|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.
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
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
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.