Tuesday Poem: Derek Walcott - Ebb

Year round, year round, we'll ride
this treadmill whose frayed tide
fretted with mud

leaves our suburban shoreline littered
with rainbow muck, the afterbirth
of industry, past scurf-

streaked bungalows
and pioneer factory;
but, blessedly, it narrows

through a dark aisle
of fountaining, gold coconuts, an oasis
marked for the yellow Caterpillar tractor.

We'll watch this shovelled too, but as we file
through its swift-wickered shade there always is
some island schooner netted in its weave

like a lamed heron
an oil-crippled gull;
a few more yards upshore

and it heaves free,
it races the horizon
with us, railed to one law,

ruled, like the washed-up moon
to circle her lost zone,
her radiance thinned.

The palm fronds signal wildly in the wind,
but we are bound elsewhere,
from the last sacred wood.

To read more of this poem please click this link
From 'Ebb', Derek Walcott, The Gulf, 1969

I picked up my copy of Derek Walcott's collected poems and the pages fell open at this poem.  Although it was written in the nineteen sixties it is totally contemporary - the 'oil-crippled gull', the 'rainbow muck' of the shoreline, the ubiquitous bulldozers.  We are definitely bound elsewhere from 'the last sacred wood' and have been ignoring the signals that nature has been sending us for decades.

Derek Walcott uses a quote from Robinson Crusoe as an epigraph for an earlier poem 'Crusoe's Journal' in his previous collection The Castaway, and it could easily be the epigraph for these poems in The Gulf  - it seems almost impossible that this piece from Crusoe wasn't in his mind when he named the collection.

'I looked now upon the world as a thing remote, which I had nothing to do with, no expectation from and, indeed, no desires about.  In a word, I had nothing to do with it, nor was I ever like to have, so I thought it looked as we may perhaps look upon it hereafter, as a place I had lived in but was come out of, and well might I say 'Between me and thee is a great gulf fixed'. 

The Tuesday Poets are an international group  based in New Zealand and we try to post a new poem every Tuesday and take turns to edit the main website.  To read what they're all posting today, please take a look at the website here. 


  1. I like Derek Walcott's poetry and this is no exception.


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