28 of 30 people found the following review helpful
Walcott confidently feels his way into epic form, borrowing the blind eyes of Homer and tropes from Homer's tales. Jam-packed with craft, OMEROS' Dantesque tercets make hairpin turns on the pinpoints of vowels and consonants. Walcott is nothing if not evocative, calling forth the spirits of breadfruit, waves, Plains Indians, sunken treasure, sea creatures and all his other muses with a music that is beyond sounds.
For all the great poetry, what fans of the modern epic will miss in OMEROS is a narrative through-line. Structurally, it is more like William Carlos Williams' PATERSON or especially Hart Crane's THE BRIDGE, than like THE ILLIAD or THE ODYSSEY. The stories in the poem are given secondary importance to the ideas. While I will not disagree with other reviewers' characterizations of the characters as 'well-developed,' I will say that Walcott gives his characters very little to do. The greatest journey is the one taken by the un-named narrator (who seems to be prowling the University Poet circuit from the Carribean to the U.S. to England). Those who want a story with their modern epic are directed to THE CHANGING LIGHT AT SANDOVER by James Merrill.
What Walcott offers in place of narrative is recollections, meditations and essays on a post-colonial world. Certain human motifs are bound to repeat, he says, and demonstrates with the story of fishermen Hector and Achille fighting for the island girl in the yellow dress, Helen. To me, Omeros is really a collection of poems in a similar form spiralling around similar themes, taking up each others' melodies in different keys. Like any symphony, it sometimes gets lost. But its individual passages are, more often than not, magnificent -- and beautiful to hear.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2003
My review title shouldn't be construed as me claiming any knowledge re: Caribbean culture/history, or indeed -any- of the experiences of the disenfranchised peoples this book touches on. All I can say is that the glowing reviews here on Amazon are accurate. Walcott's poetry is supple almost beyond belief: so facile and brilliant that it would stand between the reader and the subject if Walcott himself didn't admit that, yes, he can be awfully facile and brilliant with the English language! The writer walks a dozen dangerous lines - among them, the could-be-precious placing of himself in his own poem - and walks away triumphant from every single challenge.
If you are looking for a linear "story" in the tradition of Homer but transplanted to a Caribbean locale, this isn't it. If however you are looking for great poetry and the understanding of others (and yourself) that great poetry can bring, then it is right here. OMEROS is eminently worth your time.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on May 28, 2000
An amazing poem, especially when read in an environmental context similar to St. Lucia. I attended a semester in the Bahamas, where our English class spent fifteen weeks reading and dissecting the poem. "Omeros" is stunning, elegantly written, subtle and outspoken at the same time. The mingling of Helen and Helen, of Mr. Walcott's personal history (or the history of the "phantom narrator," as we chose to call him) and that of his island are masterful. A challenging but very worthwhile read.
11 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 1999
I didn't know the work of Derek Walcott until I ran into this book. What an amazing book it is ! I used to dislike epic poems - they usually just ramble on and on, preferably made to rhyme in the correct places but in such a way that all life is taken out of the lines. This book is different & its author is no less than a genius.
Sometimes I can't really grasp the meaning of a passage, but it doesn't really matter - each page in this book is so full of the most brilliant images & visions, that it almost seems like a book in itself. And although it's so impossibly rich in smells, colours & sounds, it never succumbs, thank God, to the kind of self-importance that sometimes overshadows the work of other truly great writers.
8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on March 13, 2005
Exploring the relationships between natives, tourists, and nature, Walcott moves beyond just our relationships with one another to create this modern epic. Evocative of the Iliad with its battles between Hector and Achille over the yellow-dressed Helen, Omeros moves beyond just the interactions of the natives to greater themes.
There are many exciting parts to the poem: the beauty of the language, the themes, that it was only on the second time reading Omeros that I realized it rhymed, such is the seeming effortlessness with which Walcott writes. It is a modern epic for the way it is able to really explore human relationships with one another, with the trees, with people invading our indigenous societies.
Walcott manages to focus on a few people in spite of the seemingly huge scope of Omeros, and this makes the book much more deeply enjoyable. I recommend it heartily.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
OMEROS, the eight-thousand-line poem that undoubtedly clinched Derek Walcott's Nobel Prize in 1992, is a lithe glistening marvel. Like some mythological creature, it twists and turns before your eyes, seldom going straight, but shifting in space and time, sometimes terrible, sometimes almost familiar, always fascinating. Book-length poems (I am thinking of things like Byron's DON JUAN, Browning's THE RING AND THE BOOK, and Vikram Seth's THE GOLDEN GATE) might almost be thought of as novels in verse. Almost, but not quite. Most novels tell their story in more or less linear fashion, but poetry works not by explanation but by evocation -- and at that, Walcott is a master.
And what does he evoke? First and foremost, the people and landscape of his native Caribbean island of St. Lucia. The watercolor on the cover, as though by a tropical Winslow Homer, is in fact by the poet himself. Google his paintings and you will see his extraordinary eye for character and color, qualities that shine equally clearly through his words. Omeros is the Greek spelling of Homer, and on one level the poem is a West Indies version of the Iliad, with two fishermen, Achille and Hector, fighting over the beauty of a local Helen, housemaid to a British expatriate couple. The poem begins in epic fashion with the building and naming of boats, and there are other Homeric allusions throughout its seven long sections. But much of its strength comes from the fact that it does not translate the Iliad into a petty local soap opera, but rather starts from the reality of people and a place that Walcott knows well, and elevates it by evoking a classical ancestry.
Furthermore, this story is only the armature around which many other histories may be spun. Some are stories of conflict, such as the great naval Battle of the Saints, fought between the British and the French in 1792 in the waters around the islands. One of the midshipmen in that battle may have been a distant relative of Major Plunkett, the retired soldier who has lived on the island for many years with his Irish wife Maud, employers of the beautiful Helen; the Major's own experiences in India and in the Western Desert are another part of the narrative. There is also St. Lucia's history as one of the points of arrival at the end of the Middle Passage in the slave trade, and in one of the most striking sections Achille is led by a flying sea-swift back in space and time to rejoin his own ancestors in their river village in West Africa. Other sections of the poem deal with the exile, starvation, and massacre of the plains Indians in the 19th century, as seen through the eyes of contemporary activist and fellow artist Catherine Weldon. And behind all that is Walcott's lament for the loss of the original native inhabitants of the islands, the Aruac peoples.
Though epic in structure and content, this is also a very personal poem. Walcott himself appears as a figure in it, in settings as diverse as Brookline, Massachusetts (where he wrote much of it), and cities such as Lisbon, Istanbul, London, and Dublin. He portrays himself as wounded in love, mourning his own lost Helen, and trying to understand his own biracial heritage and spiritual relationship to a father he hardly knew; it is not coincidental that the Wikipedia article on the poet includes a photograph of President Obama carrying one of Walcott's books. In the beautiful final section of the book, Homer himself takes the poet by the hand and leads him through the ashes of a volcano, like Virgil escorting Dante through the Inferno. Somehow all the many themes of the book get gathered into one, and three millennia of love and conflict, loss and inspiration, come together in this one place at this one time and in the mind of this one man.
[For a note on the verse, see the first comment.]
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on April 21, 2013
I also own Walcott's Collected Poems from 1984. But Omeros is better and more ambitious than anything in that volume. And it's extremely ambitious. At times, it may be too ambitious. But despite it's difficulty and occasional pretentiousness, it is also a remarkable achievement and a very beautiful homage to Walcott's home island of St. Lucia.
The book focuses on a group of fictional characters (most with names that reference characters from The Iliad) living on the island. These characters include the island fishermen Hector and Achille who are competing for the love of the beautiful Helen, a sassy former housemaid who bounces back and forth between the two men. Other major characters include Major Plunkett, a retired English officer, and his wife Maud.
But the narrative doesn't focus exclusively on these characters. And it doesn't really parallel The Iliad except in the most superficial sense. The story jumps around frequently through different time periods and places, making it a quintessential example of postmodernist poetry. And some of the characters who pop up in the book are historical figures (like the 19 century American activist Catherine Weldon and the 18th century British officer Admiral George Rodney). In typical postmodernist style, Walcott also frequently inserts himself into the poem, commenting on the story, writing about his past, and writing about his recent life in the United States and abroad.
The weakest sections of the book are the ones that focus on Walcott's observations of different major cities around the world during the course of his travels. One short section in particular (about his stay at a hotel in Toronto) isn't very good. But this is really nitpicking since the poem's quality is generally very high for most of its significant length.
There is no epic poem of the 20th century in English that touches it really. Other reviewers have also noted that the poem is often a difficult read, and while this is true, the poem isn't willfully difficult (like some modernist poetry often is) and is actually easy to read compared to other modernist epics (like, say, Pound's "Cantos" or Crane's "The Bridge"). Also, unlike those epics, Omeros actually has a coherent plot. Like Crane, Walcott toys with irregular rhyme, in an irregular approximation of terza rima, and although his poem looks like it's in a regular meter, in actuality, there is no regular meter in the poem (and at time, no meter at all). This might diminish the poem if you're expecting a formalist epic. Like most of Walcott's work, it only approximates a form without really keeping to it, and that makes the work a bit less impressive.
But I still recommend it highly to anyone who's interested in postmodern or post-colonial literature, anyone who's a fan of Walcott's work, or anyone who likes to read ambitious long poems. Like I said before, it's not an easy read, but it is probably the most beautifully written and generally successful epic poems in English of the 20th century.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Published in 1990, OMEROS is a poem by expatriate Caribbean poet Derek Walcott about his native island of St. Lucia and, by extension, postcolonial locations everywhere. At 300 pages, this is a poem of epic scale and, at many points, direct allusion to the epic genre of antiquity.
The poem is written in two main strands. On the one hand, there is a fictional plot set on St. Lucia, where the poor black fishermen Achilles and Hector fight over the beautiful Helen. They are joined by a supporting cast of other fishermen and residents of St. Lucia's shantytowns, as well as by British retirees Dennis and Maud Plunkett. Through these character's daily lives Walcott depicts the Caribbean setting in considerable detail. "Major" Plunkett (really a former Regimental Sargeant Major who distinguished himself in the Second World War) develops an interest in the history of the British Empire and through his readings, and the fantasies that they evoke in him, Walcott treats the turbulent history of this island that was taken from the Native Americans and then wrestled from France by Britain.
The second strand is the itinerant academic Walcott's own wanderings over the globe and his relationship with his poetic forebears. He dwells on the pre-contact inhabitants of the Caribbean, the African slave trade and the inequalities of the 18th-century colonial empires. This poetry is of sometimes hermetic or confessional nature, and contains outright imitation of T.S. Eliot, Dante, Homer and others.
For portraying so vividly St. Lucia, OMEROS is a tour de force. Walcott really convinces the reader of the natural beauty to be found there, and poignantly writes of the changes that the island went through as it shifted from an impoverished Caribbean backwater to a major tourist destination. Thanks to Walcott's poem, I went from knowing virtually nothing about the place to wanting very much to go there and walk the same paths as the poet.
But for me, OMEROS is weakened by two things. One is that the poem is far too dense, with one intricate metaphor after another. Ancient epic was based on a great deal of repetition, which aided memorization and kept listeners and later readers following along. In spite of the fairly consistent rhyme scheme employed in OMEROS, the poem cannot be read aloud to listeners, nor is it easy to learn by heart. The second flaw is the disconnect between the two strands of the poem. While it is interesting to have a fictional plot commented on by what Walcott observes in his travels, the poet's first-person meditations get awfully self-indulgent and really jar with the mainly uneducated settings he describes.
Still, In spite of the flaws I perceive in OMEROS as a whole, I am sure that I will read it again someday, and there is much to enjoy.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on August 15, 2009
It is an all too uncommon delight to read a contemporary work that contains all the greatness of classical literature, that deserves to be shelved beside Shakespeare, Homer, and Dante. This is such a work. An epic poem that lavishes in the power and stunning beauty of words and images, utterly striking poetry as a mix of classical and modernist literature, reflecting the process of the mind and the process of the literary history. This wonderful poetry, some of the best I've ever read, is used to capture the land and peoples of St. Lucia. The action concerns two men, Achille and Hector, that fight an epic war for the affection of Helen. Woven into the tale, besides the stunning poetry, is the clashing of the races, the condition of the native peoples of the Americas, the nature of war, no longer for women, but for land and national pride. Fascinating epic poetry with stunning imagery of a classical world mixed with our own. The American epic poem. Grade: A
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
This richly allusive poem is an exploration of the colonial experience, primarily from the viewpoint of the dispossessed. While based in Walcott's native St. Lucia, the poem ranges across North America and Europe, and draws on a rich literary heritage. While not strictly speaking an epic by traditional standards, Omeros is epic in scope and ambition. Most of Walcott's characters, including an autobiographical narrator, are individuals in search of a home. The poem itself is an effort to reconcile both the European tradition with the experience of dispossession and enslavement. Walcott calls on Homer, Milton, Joyce, the history of St. Lucia, and many other resources to produce this impressive poem. Walcott's ability to vary his poetry and language across the whole length of the poem is impressive. Parts are intensely lyrical, others witty. The descriptive writing is often superb. A number of sequences, for example, the opening section and the dream voyage of one character to his ancestral Africa are stunning.