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Literary Migrations: Homer’s Journey through Joyce’s Ireland and Walcott’s Saint Lucia

By Patricia Novillo-Corvalán



Central throughout all stages of Omeros is, of course, Homer himself, both as the mythical blind bard who has been credited with the authorship of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and also under the protean guise of his Saint Lucian avatar, a blind fisherman named Seven Seas, who follows the call of the sea and embarks on his own odyssey around the globe. Yet one of Walcott’s greatest ironies is that his modern-day Homer, variously known as ‘Old St. Omere’ and ‘Monsieur Seven Seas’ had been christened ‘from a cod-liver-oil label with its wriggling swordfish’ (Walcott 1990: 17-18).

James Joyce (1882-1941)
(C. Ruf, Zurich, c. 1918 - Cornell Joyce Collection)

The poem abounds in complex interlaced stories of this blind figure which are stitched together into the larger fabric of Omeros. The protean persona of Seven Seas, moreover, not only brings to mind the ancient Greek bard, as well as the blinded minstrel Demodocus who poignantly sang the labours of Odysseus in the Odyssey, but also another blind Irish poet, James Joyce, who continues and enlarges this genealogy. Even in the ‘Lestrygonians’ episode of Ulysses, Joyce depicted the lonely figure of a blind man, an avatar of Homer, making his way through the streets of Dublin: ‘The blind stripling stood tapping the curbstone with his slender cane’ (Joyce 2002: 148). This frail figure, we may also add, prefigures Joyce’s future destiny as the blind bard of Dublin.

Therefore the theme of blindness becomes a twofold expression in the literary tradition. What the unseeing, inert eyes of the poet cannot perceive is compensated for by the vast, unlimited vision afforded by the eye of the imagination, as the poet exchanges eyesight for the craft of versifying. In Omeros, Derek Walcott celebrated the rich allegory of the blind poet, and amalgamated in the character of Seven Seas a fascinating genealogy composed of Homer, Demodocus, Joyce, as well as distant echoes of the mythical figure of the blind Argentine poet, Jorge Luis Borges.

In Book V of Omeros the narrator travels to Dublin and stages an imaginary encounter with Joyce, whom he elevates as ‘our age’s Omeros, undimmed Master/and true tenor of the place’ (Walcott 1990: 200). According to Walcott, the legendary Joyce becomes a phantom that appears at nightfall to walk the streets of his beloved Dublin:

I leant on the mossed embankment just as if he

bloomed there every dusk with eye-patch and tilted hat,

rakish cane on one shoulder (Walcott 1990: 200).

Just as Walcott paid tribute to his Irish predecessor, so in his book-length poem Station Island, Seamus Heaney similarly conjured up an encounter with the spectre of Joyce. Station Island tells of Heaney’s journey to an island in County Donegal which has been the sacred site of pilgrimage since medieval times. Amongst the numerous ghosts which Heaney stumbles upon during this physical and spiritual voyage of self-discovery - highly reminiscent of Dante’s Purgatorio - is the unmistakable phantom of James Joyce:

Like a convalescent, I took the hand

stretched down from the jetty, sensed again

an alien comfort as I stepped on ground

to find the helping hand still gripping mine,

fish-cold and bony, but whether to guide

or to be guided I could not be certain

for the tall man in step at my side

seemed blind; though he walked straight as a rush

upon his ashplant, his eyes fixed straight ahead (Heaney 1998: 266-7).

Similarly to Walcott, Heaney is able to capture Joyce’s distinctive silhouette by means of a brief descriptive passage that condenses his archetypal image. The dream vision that follows stages Heaney’s dialogue with the spectre, who advises him on his career and role as a poet: ‘“Your obligation/is not discharged by any common rite./What you do you must do on your own./The main thing is to write for the joy of it’ (Heaney 1998: 267).

What Walcott and Heaney are highlighting here, above all, is that the haunting phantom of Joyce has become their guide and inspiration in their journeys through literature. Both poets are paying homage to the vast literary tradition encompassed in Joyce’s work, a corpus which comprises not only a distinctive Irish cadence but also the voices of other literary models, such as Homer and Dante. Ultimately, by calling up the ghost of Joyce in his epic poem Omeros, Walcott is implying that the trajectory of the epic tradition is ongoing, and that the migration of Homer to twentieth-century Ireland may well continue its course into the warmer seas of the Caribbean. This transformative, trans-cultural voyage is succinctly conveyed in the final line of the poem: ‘When he left the beach the sea was still going on’ (Walcott 1990: 325).

Patricia Novillo-Corvalán
Birkbeck College, University of London


[1] It should be noted that Walcott altered, however slightly, Stephen Dedalus’s assertion. In Ulysses we read: ‘— History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake’ (Joyce 2002: 28).


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- Walcott, Derek. ‘Leaving School’ in Robert D. Hamner (ed.), Critical Perspectives on Derek Walcott (New York: Three Continents Press, 1993a), pp.24-32.

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Copyright © Society for Irish Latin American Studies, 2007

Online published: 11 November 2007
Edited: 07 May 2009

Novillo-Corvalán, Patricia, 'Literary Migrations: Homer’s Journey through Joyce’s Ireland and Walcott’s Saint Lucia' in "Irish Migration Studies in Latin America" 5:3 (November 2007), pp. 157-162. Available online (, accessed .


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