The Prodigal A Poem

Derek Walcott

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

112 Pages



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A New York Times Notable Book

The typically expansive, nuanced, and artfully made poem comprising this book makes a journey through physical and mental landscapes, from Greenwich Village to the Alps, Pescara to Milan, Germany to Cartagena. But always in "the music of memory, water," abides St. Lucia, the author's birthplace, and the living sea.

In his new work, Derek Walcott has created a sweeping yet intimate epic of an exhausted Europe studded with church spires and mountains, train stations and statuary, where the New World is an idea, a "wavering map," and where History subsumes the natural history of this poet's "unimportantly beautiful" island home. Here, the wanderer fears that he has been tainted by his exile, that his life has become untranslatable, and that his craft itself is rooted in betrayal of the vivid archipelago to which, like Antaeus, he must return for the very sustenance of life.


Praise for The Prodigal

"Derek Walcott's virtues as a poet are extraordinary . . . He could turn his attention on anything at all and make it live with a reality beyond its own; through his fearless language it becomes not only its acquired life, but the real one, the one that lasts."—James Dickey, The New York Times Book Review

"Like the best poetry, the combination of luminosity and precision is what allows it to be both old and new at the same time . . . One couldn't ask for better. [The Prodigal] is an accessible book, and a noble one."—The Economist

"The Prodigal is the work of a master."—The Washington Post Book World

"Is it any wonder that a poet born on an island (St. Lucia) uses voyaging forth as his greatest theme? As in his grand Omeros, the Nobel prize-winning Walcott delivers a travelogue both physical and metaphysical: the narrator journeys from New York ('There is a continent outside my window, / in the Hudson's patient narrative') to the Alps (where he sees 'the white spur of the Matterhorn') to his beloved Italy ('Blessed are the small farms conjugating Horace, / and the olive trees as twisted as Ovid's syntax'). As he travels through landscapes, he also travels through cultural history, absorbing its glories even as he is being remade by it; 'it is only afterwards that these things are ours,' he observes, then concedes, 'I have been blent in the surface of frescoes.' In the end, there's a desire to return home that's almost wistful—a dark-hued gentleness that's something new. [This book is] brimming with emotion yet as polished as poetry gets; highly recommended."—Library Journal

"Travelogue, elegy, autobiography, and lush description mingle and merge in the prolific Nobel laureate's latest book-length poem. Walcott has long specialized in poems about places and journeys, and the first parts of his new work sound like more of the same: flowing pentameters remember stints in Milan, Colombia, the Swiss Alps, Manhattan, and Berlin, each associated with a brace of elaborate images, as well as with a particularly attractive young woman. Describing these 'women who contained their cities' and the history those cities hold, Walcott traces an 'untethered pilgrimage' in which 'what was altered was something more profound / than geography, it was the self' . . . In Walcott's return to his native St. Lucia, his poem finds an emotional core; 'the bright salt arc of a bare unprinted beach' allows the poet to conclude with sober reflections on his own celebrity ('the death-mask of Fame') and on advancing age."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Derek Walcott

  • Derek Walcott was born in St. Lucia in 1930. His Collected Poems: 1948-1984 was published in 1986, and his subsequent works include Omeros (1990), The Bounty, and Tiepolo's Hound. Walcott received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992.

  • Derek Walcott © Danielle Devaux /