Rukhaya M.K

A Literary Companion

Poetry Analysis: Derek Walcott’s “A Far Cry from Africa”


The West Indies is endowed with a composite culture encompassing mixed population thanks to its geographical position and the indelible impact of colonialisation. Therefore,  the aborigines of these islands were caught between two worlds-the cultures of Europe and Africa. The slave system also played a significant part in this division of the identity of the native. They are divided in their loyalty to their African ancestry and wider horizons of Western outlook. Walcott represents a fusion of both the cultures. Though he adores the African heritage, he also welcomes the Western stance. He asserts: “You can’t be a poet and believe in the division of man.”

The rough winds ruffle the yellowish-brown crusty surface of Africa. The population of Kikuyu tribesmen steadily increases, on the soil drenched in the blood of the victims of colonialization. That is, birth takes place on a stage were Death was enacted and re-enacted. There is the juxtaposition of the bizarre against something divine, as image emerges of corpses scattered through a paradise. The worm, the ultimate emblem of stagnation and decay cries not to waste invaluable time on the dead. The past has to be forgone, for the healthy growth of the present. One must concentrate more on the living than the dead

“Waste no compassion on these separate dead!”

Statistics justify and scholars seize
The salients of colonial policy.

The principles of colonial policies are justified based on statistics, where humans are also reduced to statistics in the process. Scholars seize this opportunity to voice forth their educated opinion. The metaphor of a white child hacked in bed is utilized to exemplify the viewpoint of the West feigning innocence. The line may also signify that white men go about killing their own children without any distinction as they are caught up in the frenzy. People transcend to primitivism as they behave like savages. Similar instances of persecution were endured by the Jews. The poet echoes that this violent streak in man is universal. Here only the time and space were different. This universality and the repetition of the Cycle of Time is emphasized with the word “wheeled”.

Africa had now become a survivors ground where the principle of “survival of the fittest’ reigned supreme.People strived to grab territory and wealth, and relegated Humanism to the background. While hunting with the primitives was a way of survival, the contemporary times registers it as an amateurish or professional game. Hunters utilized beaters to create commotion in the bushes to flush out birds and animals from their resting abode so that they could be attacked. In the process, the ibises, deemed to be sacred by the natives, are frightened away. Therefore, even their nomadic roots preached that violence was a negative phenomenon.

From the parched river or beast-teeming plain.
The violence of beast on beast is read
As natural law, but upright man
Seeks his divinity by inflicting pain.

One can trace the violence in “beast upon beast” from Man’s unquenched thirst or beast-like hunger as though it is the natural law. Though this principle applies to primitive man, the sophisticated (upright) man attempts to seek divinity or a lofty place through infliction of injury that is a different stance altogether. He is as delirious as these beasts as his wars embody that violent pulse in him that throbs to the tightened carcass of a drum. The term ‘carcass’ also implies how he moves rhythmically to the violent pulse in him, producing carcasses in the process. The natives dreaded most the declaration of peace made by the whites that had an innate conspiracy lurking in it. The friendliness of the whites was more dangerous than their violence.

Brutality wipes its hands conveniently in a dirty napkin. The cause that is camouflaged is indeed dirty than the projected intention. The West Indians had their share of harsh experiences with Spain. The fight is just as the gorilla wrestles with superman. One natural, the other sophisticated. One endangered, the other secure with enormous power. The poet declares that he is “poisoned wit the blood of both. “Proving to be the amalgamation of both the strains could prove to be a dangerous combination, as echoed by the word ‘poisoned’ He cannot divide the veins that run within him-the mask has finally become the man. He cannot choose between the two. Either betray both or give them back what they gave him. Though the West had once symbolized slaughter and exploitation, he is composed regarding the same as now it belongs to him. Neither can he turn away from Africa that is the very base of his existence.

©Rukhaya MK 2010

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1 Comment

  1. Excellent elaboration

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