Poems: Poetry and Curious Tale

December 8, 2017 General Studies

“Le Loupgarou” and “Ol Higue” Folklore exists in many cultures throughout the world. Folklore in the form of tales, myths and legends is passed from generation to generation through the oral tradition. Folklore in the Caribbean has been drawn from the rich and diverse backgrounds of our ancestors who came from various parts of the world. Our ancestors brought with them their language, culture, religious beliefs and practices, and their tradition of storytelling. The tales of demons, ghosts, zombies and spirits have been fascinating for the young and old alike, and variations of these stories have been told again and again. Le Loupgarou” and “Ol’ Higue” share similar characteristics as they are both based on Caribbean folklore. “Le Loupgarou” means werewolf or lagahoo. Fittingly, Derek Walcott’s poem tells a tale of a man named Le Brun. He sold his soul to the devil and so he changes into a werewolf at night. He is ostracized by the village and lives all alone in a small old house. Similarly, “Ol’ Higue by Mark Mcwatt is a poem about what Caribbean people would call a soucouyant which is in essence, a female vampire that takes off her old skin at night and turns into a fire ball, lurking through the nights to feed on her poor victims.

Interestingly enough, the soucouyant is the female counterpart for the lagahoo. The old woman is “Ol’ Higue”, like Le Brun, lives alone in an old house. She almost never comes outside during the day as her feeding is done at night. She doesn’t like children and isn’t amiable by nature which are also characteristic of Le Brun. Walcott’s poem opens with the line “A curious tale” suggesting that we, already from the beginning, should be questioning the verity of the story since tale usually is associated with fiction. Ol’ Higue” doesn’t indicate that it is a fictitious story but as Caribbean people, it is easy to come to the conclusion just from the first stanza that she is a soucouyant. “Le loupgarou” is written in a Shakespearian sonnet form with three quatrains and with an ending couplet. It stands out a bit to the original form since the perfect rhyme occasionally is broken and the final couplet does not present perfect rhyme. Perhaps Walcott wants his poem to stand out from the usual, original Shakespearian form, in order to show that this is not one of the typical and customary sonnets.

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Also the iambic pentameter is broken in several lines, for example in line; 8 and 11 which both have an additional syllable. This could be used by Walcott to make these lines stick out and hint that something different is about to happen, that a change is on its way. A change or transformation does indeed happen, literally, in the 10th line where Le Brun is described to have “changed himself into an Alsatian hound” and after line 11 the focus of narration is changed when Le Brun no longer is referred to as a human but as “the thing” and “it”.

This depersonalization describes how Le Brun has lost his dignity, respect and how the people now look upon him as some sick animal. The first and second quatrain are linked together by enjambment (“slowly shutting jalousies | When he approached”) while the third quatrain stands alone and is isolated from the second quatrain by the punctuation. This separation somewhat enhances the change which Le Brun undergoes and also the change in time which happens in the third quatrain. The change in time is expressed in the line “It seems one night.. ” where the narration changes from describing Le Brun to what has happened to him.

The tone of the poem is harsh, dramatic and dark. The harshness comes from the repetition of T’s in the beginning and the long, steady flowing sentences. Also the diction of the poem gives it a slightly harsh and dark tone with words such as; “greying”, “greed”, “Ruined”, “slavering” and “howled”. The purpose of the harsh and dramatic tone is to create a suitable atmosphere for the ‘curious tale’ that is told which undeniably is harsh and unkind. However, “Ol Higue” has three stanzas with completely different structures. The first has eleven lines and the tone is agitation and tiredness. Burning myself out like cane-fire” suggests that she is exhausted from turning into a fire ball every night. There is a pun on the word burning as she burns as a fire ball and also is exhausted by burning herself out. “The pain of salt and having to bend these old bones down to count a thousand grains of rice” is also taken from the first stanza and suggests that she hates the fact that the villagers can put salt on her skin to get rid of her because it can burn her severely and also the fact that she cannot counter the temptation to pick of every grain of rice she sees on the ground. The second stanza is an octave.

In this stanza she speaks about the irresistible call of babies’ blood. “Singing the sweet song of life, tempting an old dry up woman” suggests that new born babies satisfy her sinister craving. Whereas the tone of the first stanza was agitation, it changes the an agonizing or longing tone because she desires pure blood running in new veins to survive. The third stanza has nine lines. It has a threatening tone and a fearful mood. In this stanza she speaks to mothers who have just given birth. It is almost like a warning and affirmation indicating that she will be lurking in the nights for the blood of their babies. Ol’ Higue” has two sibilants, “soft soft” and “sweet song”. McWatt made the reader feel as though the old woman is sly and vicious like a snake would be when its waiting to feed on its prey. In “Le Loupgarou” Walcott used several techniques to emphasize certain parts of his poem. One can find an example of this already in the first line “A curious tale that threaded through the town | Through…” where he used both alliteration and personification to create a brilliant sound image. The repetition of T’s in this line accentuates the effect of how the tale was “chattered” trough the town, told from person to person (t,t,t,t,t).

Another example containing alliteration and personification can be found in the 4th line; “slowly shutting jalousies” where the repetition of the “sh” sound accentuates the hushing sound which occurs when people stop talking about him as he “approached them”. Both poems clearly speak about Caribbean folklore. They stem from these stories and have their own little twist to them. They both have fearful or frightening moods and have an eerie feel to them. They have any similarities but differ in the way that they are written. Derek Walcott and Mark McWatt seem to have kept their readers in suspense and absolute awe.


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