OMEROS:BOOK THREE

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Book Three (Chapters XXV-XXXII)

Chapter XXV

Part I: Achille goes into a sort of day dream while on the boat. He is in a canoe which reaches the shores of "Africa," and the scenery reminds Achille of images from movies he had seen as a child. The canoe enters a river and there are very “Heart of Darkness-like” descriptions of the landscape: “Knotted logs… oven-mouthed hippopotami… skeletal warrior” (pg. 133). Achille is afraid of the river which is unfamiliar. Instead they are compared to the African movies he saw as a child. "The endless river unreeled those images that flickered into real mirages." (pg. 133). Achille is apprehensive about the trip back "home" but has no choice in the matter; he must continue forward. "Achille wanted to scream, he wanted the brown water to harden into a road, but the river widened ahead and closed behind him," (pg. 134). He hears monkies screeching in trees and there is a comment that the mud is "the deepest terror", because it has, "no shadow," (pg 134). After hours of sailing sunlight finally filters through and he sees people, whom Achille identifies with: “And a light inside him wakes/skipping centuries, ocean and river, and Time itself” (134). Achille imagines that God gave him the swift as a guide to bring him home, but then is confused between Christianity (the white man’s religion) and the tribal gods of his people. He struggles to remember the names of the river and tree-god (which represent his journey and means of transportation, as well as his African roots) as he arrives at the settlement. Part II: Achille thinks that he remembers the river from a previous life and refers to his boat as a “homecoming canoe” and cries because he is so happy. Yet, he also seems nervous and excited as he comes to shore. "They walked with his homecoming canoe past bonfires in a scorched clearing near the edge of the soft-lipped shallows where noise hurt his drumming heart as the progue slid its raw, painted wedge toward the crazed sticks of a vine-fastened pier," (pg. 135). The narrator appears briefly to say that “Half of me was with him. One half with the midshipman/by a Dutch canal” (135). This shows that the narrator can feel what Achille is experiencing in "Africa" while he is still in the Antilles. The natives welcome Achille and touch his strange clothing, then bring him to a hut. Achille sees a man walking towards him and knows it is his father because he recognizes himself in him.

Part III: Achille stands before his father, and the narrator remarks that there were "two worlds mirrored there...and Time stood between them," (pg. 136). This alludes to the world of the Caribbean and that of Africa. Still, their reunion is one of joy: “They swirled in the estuary of a bewildered love," (pg. 136). They talk (even though they don’t speak the same language) and walk through the village, and people smile at Achille like a prisoner of war returning from the war and from his captors. Achille’s father’s name is Afolabe and he asks what Achille’s name means, but Achille doesn’t know. He tells his father that though he doesn’t remember his original name or the origins of his new one, he did remember the way to get back to Africa. Afolabe does not care about this, and only scorns his son for not knowing his name. Afolabe explains the importance of having a name that means something and he asks an interesting question. "Did they think you were nothing in the other kingdom?" (pg. 137). Afolabe calls his son, "the ghost of a name," (138). He asks "Why did I never miss you until you returned...Are you the smoke from a fire that never burned?" (pg. 139). This shows that Africa was unaware of the Caribbean until the Caribbean people recognized and revealed itself. "...Where the past was reflected as well as the future," (pg. 139).

Analysis: The major theme in this chapter is one of identity and homecoming and what it means to Achille and his father. Shadows are refered to here as part of the light, the self, and identity. "No man loses his shadow except it is in the night, and even then his shadow is hidden, not lost," (pg. 138). Names are very important in African society because they tell about the character of the person, so Afolabe cannot understand why Achille does not care about his name. There is almost a Prodigal Son allusion when Afolabe asks: “Why did I never miss you until you returned?/Why haven’t I missed you, my son, until you were lost?” (139). This chapter begins a new era in the poem, one that takes place in Africa and deals with Achille re-connecting to his roots.

Glossary:

River-horse: hippopotamus

Estuary: the wide part of a river where it nears the sea

keel: longest framework on a boat; flatbottomed vessel

pirogue: canoe

prow: painted front part of a boat

Chapter XXVI

Part I Achille's loss of historic identity serves as the main theme of this chapter. This is done with the use of imagery, especially uprooted trees. Achille knows a future that he cannot discuss with others. This future is given the air of a lost identity. While Achille chews kola nut and drinks palm wine (ritualistic acts), he listens to a griot whose song is compared to a melody of an African instrument and tells the story of an African mythic character who is directed off course for a blasphemous act. This involves forgetting the gods of his heritage, which are replaced by an albino god. One morning Achille leaves open the door to his hut (which was given to him to enjoy with a wife, however he has lost Helen) and goes down to a clearing calling out the gods names, but the trees do not listen and he is left standing next to an uprooted tree.

Part II Achille withdraws from the other villagers and goes to a river where he sees a reflection of a canoe but does not associate it with the canoe. The imagery of a shadow or reflection not being associated with its initial object becomes a prominent allusion. At dawn he wakes to the sound of a cockcrow inside his head. He is sad to find himself in bed at home and goes down to the river. He sees the other men working together, but he feels estranged. Achille tries to clear his thoughts by drinking beer, but the drink only stirs up melancholic memories of Philoctete.

Part III Achille "walked the ribbed sand under the flat keels of whales" (142). He is at the bottom of the sea and walks for three hundred years (probably in his memory). He sees huge cemeteries and old anchors. He then sees his own shadow or his history in the objects lying at the bottom of the sea: "over barnacled cannons whose hulks sprouted anemones / like Philoctete's shin" (142). Eventually the sea level lowers until he emerges: "his head broke clear" and "his fins spread their toes." (142) Achille can now see the "life he had left behind" (143). He is then blinded shortly by the salt glare and regains his vision: "the shoreline returned in relief" (143). He wakes to the sun “scratching at the door of the hut” and the smell of a river, not the sea (143). On the day of his feast the villagers dance the same dance of the mitred warriors whose headgear is made of plantain waste. Everything they do is “The same, the same” (143). The rituals and the essence of these people's culture seem to have been preserved.

Interpretive Commentary: The imagery of a detachment from identity mirrors the way Achille feels toward the other men working down at the river. In the dreamlike submersion under the sea Achille experiences old ship wrecks covered by nature and his transformation from a fishlike being to a human. This sequence of events show his descent into his past, the shadow, to regain his historical identity, and thus bridge the gap between the shadow or reflection and its initial object.

Glossary:

Griot: An oral historian or poet.

Mitre: A traditional headgear.

Chapter XXVII

'Part I' Achille hears axes cutting trees, these echoes are the “prediction and memory” of a village that had been raided while Achille was there. A tribe attacks with a “drizzle of shafts arched and fanned over the screaming huts.” Archers trample the yams, and the fishermen come running from the shore. The raid was a swift surprise, making it especially successful. The attack stopped quickly, "yielding slaves", in other words 15 slaves were taken from the village, and Achille walks through the village, with open doors like “open graves.”

Part II Achille climbs a ridge watching the working men turn to ants and disappear. He goes down into the village encircled by a thorn barrier; its abandoned. He goes through a door to find Seven Seas, who is deaf and blind. He wonders where all the dead are (the bodies being from a different time). The bodies have disappeared into their own souls. Achille relives his sadness about slavery and dies emotionally..

Part III He walks back to the council hut and finds a griot. The griot holds ashes in one hand, and thuds his chest; which is compared to a rotted and caved canoe. Seven Seas is linked to this rotting canoe. Achille, playing a mock war game, finds an oar and uses it as a weapon. He swims over to the opposite shoreline, where he has a fit a madness (which he associates with Hector) in the mangroves. This feeling of insanity lingers behind, and he attacks it with the oar splitting its head. Achille then starts to believe he can change the future and make the river flow backward. But he is grabbed by a vine at his ankle like a shackle. Ants crawl over him and “his blind eyes stared from the mud” (148). He lies there with the lingering madness, the bow, and the broken oar.

Analysis This chapter starts to make unclear transition between different places and time periods. Achille goes back and forth between wars, the slave trade in Africa several centuries earlier and the present Caribbean. (There is also the use of western rooted metaphors mixed in with African imagery and metaphor.) Achille is also depicted as physicaly fighting with his emotions.

Chapter XXVIII

Part 1: Achille hears a griot (a traveling poet- similar to a bard) tell his "prophetic song of sorrow that would be the past." (pg. 148) In the song, the griot claims "we were the colour of shadows" (149) before being shipped across the Ocean to be sold, and those shadows are printed on the sands of both Africa and the Caribean. The slaves' "river-gods changed from snakes into currents," (149) and their own ribs became more pronounced, perhaps from a lack of food. The corpses were thrown overboard, and floated back to African sands. The griot ends with "remember us to the black waiter bringing the bill." (149) When the song is finished, Achille triumphantly thinks: “But they crossed, they survived” (149). Achille also thinks of the wide range of places the slaves were taken to: “Ashanti one way, the Mandingo another, the Ibo another, the Guinea. Now each man was a nation in himself, without mother, father, brother” (150). The former slaves populate the whole world. Walcott is trying to show how the former Africans are all connected through their diaspora from Africa. The sea becomes their common ground.

Part 2: Section 2 begins with the declaration that all men are born makers ever since Adam. This declaration is labeled, "pre-history." (150) The African slaves who came to the Caribbean began making canoes out of the trees and their fingers, “grew leaves in the foetid ground of the boat” (150). Achille and the other blacks are, “dismembered branches, not men” (150). "Each carried the nameless freight of himself to the other world." (150) They were dismembered from their ancestral tree, Africa, and are now nameless. The slaves were greeted with familiar sand, men, a bright son and disinterested slave ship captains.

Part 3: This section is about the passage of time and the loss of identity. The sea is turning them into, “one nation of eyes and shadows and groans, in the one pain that is inconsolable, the loss of ones shore with its crooked footpath.” (151). The slaves wept not just for their lost families, but the lost roles they played in Africa. For example, the fisherman cried because he missed his familiar river. The Caribbean is their home now; their tribal roots have long since been lost: “...what began dissolving/ was the fading sound of their tribal name for the rain” (152).

Analysis: Walcott is trying to show how the former Africans are all connected through their diaspora from Africa. The sea becomes their common ground. The griot wants this forced journey to be remembered. Achilles ancestors' world changed because of this journey: their language and gods dissolved.

Glossary

Blight of Benin: Bay in West African Coast. [1]

Ashanti: Ethnic group in Ghana, West Africa. [2]

Mandingo: Also called the Mandinka. Mande ethnic group in West Africa. [3]

Ibo: Ethnic group in West Africa, numbering in tens of millions. [4]

Guinea: Country in West Africa. In the 15th Century, saw the beginning of the slave trade. [5]

Chapter XXIX

Part 1: This section turns to Helen, who is staying with Hector. She hears the song of a dove and thinks not of the nightingale's song during Agamemnon's death, but the song of the Aruac tribe. "It was not the song that twittered from the veined mesh of Aggamenmon, but the low-fingered O of an Aruac flute." (152) The Aruacs were a native tribe in the Caribbean which was almost completely wiped out by colonizers. The O of the song returns to Book 1 with the song of the conch shell: “but the low-fingered O of an Aruac flute” (152). Song becomes a major communion point for all the characters in Walcott's poem. After the dove's song, Helen is seen waiting for Hector. Helen, in this chapter, is Penelope waiting for Odysseus's arrival: “Not Helen now, but Penelope”. The section ends with Helen in a very provocative situation, naked on her unmade bed. "She sprawled on the unmade bed, brown and naked as God made her." (153)

Part 2: This section is a conversation between Seven Seas and Philoctete. They are discussing the disappearance of Achille. Seven Seas says Achille is looking for his identity: “His name is what he out looking for, his name and his soul” (154). Seven Seas believes Achille went looking for his name in Africa, the home of his ancestors. This whole poem is about the search for lost identity. This part ends with a belief in miracles: “What else left to believe but miracles? Whose vision/ except a blind man's, or a blind saint's, her name as bright as the islands” (154). The “her” in this quote is of course Helen, not only the Homeric Helen, but also one of the many names St. Lucia had before it was called St. Lucia. The blind man's vision of Achille is Homer's poetic vision from the Iliad and the Odyssey. Homer, according to some historians and critics, was blind. This particular section pays tribute to the Odyssey and the Iliad, which Omeros is partly based on.

Part 3: This section returns to Achille who is daydreaming about one of his encounters with Helen. Achille, in bed with Helen, puts his arm around her and she screams, “Monster!” (154). She claims to have had too much to drink the night before. Helen makes another transformation in this part; instead of being Helen or Penelope, she becomes Circe, the witch in the Odyssey: “Then Circe embraced her swine” (155). Achille returns to the present moment while on the boat and thinks about the overheard sails and the sea and how they have seen three centuries of the submerged archipelago. They have seen governments fall, treaties shredded, and stock markets plummet. Achille then thinks of the sea and how its dark fathoms are godless and indifferent to human problems. Achille also questions the idea that his race is somehow inferior to the whites; if all fishes are equal in the sea, why are blacks not equal to white people? "...fleeing the inqusition a Sephadic merchant,bag/ locked in one elbow, crouched by a Lisbon dock and in that position was reborn in the new world." (155) This section portrays Achille as a deeply troubled man trying to find his identity in an island that has faced many obstacles.


Analysis This section over many others truly gets into the relationship Omeros has with the Odyssey, and at the same time the relationships between Walcott's writing and the works of Homer. The final part in this particular section shows Achille questioning the motivation behind inequality and carries the idea of trying to find an identity, but he alludes to the Inquisition and describes another race that is run out of there land and forced to find a new place and identity. That feeling is expressed by not only Achille throughout the poem but by Walcott himself. Its not Walcotts personal experince with it but the experince the people he is writing about and for went through. Walcott uses again in this section other historical time periods seperate from slavery in the caribbean to accent the strife felt by countless other grounps.


Glossary:


Agamemnon: king of Mycenae and brother of Menelaus, commander-in-chief of the Greek expedition against Troy. [6]

Creole: Of mixed black an European heritage. [7]

Fatel Rozack: the first ship to bring indentured labourers from India to Trinidad

Troumasse River: River in St. Lucia.

Sephardic: name applied to Spanish Jews. Descendants of jewish families driven out of Spain during the Inquisition.

Cape of Good Hope: A rocky headland on the atlantic coast of South Africa. One of the most significant capes in the South Atlantic, a very important area for sailors.

Chapter XXX

Part I: This chapter opens on Achille’s small boat. He and the character known as “the mate” have been at sea for a few days and the mate stayed up all night steering the boat. When Achille wakes in the morning he is visibly distracted, so the mate asks Achille where his mind was. “Africa,” (157) Achille responds. The mate urges Achille to put his captain hat back on and get his head out of the clouds. The mate changes the subject and tells Achille he caught a king fish that night. The mate explains how the fish fought back until “the tails wedge had drifted into docility.”(158) Meanwhile Achille slept through the entire skirmish, “Cradled at the bow like a foetus, like a sea-horse, his memory dimmed in the sun with the scales of the albacore.”(158) On the trip back to land, they watch an old black frigate bird follow the white seagulls and steal their fish. Achille remarks that “… them stupid gulls does fish / for him every morning. He himself don’t catch none, / white slaves for a black king.” (158) they watch the bird fly into the sky, and Achille is reminded of his ancestor Afolabe. This section alludes to the impact of slavery by granting the roles of master and slave to the frigate and sea gulls. Walcott acts to further distinguish the bird metaphor by defining the nature of this relationship, “the black magnificent frigate met the gull halfway with the tribute; the gull dropped the mackerel but the frigate bird caught it before it could break the water and flew.”(158)

PartII: This section describes the two men heading back to the island from open sea. Achille thrives on the sense of freedom he gets from sailing and believes in the inherent liberty the ocean provides. “Like Parchment Charts at whose corners four winged heads spout / jets of curled, favoring gusts, their cheeks like cornets / till the sails belly... so strong gusts favored the sail" (159). Achille wants to shout from happiness but is afraid the mate might hear him. The narrator takes a step back and explains that in writing about the Greek Omeros, he’s received the same freedom Achille gets from the ocean. The narrator talks about “homing with him, Homeros, my nigger, / my captain, his breastplate bursting with happiness!” (159) the narrator asks for a hero’s welcome for the returning Achille, his fishing trip like a battle won. Unlike ancient Greece, the Caribbean holds a skewed image of what a glorious homeland is, and the narrator facetiously comments on the dilapidated condition of the island, saying “Let the dolphins like outriders escort him now past Barrel of Beef, and see the white balconies of the hotel dipping with the bow, and, under his heel, / the albacore’s silver weight.” (160)

Part III: This section begins with Achille reciting an old Christian hymn, which he feels he can’t speak aloud. He thinks of the lines first in the local creole followed by its English translation. As Achille and the mate pull their boat up to the harbor, the mate blows a conch-shell to signal their safe return. The reader follows its low note, ringing out “like a ground dove” (160) the call reaches Philoctete up in his lush yam garden. Philoctete asks God’s pardon for doubting if Achille’s ship would return. Seven Seas, who is down by the ocean, also hears the conch and waves to the men. Achille notices that Helen is down by the beach but decides not to say anything. He watches her leave and the mate hoists an albacore.

Interpretive Commentary: In part one the two men observe the frigate, which eats the fish caught by the gulls, a symbolic representation that the slaves and master relationship is that of a cancer; the slave owner's toil becomes the owner's reward. Part two discusses Achille's return home, and the reader sees the clarity Achille possesses on the ocean, like he belonged there. The third section of this chapter alludes to what Achille thinks about Philoctete's Christianity, he has little patience for it.


Glossary: Albacore- A large marine fish in the tuna family.

Cumuli- a classification of cloud mass which develops vertically, often resembling cauliflower.

Kingfish: A large silvery-blue mackerel that can reach upwards of fifty pounds. [10]

Frigate bird: Commonly called Man-o'-war, or Pirate bird. This is a black frigate pelican which often obtains its meals by robbing other seabirds. [11]

Chapter XXXI

Part I: In this scene, Achille strolls down the deserted streets of the town, amazed at how it compares to the lively party that flooded the streets the night before. He replays the music in his head, stuck on the Bob Marley song “Buffalo Soldier,” which is fitting because the song itself deals with Marley’s search for his own genealogy, a problem Achille is himself dealing with. As Achille approaches the beach, the beating of the surf makes the bass of the music in his head beat louder, and then he imagines a buffalo and a black rider. As the rider turns his head, Achille discovers that the rider’s face is his own. He imagines a battle between himself and the “Red Indians bouncing to a West Indian rhythm” (161). He sees the Indians approaching on a ridge. They are compared to palm trees. He gets into a boat, which he imagines is his steed, and pulls out an oar and his Winchester rifle. He shoots and shoots, watching the Indians (the palms) crumple to the ground. The scene ends with Achille surveying the battlefield which is littered with “palm spears", bodies: "like Aruacs/falling to the muskets of the Conquistadors” (162).

Part II: This is a continuation of the same Saturday mentioned in Part I. Achille is raking the falling branches and leaves of the pomme-Arac and placing them inside a firing barrel. He ponders the history of the island and the nature that inhabits it; more specifically, he wonders “where trees got names” (163). Achille spots an Iguana in the leaves and freezes for a moment as the lizard scurries off. Then as if from nowhere, his question is answered. He learns from Seven Seas that “Aruac mean the race/that burning there like the leaves and pomme is the word/in patois for ‘apple.’ This used to be their place” (163). He then discovers a totem with a crudely designed face on it; he found the history he was looking for. However, he wrenches the artifact out of the soil and tosses it over a hedge, as if he was displeased with finding the artifact. The artifacts still hidden, “like moles/or mole crickets in the shadow of History (164), burrowed deeper into their holes, hoping never to be found.

Part III: This brief section ties together the previous two, by comparing the destruction of the Aruac and that of the Sioux. As Achille burns the excess foliage, the blue smoke rises up entering the air or “God’s eye” (164). Seven Seas tries to tell Achille the names of the different plants, and recounts to him his history, describing his life living with the Indians of North America. He names mountains and describes snow. This scene links the history of St. Lucia to that of the Aruacs, which is then linked to the rest of the Native American people that have lived elsewhere. It demonstrates how history and identity are interwoven.

Interpretive Commentary: This Chapter has an underlying motif of identity. Achille identifies with the buffalo soldier. The palms are like the Aruacs centuries before Achille's time. The iguana is the historian of the island. The Aruac artifacts are like moles who dig deeper so that they can never be found. Moreover, this chapter ties identity to history by connecting the Aruac to the Sioux, and Achille's past and search for identity to these ancient cultures.

Glossary:

Buffalo Soldier: Soldiers who were part of the first all-black regiments in the US military. It is also a song by Bob Marley.

History of Buffalo Soldiers in US military:[8] History of "Buffalo Soldier," the song by Bob Marley: [9] Lyrics for "Buffalo Soldier": [10]

Ghost Dance: A movement in the 19th century that brought together various Native American beliefs: [11]

Chapter XXXII

Part I: The poet-narrator recounts a visit to his mother when she was old and dying in a nursing home. He remarks on her passing using many floral metaphors, such as "when all that brightness had withered like memory's flower,/like the allamanda's bells and the pale lilac//bougainvillea vines that had covered our gabled house" (166). He notes that the other women at the home are both resigned to the flow of time and curious about it; they wonder what happens to time for a friend that has died. At first the poet-narrator's mother cannot recognize her son, but after a while she remembers her life with her family. The narrator tells her that he must leave to go back to the United States soon, and says "There is too much absence," a feeling which relates back to his feelings on St. Lucia (166). The section ends with his mother being haloed with vine leaves.

Part II: After leaving the home, the poet-narrator wanders the streets and travels back to St. Lucia in his mind. He laments his "amnesia" for the island, which has forgotten him as much as he has forgotten it (167). He states, "It was another country, whose excitable/gestures I knew but could not connect with my mind,/like my mother's amnesia" (167). Lost in reverie, he hears the noises of the island: the wind sweeping over the bungalows and down the breakers, the patois of the natives. The section concludes with the image of a moth by the lamp.

Part III: The moth's shadow ripples over the lagoon, and the color lilac is repeated in the reef. It calls the narrator's attention to a single sail, the sail of a canoe, coming near the island. It is Achille's canoe, coming back to the island. Achille watches the narrator's plane fly over his canoe as the narrator leaves the island for the US.

Analysis: This chapter contains clear themes of movement. From the mother's movement from life to death, to Achille's and the poet-narrator's return to the island, to the moth flying over the lagoon, everything in this chapter is in motion. Ties are established between Maud and the poet-narrator's mother by way of their flowers and their stitching, a tie which foreshadows Maud's death. Ties are shown between the poet-narrator and Achille, both of whom return to St. Lucia the former in his mind and the latter in his canoe. In section two, there is connection in the reverie between Africa and St. Lucia, as there is talk of a continent and an "older darkness" (167). Interestingly, the color lilac keeps popping up. Traditionally, the lilac flower means first love, which can be related to both the poet-narrator's feelings for his mother and St. Lucia. There is also a feeling of leaving something behind; the poet leaves behind his character, Achille, when the narrator leaves this island.

Glossary:

Allamanda: a shrub or woody vine with large yellow or purple trumpet-shaped flowers allamanda

Bougainvilleas: ornamental woody vine with bright red or purple flowers, each having three petals bougainvilleas

Ephemeral: fleeting, transient, markedly brief ephemeral

Gros Ilet: a town in St. Lucia

Lateen sail: a triangular sail hung from a short mast sail lateen sail

Solicitous: anxious, attentive, concerned solicitous

Standpipe: a vertical water pipe often used for supplying fire hoses standpipe