Stylistic Analysis of Derek Walcott’s poem, “A Far Cry from Africa”, Iqra Hassan

Iqra Hassan

Miss. Amna Shahid

Stylistic Application

28th January, 2017

Stylistic Analysis of Derek Walcott’s poem, A Far Cry from Africa

            Stylistic analysis deals with analyzing the underlying patterns that make up a text. It observes the writer’s choice of words, formation of sentences, usage of figures of speech, the sound patterns and how these elements cohere with the theme of the poem. This paper aims at carrying out a stylistic analysis of Derek Walcott’s poem, A Far Cry from Africa. The poem depicts the British colonization in Africa and gorilla up rivals in Kikuyu, a state of Africa (presently Kenya). The poet’s affiliation with the African people can be understood from the fact that he has ancestral lineage in Africa. The poem is set in early 1950s, during the British colonial regime in Kikuyu, and the subsequent Mau Mau rebellion by the natives. The poem is Walcott’s rejection of British colonial ideology. It not only discusses the brutality of the British towards Africa, but also depicts that the victims of colonialism become brutal and savage as well.

Stylistically, the poem will be explored on the following levels;

  1. Lexical level
  2. Graphological Level
  3. Grammatical level
  4. Figurative Level
  5. Phonological Level

Significance of the Title

     The poet uses an idiomatic phrase in the title i.e. a far cry. It means a difficult or different thing.Moreover, “A Far Cry from Africa” is suggestive of the geographical distance between poet’s dwelling (at Saint Lucia) and Africa. It also suggests the “otherness” of the other i.e. the distance (far from Africa) at which British put the Africans, “the others”. It also reflects the helplessness suffered on the part of the poet as the cry of Africans for help and freedom escapes into nothingness. It also highlights that ‘independence’ is ‘a far cry’ for Africans. Literally, the cry is a cry of pain arising from the land of Africa.

  1. Lexical level

On Lexical level, the choice of vocabulary and language is considered. The poet uses complex words, for instance; tawny pelt, veldt, carrion, expendable, delirious etc. The semantic field is mainly related to nature and animals, as the poet compares colonialism with the law of jungle. For example pelt, flies, worm, ibises, beast, carcass, gorilla etc. the words give an animalistic quality to the description of colonization in Africa. The language used by poet is descriptive and evaluative, he describes and judges the justification of colonizers cause and subsequent revolt of the natives.He considers the justification a sham i.e. ‘a brutish necessity’. The language is made descriptive by the usage of adjectives.

Considering the poet’s usage of nouns, adjectives, verbs and adverbs, it can be observed that every single word adds to the basic stance of the poem. Some of the nouns used by the poet are related to animals e.g.flies, beast, gorilla, worm. The other related to human beings are corpses, Africa,colonel, scholars, superman. Some are related to nature, e.g. wind, peace, paradise, bloodstreams, dawn, river. The usage of words from the semantic field of nature, human beings and animals create a link between them.

Some of the verbs that Walcott uses are, cries, justify, seize, break, wipes, wrestle, scatter, calls, hacked, thresh, and break etc. These verbs create a sense of immediacy in the poem.The action that is revealed through these verbs is of killing and revenge. The usage of adjective also adds meaning to the thematic concern of the poem, for example, tawny pelt, white child, parched river, delirious, worried beasts, dirty cause, and upright man.

2. Graphological Level

On Graphological level, the poem is divided into four stanzas. The poem shows regular capitalization and proper use of punctuation. The poet also uses enjambment i.e. the sentences run over the length of the lines.

3. Grammatical Level

The poet uses declarative sentences i.e. he describes the happenings in Africa in detail. Only One exclamatory sentence i.e.“Waste no compassion on these separate dead!” is used that is the order sentence of the colonel.The Interrogative sentences used by the poet are,

What is that to the white child hacked in bed?

To savages, expendable as Jews?

Towards the end of the poem the poet uses interjection and asks;

…How choose…

Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?…

…How can I turn from Africa and live?

The questions do not demand an answer, rather the poet uses the technique of participation to indulge the attention of readers into the poem.

4. Figurative Level

On figurative level, the poet makes use of rich figures of speech. The figures of speech give a living quality to the actions described in the poem. Beginning with simile, the poet compares the action of Kikuyu with flies, i.e. “Kikuyu, quick as flies”. It reflects the revolt of the people of Africa. The massacre in Africa is compared to the massacre of Jews by the usage “expendable as Jews.” It reflects that the significance of an individual’s life is reduced to nothing as it happened during the Holocaust. Violence is compared with natural law, as the poet views colonization no better than the law of jungle. The hysteric of people in Africa is compared with that of beasts, i.e.“delirious as beasts.”

The usage of metaphors can also be seen in the poem, “worm” is a metaphor for British colonizer. “Paradise” is a metaphor for Africa’s landscape. The poet compares the land of Africa to a “Paradise” and laments what colonialists have done to it by “scattering of the corpses in the paradise.”He considers the Europeans as “superman” and the revolutionary bands are called as “gorillas”.

The poet personifies war in the sentence, “his wars dance”. It reflects that the people rejoice by exercising authority. It also reflects that orders are followed without giving a second thought to them. The thinking ability of individuals is maimed in the name of patriotism. Another usage of personification can be seen in the phrase, “brutish necessity wipes its hands”.

Walcott uses repetition towards the end of the poem.

How can I face…?

How can I turn…?

The poet uses allusions, for instance the mention of Jews refer back to the killingsduring Holocaust. The “napkin” of a dirty cause reflects British mannerism and sophistication. It refers to their assumed responsibility to civilize the Black people i.e. white man burden theory. “As with Spain” calls attention to the Spanish Civil war of 1930.

The usage of irony reflects the bitter realities of the colonial era. “Corpses are scattered through a paradise”. African landscape that is compared to paradise is referred to be filled with corpses. “A waste of our compassion” is also used ironically. Compassion is not wasted but the usage here reflects that nothing can be done of the compassion when the situation does not change. A practical change is demanded by the people.

The poet plays on words to give a duality of meaning and color to the poem, for instance, “Colonel of carrion” refer to the colonial leader, who is compared with a worm that feeds by decomposing wastes. Brutish necessity is basically the Britishnecessity.

Animal imagery is highlighted in the poem. Its significance has been discussed in the lexical section.

5. Phonological Level

On Phonological level, the poet makes use of alliteration, some examples of alliteration are under;

Batten upon the bloodstreams

Colonel of carrion cries

Kikuyu, quick as flies

Scholars seize

Calls courage

Blood of both

Betray them both

The Consonance in form of repetition of D sound can be seen in the following stanza;

Delirious as these worried beasts, his wars

Dance to the tightened carcass of a drum,

While he calls courage still that native dread

Of the white peace contracted by the dead.

Certain other Rhymes that are used by the poet are;

Pelt, veldt        Flies, cries

Bed, dead        Plain, pain

Again, Spain    Give, live

The poet uses cacophony in “Colonel of carrion cries”. The harsh sound that foreshadows the unpleasant order i.e. “Waste no compassion on these separate dead”

Lexical deviation i.e. nonce-formation can be seen in the usage,“beast-teeming”. It refers to the lands filled with beasts where bloody deeds were a norm.


     The analysis of various stylistic devices used by the poet make the understanding of the poem better. The language used by the poet for both the colonizers and natives is vital. He treats both on equal grounds, because just by assuming the fact that colonizers are the initiators of brutality he cannot justify the ruthless killing of innocent white children by the natives. He considers Africans as “tawny pelt” and their wind of “change” is their rebellion against the European settlers in the face of which they lose their own humane impulses too. The treatment of both as animals brings into mind George Orwell’s quote, “All animals are equal but some are more equal than the others”.He suggests that upright men “seek divinity by inflicting pain”. It depicts the fact that colonial powers take godly and anarchic roles over their subjugated colonies by controlling their freedom of speech, freedom to practice the religion. According to him, the colonizers follow a utilitarian philosophy that is they aim at achieving greater benefit and does not bother about the extent of exploitation and killing they do. They are ruthless and as colonel says “Waste no compassion on these separate dead!” they are indifferent towards the lives that come in their way of economical and geographical expansion. The human deaths that occur as a result of rebellion and oppression are reduced to merely a statistics.

The poet’s reluctance to resolve the issues by ending the poem with a series of questions has many possible interpretations. Firstly, he wants his readers to feel for the people who are torn between two cultures or countries, who can neither justify the bad act of the colonizers nor can sympathize with the colonies. The poet does not make any political statement at the end rather gives a personal lamentation. He uses strong expression like “I who am poisoned” and “I who have cursed” to give vent to his anguish. Hence, the lexical choice, figurative devices and phonological patterns that are employed by the poet cohere with the theme of colonialism that is being discussed. The symbols and images explored makes the poem effective and create cohesion with the context discussed earlier.

Reference: (web. 27.1.2017)