Derek Walcott's 1962 poem "A Far Cry From Africa" responds to the Mau Mau Uprising in Kenya, a guerrilla war fought by native Kenyans against British colonists from 1952-1960. The speaker—implied to be from a colony, just as Walcott himself was—has both African and English heritage. Although the speaker hates colonial rule, he also bristles against the gruesomeness of the rebellion, creating a feeling of deep ambivalence and confusion regarding his loyalties. Ultimately, the poem treats both the violence in Kenya and the speaker's own conflicted identity as part of the legacy of colonialism. Rather than finding a way out of this legacy, the speaker expresses the deep pain it persistently causes.
A wind is ...
... of the veldt.
Corpses are scattered ...
... these separate dead!"
Statistics justify and ...
... expendable as Jews?
Threshed out by ...
... or beast-teeming plain.
The violence of ...
... by inflicting pain.
Delirious as these ...
... by the dead.
Again brutish necessity ...
... with the superman.
I who am ...
... to the vein?
I who have ...
... Africa and live?
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
An Overview of Négritude — A discussion of the concept of Négritude developed by writer Aimé Césare, from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Césare's concerns can be usefully studied to both contrast with, and illuminate, Walcott's themes.
The Poem Out Loud — Listen to Derek Walcott read "A Far Cry From Africa."
The Mau Mau Uprising — A history of the Mau Mau Uprising, from the BBC.
Frantz Fanon and the Mau Mau — Frantz Fanon's important book on colonial revolution and independence, "The Wretched of the Earth," was heavily inspired by the Mau Mau Rebellion. For Fanon, the Mau Mau represent an essential phase of independence, one whose violence is a direct result of decades of violent colonial rule.
Walcott's Biography — A short biography of Walcott from Emory University.
1A wind is ruffling the tawny pelt
2Of Africa. Kikuyu, quick as flies,
3Batten upon the bloodstreams of the veldt.
4Corpses are scattered through a paradise.
5Only the worm, colonel of carrion, cries:
6"Waste no compassion on these separate dead!"
7Statistics justify and scholars seize
8The salients of colonial policy.
9What is that to the white child hacked in bed?
10To savages, expendable as Jews?
11Threshed out by beaters, the long rushes break
12In a white dust of ibises whose cries
13Have wheeled since civilization's dawn
14From the parched river or beast-teeming plain.
15The violence of beast on beast is read
16As natural law, but upright man
17Seeks his divinity by inflicting pain.
18Delirious as these worried beasts, his wars
19Dance to the tightened carcass of a drum,
20While he calls courage still that native dread
21Of the white peace contracted by the dead.
22Again brutish necessity wipes its hands
23Upon the napkin of a dirty cause, again
24A waste of our compassion, as with Spain,
25The gorilla wrestles with the superman.
26I who am poisoned with the blood of both,
27Where shall I turn, divided to the vein?
28I who have cursed
29The drunken officer of British rule, how choose
30Between this Africa and the English tongue I love?
31Betray them both, or give back what they give?
32How can I face such slaughter and be cool?
33How can I turn from Africa and live?