This is a complicated, image-filled poem that Walcott was inspired to write after the death of fellow poet Eric Roach. Eric Roach was born in 1915 in Tobago and went on to enjoy a career as a poet and playwright. Although he’s not nearly as well-known as Derek Walcott, both men are regarded as incredibly important.
Explore The Wind in the Dooryard
‘The Wind in the Dooryard’ by Derek Walcott is an emotional and uplifting poem that was written to honor the passing of another poet.
The poem begins with the speaker, Walcott himself, describing how he never wanted to write this poem. But, he’s going to in order to share Roach’s life and inspiration. He takes readers through a variety of images while alluding to Roach’s life and death in order to convey the extraordinarily effective career Roach had. The poem concludes with a repetition of the idea that Walcott never wanted to have to write a poem about his fellow poet passing away but that it’s important to remember his life and take inspiration from Roach’s work.
Structure and Form
‘The Wind in the Dooryard’ by Derek Walcott is a sixty-three-line poem that is divided into uneven stanzas. Some are as long as eight or ten lines, while others are only one line long. The poem is written in free verse but also utilizes several examples of repetition that make it feel like it has a structure of sorts. For example, the use of the refrain “I didn’t want this poem to come” in stanza one.
Throughout this poem, the poet makes use of several literary devices. These include:
- Refrain: the repetition of an entire line of poetry. This is seen very clearly in the first stanza with the use of the word “I didn’t want this poem to come.”
- Allusion: this poem is filled with references to the life and work of Eric Roach.
- Imagery: the use of particularly interesting descriptions that should inspire the reader to imagine a scene in great detail. For example, “ clean dirt yard / clean as the parlour table.”
I didn’t want this poem to come
from his salt body,
but I will tell you what he celebrated:
In the first lines of this emotional poem, the speaker declares that he didn’t want to write the poem at all. It wasn’t something he was looking forward to doing or that he’s now happy to have completed.
The reason for this is explained as the poem continues and is hinted at in the poem’s dedication. Walcott made it clear that he wrote this poem in honor of the late poet Eric Roach who committed suicide in April of 1974.
The speaker, who is likely meant to be Derek Walcott himself, says that he did not want this poem to emanate from his “torn mouth” or to be inspired by “his salty body.” The “his” in the fourth line refers to Eric Roach. The poem was inspired by Roach’s death (with the word “salty” referring to the poet’s death by drowning in Quinam Bay).
The poet uses a single-line stanza to explain that although he didn’t want to write this poem, he is now going to use it to tell “you,” the reader, what Eric Roach celebrated (or supported/believed in) in his own work and throughout his life.
He writes of the wall with spilling coralita
in the clear vase of sunlight;
In the third stanza, Derek Walcott begins by describing some of the subject matter that Eric Roach was inspired by throughout his career. He mentions a specific type of flower that would flow along the edge of the garden and yard. He uses other examples of imagery to depict a yellow tree, “an almond / a pomegranate / in the clear vase of sunlight.”
It’s clear from these lines that Roach was well-loved for his depiction of the natural world, specifically that which could be found around his home.
sometimes he put his finger
to reach his ancestors.
Walcott alludes to Roach’s skill with language and insight as a poet in the next stanza. The poet describes how Roach could “put his finger,” metaphorically, on the “pulse of the wind.” He could tap into the history of a place and its emotional resonance within his poetry.
The poet is likely referencing Eric Roach’s death in the next lines. The poet committed suicide in April 1974 by drinking insecticide and swimming into the ocean. The poet chose this means of losing his life or reaching his ancestors. The way these lines are composed suggests that although Walcott and many others are heartbroken over the loss, Walcott also respects that this is the way that Roach chose to end his life.
No, I did not want to write this,
stitching the stone barracoons,
The poet brings back in the idea that he never wanted to write this poem in the following stanza. Although he didn’t want to be faced with the circumstances he has, he knows that this is only one example of the world operating naturally.
Life and death are part of one’s everyday life, just as the sun rises, forcing a new day upon everyone, over and over again. Innumerable things happen every day that one doesn’t necessarily want but that are impossible to avoid.
Walcott continues on, connecting the image of the sunrise to a misty morning on a field filled with cows and horses. Each lives and dies in the same way that human beings do, and life is not always filled with pleasant moments. The use of words like “iron,” “jaws,” and “ruminate and grind” all suggest hard work and struggle.
The poet includes images of his home and references to its long history (including a reference to slavery) in the next lines. He mentions the “stone barracoons” that are overtaken by “moss.” He imagines hearing the moss creep and climb, steadily taking over the buildings and changing them. This, as well as the image of the wild yams, alludes to the passage of time and the way that nature moves on, as human beings do.
but the rain breaks
on the foreheads of the wild yams,
and our tears also.
The following lines include more allusions, including to the deity Shango from southwestern Nigeria. When imagining the impact of Eric Roach’s poetry and his life generally, the poet imagines rain falling on the scene and is inspired by these images, connecting them to Roach’s writing or his “rusty theme.”
It’s likely that in these lines, Derek Walcott was suggesting that the long-lasting effect of Eric Roach’s poetry, and the images he was inspired by all help those mourning his passing to move on and dry their tears.
The peasant reeks sweetly of bush,
he smells the same as his donkey–
and he spits out pity.
The next lines take the reader away from the image of the dooryard and rain to a specific image of a peasant who smells like his animals and nature. He and his donkey are moving through their lives and working hard (a repetition of the previous images). The man wipes his hand, that’s as large as a yam (connecting back to the previous stanza), across his mouth.
He’s described as though he’s lived quite a hard life, but one he does not mourn. He “spits out pity,” meaning that he does not accept anyone feeling bad for him or talking down to him about the way he’s lived. Such is the attitude that Walcott is suggesting is appropriate for Eric Roach. One should respect his life, his work, and perhaps even the way he chose to end his life.
I did not want it to come,
but sometimes, under the armpit
it too smells of the freshness of life.
In the final two stanzas, the poet brings back the refrain that was used in the first lines. But, rather than ending on a note of despair and loss, Walcott chooses to conclude the poem with images of the natural world and the “freshness of life.”
The feelings in these final stanzas connect very well with what was depicted previously. Walcott was clearly inspired by the liveliness and beauty of Eric Roach’s verse and wanted to review his final lines with the same feeling.
He’s asking readers to appreciate the same things that Roach did in his writing and remember the poet for his incredible accomplishments rather than spend a great deal of time morning his loss.
This emotional and complicated poem was written in order to honor the late poet Eric Roach and his accomplishments during his literary career.
The themes of this poem are loss and appreciation. It is clear that the poet is deeply moved by the loss of Eric Roach but, at the same time, he chooses to celebrate the man’s accomplishments and the same images Roach was inspired by rather than spending the stanzas of this text solely mourning his passing.
The tone is at times, mournful but also respectful. Although this is not a simple poem to read, Walcott stone comes through quite clearly from the first lines. He feels sorrow over the death of Eric Roach but spends most of the poem expressing his appreciation for the way that Roach saw and depicted the world.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some other Derek Walcott poems. For example:
- ‘Oddjob, a Bull Terrier’ – a thoughtful, emotional poem about the loss of Derek Walcott’s pet dog.
- ‘Parades, Parades’ – an allusion-filled poem about life in Saint Lucia.
- ‘Adam’s Song’ – depicts the Garden of Eden and Adam’s regret.