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60 Years Later

May 30, 2013

60 Years Later

In my wheelchair in the Virgin lounge at Vieuxfort,
I saw, sitting in her own wheelchair, her beauty
hunched like a crumpled flower, the one whom I thought
as the fire of my young life would do her duty
to be golden and beautiful and young forever
even as I aged. She was treble-chinned, old, her devastating
smile was netted in wrinkles, but I felt the fever
briefly returning as we sat there, crippled, hating
time and the lie of general pleasantries.
Small waves still break against the small stone pier
where a boatman left me in the orange peace
of dusk, a half-century ago, maybe happier
being erect, she like a deer in her shyness, I stalking
an impossible consummation; those who knew us
knew we would never be together, at least not walking.
Now the silent knives from the intercom went through us.

–Derek Walcott 2010

COMMENTARY: “60 Years Later” is one of the most touching poems in White Egrets, Walcott’s 2010 collection which won the T.S. Eliot prize. The poem has two sections, the first describing the two former lovers as they sit in their wheelchairs in Vieuxfort (French Old-Strong), a sea-side nursing home, the second a reminiscence of an (implicitly clandestine) encounter on a nearby beach 60 years earlier. The phrase “stalking an impossible consummation” seems key to how the two halves of the poem reflect one another. The young lover is after a physical consummation which is thwarted by circumstance while the old lover is after an artistic consummation which is thwarted by time. In the final line the “silent knives” interrupting the speaker’s reminiscence, presumably to call one or the other away, express both the tingling, emotional fever of the encounter and the pain of failure, interruption, delusion.

Walcott is a genius of metaphor and many of his early poems are worth reading for no other reason than the little handholds of lines and images that come loose from them. Here “devestating/ smile netted in wrinkles” and “orange peace/ of dusk” get my attention. And, of course, “silent knives of the intercom” which is all the more striking because of its placement next to the sea and its own knives of static.

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From → Love Poems

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