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I

And then there was no more Empire all of a sudden.

Its victories were air, its dominions dirt:

Burma, Canada, Egypt, Africa, India, the Sudan.

The map that had seeped its stain on a schoolboy’s shirt

like red ink on a blotter, battles, long sieges.

Dhows and feluccas, hill stations, outposts, flags

fluttering down in the dusk, their golden aegis

went out with the sun, the last gleam on a great crag,

with tiger-eyed turbaned Sikhs, pennons of the Raj

to a sobbing bugle. I see it all come about

again, the tasselled cortege, the clop of the tossing team

with funeral pom-poms, the sergeant major’s shout,

the stamp of boots, then the volley; there is no greater theme

than this chasm-deep surrendering of power

the whited eyes and robes of surrendering hordes,

red tunics, and the great names Sind, Turkistan, Cawnpore,

dust-dervishes and the Saharan silence afterwards.

II

A dragonfly’s biplane settles and there, on the map,

the archipelago looks as if a continent fell

and scattered into fragments; from Pointe du Cap

to Moule à Chique, bois-canot, laurier cannelles,

canoe-wood, spicy laurel, the wind-churned trees

echo the African crests; at night, the stars

are far fishermen’s fires, not glittering cities,

Genoa, Milan, London, Madrid, Paris,

but crab-hunters’ torches. This small place produces

nothing but beauty, the wind-warped trees, the breakers

on the Dennery cliffs, and the wild light that loosens

a galloping mare on the plain of Vieuxfort make us

merely receiving vessels of each day’s grace,

light simplifies us whatever our race or gifts.

I’m content as Kavanagh with his few acres;

for my heart to be torn to shreds like the sea’s lace,

to see how its wings catch colour when a gull lifts.

Lost Empire

Derek Walcott

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