Nobel laureate and poet Derek Walcott died early Friday morning at his St. Lucia home after battling a long illness. He was 87.
Walcott was considered one of the world’s best poets, often challenging some of the greatest works written by Dante, Shakespeare, Chaucer, Yeats and Homer. Fiercely Caribbean, Walcott sought to define not only the identity of the Caribbean but also the duality of being a Caribbean black man, BBC reports.
Walcott’s works include In a Green Night: Poems 1948-1960, published in 1962; and his epic work, Omeros, a 300-page tome that draws on Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, published in 1990.
Walcott captured the sights, sounds and feel of St. Lucia in his work.
“The sea is always present. It’s always visible. All the roads lead to it. I consider the sound of the sea to be part of my body,” Walcott told the Economist, according to the New York Times. “And if you say in patois, ‘The boats are coming back,’ the beat of that line, its metrical space, has to do with the sound and rhythm of the sea itself.”
For Walcott it seemed that even in verse, there was no escaping the place that raised him. He blamed the boldness of the language used in his poetry on the tiny island.
“I come from a place that likes grandeur; it likes large gestures; it is not inhibited by flourish; it is a rhetorical society; it is a society of physical performance; it is a society of style,” he told the Paris Review in 1985. “I grew up in a place in which if you learned poetry, you shouted it out. Boys would scream it out and perform it and do it and flourish it. If you wanted to approximate that thunder or that power of speech, it couldn’t be done by a little modest voice in which you muttered something to someone else.”
Walcott was born in 1930. His father, who he says also wrote poetry, died while he was still an infant. He studied at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica before moving to Trinidad in 1953, where he worked as a theater and art critic, BBC reports.
At the tender of 18, Walcott would publish his first collection, 25 Poems.
Walcott would also go on to become an accomplished painter and playwright. He had a storied career that included winning the MacArthur “genius” grant in 1981.
“The world has lost one of its noted literary icons. Our sympathies extend to St. Lucia as a nation, who without doubt are proud and honoured to call him a true son of St. Lucia,” the Cultural Development Foundation of St. Lucia said in a statement viewed by BBC. “He was very vocal about the island’s culture and heritage, and its preservation, and his love for St. Lucia and the Caribbean was evident in his numerous mentions of ‘home’ in his work.”