The following is my attempt to translate into straightforward prose a part of a chapter in Derek Walcott’s “Omeros.” The original is Part III of Chapter XXXII. The question I wish to ask is what is it about the poetic version, Walcott’s version, that makes it so much more powerful than my translation below.
[Walcott’s mother has just died and he is heading home in an airplane. The following passage illustrates how Walcott mixes his fictional story of the islanders with his own story. The previous part ended with Walcott viewing a moth flying about in the nursing home where his mother died. The image of the moth continues enigmatically, as it introduces the passage, in which Walcott seems to be breaking the laws of space-time.]
The image in my memory of that moth’s flitting shadow superimposed itself on the ripples of an emerald lagoon, whose clear water showed the underwater topography. The reef in the lagoon had a lilac colored shelf, over which a canoe with a lateen sail [an ancient style triangular sail], looking like a butterfly hooked on a flowering branch, was nearing Gros Îlet village. I watched enormous breakers through the window pane of the airplane I was in, as it departed over the lagoon. I had to imagine their crashing sound, since it was inaudible inside the cabin of the plane. And then, the glare of the blinding sun made them impossible to see. I imagined the Achille of my story as the sailor in the canoe raising his arm from the rudder being buffeted by the currents to bid me farewell. He watched our plane, which would have appeared to him about the size of a minnow, disappearing into the clouds over the mountains of the island, shaped like horns. I imagined that he would imagine a minnow disappearing into a coral reef.