17 pages 34 minutes read

Derek Walcott

Midsummer XXVII

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1984

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Summary and Study Guide


“Midsummer XXVII” by Derek Walcott appears in a collection of 54 poems entitled Midsummer published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 1984. The poems in the collection are untitled and are distinguished by their order in the book. Walcott, born in St. Lucia and who moved to the United States to teach at Boston University, uses his writing in this and other poems to explore themes of colonization, migration, and shifting identities. The book Midsummer explores the feel of the Caribbean Islands in the hottest part of the year, the connection between painting and poetry, and the effects of American influence on both the speaker and the environment and culture of the Caribbean.

Walcott’s writing is an example of both Diasporic and Postcolonial Literature. Part European and part Afro-Caribbean, Walcott frequently writes about the legacy of a diverse identity, the search for belonging, and the divided loyalty he feels as a traveler between the Caribbean and the United States. “Midsummer XXVII” exemplifies these themes as the speaker of the poem (assumed to be Walcott himself given their similar backgrounds and perspectives) returns to his island to find that things are “quietly American” (Line 1), and that he feels “the fealty changing under [his] foot” (Line 26). In 1992, Walcott won the Nobel Prize for Literature. He remains one of the most popularly read poets of Caribbean descent.

Content Warning: This guide analyzes a derogatory term for immigrants used in the poem; mentions of the term are encased in quotation marks.

Poet Biography

Walcott was born on the island of St. Lucia in 1930. St. Lucia had long been under the rule of the British and the French. Throughout the 20th century, St. Lucia continued to gain independence, but the island was still heavily influenced and controlled by European interests. Walcott’s paternal and maternal grandmothers were both descendants of enslaved people. His grandfathers were both descendants of Europeans. Walcott and his twin brother had a diverse heritage and grew up speaking Patois, a combination of English, Spanish, and French Creole, and learning about European literature and culture in their schools. Walcott studied Greek mythology, Shakespeare, and literature of the British canon, as well as the mythology of the islands. Walcott’s father was a painter who died when Walcott was still a child. Walcott was a proficient painter, but turned his attention to the verbal arts at an early age. He worked first as a theater critic but over time would win attention as a poet, playwright, and teacher.

He was married and subsequently divorced three times, and had three children, a son and two daughters. For most of his adult life, Walcott divided his time between Trinidad, an island in the Caribbean, and Boston, where he taught at Boston University. He published multiple books of poetry, plays, and essays. His magnum opus, Omeros (1990), is a re-envisioning of the Greek epic The Odyssey as a battle between two Caribbean fishers. Though from the Caribbean, Walcott’s work makes frequent allusions to the Western canon of British and European literature. This earned him the nickname “The Shakespeare of the Caribbean.”

In 1992, Walcott won the Nobel Prize in literature. He died in 2017.

Poem Text

Certain things here are quietly American—

that chain-link fence dividing the absent roars

of the beach from the empty ball park, its holes

muttering the word umpire instead of empire;

the gray, metal light where an early pelican

coasts, with its engine off, over the pink fire

of a sea whose surface is as cold as Maine’s.

The light warms up the sides of white, eager Cessnas

parked at the airstrip under the freckling hills

of St. Thomas. The sheds, the brown, functional hangar,

are like those of the Occupation in the last war.

The night left a rank smell under the casuarinas,

the villas have fenced-off beaches where the natives walk,

illegal immigrants from unlucky islands

who envy the smallest polyp its right to work.

Here the wetback crab and the mollusc are citizens,

and the leaves have green cards. Bulldozers jerk

and gouge out a hill, but we all know that the dust

is industrial and must be suffered. Soon—

the sea’s corrugations are sheets of zinc

soldered by the sun’s steady acetylene. This

drizzle that falls now is American rain,

stitching stars in the sand. My own corpuscles

are changing as fast. I fear what the migrant envies:

the starry pattern they make—the flag on the post office—

the quality of the dirt, the fealty changing under my foot.

Walcott, Derek. “Midsummer XXVII.” 1986. Brinkerhoff Poetry.


The speaker, presumably Walcott, stands with a view of the hills of the Caribbean island of St. Thomas. He notes that, on the island, things are “quietly American” (Line 1). A chain-link fence divides the beach from a ballpark. The fence’s holes say the word “umpire,” not “empire” (Line 4), and beyond that a pelican floats on the ocean, as cold as the one in Maine (Line 7). The speaker notes there is pink light on the water, indicating it is either sunrise or sunset. The light heats up the planes—”Cessnas” (Line 8)—parked on the airstrip, and the speaker likens the planes’ hangar to those that were built during “the last war” (Line 11)—likely World War II.

Soon after, the speaker notes that nighttime left a bad smell under the casuarina trees, which are found in the tropics. The people of the island walk on beaches that are fenced-off from the rest of the island. These “illegal immigrants” (Line 14), as the speaker calls them, envy tiny sea creatures—like “the smallest polyp[s]” (Line 15), individual anemones or coral organisms—because they belong to the island and have the “right to work” there (Line 15). The crabs and molluscs are citizens of the island, and even “the leaves have green cards” (Line 17) that allow them to live and work. Bulldozers work on the hills, kicking up dust. This industrial activity must be endured, the speaker states. Soon, the ocean looks like “sheets of zinc” (Line 20).

The speaker calls the rain “American” (Line 22) and says it stitches “stars in the sand” (Line 23). He notes he is also changing, or could be changed, even in his smallest cells, or “corpuscles” (Line 23). Migrants to the island are seeking what he fears: to see the starry American pattern the rain makes that mimics the stars on “the flag on the post office” (Line 25), and to feel the loyalty of the land changing underfoot (Line 26).