One of my absolute favourite poems is Derek Walcott’s The Schooner Flight – the opening poem in the Walcott collection entitled The Star-Apple Kingdom.
This classic Walcott poem is an extended meditation on the predicament and promise of our Caribbean Civilization as manifested in the tragic life story of Shabine – a “red nigger who love the sea”, and who out of desperation ships “as a seaman on the schooner flight” for a defining sea voyage that takes him from Trinidad in the south of the Caribbean to the innumerable islands of the Bahamas in the north, and ultimately to his death.
In recent times, whenever I travel outside of my island home, I somehow feel compelled to take the text of “The Schooner Flight” with me — perhaps for the purpose of reminding myself of the plight and beauty and potential of our Caribbean Civilization.
I can think of no better way to express a public “good-bye” to Derek Walcott than by quoting the following passage from The Schooner Flight.
“Fall gently, rain, on the sea’s upturned face like a girl showering; make these islands fresh as Shabine once knew them! Let every trace, every hot road, smell like clothes she just press and sprinkle with drizzle…………………… Though my Flight never pass the incoming tide of this inland sea beyond the loud reefs of the final Bahamas, I am satisfied if my hand gave voice to one people’s grief. Open the map. More islands there, man than peas on a tin plate, all different size, one thousand in the Bahamas alone, from mountains to low scrub with coral keys, and from this bowsprit, I bless every town, the blue smoke in hills behind them, and the one small road winding down them like twine to the roofs below; I have only one theme: The bowsprit, the arrow, the longing, the lunging heart— the flight to a target whose aim we’ll never know, vain search for one island that heals with its harbor and a guiltless horizon……………… There are so many islands! As many islands as the stars at night on that branched tree from which meteors are shaken like falling fruit around the schooner Flight. But things must fall, and so it always was, on one hand Venus, on the other Mars; fall, and are one, just as this earth is one island of archipelagoes of stars. My first friend was the sea. Now is my last. I stop talking now……….. ……………and the moon open a cloud like a door, and the light over me is a road in white moonlight taking me home.”
Thank you, Derek Walcott! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!