18 pages 36 minutes read

Derek Walcott

The Almond Trees

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1985

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Poem Analysis

Analysis: “The Almond Trees”

W. H. Auden, Elizabeth Bishop, and fellow Nobelists Seamus Heaney and Joseph Brodsky, whose influence Derek Walcott often acknowledged, counseled their generation of post-war poets not to diminish the reach of poetry by confining it to tacky public confessions of the joys, agonies, and ironies of a poet’s private life. The public function of a poet, these poets argued, was not to be a citizen of one but rather the voice of many.

Everything about “The Almond Trees” sets up the all-too-familiar confessional poem, an autobiographical reminiscence on Walcott’s childhood. After all, Choc Bay, a scant few miles from where Walcott grew up, was an integral plot-point in his childhood, growing up in poverty with a heroic single mother, a schoolteacher to the poorest residents of Saint Lucia, and a twin brother and a younger sister—a wealth of experiences that could easily be translated by the alchemy of a poet into a confessional poem.

But Walcott upcycles the stuff of his personal experience to create a statement not about his own identity but rather to explore the implications of Caribbean identity. In juxtaposing the sunbathers and the ancient sea-almond trees thriving along the edges of the beach, Walcott investigates how Caribbean identity, after centuries of occupation by a variety of predatory European countries, must confront the reality of that history, make its peace with the impact of their perception of themselves, and ultimately use that sense of a hybrid cultural identity as the sole way to move forward.