Derek Walcott

Rookie (23 January 1930 / Castries / St Lucia)

The Sea Is History - Poem by Derek Walcott

Where are your monuments, your battles, martyrs?
Where is your tribal memory? Sirs,
in that gray vault. The sea. The sea
has locked them up. The sea is History.

First, there was the heaving oil,
heavy as chaos;
then, likea light at the end of a tunnel,

the lantern of a caravel,
and that was Genesis.
Then there were the packed cries,
the shit, the moaning:

Exodus.
Bone soldered by coral to bone,
mosaics
mantled by the benediction of the shark's shadow,

that was the Ark of the Covenant.
Then came from the plucked wires
of sunlight on the sea floor

the plangent harp of the Babylonian bondage,
as the white cowries clustered like manacles
on the drowned women,

and those were the ivory bracelets
of the Song of Solomon,
but the ocean kept turning blank pages

looking for History.
Then came the men with eyes heavy as anchors
who sank without tombs,

brigands who barbecued cattle,
leaving their charred ribs like palm leaves on the shore,
then the foaming, rabid maw

of the tidal wave swallowing Port Royal,
and that was Jonah,
but where is your Renaissance?

Sir, it is locked in them sea sands
out there past the reef's moiling shelf,
where the men-o'-war floated down;

strop on these goggles, I'll guide you there myself.
It's all subtle and submarine,
through colonnades of coral,

past the gothic windows of sea fans
to where the crusty grouper, onyx-eyed,
blinks, weighted by its jewels, like a bald queen;

and these groined caves with barnacles
pitted like stone
are our cathedrals,

and the furnace before the hurricanes:
Gomorrah. Bones ground by windmills
into marl and cornmeal,

and that was Lamentations -
that was just Lamentations,
it was not History;

then came, like scum on the river's drying lip,
the brown reeds of villages
mantling and congealing into towns,

and at evening, the midges' choirs,
and above them, the spires
lancing the side of God

as His son set, and that was the New Testament.

Then came the white sisters clapping
to the waves' progress,
and that was Emancipation -

jubilation, O jubilation -
vanishing swiftly
as the sea's lace dries in the sun,

but that was not History,
that was only faith,
and then each rock broke into its own nation;

then came the synod of flies,
then came the secretarial heron,
then came the bullfrog bellowing for a vote,

fireflies with bright ideas
and bats like jetting ambassadors
and the mantis, like khaki police,

and the furred caterpillars of judges
examining each case closely,
and then in the dark ears of ferns

and in the salt chuckle of rocks
with their sea pools, there was the sound
like a rumour without any echo

of History, really beginning.


Comments about The Sea Is History by Derek Walcott

  • (1/8/2018 7:25:00 PM)


    I read this poem out loud and the words came out of me from depths of my being, like they were written in me before I was born. (Report) Reply

    1 person liked.
    0 person did not like.
  • Bernard F. Asuncion (1/8/2018 4:22:00 PM)


    Such an interesting write by Derek Walcott👍👍👍 (Report) Reply

  • Edward Kofi Louis (1/8/2018 11:25:00 AM)


    Heavy as chaos! ! Thanks for sharing this poem with us. (Report) Reply

  • Glen Kappy (1/8/2018 6:58:00 AM)


    My first time reading this. For me it’s impressive as a sustained metaphor and for its descriptions of things in the sea and parallels of them to things above. -GK (Report) Reply

  • Ramesh T A (1/8/2018 1:54:00 AM)


    Treasure of history is within sea! Many are unearthed and many more need to be found out to know human origin still and so, history has begun indeed! (Report) Reply

  • (1/8/2018 1:45:00 AM)


    It seems like one risen from the bottom of the sea to be familiar with the evolution and manifestation of civilization
    called history..........very insightful........composed brilliantly........thanks for sharing
    (Report) Reply

  • Robert Murray Smith (1/8/2018 12:24:00 AM)


    A poem that does not hang off the sea. It hangs off myths. (Report) Reply

  • (12/14/2017 11:52:00 AM)


    NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO NO YES YES YES NO NO NO (Report) Reply

  • (11/11/2017 6:27:00 PM)


    Derek Walcott is the greatest poet that ever lived. Such amazing worlds in words. (Report) Reply

  • Brian Jani (5/13/2014 12:31:00 PM)


    Derek walcott Amazing poetic skills here (Report) Reply

  • Ahmad Shiddiqi (10/9/2008 11:23:00 PM)


    powerful! keep writing! could you read and comment on my poems too? thank you. (Report) Reply

    (12/14/2017 11:53:00 AM)

    no no no no no

Read all 12 comments »




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Read poems about / on: history, sea, women, memory, faith, ocean, river, son, war, song, dark, sun, light, woman



Poem Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003

Poem Edited: Saturday, November 19, 2011


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