A Voice of Internal Conflict.
A Voice of Internal Conflict
The most insightful and interesting stanzas can be found in a lyric poem. In this type of poetry, the voice in the writing is essentially that of the poet. An accurate example of this is “A Far Cry from Africa” by Derek Walcott. The attitudes of the speaker in this poem represent the same sentiments and experiences of the author himself. Walcott is a man of African descent, raised in the Caribbean on the ex-British colony island of St. Lucia. This history of growing up in an English environment, aware of an opposing descent, influenced the life and work of Walcott. In this poem, he expresses the theme through the speaker’s attitude, perception of his environment, internal conflict, and the tone and mood that are created by these elements.
The feelings of the speaker toward the subject of the poem are very clear. He openly criticizes the brutality between the Africans and the colonial settlers. The language of the poem demonstrates that the speaker is angry at the entire situation and judgmental of both parties involved. Phrases such as “Corpses are scattered through a paradise” (4) and “his wars dance..”(19) combine the presence of violence with positive concepts. The speaker is mocking the brutality by describing it using the words “paradise” and “dance”, that are normally associated with celebration and bliss. He refuses to accept the motives of the white men and the attacks of the Africans. At one point, the speaker addresses the colonial policy and how it is justified and accepted. He points out that any validation of the colony’s actions is not worth anything to the people who are suffering from the ongoing battles. The voice in the poem observes and analyzes his surroundings and stands in strong disagreement with the white men whose lifestyle he shares, and the Africans whose blood he shares.
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The setting of the poem holds the speaker directly between these two peoples. He tells his story from the damaged fields of Africa and sets a specific mood with his description of this environment. The first sentence, “A wind is ruffling the tawny pelt of Africa.” (1-2) compares the country’s land to a dry, brownish animal skin. Next, we learn that savages are dispersed across the bloody land, which is covered by scattered corpses. The mood is dark, depressive, and violent. Images of blood and murder are created in the mind of the reader. The absence of compassion is brought up twice in the poem. The bloodshed that he witnesses results from a battle of two forces, which he is internally fighting with. The speaker’s tone toward these two groups and what they have done to Africa is expressed by how he portrays them and their actions.
The speaker is not necessarily proud of the actions of his African brothers, nor does he accept those of the white colonists. Though both groups are assigned a negative image, the white colonists are portrayed to be more irrational and evil than the natives. The speaker compares the natural hunting activities of the Africans to the murders by colonists, saying “upright man seeks his divinity by inflicting pain” (17). He implies that white men seek a higher position, like that of a God, and to achieve this they kill others. This idea of the tribe being associated with natural laws and the white men correlating with man-made evil powers is carried throughout the poem. At one point the speaker comments, “The gorilla wrestles with the superman” (25). He sees the Africans as gorilla, or an uncivilized, beastly king of nature. The colonists are perceived as a superman, or an unnatural force with unrealistic powers that places it above the level of any human. His voice toward these opponents sets the stage for the poem’s theme. He has a clear perception of the external conflict which leads him to his own internal conflict.
The speaker reveals that he is connected with both peoples and says, “Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?” (27). In front of him, he sees an impossible decision. His heart pumps the same blood as the African tribesmen, and his mouth speaks the same tongue as the English colonists. He is aware of the pain caused by both groups and finds it difficult to choose which company to award his loyalty. The results of the tribe’s attacks leave a white child wounded. The colonists view the African savages to be as expendable as Jews. The speaker finds it unbearable to witness the constant slaughtering in the country. At the same time, he states, “How can I turn from Africa and live?” (33). The narrator enjoys the civilized culture of the English people, but feels deeply rooted to his African elements of descent. It is the speaker’s search for a single social identity that brings to light the theme of the poem.
Though the subject of “A Far Cry from Africa” deals with the civilization of foreign lands, the theme is much more individual. It is common to search for a sense of background or heritage, and find a people who you can relate to. However, you can easily find yourself in the middle of two distinct groups. It is natural to want to devote yourself to the people who share your blood, and also easy to identify with the society who you have always known. A combination of the two is hard to find, and Walcott and the voice in his poem have to live torn between two cultures. The speaker conveys tone, mood, and conflict to enhance the theme. Even the title of the poem, “A Far Cry from Africa” supports this sense of feeling lost in a foreign land that could easily be called home.
“Derek Walcott.” The Nobel Foundation Biographies. 2004. 18 Feb. 2004. The Nobel Foundation, 24 Jun. 2003 <http://www.nobel.se/literature/laureates/1992/walcott-bio.html>.