From the Nobel laureate, a book-length poem on two educations in painting, a century apart

"Between me and Venice the thigh of a hound;
my awe of the ordinary, because even as I write,

paused on a step of this couplet, I have never ...
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Tiepolo's Hound

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From the Nobel laureate, a book-length poem on two educations in painting, a century apart

"Between me and Venice the thigh of a hound;
my awe of the ordinary, because even as I write,

paused on a step of this couplet, I have never found
its image again, a hound in astounding light."

Tiepolo's Hound joins the quests of two Caribbean men: Camille Pissarro--a Sephardic Jew born in 1830 who leaves his native St. Thomas to follow his vocation as a painter in Paris--and the poet himself, who longs to rediscover a detail--"a slash of pink on the inner thigh / of a white hound"--of a Venetian painting encountered on an early visit from St. Lucia to New York. Both journeys take us through a Europe of the mind's eye, in search of a connection between the lost, actual landscape of a childhood and the mythical landscape of empire.

Published with twenty-five full-color reproductions of Derek Walcott's own paintings, the poem is at once the spiritual biography of a great artist in self-imposed exile, a history in verse of Impressionist painting, and a memoir of the poet's desire to catch the visual world in more than words.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Awe of the Ordinary: A Poet Sings of Paint

The power of paint -- color, texture, and brushstroke -- is depicted with absolute awe in Nobel Prize-winner Derek Walcott's masterful book-length poem Tiepolo's Hound. Walcott weaves together the biography of painter Camille Pissarro, often referred to as the father of Impressionism, with his own life story as a young poet and painter. Pissarro, like Walcott, was born in the Caribbean islands. As a young man, Pissarro left for Paris, where he influenced Cézanne and mentored many painters. Walcott, who has lived around the world, now splits his time between his native St. Lucia and the United States.

This is a poem about falling in love with art, and numerous gods of painting, such as Tiepolo, Veronese, and Cézanne, are referred to. But that's just the beginning. Colonialism, the Dreyfus affair, and the pain of exile keep popping up, giving the poem a broader historical context. Wide range is a typical feature for Walcott, an acclaimed playwright, director, and teacher who believes poets should try their hand at other projects besides just verse. His individual poems span continents and eras, and his trademark lush lines are anything but minimal.

Here, the interlocked couplets maintained throughout the poem add an extra depth to the lines and provide an overarching structure. In addition, the 25 watercolors reproduced here show Walcott's work as a committed painter and serve as a testament to his view of the importance, for poets, of stretching beyond strict verse.

—Aviya Kushner

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
After writing the Odyssey of his native St. Lucia with Omeros (1990), the epic poem that helped earn him the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature, Walcott has increasingly sought to sensualize the Caribbean landscape within the competing contexts of colonialism, history and Western artistc traditions. The dual narrative of his latest book-length poem looks at these inheritances by intertwining the career of impressionist Camille Pissarro, who was a Sephardic Jew from St. Thomas, with the poet's own quest to revisit a Venetian painting, of a hound, he once saw in New York. As a painter himself, Walcott associates his narrator's artistic island origins with Pissarro's in smooth, masterful couplets: "I still smell linseed oil in the wild views/ Of villages and the tang of turpentine... Salt wind encouraged us, and the surf's white noise." As the poet makes his way toward Venice and "Tiepolo's Hound," his journey mirrors Pissarro's transition from St. Thomas to Europe. Place names serve as the poem's focal points, forming an extended near-sestina: the names Pontoise; Paris; the Seine; St Thomas's Dronningens Street and Charlotte Amalie; and the ubiquitous "Tiepolo's ceiling" appear again and again. While the repetitions give a powerful sense of cultural geography, Walcott is not committed to giving us his characters's whole story, but rather a sort of embellished art-history-in-verse, as he imagines Pissarro in Paris, or how Pissarro would have painted slaves, "the umber and ebony of their skin." The narrator's eventual reunion with the painting thus proves something of an anti-climax, as he hasn't generated enough psychological tension to sustain an epic. Still, Walcott's majestic linguistic vistas will be more than enough to carry readers through gorgeously imagined encounters with painters, painting and the visual nostalgia of the exile. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
By now, it is well established that 1992 Nobel prize winner Walcott has at two modes: the lyric, ambiguous with painfully self-contradictory messages about art and history, and the narrative, which is necessarily less self-embraided and more direct. This is a new book-length rhymed narrative poem, a kind of successor to Walcott's Omeros of 1992. Storytelling in poetry is very difficult, especially when, as here, there are two interwoven stories to be told, that of Camille Pissaro and of the poet himself, both natives of the Caribbean; it is very difficult for the reader not to be caught and held by the musicality of lines such as "The backfiring engine of the vaporetto/ scumbled the reflection of her palaces,// the wake braided its hair; now I would get/ the roaring feast with its fork-beaded faces." Walcott's long artistic voyage is superbly written, though it does not contain the surprises and self-contained pleasures of his shorter poems. For most collections.--Graham Christian, formerly with Andover-Harvard Theological Lib., Cambridge, MA Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Fred D'Aguiar
A septugenarian at the height of his poetic powers, Derek Walcott confirms in Tiepolo's Hounds that his famous derone is the finest tuned instrument in English on the world poetry scene...The book is arguably the publishing industry's most beautiful product this year, and trimphantly tactile in an age of Internet everything. Included in the book are twently watercolors by Walcott.
Times Literary Supplement
Adam Kirsch
Walcott's poetry is his true testament, the record of his victorious struggle with language and history, and the epigraph to that testament can be taken from Walcott himself: "It is the language which is the empire, and great poets are not its vassals but its princes."
Times Literary Supplement
Kirkus Reviews
Winner of the 1992 Nobel Prize in Literature, the prolific Walcott has also won the Queen's Medal for Poetry, the Guinness Award for Poetry, and a Royal Society of Literature Award, among many other honors. He was the recipient of a five-year fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation and is an Honorary Member of the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. A native of St. Lucia, West Indies, he continues to make his home there, and teaches at Boston University during the academic year. He is the founder of the Trinidad Theater Workshop. The New York Shakespeare Festival and the Negro Ensemble Company have produced his plays, one of which won an Obie Award. He has published nearly 20 books of poetry and co-authored, with Joseph Brodsky and Seamus Heaney, a collection of essays honoring Robert Frost. The present volume, a book-length narrative poem composed entirely of couplets, follows the interwoven journeys of Walcott himself and fellow Caribbean Camille Pissaro, an artist who left the islands in the latter half of the 19th century to study painting in France. Their voyages are studies in impressionism, when `all was paint and the light in paint.` Even when he has set aside the artist's brush and taken up the poet's pen, Walcott can `still smell linseed oil in the wild views of villages.` And in presenting the biographical details of Pissaro's life, he gives us their essence, not merely the `walled facts.` Walcott has the ability to reconcile European and island influences in a way that is enriching to both cultures. An artist himself, his painterly techniques are brought to bear in this masterful, lavish, and detailed work.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781466880481
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 9/9/2014
  • Sold by: Macmillan
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 1,191,801
  • File size: 6 MB

Meet the Author

Derek Walcott was born in St. Lucia in 1930. His Collected Poems: 1948-1984 was published by FSG in 1986; his subsequent works include the book-length poem Omeros (FSG, 1990) and The Bounty (FSG, 1997). He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1992.

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


They stroll on Sundays down Dronningens Street,
passing the bank and the small island shops
quiet as drawings, keeping from the heat
through Danish arches until, the street stops
at the blue, gusting harbour, where like commas
in a shop ledger gulls tick the lined waves.
Sea-light on the cod barrels writes: St. Thomas,
the salt breeze brings the sound of Mission slaves
chanting deliverance from all their sins
in tidal couplets of lament and answer,
the horizon underlines their origins—
Pissarros from the ghetto of Braganza
who fled the white hoods of the Inquisition
for the bay's whitecaps, for the folding cross
of a white herring gull over the Mission
droning its passages from Exodus.
Before the family warehouse, near the Customs,
his uncle jerks the locks, rattling their chains,
and lifts his beard to where morning comes
across wide water to the Gentile mountains.
Out of the cobalt bay, her blunt bow cleaving
the rising swell that racing bitterns skip,
the mail boat moans. They feel their bodies leaving
the gliding island, not the blowing ship.
A mongrel follows them, black as its shadow,
nosing their shadows, scuttling when the bells
exultwith pardon. Young Camille Pissarro
studies the schooners in their stagnant smells.
He and his starched Sephardic family,
followed from a nervous distance by the hound,
retrace their stroll through Charlotte Amalie
in silence as its Christian bells resound,
sprinkling the cobbles of Dronningens Gade,
the shops whose jalousies in blessing close,
through repetitions of the oval shade
of Danish arches to their high wooden house.
The Synagogue of Blessing and Peace and Loving Deeds
is shut for this Sabbath. The mongrel cowers
through a park's railing. The bells recede.
The afternoon is marked by cedar flowers.
Their street of letters fades, this page of print
in the bleached light of last century recalls
with the sharp memory of a mezzotint:
days of cane carts, the palms' high parasols.


My wooden window frames the Sunday street
which a black dog crosses into Woodford Square.
From a stone church, tribal voices repeat
the tidal couplets of lament and prayer.
Behind the rusted lances of a railing
stands the green ribbed fan of a Traveller's Tree;
an iron gate, its croton hedge availing
itself of every hue, screeches on entry.
Walk down the path, enter the yawning stone,
its walls as bare as any synagogue
of painted images. The black congregation
frown in the sun at the sepulchral dog.
There was a shul in old-time Port of Spain,
but where its site precisely was is lost
in the sunlit net of maps whose lanes contain
a spectral faith, white as the mongrel's ghost.
Stiller the palms on Sunday, fiercer the grass,
blacker the shade under the boiling trees,
sharper the shadows, quieter the grace
of afternoon, the city's emptiness.
And over the low hills there is the haze
of heat and a smell of rain in the noise
of trees lightly thrashing where one drop has
singed the scorched asphalt as more petals rise.
A silent city, blest with emptiness
like an engraving. Ornate fretwork eaves,
and the heat rising front the pitch in wires,
from empty back yards with calm breadfruit leaves,
their walls plastered with silence, the same streets
with the same sharp shadows, laced verandahs closed
in torpor, until afternoon repeats
the long light with its croton-coloured crowds
in the Savannah, not the Tuileries, but
still the Rock Gardens' brush-point cypresses
like a Pissarro canvas, past the shut
gate of the President's Palace, flecked dresses
with gull cries, white flowers and cricketers,
coconut carts, a frilled child with the hoop
of the last century, and, just as it was
in Charlotte Amalie, a slowly creaking sloop.
Laventille's speckled roofs, just as it was
in Cazabon's day, the great Savannah cedars,
the silent lanes at sunrise, parked cars
quiet at their culverts, trainers, owners, breeders
before they moved the paddocks, the low roofs
under the low hills, the sun-sleeved Savannah
under the elegance of grass-muffled hooves,
the cantering snort, the necks reined in; a
joy that was all smell, fresh dung; the jokes
of the Indian grooms, that civilising
culture of horses, the fin de siècle spokes
of trotting carriages, and egrets rising,
as across olive hills a flock of pigeons,
keeping its wide ellipse over dark trees
to the Five Islands, soundlessly joins
its white flecks to the sails on quiet seas.
The white line of chalk birds draws on an Asia
of white-lime walls, prayer flags, and minarets,
blackbirds bring Guinea to thorns of acacia,
and in the saffron of Tiepolo sunsets,
the turbulent paradise of bright rotundas
over aisles of cane, and censer-carried mists,
then, blazing from the ridges of Maracas—
the croton hues of the Impressionists.


On my first trip to the Modern I turned a corner,
rooted before the ridged linen of a Cézanne.
A still life. I thought how clean his brushes were!
Across that distance light was my first lesson.
I remember stairs in couplets. The Metropolitan's
marble authority, I remember being
stunned as I studied the exact expanse
of a Renaissance feast, the art of seeing.
Then I caught a slash of pink on the inner thigh
of a white hound entering the cave of a table,
so exact in its lucency at The Feast of Levi,
I felt my heart halt. Nothing, not the babble
of the unheard roar that rose from the rich
pearl-lights embroidered on ballooning sleeves,
sharp beards, and gaping goblets, matched the bitch
nosing a forest of hose. So a miracle leaves
its frame, and one epiphanic detail
illuminates an entire epoch:
a medal by Holbein, a Vermeer earring, every scale
of a walking mackerel by Bosch, their sacred shock.
Between me and Venice the thigh of a hound;
my awe of the ordinary, because even as I write,
paused on a step of this couplet, I have never found
its image again, a hound in astounding light.
Everything blurs. Even its painter. Veronese
or Tiepolo in a turmoil of gesturing flesh,
drapery, columns, arches, a crowded terrace,
a balustrade with leaning figures. In the mesh
of Venetian light on its pillared arches
Paolo Veronese's Feast in the House of Levi
opens on a soundless page, but no shaft catches
my memory: one stroke for a dog's thigh!


But isn't that the exact perspective of loss,
that the loved one's features blur, in dimming detail,
the smile with its dimpled corners, her teasing voice
rasping with affection, as Time draws its veil,
until all you remember are her young knees
gleaming from an olive dress, her way of walking,
as if on a page of self-arranging trees,
hair a gold knot, rose petals silently talking?
I catch an emerald sleeve, light knits her hair,
in a garland of sculpted braids, her burnt cheeks;
catch her sweet breath, be the blest one near her
at that Lucullan table, lean when she speaks,
as clouds of centuries pass over the brilliant ground
of the fresco's meats and linen, while her wrist
in my forced memory caresses an arched hound,
as all its figures melt in the fresco's mist.
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Interviews & Essays

Barnes & Noble.com: Tiepolo's Hound traces the life of Impressionist painter Camille Pissarro. What attracted you to Pissarro as a subject?

Derek Walcott: One evening a long time ago, at the place I was staying, we were talking about painting and Caribbean painting and the subject of Pissarro came up. And we discussed whether he was a West Indian painter because he was born in St. Thomas. Of course, he then went to Venezuela and Paris. Should he or should he not be considered a Caribbean painter?

You never know how things begin. I think I wanted to write about the difficulty of painting and the excitement of painting in the Caribbean -- the relationship of light. I had an idea of parallel troughs or furrows that you might see in the side of a hill in a Pissarro landscape -- and that suggested Pissarro. And I wanted to do something about the closeness of painting to poetry.

Barnes & Noble.com: Early in the book you refer to your "awe of the ordinary." Is that an essential trait for poets? Is it a trait that connects poets and painters?

Derek Walcott: There's a little pun in there about "awe" and "ordinary" -- a very bad pun. The striving of all art is toward an essential simplicity, especially as you get older.

What invests with awe is not cathedrals necessarily, but what Larkin and Rilke say -- a glass of water, a stone. The same process is there with painting. One is not so much creating but simplifying. A raindrop is ordinary. Some painters concentrate on very simple things, like Morandi doing bottles all his life or Cézanne doing another set of apples. The awe of that is in the simplicity.

Barnes & Noble.com: TIEPOLO'S HOUND weaves together so many elements: the life of Pissarro, Tiepolo's work, descriptions of numerous paintings, plus references to colonialism, the Dreyfus affair, the Bible -- and of course, personal history. How did you begin? How does one construct an "epic" poem?

Derek Walcott: I'm not crazy about the word epic, which sounds ambitious. The fact that something seems to be growing is very exciting. It gives your life a sense of purpose. Once you have the rhyme scheme, it's very pleasant. I think it grows out of itself. The constant emblem and the image of the furrow, and the fact that you're writing in couplets -- out of that rhythm, different things come.

The two lines may be suggestive of a river with two banks and two furrows, and that generates the momentum of the poem. Once you have the frame, it's like ventilation, or a window. You can let in anything.

I believe very firmly in the frame. Any subject may change as it progresses, but the building and the carpentry is very exciting. That's very exciting for me -- maybe not for other writers, but for me. The thing that releases me is that I'm not an American or an Englishman. I'm a Caribbean writer.

Barnes & Noble.com: I'm interested in your own paintings, which are reproduced in this book. How long have you been painting? What is the relationship between your work as a painter and as a writer?

Derek Walcott: I've been painting quite a long time -- all my life. My father used to draw, and he was a bit of a watercolorist. I have a friend in St. Lucia who's a professional painter. We did a lot of plein-air painting together. I don't have any great opinion of my painting, I just hope I can do a very good job. It's very hard to paint light. And when it's done right, in Homer or Sargent, it's masterful.

Barnes & Noble.com: There are numerous references to punctuation here, such as the father pausing "in the parentheses of the stairs" and that beautiful line on the first page -- "like commas/in a shop ledger gulls tick the lined waves." Is there a connection between these references to punctuation and the references to paint? Do you view these as the materials of poems, like the stroke of a hound for painting?

Derek Walcott: The idea of the gulls ticking off lines as if they were marks on parallel lines, it's a kind of dimension of the reality of the physical vision of letters. Rimbaud said, "Letters have color."

In terms of the physical thing, a lot of that is contained in the poetry. Two arrows can suggest trees or chimneys. Since I write in longhand, the physical reality of the letters is close to painting. The "parentheses of the stairs" is just the two banisters and the person in the middle.

Barnes & Noble.com: Two passages early in the book caught my attention -- "Everything blurs. Even its painter," followed two pages later by "What should be true of the remembered life is freshness of detail." Is this book an attempt at capturing freshness of detail?

Derek Walcott: A lot of it is memory and autobiography. It's also the same thing. The thing I began to admire most about Pissarro was the excitement of his surfaces and what he did breaking up the strokes as if it were handwriting, almost. In paint, you have to have the exact tint, not just color. It's not only a matter of getting the color right. There's another excitement of getting the texture right, exactly. That's what keeps painting fresh.

Barnes & Noble.com: How would you like readers to read your book?

Derek Walcott: I'd like them to hear it as a very quiet conversation between me and the reader, not disturbed by anything extraneous. Then the intimacy would come across, and the reader would give me the indulgence of listening.

It doesn't have to be read all at once. It would be nice if the book would be put down and then returned to a few days later for another session. Just like in a gallery, when there is the leisure of looking.

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