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Published: 28-09-2019

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Technique, Theme, and Autobiography: Analysis of “A City’s Death by Fire”

The poem “A City’s Death by Fire” by Derek Walcott is a semi-autobiographical poem, a recollection of the Excellent Fire of 1948 in Central Castries (the capital and biggest city of St. Lucia). The Great Fire attacked 3 quarters of the town and left more than two,000 folks homeless. This cataclysmic event impacted Walcott’s life, since he was born in Central Castries. Walcott first describes the predicament of the city with helplessness and despair, but then realizes that one particular should not shed faith after the physical planet has failed to survive. By means of this poem, Walcott conveys his theme that faith should not be support in the man-created planet, but rather be held in the immunity of nature by way of the use of figurative language, diction, and imagery, and juxtaposition.

All through the poem, Walcott utilizes figurative language in order to reflect the despair and demolition triggered by the Wonderful Fire of 1948. The speaker talks about the “faiths that had been snapped like a wire” as he felt betrayed by the false immunity that he thought existed in the city buildings. This simile expresses that abrupt loss of hope that Walcott had felt from the fire. He also mentions the circumstance beneath which the poem was written “under a candles eye that smoked in tears”. Despite the fact that this supplies an understanding of what was literally left from the fire, the expression that the candle’s eye smoked in tears also reflects the sorrow and despair felt by the residents. The amount of havoc from the fire is encapsulated in the title itself: “A City’s Death by Fire”. The city is personified as it is stated to have the capability to die. Though a city, a non living organism, can't actually die, the personification represents what is actually and emotionally left of the town. The city is emotionally dead due to the fantastic amount of hope that was lost from every person following the fire. Due to the fact all the faith was lost inside the residents, there is a loss of life in the city.

Walcott then develops the idea of physical death of the city by describing the physical destruction triggered by the fire. In the course of his recollection of walking by means of the havoc, he vividly describes the “levelled” buildings, “rubbled” ground, and “torn” homes that have been left destroyed from the fire. His rich use of concrete diction efficiently portrays the dark and sorrowful image of the city. His diction to describe the city reveals the severity of the amount of demolition that the fire had left the residents.

In addition to describing the emotional effects of the fire by means of literary devices and the literal demolition by means of diction, Walcott also communicates the fire’s lack of influence on nature by way of his in depth use of imagery. He begins the poem by referring to the fire storm as the “hot gospeller”. This metaphorical comparison suggests that the fire spread as rapid as a preacher would spread the gospel. The fire spread fast and destroyed the “wooden world”, but it left the “churched sky” with no a harm. This suggests that the sky was like the untouchable church and was not impacted by the fire. Religious imagery continues to pervade the poem as the hills are compared to “flocks of faith”. This comparison suggests that the hills are also left untouched by the fire just as the sky was. The religious imagery throughout the poem suggests that the fire was nearly a biblical catastrophe, but also relaying an apparent message about a sense of faith echoing in the perseverance of nature.

All through the poem, Walcott highlights the juxtaposition among the perseverance of the natural globe and the destruction of the “wooden” man-made world. He does this by producing a sharp contrast among the immune organic world and the destroyed man-produced planet. The man-made planet is described with a pessimistic tone when he describes the sorrowful destruction from the fire by way of his use of concrete diction and figurative language. Walcott loses his trust in the man-produced world due to how unreliable the buildings were for the duration of the firestorm. This is evident when he expresses that he is “shocked at each and every wall that stood on the street like a liar”. The simile compares the walls to liars as they have failed to stand robust like the speaker believed it would, for that reason, expressing his loss of trust. On the other hand, the organic world is described with an encouraged tone when he speaks about the preserved nature by way of his religious imagery. The religious implications to the sky and the hills introduces the speaker’s realization of the renewal of his faith. The juxtaposition exposes the realization that the speaker has. He expresses via the juxtaposition that he mistakenly lost faith following the man-created planet was destroyed. Additionally, when he notices the perseverance of the hills and sky, he realizes that he must not shed faith due to the destroyed city, simply because the preservation of nature even following the fire symbolized the “baptism by fire”. The fire was no longer seen as destroying the city, but rather purging the city. The fire purified and renewed the city, just as a Christian baptism symbolises. It removed the vulnerable and fraudulent man-produced world and produced hope for the rebirth of the city. The fire markes a new starting of a new founded faith that is not primarily based on the man-made items, but the nature that was preserved.

The semi-autobiographical poem reflects Walcott’s life following the Great Fire of 1948. It reflects how Walcott has lost faith from the fire’s destruction, but then was restored. He expresses his initial feeling of accurate sorrow and hopelessness by means of his wealthy use of figurative language, and uses his concrete diction to express the severity of the death of the city. However, there is a shift in the poem, where the speaker shifts from speaking about the destruction of the city to renewal of a pure city. He shifts from hopelessness to faith getting restored, simply because he realizes that the fire just markes a new starting of a new-located faith.
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