troy. The narrator questions why neither man can see her as the sun sees her, beautiful “with no Homeric shadow” (271).
Part III: The narrator addresses the problem of interpreting the novel’s events through a literary lens. He asks himself why the novel has to use Greek myth, and muses that literature’s conception of history is just as skewed as Plunkett’s History. He concedes that molding the story to reflect Greek myth was “mine to make what I wanted of it, or / what I thought I wanted” (272). He questions whether he will ever be allowed to “enter the light beyond metaphor.” (271)
Part one focuses primarily on the narrator’s interaction with Plunkett. It reveals how the narrator sees the old man, explaining that his current state is greatly less than in years passed. The narrator explains that Plunkett was the one who “led us in Kipling’s requiem”(269) which taught the children early on to be subjects of the British Empire. Part two is the distinction between the literary and the mythical lenses used to categorize someone. Part three is the narrator facing his poetic subject and critically examine why he chose the medium he did. The narrator asks himself the basic question: Why Greek Myth?
Rudyard Kipling: An English novelist who wrote extensively on British imperialism.
Part I opens with Ma Kilman, Philocete, and Seaven Seas having Christmas dinner. Feeling excited and gracious about the full table of food , Philoctete proclaims to Ma Kilman, "you cannot say life not good, or people not kind." (273) In concurrence with him, Ma Kilman responds, "it good." (273) The next morning Achille wakes up to honor Boxing Day; the day after Christmas where workers in the service industry have the day off and are given Christmas boxes. To honor this day, Achille is going to emulate a worker woman, "Today he was not the usual kingfish-fighter but a muscular woman, a scarf round his head." (273) Achille takes a shower and goes outside and comments on the stillness of the village; "the village was hung over. The sun slept in the street like a dog..."(273)
In Part II Helen is assisting Achille and Philoctete to dress up as women for Boxing Day. At first it was a comical experience for her as she watched their elbows wiggle "through the armholes of the tight lemon dress." (275) However, Helen quit laughing and suddenly "everything she did was serious" (275) As she knelt down to attach bells to the bottom of their skirt, mirrors that "necklaced the split bodice" captured her face and the tears that were in her eyes. After they were dressed, they "set out for the hot road towards Castries." (276)
Part III describes the celebration taking place in town where Philoctete and Achille dance to music of three musicians. Achille spinns around with "quick-stuttering heels" (276) but then suddenly stops. "With the wand and the fluttering mitre" (276) Achille walks to the other end of the street where he begins spinning again "lighter than a woman". Dancing in a dainty style, the reader is reminded of his physical appearance, which creates a strong and comical juxtaposition; "with the absurd strength of his calves and his tossing neck, which shook out the mitre like a lion's mane..." (277) Meanwhile, as Philoctete is dancing, the pain from his leg injury comes back. "All the pain re-entered Philoctete...He swallowed his nausea, and spun his arms faster"(277). Once the music stopped, "Achille, with great arrogance' sent 'Philoctete to bow and pick up the coins on the street" (277). The section ends with Philoctete finally able to sit in which he immediately weeps from the extraordinary pain.
Analysis: As Achille dresses as a "warrior-woman" in part I, he is reclaiming African culture, he is reclaiming his "own epitaph, his own resurrection." Helen's sudden change in mood lends to the fact that she could have become self conscious by the fact that Achille and Philoctete are dressing as women- in particular, Helen, by wearing a yellow dress. Gender roles are brought out and accentuated between them on this particular day; perhaps
Bight of Benin- a bay on the western coast of Africa that extends to the output of the Niger River. Historically, this area was heavily used in the Atlantic slave trade and became known as the 'slave coast.'
epitaph- an inscription on a tomb or mortuary monument that commemorates the deceased person.
calabash- any type of gourd