Thinking about Love: Raising a Fist for Derek Walcott

Poet and Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott died yesterday at the age of 87, on the island of St. Lucia, his home, and the setting of much of his poetry. Tributes are still pouring forth from all over the world at the loss of this scholar and virtuoso. This is mine.

For most of us, poetry is thrust upon us when we are very young. It helps us to make sounds, to remember words, and to begin to understand their power and magic. We learn not only that we have a voice, but over time, it becomes unique to us, an extension of our very selves, living within and without. And if used properly, it lives in the hearts and minds of others long after our bodies are gone.

Hold hard then, heart. This way at least you live.

Walcott’s voice, which The New York Times noted “demanded to be heard,” lived in St. Lucia and in the rhythm of the soft and mighty sea. And for those of us who have heard it, its fierce love lives in us. So let us raise a fist for that voice and let us love fiercely all the voices that are not heard.

The Fist

The fist clenched round my heart
loosens a little, and I gasp
brightness; but it tightens
again. When have I ever not loved
the pain of love? But this has moved

past love to mania. This has the strong
clench of the madman, this is
gripping the ledge of unreason, before
plunging howling into the abyss.

Hold hard then, heart. This way at least you live.

—Derek Walcott (1930-2017)

© Copyright 1986. From Collected Poems: 1948-1984 by Derek Walcott. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

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