The Almond Trees

Derek Walcott

‘The Almond Trees’ By Derek Walcott is a confessional poem about identity, history, and cultural identity.

Derek Walcott

Nationality: Saint Lucian

Derek Walcott was a Caribbean poet capturing history, identity, and beauty with lyrical imagery.

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

'The Almond Trees' by Derek Walcott is a superb confessional poem with a more complex experience of a culture and identity.

The Almond Trees‘ by Derek Walcott is a classic confessional poem, autobiographical, reminiscing on Walcott’s childhood. Walcott grew up in St Lucia, among the poorest of the population, a few miles away from Choc Bay. He was raised by a single mother and had a twin brother and younger sister. This all provides an abundance of experiences that make up a confessional poem. 


The Almond Trees‘ takes us to a day of watching the landscape through the eyes of history, culture, and identity.

In ‘The Almond Trees,’ Walcott used the format of a confessional poem to investigate his own identity through his childhood experiences and that of a Caribbean identity. He brings the history of oppression by European countries, how this led to a hybrid type of culture, and how identity shifts as one come to terms with cultural history into the poem’s central message.

Structure and Form

The Almond Trees‘ is written as a confessional poem, though this does not necessarily explain its form and structure. Unlike other poem genres, confessional poems can be written in many ways. But Walcott does not have a regular rhyme scheme at any point in this poem. There are only a couple of spots where words rhyme, such as in the fifth stanza with “Frieze” and “trees” or in the Sixth Stanza with “same” and “flame.” But the lack of rhyme scheme makes this poem’s format match its topic and content. No rhyme scheme allows for a less strict structure, creating a more spontaneous and train-of-thought tone to the poem. This fits the poem’s essence as the poem focuses on identity, a complex topic that the poet mentally jumps around while attempting to differ. 

Literary Devices

There are many literary devices used by Walcott in the poem ‘The Almond Trees‘; below are a few of the most important.

  • Enjambment – Enjambment is a structure that controls the spacing between lines in a poem with a less structured format. This involves lines running into each other without punctuation, purposefully short lines followed by significant line length changes, etc. The punctuation tells the reader how fast to read, when to speed up, when to slow down, and when to stop. Walcott uses this formatting device to parallel the thought process, keeping readers in the present, even when looking at or referring to the past. 
  • Extended metaphor – The Almond Trees represent the brutalism of colonial establishment in Walcott’s culture’s history. It defines violence and slavery through images of the trees in the present day.
  • Personification – Walcott used personification to bring the tree to life, using a mythical creature. The tree becomes a woodland nymph who is bearing witness and experiencing violence along with the other victims in this poem. The tree grieves and cries out at the brutal events around it, though unable to help in any way and forced to endure the pain as it remains rooted in one spot.

Detailed Analysis

Stanza One

“There’s nothing here

this early;

cold sand

cold churning ocean, the Atlantic,

no visible history,”

The Almond Trees‘ by Derek Walcott starts by stating nothing is happening on the beach they stand on. They show us the Atlantic Ocean, sand, and early morning atmosphere in one image. This provides a blank slate for future images presented to the reader but also forcibly tells us that not all is what it seems. “No visible history” implies that history lies beneath this current location’s surface and connects history to the ocean. The ocean generally parallels vastness, ever-changing details, and constant motion, which makes sense if it’s related to history. 

Stanza Two

“except this stand


bent as metal, and one”

In the second stanza, we carry over from the first, with Walcott using Enjambment to keep the pace steady between multiple stanzas (which will also continue into the Third stanza). The message of this stanza turns against what stanza one had just described. According to the speaker, we now see something that “has history.” The almond tree, which has twisted bark, is shining copper-like. This is the beginning of the extended metaphor in this poem. The almond tree first represents history on a blank slate. This is an extremely good use of metaphor, as the tree’s twisted bark and figure represent the relationship between history, culture, and identity that will be brought up later in this poem. 

Stanza Three

“foam-haired, salt-grizzled fisherman,


until their lengthened shapes amaze the sun.”

The poem presents the first living character, a fisherman: foam-haired, white-haired, and grizzled salt, meaning experienced at sea. The man then says that the place around him has “no visible history.” This moment represents the European countries colonizing this land, coming into the bay, and seeing “no history,” but there is an entire history there. The history and culture that is already present can be seen in the last line of the stanza. Note that “their” in this line still refers to the Almond Trees, not the fisherman. The almond tree casts a shadow in the sun, which is the poet’s way of stating that this location did have a past, yet only the sun noticed it (the fisherman did not).

Stanza Four

“By noon,


in scarves, sunglasses, Pompeian bikinis,”

The poem now shifts back to the present day, where the narrator states that by noon the shores of this place will be full of sunbathers in bikinis, scarves, and sunglasses tanning on the sand. The most critical line in this stanza is “the further shore of Africa.” The poem brings up the enslaved people who were once brought over to this land and given a “new home and life” by the European colonists. These African descendants tan on the beach, accustomed to the land they now know; their ancestors’ culture intermingled in this place. 

Stanza Five

“brown daphnes, laurels, they’ll all have


of twisted, coppery, sea-almond trees.”

Stemming from the fifth stanza, the speaker continues to discuss what the culture brought over from Africa would have, “brown daphnes, laurels, they’ll all have” mentions two other plants, but in this image, they are dead. Brown instead of green, as they should be. But, they mention that those plants are sacred to them, so they still carried it from their culture to this one, even if the plants died. Then the poem mentions that they now have the “twisted, coopery, sea-almond-trees.” This shows multiple concepts. One that the African culture brought over when enslaved people were relocated here did not all survive; some of it was brought over only to die out, as the plants show. Then the twisting bark of the sea-almond tree shows the interviewing of the old and new plants, the mixing of cultures and history, and the image of what is now a complex cultural establishment. 

Stanza Six

“The fierce acetylene air


It’ll sear a pale skin copper with its flame.”

Stanza six of “The Almond Trees” begins by stating acetylene is in the air, a very flammable gas, which makes sense as it then says it singed the writing trunks with rust. This infers that the writings from those individuals cannot be read, as the trunk cannot be opened now. The trunk is related to the color of a sinking ship, unable to be helped, providing the reader with the information that the contents of that trunk are now lost forever. 

The trunk in question represents pieces of the culture that previously had been kept safe in the said fictional trunk but have now been lost due to the violent flammable atmosphere of this location. This situation represents how history and brutal colonization by Europeans erased large chunks of culture from many peoples worldwide by relocating and enslaving them. It then mentioned not only the backlash of these events on Africans but also on the Europeans themselves in the line “it’ll sear a pale skin copper with its flame,” showing the rage the speaker has against those who oppressed his people and other cultures and made them lose something so significantly crucial to their identity. 

Stanza Seven

“The sand’s white-hot ash underheel,


they endured their furnace.”

In stanza seven of “The Almond Trees,” the focus is back on the sunbathers, who walk the sand of ash (from their history) without wincing, whose true tan, the speaker says, is from the fire that once engulfed them, the same fire sparked from the oppression they faced in their history. Now, these individuals relax on the beach and sunbathe in the aftermath of violence, having survived the inferno. Again, this is representative of history, culture, and location assimilating. As they aquated to this new place, they lost some of their previous cultures, gained some new concepts, and mixed the two to obtain what they have today.

Stanza Eight

“Aged trees and oiled limbs share a common color!”

Quickly summing up the majority of the last stanza, the one-lined stanza eight exclaims that the Trees who had seen the history, from the fisherman to the present day, now aged, and the oiled limbs of the sunbathers, descendants of survivors, are colored the same, implying a relationship between the two images.

Stanza Nine

“Welded in one flame,


bitterly nourished where their branches died,”

The poem takes a more aggressive approach to the relationship between the trees and the brutalism of colonization. “Welded in one flame” is created by the same events. The speaker goes back and forth between the violence of nature with the trees and the violence history had on victims of slavery. The images show whippings, beatings, and mistreatment until death. It shows a horrible event that was in the past and provides beautifully worded exclamations of the violence. 

Stanza Ten

“their leaves’ broad dialect a coarse,


They shared it together.”

As the poem continues to take a more aggressive approach to show the violence left by colonization, the images get tighter and more detailed. The focus now is on the significance of the situation. “The broad dialect,” stating that the tree’s presence is unmoving and constant, has heard many differing dialects, which infers enslaved people from multiple places were placed in one area. This shows that a group of different cultures had this brutal enslavement happen to them here, and they had to band together to survive, enduring the same violence. 

Stanza Eleven

“Not as some runing hamadryad’s cries


her nipples peaking to smooth, wooden boles.”

In the eleventh stanza of ‘The Almond Trees,’ the tree is personified as a mythical creature, a hamadryad, a woodland nymph who lives in trees and dies when they die. It says her cries drift into the tree’s leaves, and she attempts to heal the tree’s trunk. The importance of the cries flowing to the leaves is that those leaves will scatter, bringing news of the violence she witnessed and endured but leaving behind a surviving rooted plant.

Stanza Twelve

“Their grief

howls seaward through charred, ravaged holes.”

The second to last stanza before the end shows the tree screaming, the grief from what it bore witness to escaping through the holes in its bark, burned into it by the fire that stemmed from the violence of colonization and slavery. This stanza is shorter than previous ones, as it forces the poem’s pacing to come to an abrupt stop, letting the next stanza reset the pace, making it easier to wrap up the poem’s main concepts in the next stanza.

Stanza Thirteen

“One sunburnt body now acknowledges


that grieves in silence, like parental love.”

The last stanza of ‘The Almond Trees‘ wraps up the poem, bringing the representation of the present-day culture (the sunbathers) and that of the past culture and history (the trees) together. The poem says the body is now sunburnt and acknowledges that the past has been violent towards their ancestors. Finally, the sunbather kneels in the shade of the tree, the tree which is grieving the loss of what once was the culture it once witnessed, but also accepts the sunbather for who they are, as implied with the line “Parental love.” 


Why did Walcott choose an Almond Tree for his poem ‘The Almond Trees?’

An Almond Tree often has twist barks, with multiple tree barks overlapping, almost looking like vines. This is an excellent comparison tool when discussing numerous intertwined topics, as Walcott does in this poem.

What makes ‘The Almond Trees‘ a typical confessional poem, and what sets it apart?

A typical confessional often explains self-experiences and identity, but Walcott goes a step deeper and dives into cultural identity and how it is affected and influenced by history. 

“Who is the narrator of ‘The Almond Trees?’

The narrator is Derek Walcott himself.

What is the main topic of ‘The Almond Trees?’

The main topic is how one’s cultural identity has shifted due to the history of colonization and its violent tendencies and how all those aspects are intermingled to make the culture the speaker has today.

Similar Poetry

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

Poetry+ Review Corner

The Almond Trees by Derek Walcott

Enhance your understanding of the poem's key elements with our exclusive review and critical analysis. Join Poetry+ to unlock this valuable content.
Derek Walcott (poems)

Derek Walcott

'The Almond Trees' is a classic Derek Walcott poem. It's written as a confessional poem, but with a twist, as the confessional does not stick to just one person's experiences. Still, an entire culture's history as they survived colonization and slavery, carrying with them as many traditions as possible and making new ones until their culture many years later has shifted from the brutal violence it was forced to survive.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+

20th Century

This poem does an excellent job of explaining the mindset of someone whose culture had been abused and who is attempting to figure out their own cultural identity with that thought in mind. It's a complex confessional describing experiences of the culture through the history of colonization.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+

Saint Lucian

Derek Walcott shows us a wonderful image from what many infer is a grove of Almond trees that were not too far from where he grew up. His writing is one of the best of Saint Lucian writers, and the images of history, culture, and nature portray a story that the reader can't help but follow.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


'The Almond Trees' by Derek Walcott is an excellent poem about Identity. The poem uses an image comparison of sunbathers on a beach and an almond tree to represent all versions of the speaker's cultural Identity, which has shifted slightly due to the brutal uprooting the speaker's ancestors have implied to endure.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


This poem takes us from before the colonization of the beach to a time long after. The poem is a journey through history, dissecting a culture's changes as the speaker attempts to configure an accurate representation of today's feelings about their cultural Identity.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


This poem is not a nature poem but spends an awful amount of time depicting a piece of nature. The almond trees are shown in detail, weathering multiple crises and staying firmly rooted. The tree itself is used as an extended metaphor, so while nature is brought up quite frequently, the reasoning behind it is to draw focus onto something else.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


The poem's rage stems from the speakers' frustration about their cultural identity. They do not know how to accept their identity as it is today when the culture has endured such suffering that it was bound to have been changed along the way. You can see the anger in the speaker mentioning the tree screaming out. The tree is related to the speaker at this moment, as the speaker, just like the tree, cannot do anything to change history.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


This poem talks about grief in multiple stanzas. It's a specific type of grief with a concise reason. The grief is for the culture that has changed due to violence, and the grief comes from the almond tree, a fellow survivor of the brutal events this culture endured.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


'The Almond Trees' carried a lot of pain in its words and images. We see a culture brutalized, uprooted, and enslaved. We are provided images of a painful survival. We see reflective images of the almond trees that stood firmly alongside the culture, painfully watching with no capability to help as this culture was abused.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


The poem goes back and forth between the past and present of the cultural identity of the speaker. This shows how much suffering the ancestors in this culture had to endure for the sunbathers on the beach presently, to be there. Yet, we see a resilience of culture not entirely to lose itself to the ways of others and keep themselves alive during times of incredible cruelty.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


'The Almond Trees' main topic is cultural identity. The poem shows how the speaker's cultural identity has changed through time as the culture was uprooted, brutalized, and enslaved. The concept of cultural shifts because of colonization is a concerning topic for the speaker to process.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


This poem shows horrific images of events that people had to endure from slavery. The speaker details the abuse the culture went through and how they survived the brutal violence put upon them. The poem is about surviving, as the main characters are the sunbathers, the surviving descendants of those who lived through hard times.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


'The Almond Trees' lives up to its name, having the almond tree be a large part of the story. The tree is not only described multiple times throughout the poem, but it mentions the tree's important part of the story as an observer and fellow survivor. In addition, the tree is shown as a constant throughout history, watching as a culture is abused and grieving with compassion.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


This poem has its fair share of violence. Images are crafted, depicting the abuse of an enslaved culture as they are brought to the shores where the speaker now stands. The poem details events of violence more than once in the stanzas and connect those with emotions of anger and grief.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+


Derek Walcott's 'The Almond Trees' is a confessional poem and is structured as such, but the content differs slightly. Confessional poems rely on the speaker discussing personal events and experiences. Still, Walcott takes it in a slightly different direction as he speaks about not just individual identity but the identity of an entire culture.
To unlock content, or join Poetry+
Lauren Bruce Poetry Expert
Lauren is a seasoned poetry expert, having achieved an MA in Publishing and an MFA in Creative Writing, as well as a BA in Literature and Creative Writing and a minor in Professional Writing and Digital Rhetoric.

Join the Poetry Chatter and Comment

Exclusive to Poetry+ Members

Join Conversations

Share your thoughts and be part of engaging discussions.

Expert Replies

Get personalized insights from our Qualified Poetry Experts.

Connect with Poetry Lovers

Build connections with like-minded individuals.

Sign up to Poetry+
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Got a question? Ask an expert.x

We're glad you like visiting Poem Analysis...

We've got everything you need to master poetry

But, are you ready to take your learning

to the next level?

Share to...