“A Careful Passion”

Derek Walcott

Selected by Daniel del Valle

When I was a kid, my family used to go on summer vacations to Jamaica. The only things left from those trips are sensory memories, but when I read this poem, I imagine myself sitting with my parents and brother at another table at The Cruise Inn watching this couple end their affair. Walcott allows you access to the characters’ interior lives and creates lines of imagery that are so clear and tactile that the reader can’t help but be transported. As “wave after wave of memory silts the mind,” and “hearts learn to die well that have died before,” you understand it’s over and your heart breaks, too.

—Daniel del Valle

A Careful Passion
Hosanna, I build me house, Lawd,
De rain come wash it ’way.

                                          Jamaican song


The Cruise Inn, at the city’s edge,
Extends a breezy prospect of the sea
From tables fixed like islands near a hedge
Of foam-white flowers, and to deaden thought,
Marimba medleys from a local band,
To whose gay pace my love now drummed a hand.
I watched an old Greek freighter quitting port.

You hardly smell the salt breeze in this country
Except you come down to the harbor’s edge.
Not like the smaller islands to the south.
There the green wave spreads on the printless beach.
I think of wet hair and a grape-red mouth.
The hand which wears her husband’s ring, lies
On the table idly, a brown leaf on the sand.
The other brushes off two coupling flies.
“Sometimes I wonder if you’ve lost your speech.”
Above our heads, the rusty cries
Of gulls revolving in the wind.
Wave after wave of memory silts the mind.

The gulls seems happy in their element.
We are lapped gently in the sentiment
Of a small table by the harbor’s edge.
Hearts learn to die well that have died before.
My sun-puffed carcass, its eyes full of sand,
Rolls spun by breakers on a southern shore.
“This way is best, before we both get hurt.”
Look how I turn there, featureless, inert.
That weary phrase moves me to stroke her hand
While winds play with the corners of her skirt.

Better to lie, to swear some decent pledge,
To resurrect the buried heart again;
To twirl a glass and smile, as in pain,
At a small table by the water’s edge.
“Yes, this is best, things might have grown much worse . . .”

And that is all the truth, it could be worse;
All is exhilaration on the eve,
Especially, when the self-seeking heart
So desperate for some mirror to believe
Finds in strange eyes the old original curse.
So cha cha cha, begin the long goodbyes,
Leave the half-tasted sorrows of each pledge,
As the salt wind brings brightness to her eyes,
At a small table by the water’s edge.

I walk with her into the brightening street;
Stores rattling shut, as brief dusk fills the city.
Only the gulls, hunting the water’s edge
Wheel like our lives, seeking something worth pity.

opens in a new windowThe Poetry of Derek Walcott 1948-2013



Derek Walcott was born in St. Lucia in 1930. He is the author of thirteen collections of poetry, seven collections of plays, and a book of essays. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992.

Daniel del Valle is the senior digital marketing manager at FSG.

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