Saturday, 2 April 2011

Derek Walcott’s "No Opera"

Derek Walcott is one of my favourite contemporary poets and “No Opera” is a relatively new poem by him, published in the February 2010 issue of The Believer and collected in White Egrets:
No Opera
No opera, no gilded columns, no wine-dark seats,
no Penelope scouring the stalls with delicate glasses,
no practiced ecstasy from the tireless tenor, no sweets
and wine at no interval, no altos, no basses
and violins sobbing as one; no opera house,
no museum, no actual theatre, no civic center
- and what else? Only the huge doors of clouds
with the setting disc through which we leave and enter,
only the deafening parks with their jumping crowds,
and the thudding speakers. Only the Government
Buildings down by the wharf, and another cruise ship
big as the capital, all blue glass and cement.
No masterpieces in huge frames to worship,
on such banalities has life been spent
in brightness, and yet there are the days
when every street corner rounds itself into
a sunlit surprise, a painting or a phrase,
canoes drawn up by the market, the harbour’s blue,
the barracks. So much to do still, all of it praise.

What a great and touching poem. In it, Walcott points out what is important in life. It is not high-brow cultural activities: a visit to the opera (‘opera’ could also be a metaphor for the fiasco over the post of Oxford Poetry Professorship), the museum, the theatre. Instead, it is ‘a sunlit surprise, a painting or a phrase’ which can be found at ‘every street corner’. You can find ‘masterpieces’ on your street, at your doorstep, even in your home. Have you been looking closely enough? Have you found your own objects of praise? ‘So much to do still, all of it praise.’ Hear, hear.

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