Thursday, February 3, 2011

From the New World to the Old

Photograph of Joseph Brodsky and Derek Walcott (undated) / Image courtesy of the Beinecke Library

I was pleased to read in the Guardian last week that one of my favorite poets, Derek Walcott, was awarded the T. S. Eliot Prize for his recent book White Egrets (as if the Nobel Prize weren't enough). The prize is given for the best new poetry collection published in the UK or Ireland, but the candidates themselves can apparently live anywhere. (Walcott comes from the Caribbean island of Saint Lucia, and among his competitors was the American poet Brian Turner.) In any case, Anne Stevenson, who chaired the panel of judges, called White Egrets a "moving and technically flawless" work.

As it so happens, Walcott has a Russian connection, which I wrote about in my dissertation: his friendship and collaboration with Joseph Brodsky. The two men first met in the 1970s and remained close until Brodsky's death in 1996. They both contributed essays to a book on Robert Frost, and Walcott translated several of Brodsky's "nativity poems" into English (with a crib, naturally). Rumor has it that he also helped Brodsky with his self-translations of the "Part of Speech" series after Daniel Weissbort was snubbed. And Brodsky appears several times in Walcott's work, including in "Forests of Europe" and The Prodigal.

Below are the opening lines of an unpublished poem, "Dedication," that Walcott wrote for Brodsky in the early 1980s. I happened to find it while rooting around in Walcott's papers at the University of Toronto a few years back. And if I can ever figure out how to get in touch with him, I'll ask the man himself to let me publish it for him. For now, this little chunk will have to do. Enjoy!

More strength and grace to your work
I send you now, Joseph, from
the sunshine poured to the brim
of this hemisphere, to cypresses
wrestling in Tuscany, to the calcified bread
of heaven within whose holes
the anchorites died like weevils.
Joseph, we wake to wrestle devils,
and an aching cavity. Wine is stored
in the ageing cellars of the heart,
manna blossoms in the spring orchard,
and through the grid of terraces
the ancient flame is lowered after winter
and all of Italy throbs in heat.

1 comment:

  1. As a fellow Walcott fan, I'm delighted to know about this.