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33 pages 1 hour read

Derek Walcott

A Far Cry From Africa

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1962

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Symbols & Motifs

Beasts

Wild animals, particularly those native to Africa, play a large role in setting up the nature versus civilization dichotomy throughout the poem. When describing the calls of ibises that are older than civilization, the speaker talks about the sheer scope of nature, “From the parched river or beast-teeming plain” (Line 14). The speaker specifically uses the term “beasts” to describe animals, which carries a very particular connotation. On the great plains of the African savannah, beasts are the ruling class and nature is the law, however violent or uncivilized. While the term “beast” often calls to mind negative connotations like brutishness, stupidity, ignorance, and savagery, the speaker seems to be presenting the beast as something natural and therefore beyond human ideas of good and evil. At the same time, humans know how to move beyond beastlike savagery yet resort to beastly violence. Both the Kenyans and the British are “Delirious as these worried beasts” (Line 18), suggesting their violence is animal-like and unlawful because it’s inhumane. Animals respond to violence with violence. Humans, however, can and should rationalize and weigh actions. The speaker seems to believe that as long as we treat each other like beasts, we will continue to act like beasts.

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