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Postcolonial Literatures Unit 8 A Far Cry From Africa
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A Far Cry From Africa
VERY SHORT TYPE QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
1. In which year the poem ‘A Far Cry from Africa’ was published?
Ans: The poem was first published in the year 1962.
2. What is the meaning of the title ‘A far cry from Africa’?
Ans: Africa is “a far cry” from what it was because it no longer resembles the Africa before civilization came and settled there. The poem’s title references the history of imperialism and colonisation of Africa by other countries, particularly the British.
3. What are some symbols in “A Far Cry from Africa”?
Ans: There are several symbols in “A Far Cry from Africa,” like the flies that represent the desperate, violent Kikuyu and the worm that represents the unsympathetic, cruel colonial forces.
4. What does the poem depicts?
Ans: Derek Walcott’s “A Far Cry from Africa” depicts an uprising in Kenya and the violence that European colonisers have inflicted on African natives.
5. How many stanzas are there in the poem?
Ans: There are three stanzas in the poem.
6. Which animal is compared with the nation?
Ans: Lion is compared with the nation.
7. What for the word “Towny Pelt’ used in the poem?
Ans: For native tribes in Kenya.
8. What is the main theme of the poem?
Ans: Violence and cruelty is the main theme of the poem.
9. For what the word “Kikuyu” is used in the poem “A far cry from Africa”?
Ans: For native tribes of Kenya.
10. The poem A far cry from Africa has……. lines and……stanzas
Ans: 33 lines and 3stanzas.
11. What is the meaning of the title “far cry from Africa”?
Ans: The history of imperialism and colonialism of Africa.
12. What is the strong recurring idea in the poem A far cry from Africa?
Ans: A clash of cultures.
SHORT TYPE QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
1. What does the poem focuses?
Ans: “A Far Cry from Africa” focuses on the racial and cultural tensions arising from the colonial occupation of that continent and the subsequent dilemma for the speaker, Walcott himself, a black poet writing in English.
2. What does the title suggests?
Ans: The title is in itself fairly interesting. It certainly has a double meaning. The obvious meaning is that it is using the phrase which means that the events are “far removed” from what you expect in Africa, but actually, I think the title is subversive and is supposed to be taken very literally. Meaning that in Africa there are people crying.
3. Write in short about the culture clash in the poem.
Ans: There are many clashes in the poem. The first image signalling conflict is the hint of a storm brewing in the opening lines where Kikuyu flies feed upon the land and maggots upon dead Mau Mau. And within this, a sub conflict also exists between those Kikuyu believing that the rights of the individual do not necessarily violate those of the group and those convinced that individual rights do violate group rights. In lines six through ten, there is also the clash between the culture of those outside the uprising and those killed by it, outsiders with the luxury of judging the conflict, and insiders for whom no explanation is sufficient. These conflicts yield up the main confrontation of the poem, that between Mau Mau and the British, and the conflict withing the poet about which side to take.
4. Explain the animal imagery in the poem.
Ans: The whole poem is a succession of visual, auditory and kinesthetic images. However, the most important imagery is the visual imagery of animals. Lions, flies, worms, ibises and beasts are the major animal images. Africa is compared to a lion with a “tawny pelt”. Flies are used as an image of Kikuyu who are feeding on blood, which is present in large enough amounts to create streams. Worm is an image of British colonisers and it adds a sickening detail in this setting of decaying human flesh. The worm’s admonishment to “Waste no compassion on these separate dead!” is puzzling in that it implies that the victims somehow got what they deserved. The images of ibises and other beasts tell this land was ruled by these animals before African or European civilization existed. In short, the poet has used ample animal imagery to criticise the savage aspects of both cultures.
5. Write in short the religious imagery in the poem.
Ans: Walcott uses religious imagery throughout the poem in his exploration of African life. Through the juxtaposition of “corpses” and “paradise”, Walcott is exploring the link between life and death, ugliness and beauty. By linking the two words, Walcott is exploring the paradoxical link between death in a “corpse” and life in “paradise” after death. There is further use of religious imagery in the first two lines of the second stanza as “necessity wipes its hands”. This illusion to Pontius washing his hands of Jesus’s blood before his crucifixion, demonstrates an acknowledgment of consequences but not of responsibility. Thus the personification of “brutish necessity” has been used to distance the narrator from responsibility for the actions described in the first stanza.
6. What is the central idea of the poem?
Ans: “A Far Cry from Africa” occurs in Derek Walcott’s collection In a Green Night. The poem explains the conflicts of the poet’s European and African ancestry. The poem describes how violence and racial prejudice had spewed blood throughout the land. The poet remembers the Mau Mau uprising when he thinks of the incidents of the Kikuyu people. When he looks back at “the tawny pelt” of Africa, he remembers about the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya and he is unable to fully sympathise with any one side. He sees both enemies as murderers who have strewn dead bodies across a beautiful land and brought death to a veritable Eden.
7. What is the form and tone of the poem?
Ans: The poem is written in free verse. It is presented in two stanzas one consisting of twenty one lines the other consisting eleven. It does not follow a strict rhyming pattern, although end rhymes feature prominently throughout the poem. The effect of this is that the poem has a stilted, disjointed feel which mirrors the feelings expressed within the poem. The rhythm is also inconsistent; although the line lengths are similar the beats in each line alter which again adds to the sense of discord. The poem is deeply rooted in Africa. The language used helps to make the poem feel culturally African.
8. What is the difference and similarities between Britain and Africa as reflected in “A Far Cry from Africa”?
Ans: In “A Far Cry from Africa,” Derek Walcott identifies the difference between Britain and Africa as one primarily of environment. Their similarities lie in the nature of their people, for both Africans and the British are guilty of abusing power and trying to assert their “divinity,” fighting brutishly for a “dirty cause.”
9.How does “A Far Cry from Africa” depict the Mau Mau rebellion?
Ans: “A Far Cry from Africa” depicts the Mau Mau rebellion in ambiguous terms. At various points in the poem, the speaker shows sympathy for the aims of the guerrilla organisation while refraining from endorsing its violent methods.
LONG TYPE QUESTIONS AND ANSWER
1. Discuss the themes of the poem.
Ans: (a) Colonialism and Divided Identity: “A Far Cry From Africa” responds to the Mau Mau Uprising, a rebellion fought by native Kenyans against the British colonial army in the mid-20th century. The poem’s speaker has connections to both Africa and England, and feels conflicted about how to interpret the violence of this conflict. Usually identified closely with Walcott himself, the speaker is painfully divided between his connections to the English as well as to the colonised people of Africa. In fact, the poem implicitly argues that a confused identity-and the anxiety it causes-is one of the painful legacies of colonialism.
To understand the speaker’s dilemma here, it’s important to understand some historical context. The Mau Mau, or Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KLFA), were rebels from the Kikuyu tribe in Kenya that waged a gruesome guerrilla war against English settlers for eight years (1952-1960). The British response to the rebellion was even more brutal.
This, then, is what the speaker is responding when asking, “How can I face such slaughter and be cool?/How can I turn from African and live?” For the speaker the word “slaughter” seems to suggest the highly publicised violence of the Mau Mau, which provoked the subsequently brutal response from the British. These lines embody the speaker’s internal division between England and Africa, laying out the two sides as diametrically opposed choices.
The speaker feels that the violence of the Mau Mau Rebellion requires a passionate and decisive response. Either one must condemn the Mau Mau and side with England, or support the Mau Mau and forsake England entirely; accept the violence of the Mau Mau rebellion as necessary to Kenyan independence, or reject such violence, and in the process reject Africa and all connection to colonised people. The speaker is suspended between these two options, unable to choose.
Thus, the speaker feels alienated from each side of the conflict. At the same time, however, the speaker also feels inextricably linked to both the British and the Kenyans. It’s implied that the speaker has a colonial heritage, ancestry from both English colonists and colonised Africans. As a result, the speaker feels as if his own body is divided by this conflict. In the third stanza, the speaker addresses this problem explicitly: “I who am poisoned with the blood of both, / Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?” The word “poisoned” conveys the powerful sense of alienation the Mau Mau Uprising provokes in the speaker. Although the speaker has “the blood of both” Europeans and Africans, that is, ancestry from each place this blood feels poisonous, linking the speaker to violence no matter what.
This heritage also “poison[s]” the speaker because the speaker feels “divided to the vein.” No matter which way the speaker “turn[s],” it’s as if half the speaker’s “blood” does violence to the other half. By framing this conflict in terms of “blood” and the speaker’s own “vein[s],” the poem captures the very personal, even bodily, division the speaker feels. This isn’t a matter of abstract politics for the speaker, but a very intimate struggle that’s taking place within him-a struggle caused by the legacy of colonialism.
At the end of the poem, the speaker is no closer to choosing a side than at the beginning. Colonial history has forced the speaker into this situation, forever divided by coloniser and colonised.
(b) Language as a tool of resistance and self expression: The poem explores the complex relationship between colonised peoples and the language that they’re often pushed to adopt-in this case, English. For the speaker, there are two distinct sides to the English language: one is the rich tradition of English literature, particularly poetry, and the other is England’s brutal history of colonisation. While English literature has given the speaker a means of thought and self-expression, English colonists have only caused pain in the speaker’s eyes. As a result, the very act of writing in English embodies the speaker’s complex and conflicted identity. The poem, by its very existence, also illustrates how may one may find a means of resistance and self-expression while using the language of an oppressor.
The speaker’s antipathy towards England is a response to the history of colonisation, which, for the speaker, is directly connected to the English language. In other words, the English language is not separate from the actions of England; the poem implies that language is closely linked to identity and heritage.
The speaker states this connection and its resulting dilemma most clearly in the third stanza: “I who have cursed / The drunken officer of British rule, how choose / Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?” In other words, the speaker hates English colonial rule and wants to support the independence of Africans. Yet the speaker feels that such support means rejecting the English language the very language the poem is written in, and which is also a part of the speaker’s identity and means of expressing himself. In fact, the speaker expresses “love” for “the English tongue.” This “love” communicates how passionately the speaker feels about English, how difficult it would be to give up writing in it.
This passion makes a lot of sense if the speaker is interpreted as someone from a British colony, as Walcott himself was (he grew up on the Caribbean island of Santa Lucia). While native peoples in English colonies did not originally speak English, they were forced to adopt it, especially those who attended school. English became a very important language for such people, even their primary mode of expression, as it was for Walcott. At the same time, though, it was a language they were coerced into adopting. the language of their oppressor.
The poem’s form conveys this nuanced relationship with English. The speaker engages with the traditional constraints of English verse while also striving for some freedom from those constraints. The rest of Walcott’s work is based on a traditionally English poem-like understanding of poetic form, albeit one that Walcott loosens and tweaks. In other words, the poem sounds like a freer, more modern version of traditional English poetry. For instance, the poem weaves in and out of a loose metre, sporadically using rhyme and half-rhyme in no set scheme.
By writing like this, the speaker conveys “love” for the English language and English literature. Yet by not fully conforming the forms of that past, the speaker reveals some distrust. Perhaps poetic constraints are not so different from the legal constraints imposed on natives by British colonial rule. The speaker bristles against colonial rule, even at a literary level. In adopting a more fluid attitude towards form, then, the speaker attains a degree of self-expression and self-interrogation that resists colonial authority.
As a result, the speaker occupies a kind of halfway point: not fully conforming to English expectations, but not fully free of them either. Rather than finding a resolution to this conflict, the speaker lingers in the painful contradictions of a divided identity, using eloquent English and a fluid attitude towards traditional form to address the suffering that colonisation has caused,
(c) Humanity and violence: Much of the imagery in “A Far Cry From Africa” depicts violence. This imagery refers to the brutal tactics employed by British forces in Kenya, as well as the acts that the Mau Mua or Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KLFA)-used in their rebellion. While the speaker understands that British colonial rule is ultimately the source of this violence, the poem also laments the bloodiness of human affairs more generally. To the speaker, the violence of the Mau Mau also seems reprehensible. Violence begets violence in this poem, leaving the speaker pessimistic about ever achieving humanity’s higher ideals.
The speaker depicts both the Mau Mau and the British colonial regime as equally violent. To understand the force of this depiction, it’s important again to get a sense of the historical events it alludes to. For instance, “the white child hacked in bed” refers to one of the most notorious acts of the uprising, when a European family-including a six-year-old boy were hacked to death on their farm by the Mau Mau. The Mau Mau often used tactics like this, targeting both white settlers and loyalist Kenyans (those Kenyans who supported British rule).
In response, however, the British killed vastly more people and employed brutally repressive tactics, such as the resettlement of natives and forced labour camps. These camps were compared even by some disenchanted British officials-to the conditions of Nazi concentration camps only a decade earlier. That’s why the speaker thinks the British see Kenyans as “savages, expendable as Jews.” In this damning comparison, the British colonists are no better than Nazis.
As such, the speaker depicts both the British and Kenyans as succumbing to the same human failing of resorting to violence. Each group’s use of violence undermines their higher ideals. Referring to the British, the speaker says, “upright man/ Seeks his divinity by inflicting pain.” This refers to the traditional ideology of European colonists, who regarded themselves as virtuous Christians bringing “savages” closer to God. Yet these Christians enact their closeness to “divinity” by engaging in incredibly violent acts. The speaker implies that these Christian colonists are hypocrites; Christianity emphasises having sympathy for the meek, not violently oppressing them.
Similarly, the speaker refers to the Kenyans whose “wars / Dance to the tightened carcass of a drum.” This image suggests that the actions of Mau Mau are as appalling as those of the British, undermining the ideals of their own cause. More specifically, such actions metaphorically turn traditional Kenyan drums into “tightened carcass[es].” These drums should be a symbol of Kenya’s national pride in its culture. Instead, however, the drums have reduced a gruesome image of death. Indeed, the speaker doesn’t see violence of the Mau Mau as “courage” but as “dread / Of the white peace.” That is, the Kenyans are acting out of fear of oppression by whites, rather than out of courage and pride.
On both sides of the conflict, then, the speaker sees people giving in to violence. While the English and Mau Mau both view themselves as upholding what they most value, the speaker sees violence as undermining those ideals. The speaker’s outlook on humanity’s use of violence, then, is pretty bleak. Violence continues to produce more violence, advancing neither the cause of human “divinity” nor of African freedom.
2. Discuss the historical context of the poem.
Ans: The Mau Mau Uprising lasted eight years, from 1952-1960. The Mau Mau, or Kenya Land and Freedom Army (KLFA) as they called themselves, were a group of guerilla fighters, most of whom were from the Kikuyu tribe, Kenya’s ethnic majority. The Mau Mau fought in response to England’s oppressive rule over Kenya, especially their exploitative approach to land. Kenyan’s were increasingly forced off their own land and compelled to work for white farmers at poor wages.
The Mau Mau didn’t have the resources to fight the British head on, so they employed guerilla tactics, such as night attacks on unarmed civilians. While any armed revolution is bound to be violent, the Mau Mau’s use of violence was especially shocking to outside observers because of these attacks. In one notorious example, the Mau Mau killed an entire white family at their farm, including a six-year-old boy. Committed with machete-like swords, this murder was particularly gruesome.
For some intellectuals, notably the anti-colonial writer Frantz Fanon, such acts were a necessary phase in a colonial revolution-an outcome sparked by the decades of violence perpetrated by colonial forces. However, for observers like Walcott, such acts were unforgivable, even if British colonialism was equally detestable.
Eventually, the uprising was brutally suppressed. The British employed forced labor camps that some felt were uncomfortably similar to Nazi concentration camps-which had existed only a decade earlier. Additionally, because the Mau Mau employed such gruesome techniques and because the British were especially adept as sowing ideological division among natives, the uprising never gained enough support to swell into a full-scale revolution.
Despite the suppression of the rebellion, however, it did force the British to grant certain concessions to Kenyans, such as political representation. And just a few years later, Kenya gained independence.
3. Give a brief analysis of the poem.
Ans: “A Far Cry from Africa” is a powerful poem that sets out one person’s divided viewpoint on the subject of the British colonial takeover in Kenya, East Africa, and its horrifying consequences for local people and the poet himself.
The first stanza is an overview of the situation, set in the present. It starts with a highly visual, movie-like opening the wind ruffling the pelt of Africa a country, a continent, likened to an animal.
Perhaps these are the winds of change that come to disturb a once contented country.
The Kikuyu tribe are then seen as flies battening onto the bloodstreams (to batten is to gorge or to feed greedily at someone else’s expense) and the blood is on the veldt (grassland with trees and shrubs).
Dead bodies are scattered in this beautiful landscape, seen as a paradise, an irony not lost on the speaker. The personified worm, made military, has a cruel message for the world-what is the use of compassion for those already dead?
Officialdom backs up its policies with numbers. Academics point out the relevant facts and figures. But what do these mean when you consider the human cost? Where is humanity in all of this?
The allusion to the Jews reflects the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis in WW2.
The opening four lines of the next stanza paint a detailed picture of a typical hunt (for big game) carried out by colonials and settlers. Beaters use sticks and shout as they scour the undergrowth (the rushes), driving out the animals into the open, where they will be shot.
The ibis is an iconic wading bird with a special call and has been a part of the African landscape since humans first used tools. Is this an ironic use of the word civilisation (civilization in the USA)?
Lines 15-21 seem to reinforce this idea that, in the animal kingdom, evolution dictates who wins and loses, through a pure kind of violence.
But man uses the excuse of following a god or becoming a god, by causing pain to other humans (and animals). There is an emphasis on the male of the species being responsible for war and pain, and war and peace.
The opening four lines of the last stanza juxtapose historical reference with a visual here and now, embodied in gorilla and superman.
The personification of brutish necessity, as it wipes its hands on a napkin, is an interesting narrative device. Napkins are usually white, but the cause is dirty, that of colonial settlement alongside injustice.
By repeating what the worm cries in the first stanza-a waste of our compassion-the speaker is bringing extra weight to the idea of meaningless death. Compassion cannot alter the circumstances. By using our, is the speaker implying the compassion of the world, or those who are African or Black?
And what has Spain to do with colonial Kenya? Well, it seems that violent struggle isn’t just limited to the continent of Africa. It can happen in Europe too, as with the Spanish civil war (1936-1939) which was fought between democratic Republicans and Fascists.
In line 26 the speaker declares a personal involvement for the first time, acknowledging the fact he is divided because of his blood ties to both camps. The use of the word poisoned suggests to the reader that the speaker isn’t too happy with his situation, which he deems toxic.
He wants to side with the oppressed but cannot reconcile the fact that the language of the oppressor is the same one he uses to speak, write and live by. The dramatic language heightens the tension:
A series of heart-wrenching questions are not, or cannot be, answered. The bloody conflicts, the deaths, the subjugation, the cruelty, the need for domination, all reflect the dilemma for the speaker. He feels estranged yet a part of African heritage; he feels love for the language of the British who are the cause of much strife in the tribal lands.
Perhaps the final irony is that, by the very act of writing and publishing such a poem and ending it with a question about turning away from Africa, the speaker somehow provides his own answer.
4. Give a brief analysis of the poem.
Ans: The first two lines reference the Kikuyu. This is one of the biggest tribes in Kenya. There is an interesting use of imagery here as they are described as being “as quick as flies” the poet talks of them being massacred, In the fourth line he makes a really striking comparison between the Veldt area which he considers a paradise, and the fact it is littered with corpses. Rhyme is used in the opening section with an ABAB pattern. This might make you come to expect that to be a reoccurring pattern, but this is not the case and this helps give the poem a “stilted edge”.
In the fifth line, we see the use of alliteration. Worms are “picked on” here, being referred to as the colonel of Carrion. The suggestion being that where you find rotting flesh, you find worms. He personifies them though and gives them an almost militant voice as they exclaim ‘Waste no compassion on these separate dead!’ this gives them a villainous quality.
In the 8th line, he refers to the locals as salient, this is a clever piece of imagery it gives the impression that these people are isolated. It also has a double meaning with military connotations. I think that the point the poet is trying to make is how the colonials use their data and skew facts in order to portray the Kikuyu as savages. Of course this doesn’t tell the full story. I guess then that this whole begging section is laden with irony, maybe even dramatic irony as an informed reader would realise that these views aren’t an accurate description of the issues that have existed in Africa.
In the tenth lines, we see a very powerful metaphor as Walcott draws on a comparison between the atrocities being committed here and the ones committed by the Nazis during the Second World War. At least that’s what one would assume by referring to Jews as expendable. Once again A Far Cry from Africa turns to imagery and the use of nature. Here Ibises are used and their cries referenced. According to the narrator these cries:
I feel this is probably a metaphor for the repeated slaughter and genocide of civilizations highlighting that this is an issue that has been prominent throughout the history of mankind. Of course, this is conjuncture on my part.
The next four lines follow what have come before in creating a really visceral image. Walcott uses repetition of the word beast here in order to cement his comparison. The suggestion here is then that the men that carry out the atrocities may as well be animals. He then goes on to attack religion by suggesting that man.
The next four lines are really interesting. It isn’t totally clear who the “he” that is referenced in these lines is, but I am assuming it is supposed to represent mankind. If this is the case then the words are pretty damning here. They are described as delirious and once again we see the word beast employed. There is once again the use of graphic description using words like carcass and dread here help to convey the dark and grim tone. There is a lovely piece of wordsmanship here as Walcott uses the phrase “white peace” this is used almost as an oxymoron as the peace he is describing is born of the multiple deaths just another example of the strong use of irony throughout the poem.
There is a wonderfully glib line here as the process of wiping one’s hands. This innocuous act is made powerful by being allied to the idea of “man” or perhaps more specifically the “white man” being dismissive about what is going on. Metaphor is used fantastically here, it is so thinly veiled as to almost be construed as sarcastic.
Once again this is very sarcastic and certainly not the view of the narrator himself who clearly, as we later see, wrestles with his lineage and heritage. The use of Superman helps to date the piece and highlights that it is contemporary and that these are current affairs. He refers to himself as being poisoned by the blood of both. We can assume that this is referring to his mixed heritage.
This final section of the poem really brings us to the crux of the entire poem. The poet struggles to deal with his lineage and his association between that lineage and the atrocities carried out by those nations. By the same token, he is torn as he clearly has affection for the language of his mother tongue.
5. Give a critical analysis of the poem.
Ans: A Far Cry from Africa by Derek Walcott deals with the theme of split identity and anxiety caused by it in the face of the struggle in which the poet could side with neither party. It is, in short, about the poet’s ambivalent feelings towards the Kenyan terrorists and the counter-terrorist white colonial government, both of which were ‘inhuman’, during the independence struggle of the country in the 1950s. The persona, probably the poet himself, can take favour of none of them since both bloods circulate along his veins. He has been given an English tongue which he loves on the one hand, and on the other, he cannot tolerate the brutal slaughter of Africans with whom he shares blood and some traditions. His conscience forbids him to favour injustice. He is in the state of indecisiveness, troubled, wishing to see peace and harmony in the region. Beginning with a dramatic setting, the poem “A Far Cry from Africa” opens a horrible scene of bloodshed in African territory. ‘Bloodstreams’, ‘scattered corpses,’ ‘worm’ show a ghastly sight of battle. Native blacks are being exterminated like Jews in holocaust following the killing of a white child in its bed by blacks.
The title of the poem involves an idiom: “a far cry” means an impossible thing. But the poet seems to use the words in other senses also; the title suggests in one sense that the poet is writing about an African subject from a distance. Writing from the island of St. Lucia, he feels that he is at a vast distance- both literally and metaphorically from Africa. “A F Cry” may also have another meaning that the real state of the African ‘paradise’ is a far cry from the Africa that we have read about in descriptions of gorgeous fauna and flora and interesting village customs And a third level of meaning to the title is the idea of Walcott hearing the poem as a far cry coming all the way across thousands of miles of ocean. He hears the cry coming to him on the wind. The animal imagery is another important feature of the poem. Walcott regards as acceptable violence the nature or “natural law” of animals killing each other to eat and survive; but human beings have turned even the unseemly animal behaviour into worse and meaningless violence. Beasts come out better than “upright man” since animals do what they must do, any do not seek divinity through inflicting pain. Walcott believes that human, unlike animals, have no excuse, no real rationale, for murdering non-combatants in the Kenyan conflict.
Violence among them has turned into a nightmare of unacceptable atrocity based on colour. So, we have the “Kikuyu” and violence in Kenya, violence in a “paradise”, and we have “statistics” that don’t mean anything and “scholar”, who tends to throw their weight behind the colonial policy: Walcott’s outrage is very just by the standards of the late 1960s, even restrained. More striking than the animal imagery is the image of the poet himself at the end of the poem. He is divided, and doesn’t have any escape.
“I who am poisoned with the blood of both, where shall I turn, divided to the vein?” This sad ending illustrates a consequence of displacement and isolation. Walcott feels foreign in both cultures due to his mixed blood. An individual sense of identity arises from cultural influences, which define one’s character according to a particular society’s standards, the poet’s hybrid heritage prevents him from identifying directly with one culture. Thus creates a feeling of isolation. Walcott depicts Africa and Britain in the standard roles of the vanquished and the conqueror, although he portrays the cruel imperialistic exploits of the British without creating sympathy for the African tribesmen. This objectively allows Walcott to contemplate the faults of each culture without reverting to the bias created by attention to moral considerations.
However, Walcott contradicts the saviour image of the British through an unfavourable description in the ensuing lines “Only the worm, colonel of carrion cries/ waste no compassion on their separated dead”.” The word ‘colonel’ is a punning on ‘colonial’ also. The Africans associated with a primitive natural strength and the British portrayed as an artificially enhanced power remain equal in the contest for control over Africa and its people. Walcott’s divided loyalties engender a sense of guilt as he wants to adopt the “civilized” culture of the British but cannot excuse their immoral treatment of the Africans. The poem reveals the extent of Walcott’s consternation through the poet’s inability to resolve the paradox of his hybrid inheritance.
6. Give a critical appreciation of the poem.
Ans: “A Far Cry from Africa” is from Derek Walcott’s first major collection of poems, “In a Green Night (1962)”. A reflexive poem, “A Far Cry from Africa” is an honest effort to understand the poet’s vocation, his relationship with the world at large, and with his country of birth, Saint Lucia. In this poem Walcott asks several questions, mostly to himself, in a bid to understand himself, his country, and the politics and colonial subjugation that has divided his life, profession, and loyalties. Although this poem may appear to be a dramatisation of Walcott’s own particular racial angst, it can equally be read as a more generalised investigation of the Caribbean psyche’s divided cultural and ethnic allegiances.
The poem is written at the backdrop of Mau Mau Uprising; an extended bloody battle during the 1950s between European settlers and the native Kikuyu tribe in what is now the republic of Kenya. In the early twentieth century, the first white settlers arrived in the region, forcing the Kikuyu people off of their tribal lands. Europeans took control of farmland and the government relegated the Kikuyu to a subservient position. The ongoing events in Kenya magnified an internal strife within the poet concerning his own mixed heritage. Walcott has both African and European roots; his grandmothers were both black, and both grandfathers were white. As Walcott is divided in two, so too is the poem. The first two stanzas refer to the Kenyan conflict, while the second two address the war within the poet.
The title of the poem is very ambiguous in nature. It involves an idiom: “a far cry” which means an impossible thing. But the poet seems to use the words in other senses also; the title suggests in one sense that the poet is writing about an African subject from a distance. Writing from the island of St. Lucia, he feels he is at a vast distance – both literally and metaphorically from Africa. Another possible explanation of the title might be the contrast between the beautiful setting of the African veldt and the bloody violence that occurred there. And a third level of meaning to title is the idea of Walcott hearing the poem as a far cry coming all the way across thousands of miles of ocean. He hears the cry coming to him on the wind.
The poem contains four stanzas of mostly iambic tetrameter. Actually, the poem starts off in iambic pentameter; the prevalent form of poetry written in English, but soon veers off course metrically – a change that reflects the changing scene and perspective in the poem – with lines of varying length. and number of stresses. A point of consistency is Walcott’s use of masculine endings and masculine rhymes. However, rhyme is as irregular as metre. The scattered rhyme is ABAB BC…… Only those lines are rhymed in which Walcott sees a particular contrast or similarity. Caesura has been used half way through the second stanza. In short, the structure of the poem emphasises the main emotional dilemma in the poem.
Split identity, anxiety, isolation, cruelty, violence, religion and love are the major themes of the poem. Walcott belongs to both African and European roots and he identifies himself as a mongrel; both grandmothers were African and both grandfathers were European. Walcott’s hybrid heritage prevents him from identifying directly with one culture and creates a sense of anxiety and isolation. The wind “ruffling the tawny pelt of Africa” refers to the cruelty of Mau Mau insurrection against the violence of British colonialism. The words “corpses, paradise, dead, Jews and cursed” create an atmosphere of religion in the poem. Walcott’s feeling of affection for Africa and fondness for English tongue propagate the theme of love.