‘Dark August’ by Derek Walcott is an eight stanza poem which is separated into sets of three lines, also known as tercets. The poem is written in free verse meaning that it does not have a rhyme scheme. There are a few instances in which the poet does make use of juxtaposition between words and repetition of particular words to put emphasis on certain emotions his speaker is experiencing. There are a few interesting moments in which the poet has chosen to repeat the same end sound over and over. A reader much pay careful attention to the care with which Walcott crafted his lines.
Additionally, a reader should take note of the numerous instances of personification that the poet makes use of. He has chosen to use this technique in an effort to create empathy for the speaker and relate the weather closely to human emotions. You can read the full poem here.
Summary of Dark August
‘Dark August’ by Derek Walcott describes the dark life a speaker is forced to live when someone he depends on abandons him.
The poem begins with the speaker stating that his life has filled up with darkness and rain. There is no longer any sun to drive off the darkness and he is forced to contend with this fact.
The sun is hiding in her room, pouring over old happier memories. She would rather not come out and face reality. The speaker has done all he can to convince her, but she refuses to listen.
In the second half of the poem the speaker describes what he has done to try to come to terms with his changed circumstances. He tells the sun that when she does return to the world and drives off the rain that things will be different than they were. She will no longer be the sole recipient of his love but be forced to share it with the “black rain” and “white hills.”
Analysis of Dark August
The speaker begins this piece by describing the general feelings that pervading his life at this time. His days are dark, and seem to be quite sad and depressing. He starts by saying that there is “So much rain” everyday. The sky has “swollen” up with water and will not stop overflowing. He speaks of these days as being part of the “black August” he is suffering through.
These first lines speak of a physical darkness in the world, but they are part of a larger metaphor that refers to the state of the speaker’s mind. He is suffering from some form of depression that is being explained through weather patterns. In the next lines he refers to his “sister” the sun. As a sister one would assume that she has been his constant companion up until this moment. Now she is refusing to show herself. She “broods in her yellow room” and will come out for nothing.
In the second short stanza the speaker’s feelings about the world darken even further. He sees his current state, and that of the land around him, as being “hell[-like].” He is living in the worst version of the world.
His emotions are being projected onto and reflected by the landscape. There are the mountains which “fume” as a kettle would, and the “rivers” which are “overrun” with water. To the speaker these things seem to be more than enough reason for the sun to show its face. But this is not the case. The sun “will not rise” or do anything to “turn off the rain.”
The speaker’s position feels truly helpless.
In the third stanza the speaker continues on to describe what it is the sun is doing. She is unwilling to help him, or the planet for that matter. Instead of doing what needs to be done she is in her room “fondling old things.” These “things” include the speaker’s “poems” and her photo album. These lines represent the place that the speaker believes his happiness has gone. It has retreated deep into his subconscious and is stuck in better times.
There is nothing that he can do, or that could happen in the world, to pull the sun from her room.
In the fourth stanza the speaker directs his words to the sun herself. It is important to remember that the speaker is addressing his own emotions and asking himself what to do in this situation.
He tells the sun that he is “hopeless / at fixing the rain” and that is why he needs her. He has been “learning slowly” what needs to be done but is still unable to do it as well as she could.
In the fifth tercet the speaker describes how he has tried to come to terms with his new state of being. He wants to be content, so in an effort to find peace he has tried to “love the dark days” and the air filled with, or “gossiping” with, “mosquitoes.”
The speaker has tried his best to get used to the bitter things in life and accept that not everything can be light and warm. This is a slow process but he is becoming better at it.
In the sixth stanza he describes what he thinks the world is going to be like when the sun, his sister, finally does emerge from her room and grace the world with her presence once more.
He tells her that she should not expect everything to be the same as he has been forced to make some changes to his life to compensate for her absence. He states that when she finally emerges and parts “the beads of rain” and when she shows her “forehead of flowers and eyes of forgiveness” that all will not be as it was before.
Although the new world will be different, it will still be true. It will be a real world filled with solution to real problems. He has been forced to change. It is at this point in his life that he hopes he will have come to terms with the way the world is.
When the sun finally returns he will have “learnt” to spread his love to more places and people than “only…you.” She will have to understand that he is newly infatuated with “black days…The black rain, [and] the white hills.”