The Sea Swift as Symbol in Walcott's Omeros

Heather M. Bradley, Washington and Lee University

Walcott unites the different quests in Omeros with a reoccurring symbol, the sea swift. The sea swift guides Achille on his journey to Africa: "He was lured by the swift. . . . this mite of the sky-touching sea/ towing a pirogue a thousand times her own weight with a hummingbird's electric wings" (Walcott 130). The swift accompanies the "I" throughout Europe as well: "he saw a sea swift skim/the sun-harped water" (Walcott 203). The sea swift, "a small thing far from its home," also resembles the displaced people of St. Lucia in its vacillations between two cultures (Walcott 6). The bird leads the poet to self-definition by uniting the conquests of Achille and the "I" into one coherent genealogical and cultural study. Walcott attributes the successful resolution of his questions about hybridism to the symbol of unity linking the episodes in his novel. Maud's husband, Major Plunkett observes that the quilt "makes the blind birds sing," an indication that although the birds lose their specific regional identities, they gain type of national identity as they sing in unison. The sea-swift stitches together the lives of Walcott's characters to create a St. Lucian 'quilt.' The swift appears briefly in the scenes involving the characters who play a minor role in the progression of Walcott's quest. However, the presence of "Dhirondelle des Antilles," the sea-swift, on the quilt of Maud Plunkett, a figure who represents British Imperialism, remains an important detail (Walcott 88). The quilt unites birds from various regions and creates a new 'colony.' The birds "continue crying their names" in order to maintain their individual identities; although, as Maud stitches each image into its place the birds become "like little flags," with only their appearances remaining as distinguishing factors (Walcott 89). This loss of regional identity parallels the loss of cultural identity which the Africans and also the St. Lucians, endured at the time of British colonization. This seemingly negative image of imperialism changes. Walcott maintains "that all it [his writing] forgot a swift made it remember" (Walcott 323). The sea swift orients Walcott's odyssey through his past in a way that joins the disparate aspects of the poet's heredity into one coherent identity. The sea swift also links the different horizons which the characters look toward, allowing Omeros to provide a race, and a man--displaced by imperialism--with a singular identity. Walcott finds an example of successful cultural integration in the symbolic meaning of the sea swift, which resides in a hybrid society without forgetting the individual cultures composing its heritage. Omeros represents the culmination of Walcott's quest, discussed in "A Far Cry from Africa," to come to terms with his hybridity.

[The set of interlinked essays derives from a paper originally written in 1997 for Professor Suzanne Keen's English 350 at Washington and Lee University.

[Postimperial] [Derek Walcott] Themes [Politics]