Old and new houses in
Using Yeats’ book as a refuge from the pain
of loss brings to mind the first line of the poem at hand: 'I
arise and go with William Butler Yeats/ to country, Sligoville'
(47) -also a rewriting of Yeats’ poem ‘The Lake Isle of
Innisfree’ (Modern British Poetry 1920) ‘I will arise
and go now, and go to Innisfree’. The setting is also
rewritten as the speaking voice takes Yeats for a stroll in
the Jamaican Sligoville: ‘in the shamrock green hills of St.
Catherine’ (47). Bringing the colour of the Irish flag to the
Jamaican landscape is the beginning of an intricate
dovetailing of the two worlds.
The term ‘dovetailing’ as used here
indicates a balance in the use of imagery and icons, as well
as a reconciliation and affinity between the two cultural
bodies. Rather than explain this as a form of ‘translocation’
or cross-cultural exchange as Jahan Ramazani does (Modernist
Bricolage, 2006: 446), the present reading seeks to establish
the notion of intentional embracing of diversity
within Jamaica and the Caribbean at large - a
process grounded in the daily lives of Caribbean people.
Modernist notions such as 'mosaic' are often used to refer to
texts that juxtapose diverse elements with the implication
that these heterogeneous elements form, or should form, a
sense of unity. Yet, in this case no unified picture is
sought. The poem comes closer to being a cultural patchwork
where contrasting flavours stand out and compete for the
Denise deCaires Narain views the process
that takes place in this poem as an act of refusing
unconditional devotion to canonical texts imposed by the
education system, one that redefines the terms of a new
relationship (2002:166). Yet this argument fails to
acknowledge the unique bond that Lorna Goodison retains with
Yeats as a poet, associated both with the moment of crisis in
her life and the moment at which she began to write poetry.
Consideration of the non-conformist
inclinations of Yeats as an Irish poet, as well as the
historical bond between Irish and Jamaican transplanted
cultures mentioned above, calls for an alternative reading of
this poem. It is necessary in this case to adopt a method of
reading that combines both external and internal devices. In
other words it will be necessary to take into consideration,
on the one hand, the above-mentioned personal link between
Goodison and Yeats, and hence the ‘intention’ of the author in
creating the poem, and on the other the multiple cultural
allusions made by the poet, stemming from the context. These
two dimensions will be continually traced and analysed at the
level of the crafting of the poem.
This technique is based on the proposal
made by French theorist and philosopher Pierre Bourdieu, of a
literary analysis that brings together internal and external
methods of reading (Other Words 1990: 147). Such a
technique takes into consideration both the mental, subjective
directions of the author and the objective, social context
within which the text takes shape - both of which are
manifested at the level of the crafting.
The persona in the poem metaphorically
takes Yeats by the hand as they roam the landscape of
We walk and palaver by the Rio Cobre
till we hear tributaries
join and sing, water songs of nixies (47)
The Jamaican river Rio Cobre is set in the
mind’s eye against Yeats’ ‘lake water’ in the above poem: ‘I
will arise and go now, for always night and day/I hear lake
water lapping with low sounds by the shore’. Goodison’s ‘water
nixies’ similarly bring to mind a myriad of Yeats-created
Next a process of storytelling is begun,
where yet more cultural symbols and icons are juxtaposed:
Dark tales of Maroon warriors,
fierce women and men
bush comrades of Cuchulain.
We swap duppy stories, dark night doings.
I show him the link of the rolling calf’s
And an old hige’s salt skin carcass. (47)
Caribbean Maroon warriors and the legendary
Irish Cuchulain share common qualities of courage and
awe-inspiring fearlessness and are thus set side-by-side as
comrades. Duppy (ghost) stories are also exchanged in another
point of affinity where the rich corpuses of Caribbean and
Irish ghost stories are dovetailed. A figure from a Caribbean
duppy story is brought to life as the narrative voice shows
Yeats the ‘rolling calf’s chain’- a goat-like duppy with
glaring fire-breathing eyes that has a chain on its back
producing a characteristic sound at its approach. The rolling
calf in duppy stories does not hurt humans.
The voice then shifts to personal
references connected to the lives of both Yeats and the
Love descended from thickets of stars
to light Yeats’ late years with dreamings
alone I record the mermaid’s soft keenings.
The reference to Yeats’ famous poem ‘The
Mermaid’ adds to the intricate web of intertextual references
made throughout the poem. Reserving the right to trace the
‘keenings’ of the mermaid is an attempt by the narrative
voice, not to overpower Yeats, but rather to establish a
strong affinity between the poet who created the mermaid and
the Jamaican persona who can ‘record’ her presence.
Intertextual links thus continue to
permeate the poem, including a reference to Yeats’ ‘Salley
Gardens’. Incidentally this reference is present in an earlier
poem by Lorna Goodison as follows.
in white dresses
in dark suits
at pleasant evenings.
Singing of the flow
of the sweet Afton
warning of false love
down by the Salley Gardens. (Flowers are
Roses 1995: 62)