World bids farewell to Derek Walcott

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A report from Jamaica’s Observer.

Derek Alton Walcott, born in humble surroundings on Chaussee Road and who mesmerised the world with his poetry, plays and paintings, was buried here on Saturday, one week after he died following a prolong illness.

The Nobel Laureate, who died at the age of 87, was eulogised during the just over two-hour state funeral service, as a man who gave Caribbean people  an opportunity to “have dreams and have visions”.

Monsignor Patrick Anthony urged the congregation to “be proud of what Derek has done for us as a Caribbean people,” saying that like other great Caribbean icons, including the late Jamaican singer Bob Marley and the athlete Usain Bolt, Walcott has allowed the Caribbean people “to lift our heads high and say we can stand shoulder to shoulder with the best in the world.

“Let us be proud of what Derek has done for us, a Caribbean people,” Monsignor Anthony said.

Governor General Dame Pearlette Louisy and Prime Minister Allen Chastanet led the local and international dignitaries at the state funeral held at the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in the capital.

Much of Walcott’s work was used during the service and as his coffin, draped with the national flag of St. Lucia was being taken out of the Church, some of his poems were being read out.

Walcott’s long-time friend, Professor Emeritus Edward Baugh of the University of the West Indies (UWI), in his eulogy, said that the prolific and versatile poet, who was widely respected as one of the greatest writers of the second half of the 20th century, was “never one to blow his own trumpet”.

He recalled the “canny jokes” of Walcott, “the boy of Chaussee Road” who was also “considerate of others working to promote talent where he spotted one”.

Walcott was born on January 23, 1930 in the capital, Castries and he had acknowledged that the experience of growing up on the isolated volcanic island, an ex-British colony, has had a strong influence on Walcott’s life and work.

After studying at St Mary’s College here and at the UWI in Jamaica, Walcott moved in 1953 to Trinidad, where he worked as theatre and art critic. At the age of 18, he made his debut with 25 Poems, but his breakthrough came with the collection of poems, In a Green Night (1962).

In 1959, he founded the Trinidad Theatre Workshop which produced many of his early plays.

With passions ranging from watercolour painting to teaching to theatre, Walcott’s work was widely praised for its depth and bold use of metaphor, as well as its mix of sensuousness and technical prowess.

“I am primarily, absolutely a Caribbean writer,” he once said during a 1985 interview. Walcott received the Nobel Prize for literature in 1992 and the Swedish academy said “in him, West Indian culture has found its great poet”.

Among his best known literary work is the 1990 classic “Omeros”, a 64-chapter Caribbean epic.

Walcott was one two St. Lucians to have received the prestigious Nobel Prize, following Sir Arthur Lewis, who won the award for economics in 1979.

He won the TS Eliot Prize for Poetry in 2011. Walcott received numerous awards including a Royal Society of Literature Award, the Queen’s medal of Poetry and a MacArthur Foundation genius award.  In 2016, as part of Independence celebrations, he was given the title of “Sir”, one of the first to be knighted under the Order of St. Lucia.

Walcott, who is survived by his three children Peter, Elizabeth, and Anna, was buried at Morne Fortune, near the Inniskilling Monument, a site vested in the St Lucia National Trust and within close proximity of fellow Nobel Laureate, Sir Arthur Lewis

During the homily, Monsignor Anthony quoted from Walcott’s 2004 work, “Bounty” in which he said “I cannot remember the name of that seacoast city, but it … my own epitaph, “Here lies D W This place is good to die in”.

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