21 pages 42 minutes read

Derek Walcott

The Schooner Flight

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1979

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Symbols & Motifs

The Sea

The sea is a near constant presence in “The Schooner Flight” and a powerful motif that provides structure to the text and characterizes its tone. The ocean appears in the poem’s very first line, “In idle August, while the sea soft” (Line 1), and it initiates the narrative action, calling Shabine away from his wife and family to voyage on the schooner. At various points in the poem, the sea is connected to the violent history of the islands, with the “Caribbean so choke with the dead” (Line 116), to religion, with the “noon sea get calm as Thy Kingdom come” (Line 424), and to Maria herself, as when Shabine “saw the veiled face of Maria Concepcion / marrying the ocean” (Lines 427-428).

The proliferation of sea references make it an effective and versatile motif but, crucially, not a symbol for any one thing. The sea holds up the poem, urges its story ahead, threatens Shabine’s life, hosts ghosts and dead, God, desire, and brings Shabine tranquility. There is simply no “Schooner Flight” without the ocean, literally or literarily. As Shabine declares in the poem’s first section, “[W]hen I write / this poem, each phrase go be soaked in salt” (Lines 71-72)