20 pages 40 minutes read

Derek Walcott

Sabbaths, WI

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2014

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Summary and Study Guide


“Sabbaths, W.I.” by Derek Walcott was published in his poetry collection, The Star-Apple Kingdom (1979). This book came out late in Walcott’s career. His first book of poetry was self-published in 1948, when he was 18 years old. His most well-known work is Omeros, an epic poem published in 1990 that retold the Trojan War as a fight between Caribbean fishermen. “Sabbaths, W.I.” is a free verse poem that gives the reader A Sense of Place or, in other words, a glimpse into what living in the West Indies is like. The poem also explores Religion in West Indian Culture, inspired by the prominence of Catholicism among residents of Saint Lucia, where Walcott is from.

Poet Biography

Derek Walcott was born in Saint Lucia in 1930 and wrote about Caribbean culture throughout his life. His father, Warwick, was a painter, and Derek learned to paint at a young age. Warwick died when Derek, and his twin brother Roderick, were still children. They also had a sister named Pamela. Their mother ran the local Methodist School. Derek attended St. Mary’s College in Saint Lucia and, with the aid of a scholarship, the University of the West Indies in Jamaica.

Derek’s first publication was a poem in the local newspaper when he was 14. When he was 18, he self-published and handed out his first book of poems, 25 Poems. His book In a Green Night: Poems 1948-1960 (1962) represents a breakthrough in his career. After that, Derek became a well-known poet.

In the 1950s, Derek studied theater in New York City. After moving to Trinidad, he and his twin co-founded the Trinidad Theater Workshop. It was during this period that Derek’s plays began to be published, and “Dream on Monkey Mountain” won an Obie award in 1971. In 1981, Derek founded the Boston Playwrights’ Theatre.

Derek taught at various universities including the University of Alberta, the University of Essex, Columbia University, and Boston University. In the 1990s, he started publishing collections of essays. In 1992, Derek Walcott was the first Caribbean writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. He won various other awards including a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and the T. S. Eliot Prize.

In 2017, Derek Walcott died in Saint Lucia.

Poem text

Walcott, Derek. “Sabbaths, W.I.” 1979. All Poetry.


“Sabbaths, W.I.” has 31 lines that are broken into stanzas of varying lengths. The title indicates that the poem is about the West Indies (W.I.) on the day of the sabbath, or Sunday. In the first line, the speaker describes villages on a sad Sunday. In the second line, which is in the same stanza, the speaker describes streets and how they each contain a sleeping dog.

The next stanza is three lines long. Lines 3-5 offer more information about the location. Parts of it are volcanic and parts of it are poor. Skinny boys sell stones called sulphur.

The third stanza is five lines long. In Lines 6-10, the speaker includes more details about the landscape. The region has banana leaves, a river with broken bottles around it, and a grove of cocoa trees. The speaker describes a bird’s song, from the grove, as the colors yellow and green. The bird is under leaves that are orange colored and forgets its flute.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth stanzas contain one line each. In Line 11, the speaker describes grommier trees, which have bark that peels and are located near the ocean.

In Line 12, the speaker describes the corpse of a lizard that is changing to a blue color.

Line 13 contains more details about the rivers of this region. They are merely threads and don’t remember the old music.

The seventh stanza has two lines. In Lines 14 and 15, the speaker describes a walkable area near the sea. It has plants called sea almonds and elderly men gather there.

Line 16 is an entire stanza and develops the image of the men. They watch a sailing ship that is caught in some branches.

Line 17 is also an entire stanza. The speaker describes how the men play a game called draughts while seabirds interfere.

The 10th stanza contains two lines. In Lines 18 and 19, the speaker describes hillsides and ferns in the area.

Line 20, which is also an entire stanza, describes roads as saying their names during evening prayer time called vespers.

The 12th stanza contains four lines. Line 21 continues the speaker’s description of the roads, which will stop reciting their names if one mentions them. In Line 22, the speaker describes crabs as patient. In Lines 23 and 24, herons are compared with old ladies who question what they see in their reflections.

The 13th stanza contains two lines. In Lines 25 and 26, the speaker describes nettles, a kind of plant, that wait on those Sundays.

In Line 27, which is given its own stanza, the speaker describes lights at the end of the street as a special event on those Sundays.

The 15th stanza contains three lines. In Line 28, the speaker describes how their mother lays face up on Sundays. Lines 29 and 30 compare the speaker’s sisters and moths gathering around a street lantern.

In Line 31, which is the last stanza, the speaker describes how cities travel past this location, along the horizon.