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This review is taken from PN Review 123, Volume 25 Number 1, September - October 1998.

WRITING INTO THE WORLD DEREK WALCOTT, The Bounty (Faber and Faber)

Derek Walcott's poetry is immediately recognizable by its dual charge of serenity and unrest. 'We have no solace but utterance, hence this wild cry', he says in the title poem to his latest book, establishing that reprieve from an otherwise inexorable modernity lies in language, which is itself a form of anxiety. The ninth individual collection by the 1992 Nobel Laureate, The Bounty begins with a seven-part in memoriam for his mother and is his most elegiac volume to date, filled with poignant farewells to friends, places, and his own art and life. His grieving for what has been lost or is leaving, however, is tempered by insistent celebrations of natural beauty accompanied by a need to ask forgiveness, for personal errors and for his sense of having failed to write a poetics of importance. In the opening poem he asks John Clare to 'forgive me'

for this morning's sake, forgive me, coffee, and pardon me,
milk with two packets of artificial sugar,
as I watch these lines grow and the art of poetry harden me

into sorrow as measured as this, to draw the veiled figure
of Mamma entering the standard elegiac.

'The Bounty' is not, in fact, a magnificent elegy. It relies heavily on the example of Clare, whom Walcott introduces as a means of disciplining his poem against self-pity, since Clare, who 'wept for a beetle's loss', was overcome by madness. After referring to his ...


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