Book Two (Chapters XIV-XXIV)
Part I: The author for this chapter decided to change the setting from the present to the past. The era he chooses is the Revolutionary War, when the islands were being developed as colonies for the British. The character in this passage is a man named Plunkett, though he is not an ancestor of present day Plunkett, he is sent as a spy to "The Hague" at dusk. Through out the scene he is in a coach with a farmer on his way to city. The reader gets a sense at the beginning that Plunkett is uncomfortable with the islands. The narrator shows this at the beginning through his description of Plunkett. He describes Plunkett’s reading as a way to “fortify character/ was by language and observation" (77). This leads to Plunkett’s first observation of a marsh in which he compares the smell to an “embalmer”(77). The author also uses the figure of the farmer as way to provoke Plunkett to push this image. He describes the farmer as empty vessel who “averted each offer with a hardening smile/ at this bulk, obese and turgid as his Empire” (79). Like a body this man is shown to be an empty vessel that resembles the empire of the Dutch. However, it seems that Plunkett likes the place because the writer tells the reader that “were it not for the war he might have loved this place” (79).
Part II: This part continues with Plunkett’s story in which he spies on the harbor and gets the intelligence he needs to help his side win. However, the night watchman cries out, and Plunkett and the farmer hide between kegs of gunpowder unitl Plunkett realizes he has to escape. The major symbols are the moon and the chickens. The moon seems to be metaphor for clarity. The narrator shows this when he writes “he walked the edge of the port/as the moonlight amazed him…he cold read his palm by it and from this distance/ the curled brass names of the vessel under their prows”(80). This allows the character to memorize the names of the ships. The moon is also compared to a startled hare during the escape, which mimics Plunketts pulse. The chickens are also important personnel for Plunkett. They are described “uncomplaining” and “resigned to their fate” (79). It is like he’s comparing to himself as a spy and man who has duty that he cannot change. The night watchmen search with lanterns and muskets for him. He gets injured and eventually moves back to the coach where his sword is hidden, still being compared to the hare. "...and moved like the crippled hare back towards its den/ leaving drops on the snow, heart like a lantern/ that hunters might see, or wine-drops that redden/ a snowy tablecloth, to where his sword was hidden" (81). Plunketts intelligence did help though, and after the defeat of a small Dutch island facing Martinique, Rodney began building a fort to help defeat the French.
Part III: We move to St. Lucia, where the redcoat soldiers and slaves work together to defeat the French. They haul up a cannon onto a cliff. It's a dangerous job, if the rope were to fray then it would bring down the slaves and soldiers hoisting it up. Achilles' ancestor, Afolabe, is one of the slaves helping to lift the cannon. He helps relax everyone by singing a work song about hauling up a pirpgue, or canoe, when everyone is groaning under the pressure of the cannon's weight. Eventually the cannon reaches the top, like an iguana climbing. The slaves and engineers embrace eachbother, and point the cannon at the French boats. The Admiral renames Afolabe "Achilles", and he allows him to because it's the simple thing to do.
Part 1 serves to underline the conflict of the Dutch versus the English during the time period of the Revolutionary War. The Farmer, obese and rural, is used as a metaphor for the Netherlands. His face and appearance are compared to the natural world of the Netherlands, "...the clustered berries on his nose,...the eyebrows' haystacks, the dull canal gaze of his reflection, the foreheads deep plowed-furrows, the bovine leisure with which he turned away eyes stupefied by distances" (78). In contrast, Plunkett is the symbol of the British, literary and intelligent. The idea behind the death imagery through out the chapter is that these islands are not alive in a sense because they owned by the Dutch.
Part 2 The moon and the Hare are both symbolism for Plunkett. “While the startled moon, like a hunted hare, scurried through the bare masts as leafless as its winter hills to a snowcrest of powdery cloud.” (81) Here the hare and the moon are both being compared to each other. Plunkett is referenced into it when “the hare stood with its limp forepaws, ears pronged, its quivering nostrils veering like a compass till it found the black wood under whose rigging the Night Watch crunched like hunters climbing with shouldered guns towards it. “ (81) Plunkett and the hare are one in the same. Plunkett remembers himself hunting a hare, and then refers to himself as hare creating a scene of the hunter now the hunted. Also the cloud that covers both the midshipmen and the moon shows that when one is covered by the other is well. If made into a triangle Plunkett would be on top and the other two symbols on the bottom. The moon connects to the hare, the hare connects to Plunkett and Plunkett is connected to the moon forming a triangle.
In part 3 Achilles' name and ancestor's past is explained. Afolabe serves to help the army of slaves and engineers accomplish their goal of lifting the cannon, and becomes the hero. The Admiral renames him Achilles because of this. The main idea of this passage is to show how the British are fighting, but the blacks are doing the back breaking manual labor. They are described as “black warrior ants” that “let the ropes saw their hands till they bled on the hemp”(83). This animalistic image is also used for the cannon, which is described as an Iguana. Iguanas are known to eat bugs, and it almost like the cannon will eventually be on them or at least a predator for the French. The cannon earlier is also described as a dead body, “It was bound like a cadaver lowered at sea burial, with this difference-that the roped body was rising out of the water” (82). In this case the cannon is lifeless and only become the lizard when it is on the hill. This may mean that objects are not alive until they reach the island. And if they have life maybe it changes to become like the island.
The Hauge-The 3rd largest city in the Netherlands
[http://imagesus.homeaway.com/vd2/propmaps/wvr/en/44/445604/st-lucia_445604.png Map of St. Lucia and Martinique]
Part I: This section opens at sunrise, on Rodney's boat in the British fleet, in a channel with three french islands named "Les Saintes." The ninth boat of the French fleet fired at The Marlborough, one of the British boats, but instead of retaliating, Rodney's flagship signaled his fleet to break from the "classic" attack pattern. The Marlborough decided not to engage in battle and steered away from the attack of cannons by crossing the enemy's trough (line) all while her sister boats followed behind her. "You have seen pelicans veer over pink water/ of an April bay" (84). Here Walcott alludes to the way pelicans glide just above the water in synchronization prior to attack. Rodney's attack fleet followed right behind, but the wind began to die down and all boats were forced to tack off-course which caused The Marlborough and the Ville de Paris to come literally side-by-side. They were so close that the crews on either ship could see and hear exactly what was going on in their opposing boats."So close that all their cannoneers could/ read the other's arc of ignition, hear the shout/ before the recoil, and see the splintering wood/ then close-fire muskets, like cicadas in drought/ or stones that crack from a fisherman's beach fire" (84). The English midshipman knew the boats were hull to hull. He knew the Admiral's orders to go below so he obeyed and went below.
Part II: This section begins at sunrise. The midshipman heard that a French ship had been hit and as he watched the smoke billowing up from the boat he thought to himself how proper sea battles are, "there was no war/ as courtly as a sea-battle" (85). Just as the midshipman began to enjoy the beauty of the moment, thinking that The Marlborough was out of harms way, The Marlborough rammed into the French boat, The Ville de Paris. He braced himself and grabbed his sword to ready for a fight, but the mainmast snapped and came crashing through the deck. "He held on, reached for his sword,/ when The Marlborough shuddered to the dying groan/ of the cracking mainmast, a gommier, a split elm,/ its leaves like collapsing canvas, covering the ground." In the final moment a huge wave of water crashed over the ship and it began to sink.
Part III: The midshipman climbed up the ladder to the main deck, sword in one hand and the ladder in the other, but the spray and the waves made it incredibly hard to get up the ladder. The currents are too strong and he crashed to the lower deck and stabbed himself with his own sword, causing a fatal wound. He pulled the sword out but as he did another surge sent him under and caused him to drown to death. His shipmates drained the breach and found the midshipman laying facedown, sworn still drawn in one hand. A wake of broken wine bottles, blood, shards of wood and other debris follows the Ville de Paris as it continues onward. "The casks and demijohns' blood/ stained the foam faintly, and now one of them settles/ on the sea-floor, its pyrite crusted and oblate/ with the sea-blown, distended glass."
This chapter is a recount of a naval battle near St. Lucia that Plunkett imagines. He is attempting to create an ancestry for himself on the island. He attempts this through the character of the midshipman, who is dead; the death of the midshipman eliminates most of the possibility that he was ever related to the current Plunkett. By trying to create this family history, Plunkett is trying to secure his place on the island, and reassure himself that he belongs there because (and though) he is the son of the colonizer.
Frigate: a warship that is larger than a destroyer and smaller than a cruiser, used primarily for escort duty. frigates
Demijohn: a large bottle having a short, narrow neck, and usually being encased in wickerwork. demijohn
Maw: a cavernous opening that resembles the open jaws of an animal. maw
Note: The word "gommier"(39) could not be found in a dictionary; however, the word "gammier" is a British informal word coming from "gammy," a word for disabled or lame. gammier
Part I Major Plunkett is at the War Office looking through his genealogy. The man who is helping him finds in his blood line, “blue blood” (87). Blue blood refers to some nobility within the family line. Finding this out of course, Plunkett does not protest or question. But he does wonder why the noble blood if of the Scottish, “But why Scots?” (87). The claymore he describes during the sequence of his wondering questions is a Scottish heritage crest. He is coerced into paying more, to know more. The presence of a shield at the bottom of the tree implies a kind of death, " A carved, scrolled shield waited at the willow's base (87). Walcott could be alluding to the old European tradition; in which knights of the aristocracy would die with their shield placed upon them. A shield resting on the family tree is essentially the death of the Plunkett name. This claim might be verified by the famous military battles depicted throughout the Plunkett genealogy as seen here, One pod was the Somme's. / It burst his father's lungs..... he'd paid some waxworks fellow / to draw flowers for battles, buds for a campaign....picking with his bill / from Agincourt to Zouave ( page 87). One certainly is inclined to think of the Plukett's as a long line of knights; and the line of a knight may not continue without a son. As the willow tree image of his blood line continues it displays his own name, “and a hyphen for a closing date, then a space for son and heir” (87). Plunkett says to the man helping him, described metaphorically as a raven, then a crow, that there is no heir, “No heir: the end of the line. No more Plunketts” (87). This opening part of the chapter highlights the emotions surrounding the fact that the Plunketts have no heir. The poem focuses on the description of the plot, what is happening to Plunkett and what he’s doing, and less on metaphors and the emotion of the scene. This process creates a climax for the ending of the section, which displays Plunkett’s reaction to affirming his lack of heir. The ending line is, “The crow wrote it on the design” (88). It gives a sense of finality to the situation for the Plunketts. It is written on the “design” which echoes the sentiments of the word destiny.
Part II The opening line sets up the sustaining plot throughout the entire section: “An evening with the Plunketts” (88). He is described marking cannons, logging their “Type, Trunions, Bore, Condition, Size, Weight” (88) into a ledger. It is placing Major Plunkett within his zone of preoccupation, war and the weapons that pertain to war. In juxtaposition, Maud Plunkett is described, “embroidering a silhouette from Bond’s Ornithology” (88). Bond being and expert on Caribbean birds, he wrote a book on the birds of the West Indies. The relationship is hence established, “their quiet mirrored in an antique frame” (88). It is a simple metaphor that expresses emptiness between them by associating it with the reflection of an image within a frame. As if to say, their relationship was as still as an image in a painting and as empty as one as well. The poem emphasizes how she’s embroidering birds, which is an already sustaining metaphor throughout Omeros. It is placed within the sphere of the Plunkett’s story of departure from their homeland: “They flew from their region” (88). It also places Maud as the subject of that metaphor as well, describing the moves effect on her using the diction of bird behavior: “pecked at her fingers” (88). The perception of this section is Major Plunkett, who is making these observations. This is made clear within the statement concerning his eyes: “The Major pinched his eyes . . .and saw her mind with each dip of her hand skim the pleated water like a homesick curlew” (89). A curlew is a bird which is a detail within this observation that carries forth the metaphor between Maud and her feelings and underscores their reminiscence to a bird flying from its nest. He realizes that once embroidering was her gift and now it has become her therapy. The focus on the essence of their relationship takes a metaphoric presence in the line: “the exact line of engagement was hard to find” (89). It suggests the meaning of their relationship, where the line is what connects them and over time it has become increasingly difficult to find and connect again. In the surface aspects of the image, the action goes back to describing Major Plunkett’s activity with the cannon markings. It was difficult for him to find the points of connection on the map and was getting tired.
Part III this section talks about Major Plunketts plan to go on a “masochistic Odyssey” through the British empire and to watch the last of it to fall “watch it go in the dusk” his alliteration to him self as a column with no roof just a pediment in his old uniform traveling through the empire shows how he has also gotten old and is like the ruins. “But Maud with an adamant Eve: Ill eat up your pension” Maud is like eve who leads Adam to the apples and weakens Adam. She is breaking Major Plunkett down and saying he cannot do this journey even though it is just a daydream. He says is if had a son (referring back to part I) he would go on this journey but since he is in old age he will not go on the journey but stay with his wife.
The chapter as a whole establishes the state of the Plunkett’s relationship and the reason for the tension and emptiness that exists within their connection to each other. It establishes the loneliness that exists between them, outlining all the causes for this breech; the lack of having an heir, Maud’s homesickness and Plunkett’s sad unfulfilled dream. Both Pluckett's share the image of a black bird in their individual depictions; this could symbolize death coming for them both as time slowly trickles past them. In this particular selection, Walcott tries to convey how the European perspective has failed to continue in the Caribbean.
"(Battle of) Somme": One of the most grueling conflicts of WWI during July 1 of 1916; in which the Allies tried to cross German defenses at the River of Somme ( France). British troops were among the heaviest of casualties, suffering losses in the thousands.
"(Battle of ) Agincourt": This particular battle was fought on October 25, 1495. It is one of the most celebrated English victories over France during The Hundred Years War.
" Zouave": Often refers to a elite military unit.
blue blood : nobility
Bond’s Ornithology : Expert on Caribbean birds, wrote a book: Birds of the West Indies
Cypseloides Niger : bird, The Black Swift
L’hirondelle des Antilles : The swallow of the island
egret : white bird
"masochistic Odyssey"- painful journey
"silver Jubliee Gift"- twenty five year gift
Part I: The first part of the chapter opens by describing how whenever Plunkett's mind starts to wander it is reciting the facts of a naval battle which took place off of St. Lucia between the British and the French. He has obsessed over this particular battle so much that he can name all eighty of the ships and also knows the facts about the water and wind conditions that contributed to the battles outcome. He soon “sigh(s) . . . lift(ing) his memory clear.” (91) At noon he is marching up to the fort in order to overlook the scene of the naval battle from the vantage point of the imaginary Calvary “he climbed to the fort/ as his self-imposed Calvary.” Once he reaches the fort he surveys the landscape ticking off military mistakes on a pamphlet from a museum with a V. One day while surveying the site he feels “very old eyes” (91) watching him. He spins around to discover a iguana sitting on a “hot noon cannon” (91). Plunkett starts to question the iguana asking if he has come to claim the island which was named for him. As the lizard turns towards the Caribbean, towards the site of the battle, Plunkett thrusts the pamphlet in front of the lizard. Plunkett says that “History was a cannon, not a lizard” (92) meaning that history is battles and victories not culture or past inhabitants. "Was the greatest battle in naval history, which put the French to rout, fought for a creature with a disposable tail and elbows like a goalie?" The lizard, described as having a “disposable tail”,(92) stands for something which does not matter and can be given up for survival. Troubled by why the battle took place, Plunkett questions if this is why "his countrymen died..For a lizard with an Aruac name?" Not understanding what was so important about the lizard (the representative for the island) Plunkett becomes enraged with the battle that happened. Furthmore, Plunkett's anger grows deeper with his final point to the lizard that when the blacks rewrite history, they will make the colonists into the villains. "History will be revised, and we'll be its villians, fading from the map." Plunkett storms out "slamming the door of the Rover". After he leaves however, he calms down, the cool air and breakwater bringing him back to himself. At the end of the section Plunkett returns to his car where “innumerable iguanas rand down the vines of his skin, like Helens cold smile” (93)
Part II: Plunkett is continuing his research into his personal history. He looks over an old cannon with an inscription of Georgius Rex on it. Maud makes a pun and states that it could be “Gorgeous Wrecks” (93). The poem explores how certain unassuming things take on a new meaning when history is applied to them. As Plunkett "came outside from a pissed tunnel" he began daydreaming about the past wondering how many soldiers died for "her". How much nature had been infected with “yellow fever from that lemon dress?” (93) Plunkett hears drums of the past in the rattling of a tree's pods. "Forever" is the flame tree's name "without any reason". He questions its name of immortality since it "would flare only in drought." All of this daydreaming is taking place while Plunkett is looking through an old military log of some sort. In it he finally finds his name. He is about to discover where his family is from, how he came to be where he is.
Part III: Plunkett is wondering where he may have come from, on what hill his ancestor had paused on in the past. He believes this to be the end of his search where he will find “a namesake and son” (94). He finds a number associated with a Midshipman ("nineteen"). He discovers that his ancestor had drowned and Plunkett begins to pray for him. Plunkett begins to "pray for his repose under the wreath of the lilac ink, the wreath of the foam with white orchids.” (94) I believe his imagery is alluding to the sea where his ancestor drowned; the "foam with white orchids" being the tips of the waves that cover his body. He decides to keep the namesake from Maud. He thinks back to his ancestor who is resting a hand a “warm loaf” (94) of the cannon. He also thinks of the government for which the cannon does its work.
Glossary of Terms and Allusions:
casuarina: a type of evergreen shrub or tree http://bugs.bio.usyd.edu.au/Mycology/images/Topics/Plant_Interactions/Mycorrhizas/Casuarina.jpg
Part I: As the battle moves away from St. Lucia in the direction of Guadeloupe, it is said that Helen is one of the causes. Rodney storms after the French Fleet in that direction causing such uproar that it can be heard in Europe. A reference is made between the peace of the ocean between Europe and the Eastern Seaboard. Rodney had the Dutch Islands on his side, yet he had to use the French Fleet to get to the New England Colonies. The travel was factual, following one chart, with no joy or emotions. This is the history read by Plunkett in his books, one that he finds dry and impartial. These pamphlets and lists of "factual fiction" dismiss the emotional truth of the island's real history; they avoid the "repetitious details" which allude to a superstition that the Major himself cannot believe in. Until one day when he walked into his bedroom to find the enchanting Helen slipping Maud’s bracelet onto her wrist. He was mesmerized. Her smell, her look, he was under her spell, “that victory was hers, and so was his passion” (96). He witnesses the real history of the island in her beauty. The words in empire history books tell him nothing in comparison to the sight of Helen trying on the bracelet.
Part II: After Helen leaves the bedroom Plunket picks up the bracelet. It coils and slithers into a snake, telling the major the power Helen's beauty holds over him, how it is she who is the master of his desire and temptation; it is she whose appeal portrays an accurate history of the island--her beauty is like the island's, she IS the island. The bracelet says that Plunkett is "Like an elder, trembling for Susanna"(97). But he defends himself by saying that his “...thoughts are pure. They’re meant to help her people, ignorant and poor (97). The bracelet hisses in reply, "But these...are the vows of empire." Plunkett is left disturbed over the representation of Helen that she is not just a servant but a temptation that proves his history, thoughts, and conscience are false. She was a magnet to him, he always knew where she was, wearing the same smile.
Part III: The scene cuts to the village where the division between the French and Anglo sides is described. On the Brit side local boys play Cricket, and on the French side there is a church, with "a cemetery of streaked stones and the tower of a Norman church where the old river died"(98). Wandering along the ruins the major searches through the midden, or mound of trash, near the cemetery for something he does not at first know.25 October 1760 until 1 January 1801, and thereafter of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland until his dea Like a burial ground of waste, the cemetery is built over the site of an old French outpost, and underneath the rubble he finds two brass regiment buttons. The buttons are not precious artifacts or relics, but instead the same as pieces of "domestic trash" put aside with the rest. Like the sites of Pompeii, Carthage, and Troy, the historic truth is buried at the bottom of a decaying dump, piled onto by generation after generation. Plunkett is looking for any artifact proving the glory of the facts that his books speak of, but instead he finds a trash heap. Simply put, all empire history is rubbish.
Analysis: The divisions between the French and Caribbean sides of St. Lucia are important to note when considering Alejo Carpentier's The Kingdom of this World. There are several similarities in the texts, one of which that the French legacy in the Caribbean is something decaying and rotting. And like the histories of ancient kingdoms and empires, the facts of the island are "written by a flag of smoke" that both cautions the reader about the truth and shrouds the reality of the past.
What is the metaphorical connection between what is happening in XVIII and Troy/Helen? What is the significance of mentioning Troy and Helen?
Circe - A goddess in Greek mythology who lived on the island of Aeaea and appears in Homer's Odyssey. Circe is represented as a sorceress who transforms her enemies into animals.
Gros Ilet -a section of St. Lucia.
Susanna -In the Book of Daniel, Susanna was put to death for adultery in a blackmail organized by elders who watched her bathing naked.
Judith -In the Book of Judith, Judith killed Holofernes, the commander of the Assyrian army who was attacking the Israelites.
ziggurat - a temple tower of the ancient Mesopotamian valley and Iran, having the form of a terraced pyramid of successively receding stories or levels. Some modern buildings with a Step pyramid shape have also been termed ziggurats.
Part I. Major Plunkett finds himself even more immersed in the history of the French and English war over the island of St. Lucia. He shows his findings on the names of ships, battles and sailors, and even has her learn certain phrases and names by heart. He considers the relations between the war he researches and the Trojan War. "Is this chance/or an echo? Paris gives a golden apple, a war is/fought for an island called Helen?" (100). What has made this war even more pertinent to Plunkett is the discovery of a sailor with his same name, a sailor he claims as a sort of son. He falls into a reverie imagining this Plunkett from earlier times, and imagines himself on the English ship. The section concludes with him pondering the service of the Englishmen, and realizing that it was not based in honor or faith. He prays for God to have mercy on their souls. This section is also filled with imagery hinting at the violence of the times of history remembered. "...beheaded them into the basket and up the stone stairs."(100) This conversion of trimming flowers to an image of the guillotine really captures the mood of tension.
Part II. Plunkett's reverie continues as he remembers that his house was built on where the barracks were. He imagines the English soldiers running down to prepare for battle. "Mute exclamations/of memory! Assembled ranks shouting their name/as they wriggled on braces, stamping 'Sah!'" (102). Plunkett decides to go for a drive to the college, where the largest barrack used to stand. While there, his dream mixes with his memory of his life as a soldier. He even combines the scenery of the island with English scenery in his mind: "In the night wind/the palms swayed like poplars..." Walcott creates the allusion of generations of anonymous recruits by using the common names "young Neds and Toms". This builds an image for the reader of the sense of memory echoing through Plunkett, adding a sense of depth for the reader.
Part III. The "fever of History" begins to leave the Major somewhat (102). He feels that he is nearing the end of his quest for knowledge, or even that it has come to an end. He looks over at his wife Maud and realizes that the closer he comes to his knowledge, the further he is from her. His obsession with the history of the island is shown to mark an even deeper obsession with Helen. He feels that history has less to do with events and more to do with people. "He had come that far/to learn that History earns its own tenderness/in time; not for a navel victory, but for/the V of a velvet back in a yellow dress" (103). It is revealed that he gave Helen a son. Though the line is at first ambiguous, he gave a son to Helen the island by way of the dead Plunkett. The Major begins to lament his lack of place in history. "The great events of the world would happen elsewhere" (103). He feels that those who felt World War II was a nobler war for a nobler cause are simply being nostalgic. The section ends with the Major remembering a schoolmaster who adored German culture. The Major won an essay contest in the man's class on the subject "A few make History. The rest are witnesses" (104). Plunkett seems to torture himself with his feeling of being torn between his quest for Helen as the island and his wife. The sexual imagery in the chapter seems to mark his frustration. "So he edged the glass over the historic print, but it magnified the peaks of the islands breasts."(103) The mood of the chapter seems to turn darker as Plunkett begins to fight with his emotions and debates the continuation of his work.
Analysis: Something of interest in this chapter is that the Major rarely relates the actual events of History. Instead he offers a "behind-the-scenes-look" at the people responsible for the events that happened. He does not present them in a romanticized, nostalgic way. Instead presents them as absolutely human and just interested in doing their duty. They are neither courageous nor faithful. This may be due to Plunkett's having been in a war and his mental wound as well. Also, the connection between Helen the island and Helen the woman is deepened as Plunkett keeps referring to the woman doing his quest for the island's history. It is unclear what exact feelings Plunkett has for Helen the woman.
Adder: a poisonous snake found in Europe
Allamandas: a type of shrub or woody vine with showy yellow or purple trumpet-shaped flowers
Enfield: a type of English rifle
Fleur-de-lys: lily-of-the-valley; the symbol of France
Glendower: Welsh rebel against King Henry IV of England
Hermann Hesse: 20th-century German author of novels such as Siddhartha and Steppenwolf. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1946.
Kaiser Wilhelm: the last German emperor and king of Prussia. He was the grandson of Queen Victoria. His policies helped spark World War I.
Middy: a type of blouse worn by a midshipman, also, a midshipman themselves
Mortimer: Welsh rebel against King Edward II of England
Royal House of Hanover: British royal line that began with a German family. Its members include King George III and Queen Victoria.
Secateurs: pruning shears
Sibilants: something that produces a hissing sound, or is characterized by producing this sound
the island's luminous saint: Saint Lucy, the saint for whom the island is named. Her story involves her eyes being put out by the emperor Diocletian, then restored by God. She is the patron saint of the blind.
Part I: This section opens at on the steps of the iron market place. Philoctete is observing the people’s demand for workers rights and then begins an outline of the current political factions and their respective campaigns. He reflects on the fighting over the already “torn by identical factions” (104). He explains briefly the political situation in St. Lucia as explained by Maljo, who is given the nickname, Professor Statics and the beginning of his involvement in Maljo’s bid for political success. Maljo says that the Marxist faction, led by the barber’s son and the Capitalist faction, led by Compton, are “two men fighting for one bone” (104), and that he is somehow different. A member of the crowd shouts out at the ribbon cutting for Maljo’s campaign, which is named the United Force, “Scissors can’t cut water!” (104). This statement is meant to say that the campaign was wasted time. This seems a particularly pertinent statement considering discussions of Caribbean history in general. Philoctete is appointed and paid as Party Distributor for the campaign.
Part II: The campaign continues with a parade like procession with Philoctete riding along in the Comet after limping ahead and posting fliers. They stop at a rum shop, where Statics is greeted by applause and shakes hands. It is observed that Statics is starting to learn the tricks of campaigning and of having a political persona. It appears that power is getting to him a bit, “He felt like the pope” (107). Much of this section takes place on the rode with Statics driving around, “ past neglected sections/ nodding, dipping two fingers stuck with a power/ that parted the sea of their roaring affections” (107). Philoctete compares St. Lucia to Helen in the Trojan war after Statics makes the allusion in his speech. Philoctete’s thoughts continue in a beautiful passage about how he doesn’t understand why everyone can’t love and be faithful to the island : “Love Helen like a wife in good and bad weather,/ in sickness and in health, its beauty in being poor?” (108)
Part III:They make a second stop on the drive to drop off Philoctete. Another brief speech is made, announcing the “Statics Convention Blocko.” Then the chapter proceeds to the rain ruined night of the event. Statics is described to have “toured the fete’s debris with a wounded smile” (109). Philoctete is rehired to clean the hall and after handing out the remaining balloons to the children, he hugs Philoctete who weeps over their loss. In this section, there is again emphasis on Philoctete’s injury. He is referred as he “limped through the crowds” (108). Another interesting usage of language in this section is yet another reference to political and campaigning techniques: “The night the Statics Convention Blocko it rained,/ it drenched out his faith in the American-style/ conviction that voters needed to be entertained” (108).
Notes: In this chapter, there are further allusions to the Trojan war and discussion of the political battle for St. Lucia. As a whole, there is a sort of underlying irony in this chapter concerning campaigning and politics. This apparent in lines such as: “the candidate addressed/ his barefoot followers with a glass of champagne” (105).
Part I: It is Friday night at the No Pain Café, and there are vendors lining the restaurant and children resting in their mothers’ laps. Tourists in “seraphic white” float through the cramped and loud café environment (p. 110). This night is “Helen’s night” (p. 110). The point of view shifts to that of Achilles, who dreads this night, as he is taunted by Helen’s behavior, which he finds both disgusting and irresistible. Earlier that evening, after a light dinner, Achilles watched Helen bathe in the shower he made for her. She has Plunkett’s towel around her, “holding her beaded nakedness” (p. 111). Achilles is overcome by Helen’s sexuality, and the thoughts consume him during the fête at the café. Achilles walks to the beach to watch the stars. He can see Helen’s head moving through the tourists, her “painted mouth still eagerly parted…She was selling herself like the island, without / any pain, and the village did not seem to care / that it was dying in its change” (p. 111). Achilles considers the failing culture of his island, acknowledging the fleeting simple life of the past. Achilles wonders what the future holds for his country. Achilles sees a falling star arc over the island. He compares “Bright Helen” to the meteor, in that her light covers the village. But “her light remained unknown in this backward place, / falling unobserved…then fade, forgotten, as sunrise forgets a star” (p. 112).
Part II: The section begins with "Dominus illuminatio mea," which means The Lord is my Light. The narrator takes us on a brief trip through colonized countries celebrating religious rituals, from India, “crumpling on its knees” to the “raven’s hour” in Egypt. Major Plunkett is pondering over the history of colonization, from the “deserts whence our power / withdrew, Himalayan hill-stations where the millipede / enters and coils” to the “jungles where a leopard narrows its gaze to sleep on a crumbling upholstered sofa” (p. 113). Plunkett is reading a water-stained book. He thinks about his prize essay on the Roman Empire; “In those days, history was easy” (p. 113). The Major walks onto the verandah to look at the stars, and as he counts them, the Major hears music playing across the island, both from the No Pain Café and the hotel’s discotheque. At this same moment, Achilles is gazing at the sky, looking at the same stars. Major Plunkett searches for constellations, but can only identify the simplest, most necessary ones used for fishing. “He knew them only as stars, they fitted his own design” (p. 114).
Part III: Helen undresses in front of Achilles, and his anger subsides as he looks at the “deep ravine of her shoulders” (p. 114). Her slip drapes her like the moonlight on water. As she lifts a candle to her face, a shadow is made on the wall. Helen becomes the shadow: “Now the shadow unpinned one earring, / its head tilted, and smiled. It was in a good mood” (p. 114). The party is over, and the village seems so quiet that Achilles can hear the stars. He turns away from Helen, and seemingly tortured by her, he cannot take it anymore. But as Achilles glances at Helen brushing her hair, he feels that he sees her in “completion for the first time” (p. 115). He sees that she wishes for an identity more than just her looks, which are not her fault. Despite his anger towards her, he pities Helen. She approaches him, and Achilles calls her a whore. “More men plough that body than canoe plough the sea” (p. 115). She does not react, only lies down beside him in bed. “She found his hand / and held it. He turned. She was asleep. Like a child” (p. 115).
Analysis: Part I begins with language reminiscent to fire and bombs. "The night flared"; "the dull week, as it died, exploded with Cadence"; "Stars burst...singeing the vendors' eyes" (p. 109-110). From there, the language shifts to more celestial, as Achilles watches the sky, comparing Helen to a comet. However, there is pained anger hanging over the section. "Murder throbbed in his wrists" as Achilles watches Helen move through the cafe (p. 111). There are many mentions of a lost past in the island, epitomized in Helen's prostitution of herself. The island is "dying in its change...its flour turned into cocaine, its daughters into whores" (p. 111-112). Helen, like the island, seems used and forgotten, a thing of no consequence. Helen is repeatedly compared to the island on which she lives, in the sense that both she and the island have been taken advantage of by men--colonized.
In Part II, there is further reference to colonization and culture clashes. Major Plunkett considers all of the past conquests in foreign lands. He looks at the same stars as Achilles. However, while Achilles sees the stars as metaphors for people: "every life was a spark" that fades (p. 112), Plunkett sees merely stars which fit his own design. Plunkett seems to consider stars his property. Stars cannot belong to anyone, as the island, and Helen, cannot truly belong to anyone. This is an exemplary contrast between the colonized and the colonizer.
Part III contains the best association between Helen and the island. "He saw how she wished / for a peace beyond her beauty, past the tireless / quarrel over a face that was not her own fault" (p. 115). Helen is a blessed woman in her beauty, but it is something she cannot help. As a result, she suffers from her sexuality and all the issues it brings to her life. Similarly, the island is an oasis that has been taken and fought over for a beauty that is not its fault. Both the woman and the island have been raped by no fault of their own.
The language in Parts I and III contains far more references to nature, especially in comparing the people to aspects of their environment. "They lay quietly as two logs laid parallel on moonlit sand" (p. 115). Comparatively, in Part II, Plunkett's point of view rests more on gained knowledge. He reads a book; he identifies stars. Rather than relating to his environment, he takes what he can get from it.
Overall, this chapter is important to the work as a whole in that it allows us further insights into three major characters: Achilles, Helen, and the Major. We see their weaknesses as well as their insights and, more importantly, their deeply complicated relationships with each other.
Dominus illuminatio mea: the opening words to Psalm 27 meaning The Lord is my light http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dominus_Illuminatio_Mea
fete: French word for festival or or holiday http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/F%C3%AAte
Gurkhas: people from Napal and North India http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gurkha
Anzacs: the name used to describe the combination of the Australian Army and New Zealand Army Corps during wartime http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/ANZAC
Mounties: the federal, national and paramilitary police force of Canada http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Canadian_Mounted_Police
Gros Ilet: French for large islet http://babelfish.altavista.com/tr
garcon: French for boy http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gar%C3%A7on
Part I: Helen moves in with Hector. Achille believes that she will come back to him. He finds the fact that she lest a hairpin in her soap dish a sign of assurance (116). Ma Kilman comforts him by reminding him "stranger things than that happen every day" (116). Feeling alone, he begins to isolate himself and make himself feel unapproachable. Then Achille loses faith in himself and because of this he avoids interaction with anyone, even Omeros. Hector has sold his canoe and has bought a taxi with a stereo and leopard print seats. When ever a taxi passes him he looks away He does not want to risk seeing Hector's taxi. He fears seeing Helen by Hector's side.
Part II: Taking a ride in the Comet (Hector's Taxi) is compared to space travel, but it also has allusions to Icarus's flight, which was fatal. Hector's passengers are often old women. One old woman who enters the Comet saying things such as "Hell? Already?" (117) and "All I see is tiger-skin, yes. So let us prey". There is a discrepancy between the two descriptions of the seats: the older woman called it tiger skin, when it is really leopard skin print that covers the seats. This incorrect description could be due to the older woman's lack of knowledge of African animals. As Hector pushes the car into reverse far too quickly, the older women pray to the statue and on their rosaries that the virgin will not forget them when they die. Hector is thinking about how it was at this spot that he chose to become a cab driver after becoming involved with the love triangle between, him, Achille, and Helen. Hector knows that Helen still loves Achille, but he would rather continue to live with the false idea that he has won her. He externalizes this by driving recklessly, as if he were running from the truth.
Part III: This section begins with a description of how time moves on this island. He refers to the months going by, but then goes into the description of how a day passes by. The natives are connected to the cycle of nature. By five in the afternoon the men working in the fields would go home, which was when the sunlight would become "tea-tinted" like the writing in London journals. Then night would descend and the fireflies and stars would come out. Then the sun would be just a green light for a second before going below the horizon (119). After the sun went down, everything on the island continued as it was, as though nothing had happened. It was also during the twilight that a government was created that did not matter to people like Plunkett and Achille. The government was separated from their lives. It is not theirs to own. A new government could not buy food for them or supply shelter. It is a tool that restricts their way of life. Amidst this, there came a dusk that did not have any "historical regret for the fishermen beating mackerel into their seine, only for Plunkett" (120). The dusk cares for Plunkett because he was coexisting with the natural aspects of the town and he loved the town.
This shows the disconnectedness these people experience with their native country. This discrepancy is followed by the play on words with "prey" and "pray". After the older woman said "let us prey", the narrator says, "and pray they did". This play on words gives hope to the older woman's deep rooted connectedness to Africa, but when she does the act of "prayer" instead of "preying" she severs that bond. But this also brings questions into the true meaning of prayer and if it may be connected to some deeper connection to Africa for this older woman. Hector gets into the driver's seat after closing the doors of the car and touches a "charm of fur monkey" that is hanging over an alter on his dashboard with a statue of Mary. This image creates tension between the African and the Christian beliefs of Hector.
Atavistic: Referring to a real or supposed evolutionary throwback, such as traits reappearing which had disappeared generations ago. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atavism
Icarian: Anything relating to Icarus, who died by flying too close to the sun. Usually referring to high ambitions. http://www.tiscali.co.uk/reference/dictionaries/difficultwords/data/d0006783.html Icarian is also a French Utopian movement. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Icarians
Vieuxfort: Located in Saint Lucia.
Siena: a large net with sinkers on one edge and floats on the other that hangs vertically in the water and is used to enclose and catch fish when its ends are pulled together or are drawn ashore. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/seine
The Tatler: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tatler
The Illustrated London News: http://www.victorianweb.org/periodicals/iln.html
Part One: This section opens on the port in downtown St. Lucia. The section describes the Church bells striking noon and "The Church of Immaculate Conception numbered the Angelus," (120). The citizens all stop what they are doing while the church bells ring twelve times. The people say the Angelus prayer and cross themselves in the stores and streets. Everything seems frozen and "The streets held statues. A traveller [sic] off a ship could have sauntered through that Pompeii of their belief made by the ash of the Angelus," (121). And then just as quickly as it begins, the bells stop and the prayer ends and the town shuts down for an hour so the people can go home for lunch.
Part Two: Maud hears the bells ringing at noon and takes a break from her gardening. She retreats to the shade of the porch and fans herself as the weather is very hot in the drought, “she loosed her bodice and blew down to her heart,”(121). and Maud has found comfort in the cool atmosphere of her porch. She watches as a boat heads out to fish. All of the plants in her garden are suffering because of the drought. The sections has several images of wilting flowers, dying trees and hedges and even describes the grass on the lawn as "desiccated," (121).
Part Three: A ship is seen entering the bay and is compared to a white lily, with an orange smokestack as its pistil. Maud notices that the ship ventures into the bay, stops and then turns away. She remarks that by dusk the ship would be gone, "a ghost like all her sisters, a smudge on a cloud," (122). Then, Maud notices a girl walking up the path and sees from the girl's gait that it is Helen. Helen's gait is described as a "slow, pelvic pace that made men rest on their shovels cleaning the pens and the gardener pause from burning leaves on the lawn, a head in his hands," (122). Maud is determined not to fall into Helen's trap and attempts to stand firm on the porch of the house until Helen begins tearing flowers off their stalks as she slowly walks up, and Maud is forced to come down to greet her thinking, "She'll wreck the blooming garden if I don't come down," (123). As Maud approaches Helen, the ship is noted to be hovering directly over Helen's head in Maud's eye line, sitting in the channel. Helen asks to borrow money because she says she is pregnant, and it is explained that while Helen is beautiful, she often turns her back on her friends, and as Maud agrees to loan her the money, Helen again turns her back and stares off to the sea. When Maud returns with the money, Helen has walked partway down the path and is in a direct line with the ship in the distance. Maud picks up the flowers that Helen has torn off and remarks that they lasted for three days before dying completely. She then notes that Helen will "last forever," (125).
Interpretive Commentary The church bells paralyzing the city represents the acceptance and indoctrination of the Catholic church on the culture of the islands. The daily prayer of the Angelus becomes a ritual that the people can set their watches by. After the noon prayer, everyone knows that it is time for lunch and the city effectively shuts down for an hour. The formality of the scene seems unauthentic as "With lace frills on, the balconies stood upright, as did the false pillars of the Georgian library," (120). These are images of the colonial influence on the city itself, both in architecture and culture. The lace frills on the wrought-iron balconies and the false pillars serve no purpose other than ornamentation. The second part of the chapter focuses heavily on imagery of drying plants and the relationship between Helen and Maud. The drying plants represent the difficulty of survival on the island with the different seasons. Later, Helen is repeatedly compared to the ship that enters the channel, in beauty and in the way she moves. In The Odyssey, Helen is considered the most beautiful worman in the world and the cause of the Trojan War. In Omeros, Helen is described as having beauty and a way of moving that hypnotizes men and leaves them stunned. Like the ship that enters the channel with tourists and then leaves by dusk, Helen is described as walking slowly up to speak with Maud and then turning around and making her way back down the path after she gets what she wants. In the same way that tourists and ships come to the island, take what they want and then leave, Helen has come to Maud for money, received it and then left.
Glossary: Carillon: A carillon (/kaʁijɔ̃/, /ˈkærɪljɒn/ or /kəˈrɪljən/) is a musical instrument consisting of at least 23 cast bronze cup-shaped bells which are played one after the other (to play a melody) or sounded together (to play a chord). A bell tower usually found in churches and in town squares or lighthouses, in this case the carillon is the church bells in the center of town.
Memento Mori: latin for "be mindful of death" or "remember death for you are human"
Vigie: the major airport in St. Lucia
Trace: literally, a well trodded foot path, but linguistically it denotes the history that a word or image carries with it as the result of its use through time.
All definitions come courtesy of Wikipedia: http://www.wikipedia.com
Part I: Achille and a mate are on a boat (In God We Troust) following a sea-swift (L'hirondelle des Antilles) that is guiding them over the ocean toward "Africa" (this trip is most likely an illusion brought on by sunstroke). The narrator describes how Achille feels at home on the sea: “He was at home/This was his garden” (pg. 126). However, he is also sad because he knows he has lost Helen, though he does not come to this realization until "he saw the swift flail and vanish in a trough" (125). He is consoled by the swift leading him toward his ancestors' origin: "the swift reappeared like a sunlit omen, widening the joy that had vanished from his works" (125). Because he notes that she has hooked his heart and it seems as if her aim is his happiness, Africa is linked with the Caribbean native's ideal happiness. Achille is content with following the swift until he imagines that the bird is being lured by the gods: “Then it frightened Achille/that this was no swallow but the bait of the gods” (126).
Part II: Soon the boat is far out to sea and they can no longer see the "horned" island. It is "horned" like Achille is described when he discovered Helen's betrayal. Is the island responding to the betrayal of the colonizer? . As the swift flies past, Achille is able to see the whole world reflected in its "the passing sorrow of its sleepless eye" (127). This eye is looking at a troubled history of lost identity.It causes him to reflect on the names of past fishermen who drowned in the sea, and also of slaves who died on the crossing from Africa. The sun is very hot and Achille wets the sails of In God We Troust so they don’t crack. His sunstroke causes him to see corpses rising from the waves and he imagines his father and other slaves who also sailed on the Atlantic: "It is the tribal sorrow that Philoctete could not drown in alcohol" (129). Envisioning the brokenness of the past propels Achille to question his identity: “Then, for the first time, he asked himself who he was” (130). After losing Helen, his connection to St. Lucia, and contemplating whether or not being led to Africa is "troustworthy" (it isn't going to decieve or harm him), he now questions where is he from and where does he belong? "Our only inheritance that elemental noise of the windward, unbroken breakers, Ithaca's or Africa's, all joining the ocean's voice, because this is the Atlantic now, this great design of the triangular trade" (130).
Part III: The boat continues to move quickly during the night, spurred on by Achille’s questioning of his identity. Achille believes that the swift is giving him answers and bringing him home to Africa. Although the sea is where his identity is based, the swift gives him hope in finding his home in Africa. The swift outruns his memory of waterless graves and "pious horror" and he recognizes that by seeking his identity he opened up a forum of other questions that can be answered as if his identity is central to bringing his history and present life together: she touched both worlds with her rainbow" (130).
Analysis: The major theme of this chapter is the idea of identity, which Achille begins to question on his way to Africa. He believes that the swift is telling him that he belongs in Africa and therefore leading him there. He has lost Helen, or the island of St. Lucia and in previous chapters, it was understood that Achille and Hector desire Helen as their only way of connecting to the island and to lose her would mean to lose their native identity.What does it mean that Achille makes the connection between the movement of the swift and Helen? It is ironic that his boat proclaims trust, or his own variation of faith due to the misspelling, in a monotheistic god, while he fears the gods will lead him astray through the swift luring him to Africa.There is an underlying conflict between the Christian and voodoo religions and mainly, the identity of the colonizer and colonized.The only place where his identity can be whole is in the Atlantic, in the sea. What does it mean that his ancestors were buried in a watery grave that is also his place of origin? He sees the ghost of his father and the bound canvas, representing the slaves, and he reacts with "pious horror" because such cruelty was done to his people under the umbrella of Christian piety, right under "In God We Trust." He cannot look away or loosen the burial knots. He is helpless and cannot deny his history but he does not know what action to take to alter it. The memory of slavery is brought up as Achille thinks about his father and “brothers” who also sailed across the Atlantic to an unknown destination. This mirrors the continuing theme in the poem of the history of colonization and what it meant to the people of the Caribbean – are they African, Caribbean, or a collection of identities-Creole? In this chapter, the pain of lost identity is confronted and the process of creating a new identity begins to take place initially in the mind: decolonization.In traveling toward Africa, even in thought, the island grows faint, illustrating a disconnect in the Caribbean native's history that is not wholly African or wholly Caribbean.
Trough: a low part between two waves
Trawl: a wide-mouthed, bag-shaped net used to catch sea fish
Trades: Trade winds, easterly winds that dominate most of the tropics and subtropics throughout the world
Pirogue: a native boat, like a canoe
(All terms from http://dictionary.reference.com/)