Magazine article Kola

Folk Protest in the Poetry of Derek Walcott, E.K. Braithwaite and Claude McKay

Magazine article Kola

Folk Protest in the Poetry of Derek Walcott, E.K. Braithwaite and Claude McKay

Article excerpt

There is an anguished outcry against the condition of the folk in the poetry of Derek Walcott, Edward Kamau Brathwaite and Claude McKay poetry. Throughout the West Indies, there are discernible illustrations of poverty, hunger unemployment and deplorable housing conditions under colonialism. The lower socio-economic group tended to be subjected to the worst form of squalor, depravity, hunger and economic exploitation, imagined. Lloyd Brown summarizes it well: "The folk and the disadvantaged are ready-made subjects for the committed art of the protest poet. (1) Derek Walcott's In a Green Night is replete with such echoes. Walcott uses irony as a vehicle of social satire in keeping with the poetry of protest. The tone of the protest is muted, but it is still there at the sub-surface level. For example, in "A Country Club Romance," the poet uses wit and word play to illustrate the protest against the falsity of bourgeois values. In this poem he heavily satirizes lawn tennis as 'a barometer of social position." (2) The protest against this style of living is brought out indirectly in the way one is discouraged from imitating such a life style. The poem then ends with a warning note: "teach us to profit from her mistake."

"Return to D'Ennery: Rain" exemplifies the poet's great anguish for the folk:

   This village stricken with a single street
   Each weathered shack leans on a wooden crutch
   Contented as a cripple in defeat
                  (In a Green Night) 

Walcott's concern and protest here seem to containovertones of Cesaire's Cahier d;un Retour au Pays Natalwhere the condition of the folk is mirrored in his own upbringing as aboy: une autre petite maison qui sent tres mauvaise dans une tresetroite, une maison miniscule qui aboite en sesentrailles de bois pourrides dizaines de rats."* (Cahier, p. 51).

   * There is another tiny house stinking in the
   Narrow street, a miniature house which lodges
   In its guts of rotten wood, dozens of rats 

Walcott's anger rises to a crescendo which is containedin the rhetorical questions like : where is that passionate hatred thatwould help/the back despairing poor, by speech alone?"

In The Castaway, the poem "Laventille" is perhapsWalcott's most vehement protest against socio-economic ills. Asthe poet-persona climbs the hill, he sees the squalor around him. Thisis echoed forcibly in the poem: "This is the height of poverty/For the desperate and black.'

This illustrates the vehemence of his protest. So do the lines"lives fixed in the unalterable groove/of grindingpoverty." Walcott juxtaposes and contrasts the bourgeois citieslike "Belmont, Woodbrook, Maraval, St. Clair" withLavantille and notes that it is an "impossible drop." Thedegenerate standard of life is given more force as a weapon of protestwhen one realizes the use of "double entendre" in dealingwith the connotations of the middle passage; the poor are indeed:

   The inheritors of the middle passage stewed
   five to a room, still clamped below their hatch
   breeding like felonies
   Whose lives revolve around prison, graveyard, church.
                 (The Castaway, p.33) 

The Gulf also expresses a similar anger against:

   This fish-gut reeking beach
   Whose spindy, sugar-headed children race
   Whose starved, pot bellied children race
   ("Homecoming: Anse La Raye") 

The image of "fish-gut reeking beach" and"filth and foam" is similar to Cesaire's"ville misere pourrissant sous le soleil silencieusement.

Furthemore the image of <

   Rebellion is the death I suffer from
   And the revolt is insistent
   A classical Alas
   For naked pickannines, pygmies and poverty
                          (Epitaph for the Young, p.) 

The alliteration in the last line conveys his increasing levelof anger in his protest. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.