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Praise, celebration at Walcott’s farewell
Nobel Laureate Derek Walcott went to his final resting place amid unwavering praise and admiration of his talent, influence and work yesterday, as mourners bade farewell during the funeral service at the Minor Basilica Cathedral in Castries, Saint Lucia.
The packed church accommodated the mourners who would have been absent from the private service held for him by family members on Friday.
The private service was a prelude to an evening of celebration of the poet and playwright’s vast work at the National Cultural Centre.
Born in 1930 in Castries, Walcott went to school at St Mary’s College, before going to study at the University of the West Indies in Jamaica and beginning work as a journalist at the Trinidad Guardian newspaper, establishing his foundation as a true Caribbean man.
Walcott died on March 17, after a long illness.
Reading the eulogy for Walcott yesterday, Professor Emeritus Edward Baugh started with the opening lines of Walcott’s poem Sea Kings, the many verses about friendship.
Baugh described it as remarkable that Walcott’s poetry hit “transatlantic metropolitan literary headlines well before he left the Caribbean”.
“We celebrate the maker who spoke for the Caribbean person in words and in paint, who spoke with the Caribbean.”
Baugh said Walcott helped the Caribbean to articulate its engagement with history and with the colonial legacy of the Caribbean.
“He does this memorably, etching emotions and ideas through his eye-opening representations of our landscape, through images and rhythms that fix themselves in our memory, through his always unobtrusively inventive respect for form, through the subtlety of his rhyme,” Baugh said.
He said Caribbean history and the colonial legacy were also engaged in varying ways by some of Walcott’s plays.
“In respect of his work in theatre as playwright, producer and director, he is one of the chief be-getters of West Indian drama. He laid historical ground in his role as co-founder of the Saint Lucia Arts Guild and more comprehensively change-making as founder of the Trinidad Theatre Workshop.”
Baugh said Walcott gave voice to Caribbean people and drew on the creative power of folk-ways.
While the Nobel prize was Walcott’s most recognised award, he had also been honoured with a Caricom medal as well as national awards from Trinidad and Jamaica, and an honorary doctorate from the University of the West Indies.
“We mourn and celebrate a genius who was a prodigy, a maker, a Caribbean man, but also a person, someone with the virtues and shortcomings that defined him as the person those who knew him valued.
“He was famous for his corny jokes. He was a generous man, considerate of others, always willing to acknowledge and promote talent,” Baugh said.
During the homily, Monsignor Patrick Anthony said Walcott had given Caribbean people reasons to stand proud.
“He loved these islands of the Antilles ,” Monsignor Anthony said.
“Derek, we will try to make your death the happiest thing to happen. Let us lift our heads high as a Caribbean people and know we can stand shoulder to shoulder with anyone in the world. He has taught us how we can be our best selves.”