Epigram: [see n. 1 in the Norton anthology] Crusoe looks upon the
world as something objective and free from his subjective perception and involvement.
The poem will undercut this stance, claiming that subjective perception is part of
what we do with the objects of the world.
lines 1-9: The first lines provide the setting of the poem,
a drive past a beach house between the ocean and the forest in Trindad. On such a
trip, the mind of the poet ("the intellect") must judge the surroundings much
like Robinson Crusoe in Defoe's novel had to gather everything he could from the wreckage
of his ship. But here the wreckage and tools are those of prose.
lines 10-15: Such a tool-making/gathering is like Adam
first naming the animals; each word has a complete newness to it, for it feels as if it
were without precedent. In Walcott's estimation the world is always new for the
poet, always being recreated or reconfigured.
lines 16-25: This reconfiguration is also like the arrival
of Christopher Columbus and Christianity in the New World. Converts, such as Defoe's
character of Friday who served and was converted by Crusoe, find that the infusion of the
Word alters their cultural and religious consciousness, yet they also make this language
serve their own purposes. For example, a kind of new, more symbolic cannibalism
results as they partake of Catholic communion.
lines 26-29a: "All shapes, all objects" are from
the sea and multiply and alter like the shape-shifting Greek god Proteus. [The sea
in Walcott seems to represent a number of things. Among others, it stands for the
process whereby the natural geography of the Caribbean tends to display the cultural
objects of human history.]
lines 29b-39: The speaker now makes a parenthesis,
describing the coast seen off a cliff-side road as a kind of "stuttering canvas"
not only because the scenes pass quickly by but also because it represents a unclear,
broken kind of speech. The passing villages can be compared to the castaway setting
of children's stories like Treasure Island. The young boy, a particularly
lonely image, could be a boy inspired by such images, perhaps even Walcott himself.
lines 40-41: We are naturally lonely because we must, like
Crusoe, construct meaning with what time (that is, history or the past) gives us.
lines 42-53a: Poetry, like divination, creates something
that is without use and apart from its creator. As such, like gulls' crying, poetry
never resigns itself to its isolation, needing praise from others. Like the
character of Ben Gunn, it must learn to be at peace with its island isolation.
lines 53b-57: [see n. 9] "Like Crusoe, the inhabitants
of the Caribbean [or the individual poet?] have created a new culture out of the debris of
their historical experience."
lines 58-70: The intellect with its perception of the world
needs a mask/symbol to provide shape and meaning. Our face is that of a beachcomber
(or perhaps Crusoe himself) who longs to return to innocent Eden. It longs for the
experience of faith, a kind of faith that Adamically names its experience, that chooses
its words, including unorthodox beliefs. The last line can be understand in at least
three different ways: 1) see n. 3 in the anthology -- as a pantheistic reference, so God
is present in all things; 2) as another symbol of the poet's creation of meaning and the
loneliness that accompanies it; and/or 3) as the separation that God feels from his
creation which is similar to the feeling of separation in the human creation of ideas.
- How does Walcott's Crusoe figure compare to and contrast with the
beliefs of Wordsworth, Yeats, and Stevens about the poetic creation of meaning?
- How does "Crusoe's Journal" compare to Walcott's essay
"The Muse of History"? Do they hold the same view of the past? Is
the Crusoe figure a classicist in Walcott's estimation? Why or why not?
- How would orthodox Christianity respond to Walcott's use of Christian
imagery here? (Also consider here the poem "The Sea is History.")