Transcript: Poems on Air, Episode 38 - Derek Walcott

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[Music intro]

LYNNE THOMPSON: Hello! My name is Lynne Thompson, Poet Laureate for the City of Los Angeles and I’m so happy to welcome listeners to this installment of Poems on Air, a podcast supported by the Los Angeles Public Library. Every week, I’ll present the work of poets I admire, poets who you should know, and poets who have made a substantial and inimitable contribution to the art and craft of poetry.

LYNNE THOMPSON: December is the month when, whether by lip service or more genuinely, many people seek a sense of peace that seems more and more elusive. The concept is a considerable one but one handled deftly in the hands of today’s poet, Derek Walcott. A native of the island of St. Lucia in the Caribbean, the scope of his work is prodigious and resulted in him receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992. The recipient of a number of other awards, he taught at Yale, Columbia, and Rutgers Universities, among others. Walcott died in 2017.

LYNNE THOMPSON: Today’s poem is "The Season of Phantasmal Peace" by Derek Walcott.

The Season of Phantasmal Peace

Then all the nations of birds lifted together  
the huge net of the shadows of this earth  
in multitudinous dialects, twittering tongues,  
stitching and crossing it. They lifted up  
the shadows of long pines down trackless slopes,  
the shadows of glass-faced towers down evening streets,  
the shadow of a frail plant on a city sill—  
the net rising soundless as night, the birds' cries soundless, until  
there was no longer dusk, or season, decline, or weather,  
only this passage of phantasmal light  
that not the narrowest shadow dared to sever.  
And men could not see, looking up, what the wild geese drew,  
what the ospreys trailed behind them in silvery ropes  
that flashed in the icy sunlight; they could not hear  
battalions of starlings waging peaceful cries, 

bearing the net higher, covering this world  
like the vines of an orchard, or a mother drawing  
the trembling gauze over the trembling eyes  
of a child fluttering to sleep;  

                                                     it was the light  
that you will see at evening on the side of a hill  
in yellow October, and no one hearing knew  
what change had brought into the raven's cawing,  
the killdeer's screech, the ember-circling chough  
such an immense, soundless, and high concern  
for the fields and cities where the birds belong,  
except it was their seasonal passing, Love,  
made seasonless, or, from the high privilege of their birth,  
something brighter than pity for the wingless ones  
below them who shared dark holes in windows and in houses,  
and higher they lifted the net with soundless voices  
above all change, betrayals of falling suns,  
and this season lasted one moment, like the pause  
between dusk and darkness, between fury and peace,  
but, for such as our earth is now, it lasted long. 

LYNNE THOMPSON: The Los Angeles Poet Laureate was created as a joint program between the City’s Department of Cultural Affairs and the Los Angeles Public Library and this podcast is available wherever you get your podcasts. Thanks for listening!

[Music outro]

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  • DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a certified or verbatim transcript, but rather represents only the context of the class or meeting, subject to the inherent limitations of real-time captioning. The primary focus of real-time captioning is general communication access and as such this document is not suitable, acceptable, nor is it intended for use in any type of legal proceeding. Transcript provided by the author.