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Omeros (1990)

by Derek Walcott

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9241816,395 (3.9)102
A poem in five books, of circular narrative design, titled with the Greek name for Homer, which simultaneously charts two currents of history: the visible history charted in events -- the tribal losses of the American Indian, the tragedy of African enslavement -- and the interior, unwritten epic fashioned from the suffering of the individual in exile.… (more)
Recently added byrpskowski, PaperboundPeregrine, jfclark, otterley, niallbyrne, juliafisher, private library
Legacy LibrariesGillian Rose
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    Ulysses by James Joyce (TheLittlePhrase)
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    Passage to Juneau by Jonathan Raban (thorold)
    thorold: Raban does in prose what Walcott does in verse for the diagonally-opposite corner of the continent.
  3. 00
    Sea of Lentils by Antonio Benítez Rojo (caitlinlizzy)
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English (14)  Dutch (4)  All languages (18)
Showing 1-5 of 14 (next | show all)
Simultaeneously such wonderful writing and a slog ( )
1 vote nushustu | Aug 5, 2019 |
5. Omeros by Derek Walcott
published: 1990
format: 325 page Paperback
acquired: December
read: Jan 1-5, restarted Jan 8-18
rating: 5

From about 1667 to 1814, as the British and French fought for supremacy in the Caribbean and elsewhere, the strategically important island of St. Lucia was fought over numerous times and changed hands fourteen times. It became know as the "Helen of the West Indies". This is Walcott's pick-up point for his masterpiece.

It is, in its simplest sense, a story of the island of St. Lucia, one that brings in its history of conquest, extermination and slavery, and apparently the author's personal history, along with some selected context from around the world, and that focuses on the economic classes on the island, especially on the poverty. Walcott, in a magical touch, Homerizes everything. The poor islanders are given Homeric names, Achille, Hector, Philoctete, Helen and, of course, Omeros, who is blind. (Omeros is the phonetically correct spelling of the ancient Greek Author, Όμηρος.) Virgil's Sybil becomes Ma Kilman. The Englishman is named Denis Plunkett, and his Irish wife is Maud. The narrator never tells us his name, or that of his lost girlfriend he seeks to find or overcome, while neglecting his wife and children. Dante and Joyce leave their own traces, although I haven't read them couldn't appreciate this much.

Achille (pronounced A-sheel) and Hector do come to battle over Helen, Philoctete struggles with an infected and unhealing wound on his leg, and blind Omeros sees a great deal. And there is a vast finicky ocean to get lost in.

I've been shy to review this because I am not able to capture the impact of its language. The story is originally just context, an excuse for the expression Walcott makes of it. And it's astounding, even more so if you can apply Walcott's own voice, with its St. Lucian/Caribbean lilt. It's something to live in for a bit.

I found that I was ok following, and then about halfway through I was completely lost. (Achille is passed out on a boat, and winds his way to a river and then he's walking back across the ocean floor. I couldn't quite workout that he had gone backwards in time, to an African village along the banks of a large African river, even if I could get the generally hallucinatory feel.) So, I started using Shmoop, and then, as Walcott the narrator travels through the western major cities, bumping into James Joyce and whatnot, unnamed of course, I became completely dependent. I would read the Shmoop summary of a chapter first to get the story, then read the chapter itself for the language. Certainly a hackneyed way to read this. But it got me through with a degree of appreciation. If I was left with a sense it evolved for a time into something a little plot heavy, that probably says more about my reading style than the contents.

The overall impact for me was the sense of presence Walcott creates. Everything has a spiritual impact, or lives, in this language, in direct counter to that. Poverty, accidents, tourism, development all live as tragic counters to weakening divine spirits of these decedents of slavery. Parallels are brought in, heavily, with the extermination of the North American Indians, especially the well documented massacre at Wounded Knee, in 1890, in the midst of the ghost dance. Walcott, in interviews, says that he is angry. But his poem is not exactly, or not simply that. It's both more circumspect and, on the surface at least, pledging some variation of hope.

2018
https://www.librarything.com/topic/279863#6353501 ( )
5 vote dchaikin | Jan 26, 2018 |
This is a book to be slowly savoured rather than rushed. The vivid imagery is immediately noticeable, but it takes time to really feel the pace of the story. Even though I consider myself well-read, a well-annotated edition would have been helpful for me. I will reread this many times, I think, as it is deep and rich. ( )
1 vote kaitanya64 | Jan 3, 2017 |
The Nobel Prize was awarded for this Homeric poem -- and the announcement was the discovery of gold in the Caribbean archipelago! "Omeros" is the title of this long and interconnected poem -- broken out in easily-read Danteian terza rima (for the most part). The title is from the way a beautiful woman pronounced the protagonist fisherman's name -- "Homer". And the "Om" invokes the revenant spirit of the conch, "mer" is a word for mother, and "os" is a word for bone. Just sayin'....

There are many--and I am one--who avoid long poems, or "poetry" of pointless tale-telling and irritating similes that avoid telling a good tale. Walcott provides a robust tale--this is an Odessian romp through the tree-falls and archipelago of the Caribbean. And it is filled with jewels, and joys and pains. Irony is the salvation in the struggle with colonials and slaves, all of whom are struggling with consciousness. Homer himself takes a turn in narrating this semi-autobiographical unveiling of a wounded Achilles. There are many allusions to historical events--the islands passed from one colonial power to another after various battles. There are many echoes and nods to mythology--the role of a beauty among tribes haunted by sex. But this is not knotted obscurity like trying to read a Pound-ed cant Canto. This poetry is vivid and accessible -- filled with moist surprises, just like a jungle. You don't have to read, or long for, footnotes to "explain" the meaning.

I laughed and wept, and felt enriched. And relieved that I was able to sail off with treasure and without the burden of having had to pillage the smoking village and slaughter any stinking pirates and naval pretenders. ( )
1 vote keylawk | Feb 6, 2014 |
I read this when it came out, and was startled by its ductile grandeur and directness. I aloudread it to various students, in classes, and in large gatherings, for several years. It is simply the best re-working of the Odyssey since Joyce's Ulysses. And of course, Walcott has the daring of poetry; Joyce collapsed into prose.
A decade ago I had maybe fifty lines by heart, in short passages, simply because I had aloudread it enough to remember them. The only one that stays with me in my decline is the one a tried--and failed--to say to the author when he was signing books at a community college convention in Portsmouth, NH (I think). Waiting in a long line, I brought my copy from home to him, and tried to say the very last line, "The moon shone like a slice of raw onion." But my voice failed me, only the second time in my life: the first was in third grade, in a Christmas pageant, where I had trouble reading the Luke story in front of an audience.
By the way, Walcott's multi-linguality does not really come through in the poem, and maybe it shouldn't; but here is a man for whom English may be the second or third language he learned as a child, after Creole and perhaps French. I think he may have read some Homer in Greek as well. ( )
3 vote AlanWPowers | May 2, 2013 |
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A poem in five books, of circular narrative design, titled with the Greek name for Homer, which simultaneously charts two currents of history: the visible history charted in events -- the tribal losses of the American Indian, the tragedy of African enslavement -- and the interior, unwritten epic fashioned from the suffering of the individual in exile.

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