Derek Walcott’s “A Far Cry from Africa” addresses the theme of split identity and, more specifically, the struggle coming from a loyalty to both sides. Through literary devices such as imagery, form and metaphor, the poet conveys his theme through a memorable and pensive poem.
The title of the poem, “A Far Cry,” is an expression for something which is impossible. This seems to imply two things within the context of the poem. The first is that, for him, St Lucia is a long way and is very different from his native Africa. Furthermore, he seems to be saying that Africa at the time of writing is a world apart from the Africa of years ago. The speaker feels he is distant from Africa, both geographically and metaphorically. While slightly abstract, the title provides a certain degree of context for the poem.
The poet uses animal imagery a great deal in the piece. He compares the violence of the “natural law” (line 16) among animals, to that of humans. In this way, he points out that animals need to kill in order to survive, but humans have taken on the violence with no such reason. The images of “beast on beast” (line 15) violence and “gorilla wrestles with the superman,” (line 24) are particularly powerful and memorable. The poem begins with a grisly description of the violence. Violent imagery such as “Bloodstreams,” (line 3) and “scattered corpses,” (line 4) demonstrate to the reader the negative views of the killings.
The speaker’s split identity is summarized through his love of the English language versus his hatred of the murder of Africans. The third and final stanza explicitly addresses this dichotomy and the concluding two lines perhaps hold the most clarity of the whole poem: “How can I face such slaughter and be cool? / How can I turn from Africa and live?” (lines 32 / 33).
He is concerned and torn, wanting desperately to see the end to violence in Kenya, specifically the country’s fight for independence in the 1950s. The speaker struggles with which side to identify with as his body contains both kinds of blood. This is evedent when he writes: “I who am poisoned with the blood of both, where shall I turn, divided to the vein?” (lines 26 / 27).
On first inspection, it seems that Walcott has written “A far Cry from Africa” with a rhyming scheme of ABAB with occasional CC couplets incorporated. For example, in the first stanza, “pelt” rhymes with “veldt” and “flies rhymes with “paradise.” However, the rhyme in the second stanza seems rather more haphazard. It is difficult to identify a formal rhyming scheme, except the final couplet where “dread” rhymes with “dead.” Therefore, it seems that Walcott has used rhyme to emphasize certain lines over others. This adds to the interest of the poem and does indeed make certain words and lies stand out.
Clearly, Walcott’s chosen subject matter is memorable in itself. However, his theme of torn loyalties and identity are what make the poem. He uses form, imagery and metaphor to accentuate his chosen subject and theme. These elements combined have resulted in a piece which will remain in the mind of many readers for a long time to come. Although not to everyone’s taste, Walcott’s work leaves room for admiration, even in readers who are not gripped by his style.
Walcott’s poem a far cry from Africa is the story of a man torn between two worlds in cosmic conflict with each other. He talks about the highly oppressed African society and the colonial society and though utterly appalled by the vile inflicted upon the African society by theircolonizers he finds himself hard of choice on which side he should support since he is a byproduct of both worlds as he writes “I who I’m poisoned with the blood of both” (line 26).he speaks of the cruelty and inhumanity of the colonizers and the various ways in which they justify their inhuman actions. This poem is highly significant and deserves detailed study because it is a clear historical portrayal of what happened to Africa during the colonial era and what continues to happen in Africa in modern times although through less blunt and more concealed methods of neocolonialism. He also though briefly highlights the plight of the Jews and juxtaposes it with that of the Africans when he says “to savages, expendable as Jews?”(Line 10).
In the first stanza he describes Africa as a paradise stained and robbed of its former glory by the murderous tyranny of colonialism. He talks of the population of the kikuyu rising on a land stained by blood. Here he juxtaposes the bizarre with the divine since new life sees the light of day in a place where constant reenactment of death is nothing short of the order of the day. He also highlights the cruelty and inhumanity of the colonialists as they show absolutely no compassion for the dead and likens this brutality to the one shown to the Jews by the Nazis.
In the second stanza he talks of humanity being relegated to the background by the colonizers and though seemingly civilized they tend to incline their actions more and more towards a beastly nature. He talks of the seemingly upright man seeking divinity by inflicting pain on his fellow man much unlike the beasts that they claim not to be (line 17).he also describes the current state of the marginalized Africans as terrified and in utter horror of what might next befall them at the hands of these seemingly emotionless and inhuman people. He also talks of how killing Africans motivates and drives the colonizer’s spirit and agenda when he writes “his wars dance to the tightening carcass of a drum”(lines 18 and 19).he also talks of how the whites aim at achieving peace by killing as many Africans as possible(line 21).
In the third stanza he talks of the resilient though futile attempts of the Africans to get rid of the colonizers and likens the situation to a gorilla fighting superman. It is obvious that the gorilla is no match for superman. His choice of words is also very important and interesting. He refers to the Africans as gorillas and the white people as superman. He clearly shows that the white people perceived themselves as advanced and very powerful hence the title superman and the Africans were perceived as brutes with minimal intelligence, no coordination and with absolutely no shot at victory hence the very derogatory title gorilla. He also expresses the dilemma of those who are byproducts of both worlds and the cosmic battle raging within the self on which side to support the English they love so much or the Africa they can’t stand to see suffer.
Walcott, D. “A Far Cry from Africa.”