Outline of the Selections from Omeros

Introduction: Derek Walcott's Omeros is an epic poem that borrows from the conventions of epic poetry, both developing and overturning their assumptions. The portions of the poem we will be looking at mostly revolve around the diver Achille, but a few portions look at Walcott's own life and that of the missionary Catherine Weldon.  We will also be examining portions that use certain Western epic methods such as the epic catalog and the invocation to the muse.   Because we are looking at only brief selections, the reading will of necessity be disjointed.  It might help to read each selection as a separate poem, though the material from Books One and Three are closely related.

Book One, Chapter I: This section of the epic finds Achille making a canoe (pirogue).  He cuts down the tree, hollows it out using chisel and fire, and names it.  It is also blessed by a priest (which is in tension with the references to the pagan deity of the tree itself.)

Chapter VIII. I: The local museum has a bottle from the famous 1782 Battle of the Saints.  It is rumored that one of the ships that sank was full of gold.  Achille decides to dive for the treasure in order to give money to the woman he loves, Helen. [Helen is only mentioned in passing in the selections we are reading.]

Chapter VIII. II: Achille looks on the sights under the sea and wonders why he is here. He reflects that this is a world not meant for the living.  He perhaps sights the ship, but he has to rise to the surface, and he does not sight it again. The ship, however, continues in his imagination.

Book Three, Chapter XXV.I: Achille is out on the sea.  He suffers a sunstroke and dreams that he is returning to West Africa, the land of his ancestors, and that God allows him to return.

Chapter XXV.II: Achille paddles up the dream river of the Congo.  Walcott himself says that he was half with Achille and half with "the midshipman by a Dutch canal" (57-58).  Achille sees a man walking towards him.

Chapter XXV.III:Achille carries on a conversation with his Yoruba ancestor, Afolabe.  They debate the meaning of a name and of cultural memory.  Afolabe disapproves of Achille's lack of knowledge of his ancestors.

Chapter XXVI.I: Achille participates in the rituals of the Yoruba: the kola nut ceremony, drinking of palm-wine, story-telling, singing, recitation of the gods' names, etc.

Chapter XXVI.III:Achille walks for "300 years" out of his dream, crossing whales, cemeteries, anchors, etc.  Within the dream, he sees himself in the water and awakens from his dream in his hut.  It is the day of his feast in which the people dress and perform dances that are the same in many ways similar to that of the Yoruba.

Book Four, Chapter XXXV.I: In this portion of the poem, the story has shifted to Walcott's own journey. He is visiting the Trail of Tears in the U.S. He thinks of the Greek Revival architecture of the Southern U.S. and connects the fate of slaves in the U.S. to that of his own people.

Chapter XXXV.II:  The poem focuses on Catherine Weldon, a teacher and missionary among the Sioux in the Dakotas.Weldon reflects on her past, her becoming a widow, etc.

Book Six, Chapter LII: The following is a epic catalog that details a large number of cultural artifacts from St. Lucia.

Book Seven, Chapter LXIV: The poem ends with Walcott's invocation to the muse.  Here he details how he spoke of Achille, the Caribbean, and others.

"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding