White Egrets by Derek Walcott

White Egrets by Derek Walcott is a collection of deeply suggestive and blatant poems about the natural cycle of birth, life, and death and coming to terms with the later as friends, lovers, and others pass away leaving the narrator behind on the journey of life.  Each poem uses nature imagery to paint a canvas of emotion as the narrator grapples with grief, joy, and memory.

Walcott’s poems are long and narrative in many cases, which is not a form or style that calls to every reader, but even the most picky reader can easily pick out the cues that will carry them throughout the multiple part poems.

For instance, in the title poem “White Egrets” section one, readers will notice the lines “in the drumming world that dampens your tired eyes/behind two clouding lenses, sunrise, sunset,/” that signal a decline in health.  In the second section, the theme carries on in the lines “into a green thicket of oblivion,/with the rising and setting of a hundred suns/” until it culminates through a series of images and narrations in section four with the lines “and of clouds.  Some friends, the few I have left,/are dying, but the egrets stalk through the rain/as if nothing mortal can affect them, or they lift/”  and finally in section eight, “the egrets soar together in noiseless flight/or tack, like a regatta, the sea-green grass,/they are seraphic souls, as Joseph was.//”  While the poem is dreary in theme, the subject of losing ones friends slowly over time to death, it also carries along elements of immortality and being left behind as a testament to those who have passed before us.

Many of Walcott’s poems are in memory of friends, family, and others as he dedicates poems or portions of poems to them, and each takes on a meditative and reflective state as he explores their relationship and his memories of their time together.  More than just mundane relationships to our friends and family, Walcott paints a picture of humanity’s infinite connections to the past, present, and future in an effort to demonstrate how deeply we are all interconnected.  In poem 46, “catalogue of a vicious talent that severs/itself from every attachment, a bitterness whose/poison is praised for its virulence.  This verse/” Walcott harshly discusses the consequences of severing attachments, which some may actually believe is a preferable way to live.

White Egrets is a collection readers would probably tackle on a poem-by-poem basis, rather than read at once — not because they are too hard to interpret but because they tackle themes and emotions that are heavy and can weigh down the reader or provide him or her with fodder for reflection on his or her own life.  From moments in history such as the debts owed because of the Holocaust to the election of President Obama, the poet reviews moments in history and how they impact individuals.  Overall, White Egrets is a emotional roller coaster ride of longer poems that are meditative, disruptive, and thought-provoking.

This is my 5th book for the Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.


This is my 11th book for the 2011 New Authors Reading Challenge.




This review is part of my celebration for National Poetry Month!


  1. Beth Hoffman says

    Oh, this is going on my “to buy” list right away!

  2. This sounds intense. I might give this one a try at some point. You know I like narrative poems.

    • I really enjoyed this one. I did have to pause in reading some of these poems to keep focused…I have a harder time with longer poems.