Jen Tooley

by jentooley

North, South, Movement and Tolerance

Derek Walcott’s poem North and South appears in The Fortunate Traveller, published in 1981 and relates to the entire group of poems, all emphasizing the importance of direction and movement. North and South are opposite directions and therefore reflect opposing ideas within the poem; North and South, positive and negative, good and bad. The poem calls upon the reader’s knowledge of literary, world and human histories, drawing attention to the ideas of difference, tolerance, human experience and conflict. Walcott proves himself as a knowledgeable and worldly ambassador for his own vision; explaining his worldview through his own unique and imaginative lens.

Walcott takes the viewer on a journey through multiple settings and contexts, we must be patient and persistent to discover what the underlying themes are. Walcott articulates different regions and different tumultuous human affairs with strong imagery and persuasive language which captivates our attention instantly; making us want to continue reading. Walcott begins with a contrast of the Reich and Fort Charlotte in the first stanza, making the aggressor, or the location which is found further North appearing on a line higher than the location victimized. The Parthenon is contrasted with Carthage, and Manhattan with the enslaved Virginia in the South. References to past literature are made in the first stanza with Walcott using terms from Matthew Arnold’s Dover Beach such as ‘death rattle’ and ‘withdrawing roar’.

Contrasting ideas of collapse and continuing strength are shown. Words such as ‘end, homeless, sunset and death’ all moan the idea of collapsing empires of the past. Walcott later states that European superiority has become stale and old and is in need of a refresher. He grows tired of literature and thinks ‘of Europe as a gutter of autumn leaves’ (13); and further makes the link through the ‘cooked culture’ of the developed world with the ‘fresh ignorance’ and ‘raw one’ of the undeveloped world.

The theme of movement within the work which becomes more easily exposed on the fifteenth page when the term Diaspora appears. The Diaspora or movement of people is often due to conflict, usually conflicting cultures. The example of the Jewish Diaspora is mentioned on the same page in a lower line, this movement was vast and all over, much like the themes expressed in this work.

Each season is articulated in the last stanza, starting with winter going through the positive cycle of the seasons only to end again on winter. Indeed the next line begins with a ‘but’, as if to stop us from remaining too positive. Here Walcott tells us about feelings of discord, much like the discord between North and South. The remaining, unjustified and common belief that humans are different is articulated in this provocative and beautifully written poem.


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