Homecoming: Anse La Raye is a poem by Derek Walcott. Walcott delves into a sense of belonging with respect to the Caribbean people and culture. He is a postcolonial poet who addresses the Caribbean’s post-independence challenges and problems. The poem’s title is suggestive of the poem’s subject: the speaker’s return to the Caribbean island of St. Lucia’s village of Anse la Raye. The poem appeared in the collection The Gulf and Other Poems (1969).
Homecoming: Anse La Raye | Summary and Analysis
Walcott depicts a native man returning to his homeland, Anse La Raye, after becoming famous and wealthy through his poetry. The man predicts that he will return as a hero, a role model for young children who aspire to be successful in life. This welcome, however, is not extended to him. He is mistaken for a tourist in the area and is not even recognized by the locals. On the outside, western civilization has transformed him into one of them, but on the inside, he is not. He is not as welcome in the west as native-born people, and he is no longer welcome in his homeland; he has no place to call home. Throughout the poem, there are numerous parallels to the ancient Greek story of Odysseus. Odysseus spent many years fighting in the Trojan Wars abroad, and when he returned, he was not recognized as the hero he had been he was not recognized at all. The native man’s story is very similar to this one, in that both are filled with sadness and bitter disappointment. The speaker uses the pronoun “we” at the start of the poem, implying that the speaker is speaking to others who have had similar experiences. By the end of the second stanza, the speaker is referring to his separate poetic self with the pronoun “you.” The use of “you” is more effective, but not entirely exclusive, because the poem plays on the idea of detachment and even alienation. The speaker maintains a connection between the first stanzas’ “we” and the rest of the poem’s “you.” The poem is divided into four stanzas with sixty lines of free verse.
Homecoming: Anse La Raye | Analysis, Lines 1-10
Whatever else we learned
at school, like solemn Afro-Gods eager for grades,
of Helen and the shades
of borrowed ancestors,
there are no rites
for those who have returned,
only, when her looms fade,
drilled in our skulls, the doom-
only this well-known passage
The first stanza establishes a link between Caribbean peoples and other cultures. The speaker claims that antiquity was taught in the island’s school, but that these works and their mythological associations, while significant in some ways, were products of other cultures and were quickly forgotten. The speaker’s poetic self is currently focused solely on the sea and a “well-known passage.” The speaker observes the scene without romanticizing it. An allusion to Helen of Troy has been used by the poet. She is Menelaus’ wife in the Iliad and Odyssey. Her kidnapping and marriage to the Trojan Paris spark a war between the Trojans and the Greeks. She was able to reconcile with her first husband and homeland after the war. The poet is married twice, first to the island of his birth, and then to the muse of poetry, who leads him abroad, which is another parallel. The allusion to Helen also foreshadows the battlefield imagery of the following lines.
‘the shades / of borrowed ancestors’
There is an enjambment used in this line. This line’s enjambment creates a brief pause, almost as if Walcott is embarrassed to admit that the ancestors he admired were not their own, as they had no genetic link to the Ancient Greeks. Both writers appropriate and adapt classical ideas to their work while being aware that this artistic heritage does not necessarily belong to them, as the adjective ‘borrowed’ implies.
Homecoming Anse La Raye | Analysis, Lines 11-19
under the coconuts’ salt-rusted
swords, these rotted
leathery sea-grape leaves,
the seacrabs’ brittle helmets, and
this barbeque of branches, like the ribs
of sacrificial oxen on scorched sand;
only this fish-gut-reeking beach
whose frigates tack like buzzards overhead,
whose spindly, sugar-headed children race
In the second stanza, the “well-known passage” becomes a “fish-gut-reeking beach.” The ominous tone implies that something more threatening and less comforting is going on, which isn’t what one would expect from a homecoming. Children appear as the speaker’s poetic self surveys the scene. They believe he is a tourist and are hoping to get money from him. As the speaker tries to interpret and react to what he sees, he expresses his dissatisfaction. His homeland’s surroundings and environment are no longer welcoming; they are hostile. The coconut leaves resemble “salt–rusted swords,” while the sea crabs resemble brittle helmets; both the swords and helmets are weapons of war, and neither is friendly. Even the ocean is hostile. The sea grapes have ‘rotted,’ and tree branches have been burned. This image also includes auditory imagery from the ‘fish-gut reeking beach.’ The ribs of the ‘sacrificial oxen’ which represents the natives’ cultural rites before their identity was seized by their colonizers lie scorched on the sand, as if left to rot with nature, highlighting the Caribbeans’ deteriorating identity. It depicts the land’s lack of ‘visible history,’ and how it is losing its identity as a result. Furthermore, this could imply that Walcott, a poet and speaker, is torn between his two identities. As he returns home to Anse La Raye, his half-white and half-Afro Caribbean identities are at odds.
He has lost his sense of home and belonging after spending so much time in another country. The use of parallelism to describe the innocence of children running against Walcott’s landscape illustrates the joy of childhood as well as the vulnerability of a child who is unaware of the tragic history that has occurred within their home. They are intrigued by the speaker’s appearance, which resembles that of a ‘tourist.’ It establishes a tone of detachment from the speaker with the children, as he appears to them to be an outsider. It also conveys how much he has changed both physically and mentally since he last returned home.
The simile ‘they swarm like flies round your heart’s sore’ conveys an image of decay. The presence of flies around the speaker’s heart indicates that his heart is dead, almost as if he is disconnected from his surroundings. The fullness of the children’s joy appears to be in stark contrast to this dead, barren feeling.
Homecoming Anse La Raye | Analysis, Lines 20-40
pelting up from the shallows
because your clothes,
seem a tourist’s.
They swarm like flies
round your heart’s sore.
Suffer them to come,
entering your needle’s eye,
knowing whether they live or die,
what others make of life will pass them by
like that far silvery freighter
threading the horizon like a toy;
for once, like them,
you wanted no career
but this sheer light, this clear,
infinite, boring, paradisal sea,
but hoped it would mean something to declare
today, I am your poet, yours,
all this you knew,
but never guessed you’d come
to know there are homecomings without home.
The third stanza starts with another allusion to the children who “swarm like flies” around the speaker’s poetic self. He does not reject the children at first, but rather pities them because they are ignorant of the larger world and fear that the “silvery freighter” will “pass them by.” As the speaker muses on what it would be like to share their lives, their ignorance is met with equal amounts of ambivalence. For a brief moment, he imagines a physical state in which the sea and island life are sufficient. However, as the stanza concludes with the thought that the experience of homecoming can be devoid of feelings of warmth and security, a tone of resignation enters. The man notices a pair of elderly fishermen playing draughts, a game in which black and white counters can be ‘taken’ by ‘crossing’ them; this could be a reference to white, western civilization enslaving black people, as well as war and hostility. Walcott describes the island as “infinite, boring, and paradisal,” which perfectly encapsulates his feelings about it. In some ways, he considers the island to be a paradise, but he recognizes that the rest of the world has much more to offer.
The poet uses a simile in the following lines:
‘like that far silvery freighter
threading the horizon like a toy’
The speaker’s voice has a tone of pity for the children, who are completely unaware of what is going on in the world outside of their small town of Anse La Raye. The silvery freighter emphasizes how far and insignificant it is to them. Furthermore, comparing the freighter to a toy emphasizes its insignificance, as a toy is an object that they are familiar with. As a result, Walcott implies that when something unexpected happens, the children will always turn to the familiar.
‘To know that there are homecomings without a home’ encapsulates the poem’s overall tone of detachment and isolation. It explores what it means to return home in a postcolonial context, that return is conceived as both a homecoming and an infernal journey.
Homecoming: Anse La Raye, Lines 41-60
You give them nothing.
Their curses melt in air.
The black cliffs scowl,
the ocean sucks its teeth,
like that dugout canoe
a drifting petal fallen in a cup,
with nothing but its image,
your sway, reflecting nothing.
The freighter’s silvery ghost
is gone, the children gone.
Dazed by the sun
you trudge back to the village
past the white, salty esplanade
under whose palms dead
fishermen move their draughts in shade,
crossing, eating their islands,
and one, with a politician’s
ignorant, sweet smile, nods,
as if all fate
swayed in his lifted hand.
The reader is brought back to the children in the final stanza. They have received nothing from the speaker’s poetic self, and they curse him for his lack of generosity.
The personification of nature, “black cliffs scowl, the ocean sucks its teeth” portrays nature as threatening. It emphasizes the speaker’s alienation from the land, as he no longer feels at home in the place where he was born. The natural environment is still in jeopardy. He’s tired, so he walks back to the village past an esplanade where “dead/ fishermen move their draughts in shade,” which is most likely a reference to checkers rather than the fishermen’s catch.
One of the fishermen smiles and nods in acknowledgement, but the speaker observes the gesture with the same detached mood, sarcastically remarking that the nodding fisherman gestures
“as if all fate
swayed in his lifted hand.”
Walcott employs compound words such as doom-/surge-haunted nights, sea-grapes, and sugar-headed children to create a compressed, intense rhythm to the poem as he recounts his feelings and surroundings in Anse La Raye. The ferocity reflects their recognition of their identity and purpose as a Caribbean people linked to both colonisers and colonised. The images of nature, on the other hand, are accompanied by a diction that emphasizes death and decay. Coconuts are compared to rusting swords, almost as if they’re deteriorating.
Homecoming: Anse La Raye | About the Author
Derek Walcott wrote the poem “Homecoming.” He was born on the Caribbean island of St Lucia and went to school in Jamaica and the United States. A lot of his poetry dealt with issues like racism and cultural heritage. Some of his most important works are Dream on Monkey Mountain (1967), Omeros (1990), White Egrets (2007) et cetera. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992.