A Far Cry from Africa

December 7, 2016 English Language

Yr 12 English Learning Portfolio- Item 1
A Far Cry from Africa is a poem first published in 1962 by the Caribbean poet, Derek Walcott. Walcott is of both African and British heritage and this result in a very conflicting sense of belonging. The poem refers to the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya in the 1950s. During which there was an extensive bloody battle between the native Kikuyu tribe and European settlers who had colonized Kenya. The Kenyans faced economical deprivation and near-slavery treatment under the White colonizers. The Kikuyu people formed the Mau Mau, what would be today regarded as a terrorist organization who aimed to purge all European influence from the country. The struggle between the two ethnics was horrifying and bloody, innocents were killed and both sides committed equal atrocities.
Walcott composed this poem to express his objection and horror towards the events that occurred. Simultaneously Walcott also explores his own sense of belonging and identity as an individual. He portrays his psychological conflicts and how his history and heritage can become a barrier to belonging. The poem is written for a general audience but possibly for a Western audience in order to raise issues about ethnic as he had personally encountered racism during his time in America.
Walcott explores his conflicted sense of belonging due to his divided cultural and nationality background. This is seen in the last stanza, ???Where shall I turn, divided to the vein??? through the use of rhetorical question Walcott reveals his inner thoughts and shows his uncertainty. He has to make the choice of belonging to one group because he cannot belong to two opposing groups. This is once again reflected in the rhetorical question ???how choose between this Africa and the English tongue I love??? He is of African origin but he loves the English language and it is with this that allows him to create art, to create poetry. It is a hard choice for him. At the same time, Walcott doesn??™t seem to wish to belong to either group because he believes both groups are equally as violent and horrid. He believes he is ???poisoned with the blood of both???, the metaphor here used shows his attitude and he doesn??™t appreciate being black or white. He makes the historical allusion of the Spanish Civil War to emphasize the idea, ???A waste of our compassion, as with Spain???, an echo of the direct speech ???Waste no compassion on these separate dead??? from the first paragraph. In the Spanish Civil War, the British helped due to compassion but in the end both side committed equal atrocities. The repeated and accumulative use of rhetorical question in the last stanza creates a tone of urgency and adds to the overall uncomfortable tone of the poem.
The whole poem is constructed to create a very unnatural flow for readers. Such as the use of half rhyme the first stanza ???seize??? and ???policy???, and in the second stanza ???dread??? and ???dead???. Additionally the regular use of words with plosive sounds such as ???beast???, ???dirty??? and ???blood??? creates a very stiff tone. Along with the frequent use of vivid imagery relating to death and words with death connotations such as ???corpses??? and ???carcass??? gives the poem the uncomfortable reaction Walcott wants from the audience and corresponds with the feelings of not belonging. The language used is very coloured and some words itself have an African related connotation, such as ???veldt??? and ???ibises??? and ???tawny pelt???.
Walcott??™s poem is similar to Skyrzynecki??™s poems because both poets are writing from a similar context and experience. They are both writing in a country and surrounding which is not of their origin country. Walcott left Africa and moved to the Caribbean while Skyrzynecki moved to Australia fleeing Poland. Although the poets left their original countries for different reason, the one thing are common is no doubt that they both needed to find a new sense of belonging and adjust with the new surroundings. This is reflected in their poems as they both explore the theme of belonging in regards to ethnic groups. While Walcott??™s poem has more of a violent image and death related, Skyrzynecki??™s poems focuses more on images of suburban family and how they attempt to become part of the Australian society and adopt their new identity as an ???Australian???.
Both poems explore the idea of history and heritage is an essential and dominant part of an individual??™s identity and their belonging or not belonging to a group. Skyrzynecki presents this idea through writing about his father and older generations and how their way of life was taken to Australia and adopted, in the poem Feliks Skyrzynecki and also in 10 Mary Street in which the traditional behavior of planting vegetables in the garden and eating Polish food such as Kielbasa and drank raw vodka are written about. Walcott also writes about his heritage and history from the European and African sides, however his more about the language and the blood in his veins because this to him is of more importance. Another common feature between the two is, both poets decided to use numerous historical allusions and references in order to show the events which their people have experienced and the significance. For Skyrzynecki it is the fleeing of the war torn Europe and Nazi prosecution while for Walcott it??™s the deprivation blacks experienced under the whites.
On a more personal level, the poem caused a very emotive response. It successfully explores the space between belonging and not belonging, the barriers to belonging and how an individual??™s identity can be largely shaped by their history and heritage. The poem was selected because it had a very challenging and large historical context which needed to be understood in order to interpret the poem. At the same time, this added to the richness of the poem and the content which allowed for more personal and different interpretations. Walcott is no doubt an excellent poet which is why he won the 1992 Nobel literature prize.


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