I agree with this assessment of Walcott. As a post-colonial writer, tensions and conflicts are ever-present in his work and he certainly tackles these in an inventive fashion. The tensions that emerge in his work are varied, often arising from reflections on language, power, culture, identity and personal experience. As language is central to Walcott’s outlook, it is not surprising that he uses language in an inventive and interesting fashion.
The culture and landscape of the Caribbean is ever-present in Walcott’s work. When we read Walcott’s poetry, we realise that it is impossible to understand Walcott’s heritage, if we do not acknowledge that slavery and colonialism form part of this heritage. This is evident in ‘The Sailor Sings Back to the Casuarinas’. The opening line introduces Barbados and we should bear in mind that most Barbadians are descendants of slaves, so it is significant that this poem is about flight and escape. In this poem, sailing may remind us of the journeys that the original African slaves made in captivity to the Caribbean islands.
In this poem, Walcott addresses his colonial heritage with its inherent conflicts and tensions in an inventive fashion and he does this by reflecting on the significance of names. The poem appears to be about a man looking at trees, but we quickly realise that even something as simple as observing a tree is connected to our ideas about ourselves and these ideas are shaped by the language we use. This is shown in what appears to be a simple statement about the trees:
‘....I used to think/Those cypresses....are not real cypresses but casuarinas’.
‘Casuarinas’ is the native word for the trees, and the word ‘cypresses’ represents the language of the coloniser. In the language and outlook of the coloniser, the colonised person, or native, once found the trees lacking in authenticity; they were not the real thing. Shabine had become more comfortable with a foreign word for a local tree, thinking that the...