Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

The Quotable Black Scholar: Derek Walcott’s Poem for Obama

November 13th, 2008 by Ajuan Mance

Derek Walcott (b. 1930)


“Forty Acres”

Out of the turmoil emerges one emblem, an engraving —

a young Negro at dawn in straw hat and overalls,

an emblem of impossible prophecy, a crowd

dividing like the furrow which a mule has ploughed,

parting for their president: a field of snow-flecked


forty acres wide, of crows with predictable omens

that the young ploughman ignores for his unforgotten

cotton-haired ancestors, while lined on one branch, is

a tense

court of bespectacled owls and, on the field’s

receding rim —

a gesticulating scarecrow stamping with rage at him.

The small plough continues on this lined page

beyond the moaning ground, the lynching tree, the tornado’s

black vengeance,

and the young ploughman feels the change in his veins,

heart, muscles, tendons,

till the land lies open like a flag as dawn’s sure

light streaks the field and furrows wait for the sower.



Biographical Notes: Noble Laureate and Boston University professor Derek Walcott was born in 1930, in St. Lucia, the West Indies. His published his first poem at the age of 14, and by 19 had already published two volumes of his work (25 Poems [1948] and Epitaph for the Young: XII Cantos [1949]). He was educated at St. Mary’s College in St. Lucia and the University of the West Indies.

During the last 60 years Walcott has published many collections of poetry, including:

  • 25 Poems, Port-of-Spain: Guardian Commercial Printery, 1948
  • Epitaph for the Young, Xll Cantos, Bridgetown: Barbados Advocate, 1949
  • Poems, Kingston, Jamaica, City Printery, 1951
  • In a Green Night, Poems 1948 – 60, London: Cape, 1962
  • Selected Poems, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1964
  • The Castaway and Other Poems, London: Cape, 1965
  • The Gulf and Other Poems, London: Cape, 1969
  • Another Life, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux: London: Cape, 1973
  • Sea Grapes, London: Cape; New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1976
  • The Star-Apple Kingdom, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1979
  • Selected Poetry, Ed. by Wayne Brown. London: Heinemann, 1981
  • The Fortunate Traveller, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1981
  • Midsummer, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1984
  • Collected Poems 1948-1984, New York, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1986
  • The Arkansas Testament, New York, Farrar Straus Giroux, 1987
  • Omeros, New York: Farrar Straus Giroux, 1990

In 1957, Derek Walcott was awarded a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship to study the American theater. Since that time he has written a number of plays, including: The Odyssey: A Stage Version (1992); The Isle is Full of Noises (1982); Remembrance and Pantomime (1980); The Joker of Seville and O Babylon! (1978); Dream on Monkey Mountain and Other Plays (1970); Three Plays: The Last Carnival; Beef, No Chicken; and A Branch of the Blue Nile (1969). His plays have been produced throughout the United States.

Over the course of his career, Professor Walcott has received a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award, a Royal Society of Literature Award, the Queen’s Medal for Poetry and, in 1992, the Nobel Prize in Literature. He is also an honorary member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters.

Derek Walcott has been a professor in the English department at Boston University since 1981.

Posted by Ajuan Mance

Posted in African Americans, Barack Obama, Current Events, Derek Walcott, Higher Education, race

One Response

  1. sHaE-sHaE

    That paints a very clear picture of a place long ago. I’m glad we’ve come this far.