19 pages 38 minutes read

Derek Walcott

The Flock

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1985

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Symbols & Motifs


From time immemorial winter has carried a negative association. It is a time when the Earth is frozen, when plant life seems to die, and when people are in danger of succumbing to illness or death from starvation or harsh conditions. It is a time of loneliness and isolation—a time to endure. In “The Flock,” Walcott calls winter “the white funeral of the year” (Line 12) and notes that in the Arctic, where it is always winter, the mastodons and “giant minds” (Line 33) get frozen in place. Throughout the poem, winter is a threat to humanity, impeding the ability to move and live.

However, the reference to a “wintry flare” (Line 46) suggests that winter can bring light and its own kind of warmth. It is the kind of light that kindles the poet’s imagination and causes him to write.

The Flock

Birds are a recurring motif throughout the poem. The migrating ducks the speaker sees—the “blue-wing teal and mallard” (Line 2)—later become figurative birds that symbolize the poet’s words and creative impulses. These bird-words are “settling the branched mind” (Line 21) in the speaker’s imaginary landscape. Later they rise up in a “high, whirring flock” (Line 44) and the speaker calls them “a blessing” (Line 43) though they are not moving only to please him, but also for their own “need” (Line 48).