Parades, Parades

Derek Walcott

‘Parades, Parades’ by Derek Walcott is an interesting, allusion-filled poem that discusses Saint Lucia after the end of British colonial rule. 

Derek Walcott

Nationality: Saint Lucia

Derek Walcott was a Saint Lucian poet.

His most important work is the epic poem, ‘Omeros.'

Key Poem Information

Central Message: Governmental change is not always simple

Speaker: Derek Walcott

Emotions Evoked: Anxiety, Confusion

Poetic Form: Free Verse

Time Period: 20th Century

Derek Walcott explores the changes, or lack thereof, that Saint Lucia went through after the end of colonial rule.

The poet’s speaker, who is generally considered to be Derek Walcott himself, is highly cynical about the country’s government. He sees them following in the same footsteps as those who came before them. Never is this better represented than by the independence day parade. He also feels that those around him are just as exhausted by and disappointed in the waddling, seal-like politicians as he is.

Parades, Parades by Derek Walcott


Summary 

‘Parades, Parades’ by Derek Walcott is a politically relevant poem that discusses Saint Lucia’s post-colonial rule. 

The poet opens the poem by discussing the cyclical nature of people and events. He uses caravans traveling through the desert and following one another as one of a few examples. The poet moves on to describe politicians in the same way and relate that movement to a parade. The same independence day parade happens over and over again, but it doesn’t really feel like Sant Lucia has gained its independence. Walcott clearly does not trust his government to make the lives of its people any better and only sees the same issues playing out. 

You can read the full poem here.

Meaning 

The meaning of this poem is that change, particularly when it comes to governmental institutions, is difficult. It is far too easy for people to get wrapped up in the same patterns as the politicians in Saint Lucia are described as doing. The speaker sees them as mostly following the same pattern as the country was in prior to their full independence. 

Structure and Form

‘Parades, Parades’ by Derek Walcott is a two-stanza poem that is divided into one set of twenty lines and another set of twenty-nine. The poem is written in free verse. This means that the poet did not use a single rhyme scheme throughout the text. The lines use very different end words, for example, “marches,” “caravans,” and “incise” in stanza one. But, there are examples of repetition, like anaphora, that give the poem a feeling of structure. Plus, all the lines are relatively close in length. 

Literary Devices 

Derek Walcott uses a few different literary devices in this poem. They include: 

  • Anaphora: the repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “the” in stanza one and “when” in stanza two. 
  • Caesura: a pause in the middle of a line, like in line sixteen of stanza two “the sleek, waddling seals of his Cabinet.” 
  • Internal rhyme: the use of rhymes inside the lines rather than in a pattern at the ends of lines. For example, “there is the ocean, but the keels incise / the precise, old parallels.” The poet used the words “incise” and “precise” very close to one another in stanza one. 
  • Alliteration: the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of words. For example, “politicians plod” in line eight.


Detailed Analysis 

Stanza One

Lines 1-7

There’s the wide desert, but no one marches

except in the pads of old caravans,

there is the ocean, but the keels incise

the precise, old parallels,

there’s the blue sea above the mountains

but they scratch the same lines

in the jet trails–

In the first lines of the poem, the speaker begins by describing a desert with nothing but caravans in it. There are “no marches” in the “wide desert.” The caravans are likely made up of nomadic people traveling from place to place. This is contrasted and connected to the ocean and the sky in the next lines. The speaker describes ships cutting through the ocean, following the same path as ships before them, and airplanes leaving “jet trails” in the sky as indicators of their path. 

Here, readers should be able to imagine the lines that these processions are following (in the sand, sea, or sky). They follow the same motions and paths as those before them. The poet connects this, through a metaphor, to the “politicians” who plod without imagination in the independence parade.

 

Lines 8-20

so the politicians plod

without imagination, circling

(…)

to the brazen joy of the tubas.

The speaker describes them moving through the city in the “same sombre garden” with its same surroundings. Nothing changes; people go on celebrating (without much gusto) on the same day. 

The only thing that changes is the “name of the fool.” This is likely a reference to the names of those who march in the parade or the politicians. The poet uses allusions in these lines, including a reference to “Whitehall.” This is the road and area of Westminster, London, that’s best known for being the location of Parliament. 

This immediately connects the poem to England and (through the poet’s identity and poetic history) to the way that Great Britain asserted an influence on Saint Lucia (where he was born). 

The country was colonized by the British in the 17th century (and the French) and changed hands serval times. It gained its independence in 1979. 

Stanza Two 

Lines 1-14

Why are the eyes of the beautiful

and unremarked children

(…)

Here he comes now, here he comes!

The second stanza is quite different from the first. It begins with a long, rhetorical question that extends over six lines. The speaker asks why the country’s children have confused expressions on their faces and why they are terrified of the national pride that’s been forced upon them. 

It’s clear that Walcott’s speaker (who is perhaps the poet himself) is highly skeptical of the changes that have come over the country. He believes in independence, but he doesn’t have full faith in the government to take care of the country and provide a better future. He references the “old songs,” ones that it seems he feels have more meaning and power. He wonders if they were more meaningful in the past when the country was ruled over by a queen than they are now. 

The line “Here he comes now, here he comes!” feels childlike and excitable. Walcott is perhaps tapping into the feelings of the country’s youth, celebrating their new leaders and system of government as it’s on display in the parade. 

Lines 15-29 

Papa!  Papa!  With his crowd,

the sleek, waddling seals of his Cabinet,

(…)

I said nothing.

The next lines describe politicians walking up the road in less than complimentary terms. He uses a metaphor that compares the cabinet members to “waddling seals.” They are without grace or wisdom.

The entire thing feels forced and meaningless. It feels just as forced upon them, he implies, as a colonial rule. The poem ends with an image of the “electorate,” or those who voted for the politicians in charge. They have a look on their faces that is not the “respect” one might expect (this connects to the feeling of “silence” in the previous lines). It’s a general understanding in the crowd (except among those still young enough to be influenced by patriotic ideology) that the government they’ve chosen (or been forced to have) is less than what they’d hoped. 

The poem ends with the lines: “Tell me / how it all happened, and why / I said nothing.” The speaker, like those around him, feels as though he has some responsibility for how the country has turned out. They’re all waiting for the next change as they waited for the end of colonialism. This reference the cyclical nature of the airplanes, caravans, and ships in the first few lines. 

FAQs 

Why did Walcott write ‘Parades, Parades?’ 

Walcott wrote this poem in order to describe how his country has changed and not changed since the end of colonial rule. The parades lack joy because the citizens know that their elected politicians do not have their best interests at heart or are not up for the job of governing. 

What is the theme of ‘Parades, Parades?’

The main themes of this poem are politics and change. The speaker, who is likely Walcott himself, knows that the country has not changed as much as he hoped it would with the end of colonial rule. 

What kind of poem is ‘Parades, Parades?’

‘Parades, Parades’ is a political commentary on the state of Saint Lucia’s contemporary government post-colonial rule. The poem uses lyrical-sounding images and numerous examples of figurative language to depict the state of the country.

What is the tone of ‘Parades, Parades?’

The tone of this poem is cynical and, at times, mocking. The poet is clearly unimpressed by his country’s government, calling them wadding seals, among other pejorative. 


Similar Poetry 

Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Derek Walcott poems. For example: 

  • Love After Love– is one of Walcott’s best-known poems and one that describes the aftermath of a life-changing event. 
  • Sea Grapes’ – a unique poem that speaks about lust and responsibility.
  • XIV’ – depicts Walcott’s youth and his mother’s influence.

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About
Emma graduated from East Carolina University with a BA in English, minor in Creative Writing, BFA in Fine Art, and BA in Art Histories. Literature is one of her greatest passions which she pursues through analyzing poetry on Poem Analysis.
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