Annexing the Stars: Walcott, Rhodes, and Venezuela

Illustration by Nathaniel St. Clair

Poet Derek Walcott’s “A Far Cry from Africa” provides a stirring glimpse into the perspectives and policies of British colonialists in the 20th century. Of course, the perspectives it reveals are temporally confined to British colonialism in Walcott’s poem: he was a native of Saint Lucia, a British colony or “possession” in the Caribbean; and he was writing about Kenya, a British colony or “possession” in Africa. But the mindset he reveals could easily be applied to the modern neocolonialists of the American empire, which succeeded the British empire after World War Two.

It was the British from whom the Americans inherited the imperial mandate. Imperialist enthusiast Sir Cecil Rhodes, the infamous South African magnate, understood the mutual interests of capitalism and imperialism, and how the latter was in fact a species of the former. Rhodes passionately believed expansionism was everything in capitalism and in nations. He once remarked, with a disarming frankness, “I would annex the stars if I could.”

Contrast this with a quote from Derek Walcott, who spoke of his native region with a different kind of enthusiasm, “Visual surprise is natural in the Caribbean; it comes with the landscape, and faced with its beauty, the sigh of History dissolves.” How curious a contrast—the native of a country with an embarrassment of natural riches, star-struck by its beauty, who understood it to be a palliative for the…

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