Duality of Change

One of the more significant lines we discussed in Omeros during class was “art is history’s nostalgia” (Walcott 228). Walcott raises the idea of art as a means of preserving the past, a way of freezing a moment as it is and protecting it from the erosion of time. I would like to further discuss the duality of this artwork and preservation. Preservation of an era or generation is an important theme. Writing an epic, a “tale of the tribe” is in itself an attempt to immortalize an era in a piece of art. This is critical to St. Lucia during a seemingly inevitable transformation of its physical appearance and people. In his Omeros, Walcott’s travels and emotional journey while writing his poem appear to be an act of nobility and cultural preservation. However, in books six and seven Walcott reflects on the guilt he feels from his actions, remarking “hadn’t I made their poverty my paradise” (Walcott 228), as he investigates and documents the destruction of a peoples’ culture. Walcott begins to see himself more like the tourists harassing Achille with cameras, considering the crude art behind the cheap post cards that attempt to capture the island’s life. His guilt manifests even more terrifyingly when he sees the souls of dead poets suffering in hell, punished for the same art which he so passionately loves.

Another symbol of this duality which Walcott repeatedly uses is that of “twin-headed January” (Walcott 223), the month which both ends a year and introduces one. The symbol introduces both books six and seven. Using the image of the passing year is particularly appropriate. This change that so drastically affects everyone is completely out of their control. Janus and January traditionally tend to be images of new beginnings, usually thought of as something hopeful. In this case however, January is an ominous time of year. Achille does not want to lose the sea or his island roots. The presence of January could mean that change has already surpassed the point of return. Or more likely, it could represent an internal shift within Walcott himself, perhaps a change in his opinion of his craft.

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