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A tribute to Nobel Laureate Sir Derek Walcott

25 March 2017
Statement by: Secretary-General of the Commonwealth, The Rt Hon Patricia Scotland QC

There is something about Sir Derek Walcott’s poetry. The “wind… ruffling the tawny pelt”, the “shards of an ancient pastoral in those shires of the island where the cattle drank their pools of shadow from an older sky”, and “the soft-scissored foam as the deck turn white and the moon open a cloud like a door.”

Growing up in the UK, there were many occasions when this powerful imagery transported me, instantly, back to my birth place in the Caribbean, to behold the scenery that must have inspired his words. And as I defined my own identity he reminded me that “the time will come when, with elation you will greet yourself arriving at your own door, in your own mirror and each will smile at the other's welcome, and say, sit here. Eat.”

I have had the pleasure of meeting Sir Derek in person only once, but his poems have had a lasting impact on me, and I was deeply saddened to learn of the death of this bright Commonwealth star. And though he has slipped beyond our reach, his profound wisdom, his brilliance and his inspiration to pursue greatness are immortalised in the lines of powerful poetry like Omeros, which captured the essence of the Caribbean and stirred hearts and minds across the globe.

Born in a small Caribbean island, his ingenuity, vision and passion for excellence propelled him into the spotlight on the world stage and earned him the glittering honour of a Nobel Prize.

Again and again I saw Sir Derek fearlessly addressing the issue of Caribbean identity and challenging the stereotypes and skewed perceptions that separate us. He once referred to the earth as “one island in archipelagoes of stars”. So, for me, his greatest legacy is the knowledge that, wherever we are born, in a developed or developing country, in a vast continent or on a small Caribbean island, we have the potential for greatness.

This is why I would like to join with the government and people of Saint Lucia today to honour their son, and to celebrate his life and the immense contribution he has made to literature. For my country Dominica and Saint Lucia are inextricably linked by history, language, culture, kinship and topography. We are truly sister islands. In many ways Sir Derek always felt as if he belonged a little to all of us. We will really miss his light.

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