Map of the New World by Derek Alton Walcott

Dragons once, with webbed hands, serrated fins,
circled this unknown sea. Their scales
flake now like scurf, their skins
aged with this wrinkled chart.
Where they were feared to rise was usually written:
IBI DRAGONES, there are dragons here,
in dragonish letters of mediaeval Latin.

They threshed the ocean’s pastures with hooked flails,
then, as new islands grew, dragons were gone,
reduced to symbols puffed up by the Trades,
a bellying escutcheon
to knot the Indian’s heart.

But in the light that lanced through abbey stone
pinning a shape to the map-maker’s chart
remained one dragon;
drowned in history
it rises in a mirror:
with webless hand, no fins, it can draw dragons.

‘Only in a world where there are cranes and horses’
wrote Robert Graves, ‘can poetry survive.’
Or adept goats on crags. Epic
follows the plough, metre the ring of the anvil,
order divines the figurations of storks, and awe,
the arc of the stallion’s neck.

The flame has left the black wick of the cypress,
the sun may light these islands in their turn.

Over grey islets
magnificent frigates inaugurate the dusk,
light flashes through the whisking tails of horses,
the stony fields they graze.
From the black anvil of the promontory
the sparks fly up like stars.

Regenerate ocean, turn the wanderer
from those salt sheets, the prodigal
drawn to the dark troughs of the swine-black porpoise.

Wrench his heart’s wheel and set his forehead here.


Date: 1981

By: Derek Alton Walcott (1930-2017)

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