Summary: Difference Between Modern and Postmodern Features

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The poems A Far Cry From Africa and Indian Reservation: Caughnawaga reveal the emotional commotion and distress of the poets because of the incidents and events happened in their homeland. A Far Cry from Africa is from Derek Walcott’s first major collection of poems In a Green Night. ‘The poem is written at the backdrop of Mau Mau Uprising, an extended bloody battle during the 1950s between European settlers and the native Kikuyu tribe,’ according to (Thakur, 2015,p.1). The poet has both African and European roots as he is divided in two, so is the poem. The first two stanzas refer to the Kenyan conflict with the colonizers, while the following stanzas address the war within the poet not knowing which part to choose. Similarly Indian Reservation :Caughnawaga is one of the famous poems by Abraham Moses Klien who was a Modernist Canadian writer. As per Rosmovits (1988),in the poem Klien depicts the corrosive impact of the western culture has effect on the Red Indian’s traditional life style. Klien laments the extinction of the ancient Red Indian race in the first stanza and the following stanzas describe the degradation of their civilization since, they are lured by commercial western culture. Therefore, the poet mourns that ‘Their past is sold in the shop,’ (lines 22). So, this essay will analyse the features of Modernism and Postmodernism features present in A Far Cry From Africa and Indian Reservation :Caughnawaga.

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Firstly it exposes one of the Postmodernism feature the conflict of the identity in both the poems when the poets go through due to their state of dilemma. Derek Walcott’s A Far Cry from Africa depicts the pain of a man who stands in between two cultures. Throughout the poem he continues his quest to get an identity of his own, but at the end, his endeavour remains futile. According to Azam (2016), the poet’s hybrid heritage prevents him from identifying directly with one culture and creates a feeling of separation. He has been given an English tongue which he loves on the one hand, and on the other, he cannot tolerate the brutal slaughter of Africans with whom he shares blood and some traditions. His conscience forbids him to favour injustice so, he is in the state of indecisiveness and trouble. Hence, he wishes to see peace and harmony in the region. Moreover the last stanza of the poem contains so many lines where we see that the poet himself complicates his search for a legitimate identity. Nevertheless, he can neither turn away from his English identity, nor from his African ancestry. ‘I who am poisoned with the blood of both, where shall I turn, divided to the vein?” (lines 26-27) . Whereas, A. M. Klien’s Indian Reservation: Caughnawaga, Red Indians are losing their exceptional tradition and culture since the colonizers have ensnared them by their commercial western culture. The poet feels the loss of identity and grieves the extinction of Red Indian race and their civilization. The poet longs to see brave Indians whose faces are like ripe autumn fruit, monosyllabic chief who spoke with his throat and feathered bestiaries who resemble mythical animals. The poet feels sense of complete loss and hopelessness when his race adopt modern French names, convert themselves into Christianity and no longer wear bronze jewels. He completely loses hope when the relics of Red Indian civilization have become profitable commodities in the market. Thus, both the poems depict split and loss of identity throughout the poems resulting isolation and alienation.

Secondly ambiguity is another feature of Postmodernism. It can mean when the poem has multiple interpretations and when something is not clear. Walcott’s A Far Cry From Africa, the title of the poem is very ambiguous in nature. The title in one sense suggest that the poet is writing about an African subject from a distance. Writing from the island of St. Lucia, he feels he is at a vast distance both literally and metaphorically from Africa. Another possible explanation of the title may be the contrast between the beautiful setting of the African veldt and the bloody violence that occurred there. The other can also mean the cry of violence in Kikuyu is blown by the wind from the distant lands of Africa. It can also mean the paradox that African paradise has been tampered with and is actually the sight of inhuman slaughters. Furthermore Rahul (2017) states that A Far Cry from Africa is actually a journey of Walcott to determine his own identity. However as the poem progresses we find that his search becomes more complicated as he himself falls in an ambiguous state, from where there is no way out.

The stream of consciousness is the other feature of Postmodernism. It is a description of a poets thoughts, feelings and reactions like continuous thought like flow. It is consistently used during the modernist era. As per Hamilton (2002), ‘ Modern writers wrote in more individualistic and opinionated first person tone,’ (p.5). Similarly, both the poems are written in free verse consisting of inconsistent lines and stanza length. There is also presence of anaphora ‘How can I ..’ in the beginning of some lines in Walcott’s poem and Klien’s play of words such as ‘colonel – colonial’ and ‘British as brutish’ make the poem a newly created. Moreover, the use of informal structure in both the poems cause the poem to look stilted and disjointed whereby mirrors the feelings expressed in the poem. Thus, the structure of the poem emphasizes the main emotional dilemma and disorder in the poem like the thought process.

One of the Modernist features found in Walcott’s and Klien’s poems classify them as Modernist is based on psychological themes. Walcott’s, A Far Cry From Africa explores psychological condition and confronts emotional conflict which remains unresolved because the poet can neither side with English nor Africa. The poem exposes the conflict and internal commotion the poet goes through as he fails to answer the central question. Since, this theme is over achingly psychological therefore it is considered as Modernist. Likewise, Klien’s Indian Reservation: Caughnawaga also depicts psychological themes such as the poet being hopeless and feels heightened sense of loss when Red Indians preferred western culture than their unique tradition and culture. He has a great sense of hatred to the colonizers and wishes to escape their harsh world and regarded his countrymen as mere ghost who are easily trapped by white people. Therefore, the presence of psychological themes in both the poems qualify them as modern poems too.

Moving to universality is another modernism feature found in both the poems. Hamilton (2002) states that Romantic poets dwell on their own experiences of beauty of the world around them. Unlike Romantics Walcott and Klien moved toward considering modernist poetry a way for understanding the world around them, not simply a way of reflecting on their unique experiences. In their poems they tried to make sense of the world and happenings around them based on the real situation. The poets discuss and reveal some people and events from their history. They voiced in their poems to stop colonization since the colonization issue was throughout the world because the White have colonized most of the countries in the world.

Both poems reveal extreme upheaval of emotions of the poets showing sense of loss and sense of hopelessness because of the events occurring in their motherland. However, considering and analysing the above features found in both the poems expose that the poems hang between Modernism as well as Postmodernism like Eliot’s Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock. Postmodernism traits such as splitting of self, ambiguity and stream of consciousness are seen in Walcott’s A Far Cry From Africa and Klien’s Indian Reservation: Caughnawaga. In addition to that, Modernism traits such as moving to universality and poems depicting psychological themes are also found in both the poems. Therefore, it is found that both the poems can qualify as modern as well as postmodern poems.





  1. Azam, I. (2016). Ambivalence in Derek Walcott’s poetry: a comparative study. International
  2. Journal of English Language, Literature, IV (V), 341-349.
  3. Hamilton, S. (2002). How is the poem the love song of J. Alfred Prufrock modernism? Retrieved
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  5. Rosmovits, L. (1988). A. M. Klien and modernism (Master’s Thesis, The University of McGill,
  6. Montreal). Retrieved from
  7. Sharma, K. N. (2013). A far cry from africa by Derek Walcott: summary and critical analysis.
  8. Retrieved from www.bachelorand americanpoetry/afar-cryfrom-
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  10. Thakur, S. (2015). Walcott’s a far cry from africa: an exposition of the conflict of culture and
  11. identity. International Journal of English Language, Literature, III (V), 726-732.
  12. Submitted by Tenzin Wangmo Student Number SC/PGDE/170305

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