Codicil – Derek Walcott

Codicil

Schizophrenic, wrenched by two styles,
one a hack’s hired prose, I earn
my exile. I trudge this sickle, moonlit beach for miles,

tan, burn
to slough off
this love of ocean that’s self-love.

To change your language you must change your life.

I cannot right old wrongs.
Waves tire of horizon and return.
Gulls screech with rusty tongues

above the beached, rotting pirogues;
they were a venomous beaked cloud at Charlotteville.

Once I thought love of country was enough,
now, even if I chose, there’s no room at the trough.

I watch the best minds root like dogs
for scraps of favour.
I am nearing middle

age, burnt skin
peels from my hand like paper, onion-thin,
like Peer Gynt’s riddle.

At heart there’s nothing, not the dread
of death. I know too many dead.
They’re all familiar, all in character,

even how they died. On fire,
the flesh no longer fears that furnace mouth
of earth,

that kiln or ashpit of the sun,
nor this clouding, unclouding sickle moon
whitening this beach again like a blank page.

All its indifference is a different rage.

Derek Walcott, The Castaway and Other Poems, 1965

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3 Responses to Codicil – Derek Walcott

  1. Sarah Frost says:

    Interesting poem, just trying to understand the title in relation to the theme of disillusionment – why Codicil? Addition to a will (OED) – as in a comment on life from one ready to leave it – although only middle-aged?

    Particularly liked ‘slough off this ocean that is self-love’ – how narcissism can trip one up, Walcott’s a wise poet, as he tracks the sadness, the anger.

    s

  2. Michelle says:

    Brilliant.

  3. Zoe says:

    Sarah, I think it’s supposed to be a codicil to the combined will of generations as well as the living will of the narrator (who shares that same cultural heritage).

    Great poem.

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