Derek Walcott, whose poetry about the landscapes, cultures, and history of the Caribbean earned him the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature, died this morning, at the age of eighty-seven, in his home on St. Lucia. Walcott was a singular figure: “Working in an English verse tradition and writing about everyday life in the Caribbean,” Hilton Als wrote, in his 2004 Profile of Walcott, he “documented life in a place most Americans think of in terms of sunblock and steel drums . . . . Walcott’s work revels in the history, the mores, and the differences of a people generally misunderstood, if they are thought about at all.”
In addition to Als’s Profile, The New Yorker has published two long reviews of Walcott’s work. In 1992, Jervis Anderson reviewed “Omeros,” Walcott’s retelling of the Odyssey, set in the Caribbean; in 2014, Adam Kirsch wrote about Walcott’s collected poems. Just a few months ago, Joshua Jelly-Schapiro wrote, on our Web site, about the friendship between Walcott and the painter Peter Doig, and their collaboration on “Morning, Paramin,” which was Derek’s last book.
Walcott himself has been publishing poems in the magazine since 1971. The most recent, “In Italy,” from 2008, is breathtakingly beautiful. It begins:
Roads shouldered by enclosing walls with narrow
cobbled tracks for streets, those hill towns with their
stamp-sized squares and a sea pinned by the arrow
of a quivering horizon, with names that never wither
for centuries and shadows that are the dial of time. Light
older than wine and a cloud like a tablecloth
spread for lunch under the leaves. I have come this late
to Italy, but better now, perhaps, than in youth
that is never satisfied . . .