In Omeros, Derek Walcott takes themes from both the Iliad and the Odyssey to build a new and resonant story. Achilles sets out on an unlikely odyssey: a fishing expendition off the coast of Saint Lucia in the West Indies turns into a journey across the centuries to his ancestral homeland on the coast of West Africa. They journey through unfamiliar lands, across the boundaries of space and time.
I sing of quiet Achile, Afolabe's son...
whose end, when it comes, will be a death by water.
Throughout this book, different characters and communities (including Africans living in Santa Lucia, Indians, and British colonials) struggle with the meaning of being displaced from their homelands and with their tentative efforts to find their homes again. As Walcott writes:
The nearer home, the deeper our fears increase,
that no house might come to meet us on our own shore.
The large tragedies of Black slavery and the destruction of American Indian communities are paired here with, as Walcott writes, "the interior, unwritten epic fashioned from the suffering of the individual in exile."
Those of you have been reading my classics posts know that I was shocked by my love for The Iliad and somewhat disappointed by The Odyssey (which I had read once before). In many ways, Omeros combines the more appealing plot line of The Odyssey with the depth I found in The Iliad--leaving me profoundly unsettled and also deeply moved when I closed the book.
Walcott's writing here is gorgeous--luminous poetry throughout, with gentle unobtrusive rhymes. It begs to be read slowly, aloud--listened to, thought about. Omeros is a beautiful tribute to Homer and an intensely powerful work of literature in its own right.