Sir Derek Al­ton Wal­cott: A trib­ute on be­half of the Lit­er­ary and The­atre Com­mu­nity

The Star (St. Lucia) - - LOCAL -

It is no small hon­our in life to be asked on some spe­cial oc­ca­sion to speak on be­half of a friend; be it at a wed­ding, or at the court­house, even at a funeral. These oc­cur­rences will and do hap­pen and one moves with alacrity in such in­stances to in­fuse the mor­tal coil with power and pur­pose be­yond the ca­pac­ity of its hum­ble, frag­ile, hu­man sinews—liv­ing or dead; end­ing with the tra­di­tional pat on the back—good job man! Good job!

But when that mor­tal frame, which once be­longed to a liv­ing gi­ant, passes into im­mor­tal­ity what can one say, what can one write that has not been writ­ten be­fore, at least once? This is the predica­ment in which I find my­self, stand­ing be­fore you be­ing asked to weave my magic in five min­utes, with­out a wand, or the dex­ter­ity of a J. K. Rowl­ins. What can I say now that he has not said, in an hon­est, sim­ple voice, or has not al­ready been said by oth­ers in glowing su­perla­tives, which I am sure caused him on sev­eral oc­ca­sions to look askance over his shoul­ders to as­cer­tain whether or not, he was the one that was be­ing ad­dressed?

A great poet does not hap­pen by a freak of na­ture, noth­ing is by chance. First comes that deep love, which breeds the frailty of hu­man­ism, man­i­fest­ing as love of coun­try and a deep rooted sense of be­long­ing, be­com­ing one with the earth wrapped in mankind’s en­dur­ing em­brace. A phe­nom­e­nal faith grounded in sin­cer­ity and truth. There is the lone­li­ness and iso­la­tion that brings tears when mo­ments grip the nerve and the urge to en­cap­su­late the sec­ond and store it on the page for pos­ter­ity re­ver­ber­ates on the mind . . .

Sim­ply put, he loved his coun­try, Saint Lu­cia, and its peo­ple be­yond re­proach, down to the last grain of dust, ris­ing with a hot breeze in lent on our un­paved coun­try roads; he loved the smell of the Cre­ole bread ris­ing with morn­ing from a baker’s oven . . . Or ether­ized by the joy suf­fused in an old woman’s tooth­less grin: “Muyen sais gens St. Lu­cie, sais ici muyen fait . . . ” he sings in his lo­cal ver­nac­u­lar. Of him it could be truly said, as he said of Harry in ‘An­other Life’ for ev­ery day he walked among us: His is­land for­est, open and en­close him like a rare but­ter­fly be­tween its leaves.

His sim­ple gift was to see be­yond the hori­zon of mor­tal­ity into the heart of or­di­nary things so that Par­adise once lost could be re­gained. Now he walks with Chaucer and Wil­liam of Avon, with Mil­ton and Sea­mus and Joseph, in our hemi­sphere, with Martin and Eric; Cé­saire and Saint-John Perse. I can imag­ine him call­ing for a type­writer and fresh rib­bons the minute he ar­rived.

His name now per­ma­nently carved in leg­end should not be hon­oured in sad­ness with the usual par­ody of tears, but in trib­ute to his mem­ory. Imag­ine the driven gull fi­nally com­ing to rest on his gom­mier log, wait­ing for an adze to shape it into the long ca­noe that will take him on a jour­ney to wher­ever all poets go.

To Si­grid, Peter, Lizzie and Anna, and his nephew Nigel, it will be hard for you in the be­gin­ning, to bal­ance be­tween a com­pan­ion, fa­ther, un­cle and the larger than life sym­bol of all hu­man­ity. The pain of ab­sence sears the mind, I know that well, but in time you will find con­so­la­tion in the thought that he lives on in his pages of the mon­u­men­tal ed­i­fice he has built with his two blessed hands over the short span of seven decades that will en­dure “the whips of time” far into pos­ter­ity be­yond our own hum­ble years. There will be many equals, sim­i­lar to Wil­liam Shake­speare in the English lan­guage, but Derek Wal­cott has no du­pli­cate.

I ex­tend my deep­est con­do­lences and that of the Lit­er­ary and The­atre Com­mu­nity in Saint Lu­cia to Derek’s fam­ily and his large cir­cle of friends from far and near – we will all miss him and the off­beat jokes and his in­fec­tious laugh­ter that al­ways made you laugh in spite of the joke.

I end abruptly, re­spect­ing the con­straints of time, with a quote from his Omeros:

Be­cause Rhyme re­mains the paren­the­ses of palms shield­ing a can­dle’s tongue, it is the lan­guage’s de­sire to en­close the loved world in its arms.

Derek Wal­cott (left) and Peter Doig on stage at The Yard last De­cem­ber for the launch of their col­lab­o­ra­tion

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