Online Texts for Craig White's Literature Courses

The Season of Phantasmal Peace



Derek Walcott

[phantasmal = unreal, imaginary, having no material existence]

Derek Walcott, b. 1930

Then all the nations of birds lifted together
the huge net of the shadows of this earth
in multitudinous dialects, twittering tongues,
stitching and crossing it. They lifted up
the shadows of long pines down trackless slopes,                  
the shadows of glass-faced towers down evening streets,
the shadow of a frail plant on a city silló
the net rising soundless at night, the birds' cries soundless, until
there was no longer dusk, or season, decline, or weather,
only this passage of phantasmal light                                     
that not the narrowest shadow dared to sever.


And men could not see, looking up, what the wild geese drew,
what the ospreys trailed behind them in the silvery ropes
that flashed in the icy sunlight; they could not hear
battalions of starlings waging peaceful cries,                          
bearing the net higher, covering this world
like the vines of an orchard, or a mother drawing
the trembling gauze over the trembling eyes

of a child fluttering to sleep;



it was the light      20

 that you will see at evening on the side of a hill
in yellow October, and no one hearing knew
what change had brought into the raven's cawing,
the killdeer's screech, the ember-circling chough    [chough /chuff/ =small, crow-like bird]
such an immense, soundless, and high concern             
for the fields and cities where the birds belong,
except it was their seasonal passing, Love,
made seasonless, or, from the high privilege of their birth,
something brighter than pity for the wingless ones
below them who shared dark holes in windows and in houses,       
and higher they lifted the net with soundless voices
above all change, betrayals of falling suns,
and this season lasted one moment, like the pause
between dusk and darkness, between fury and peace,
but, for such as our earth is now, it lasted long.                                

Discussion questions:

1. Objective 2b. To extend genre studies to film and poetry (esp. Derek Walcott of St. Lucia, West Indies [b. 1930; Nobel Prize for Literature, 1992]).

If the novel is the primary genre of colonial-postcolonial dialogue, how does lyric poetry change the appeal of postcolonial literature? How is that appeal distinct from or supportive to the novel?

Consider applying the song-like qualities of lyric poetry to "Season of Phantasmal Peace."

2. How does re-imagining nations of people as "nations of birds" disarm nations' potential conflict regarding borders, migration, etc.?

2a. How do birds reinforce the strengths of the lyric poem?

2b.How does the poem's image of "the net" serve as a possible symbol for dialogue or exchange? How might this symbol be re-translated to an electronic network not widely available or known in 1981?

3. A skeptic might dismiss the poem's hope for a change of light or season as "phantasmal," imaginary, or illusory, but how might lyric poetry defend such visions?

3a. Similarly, why must poetry treat the encompassing beauty witnessed here as transient, fleeting, or momentary? How may such a lyric moment imply a larger narrative, whether of evolution or apocalypse?