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Poems From The Prodigal

Updated: Dec 1, 2023

Desire And Disease Commingling

Desire and disease commingling,

commingling, the white hair and the white page

with the fear of white sight, blindness, amputation,

a recurring kidney stone, the plague of AIDS,

shaken in the mirror by that bewildered look,

the truculence, the drooping lip of a spiritual lout.

Look at it any way you like, it's an old man's book

whenever you write it, whenever it comes out,

the age in your armpits in the pleats of your crotch,

the faded perfumes of cherished conversations,

and the toilet gurgling its eclogues, resurrecting names

in its hoarse swiveling into an echo after.

This is the music of memory, water.

Becune Point

Stunned heat of noon. In shade, tan, silken cows hide in the thorned acacias. A butterfly staggers. Stamping their hooves from thirst, small horses drowse or whinny for water. On parched, ochre headlands, daggers of agave bristle in primordial defense, like a cornered monster backed up against the sea. A mongoose charges dry grass and fades through a fence faster than an afterthought.

Dust rises easily. Haze of the Harmattan, Sahara dust, memory's haze from the dried well of Africa, the headland's desert or riders in swirling burnooses, mixed with the greys of hills veiled in Impressionist light.

We inherit two worlds of associations, or references, drought that we heighten into Delacroix's North Africa, veils, daggers, lances, herds the Harmattan brought with a phantom inheritance, which the desperate seeker of a well-spring staggers in the heat in search of heroic ancestors; the other that the dry season brings is the gust of a European calendar, but it is the one love that thirsts for confirmations in the circling rings of the ground dove's cooing on stones, in the acacia's thorns and the agave's daggers, that they are all ours, the white horsemen of the Sahara, India's and Asia's plumed mongoose and crested palm tree, Benin and Pontoise.

We are history's afterthought, as the mongoose races ahead of its time; in drought we discover our shadows, our origins that range from the most disparate places, from the dugouts of Guinea to the Nile's canted dhows.

Time, that gnaws at bronze lions and dolphins

Time, that gnaws at bronze lions and dolphins

that shrivels fountains, had, exhausted him;

a cupola in Milan exhaled him like incense,

Abruzzi devoured him, Firenze spat him out,

Rome chewed his arm and flung it over her shoulder

for the rats in the catacombs; Rome took his empty eyes

from the sockets of the Colosseum. Italy ate him.

Its bats at vespers navigated her columns

with an ancient elation, a hand in San Marco’s font

aspersed him with foul canal water, then bells

tossed their heads like bulls, and their joy

rattled the campaniles, as innumerable pigeons

settled on the square of his forehead, his kidneys

were served in a modest hotel in Pescara,

a fish mimicked his skeleton in salty Amalfi

until after a while there was nothing left of him

except this: a name cut on a wall that soon

from the grime of indifference became indecipherable


The Prodigal is an epic written by Derek Walcott, a postcolonial drifter who spent the majority of his life hopping between cultures in Europe, America, Latin America, and Africa. It's a disjointed, dislocated, deeply prophetic and allegorical compilation of words, images, viewpoints, spirits, and uncomfortable silences.

The Prodigal is a long poem, about 100 pages long, divided into eighteen segments of carefree verse for no discernible reason. Exile is a central concern in Walcott's work; it haunts almost all of his writing, most notably Omeros (1990), an ambitious, evocative rescripting of Homer's Odyssey and Iliad in a Caribbean context. Walcott has always been a restless soul, roaming the globe in search of a home. The search seems more frantic now that he is in his eighth decade.

Now that he's in his eighties, the search has become more frantic, the need more visceral. The Prodigal sends an older man, pierced by acute mortality, on a far-reaching quest that retraces the poet's own journey across continents.


Derek Walcott, a poet and playwright from Saint Lucia, a former British colony in the West Indies, was trained as a painter before turning to writing as a young man. When he was fourteen years old, he released his first poem in the neighborhood newspaper.

He borrowed $200 five years later to print his first collection of poems, 25 Poems, which he distributed on street corners. In a Green Night: Poems 1948-1960 (1962), Walcott's major breakthrough, a book that celebrates the Caribbean and its history while also investigating the scars of colonialism, was published.

His later publications include White Egrets (2010), Morning, Paramin, The Prodigal (2004), Selected Poems (2007), Tiepolo's Hound (2000), and Tiepolo's Hound (2016). Walcott was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992.

Walcott was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992. His work was described by the Nobel committee as "a poetic oeuvre of great luminosity, sustained by a historical vision, the result of a multicultural commitment."

1971, a well-known playwright For his play "A Dream on Monkey Mountain," he received an Obie Award. In 1950, he cofounded the Trinidad Theater Workshop with his twin brother, and in 1981, he cofounded the Boston Playwrights' Theatre. In England, he also taught at Columbia University, Yale University, Rutgers University, and Essex University.

Along with the Nobel Prize, Walcott received a MacArthur Foundation "genius" award, a Royal Society of Literature Award, and the Queen's Medal for Poetry in 1988. He was an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.


Bose, Brinda. “'The Day, with All Its Pain Ahead, Is Yours': Remembering Derek Walcott (1930-2017).”,, 19 Mar. 2017,

From the Prodigal - JSTOR.

“The Prodigal.” Google Books, Google,

Walcott, Derek. “'The Prodigal'.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 31 Oct. 2004,

18, Robert E. Hosmer Jr.April, et al. “Old Man, Long Night.” America Magazine, 11 June 2018,

Bose, Brinda. “'The Day, with All Its Pain Ahead, Is Yours': Remembering Derek Walcott (1930-2017).”,, 19 Mar. 2017,

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