The oak inns creak through their joints as light declines
from the ale-coloured skies of Warwickshire.
Autumn has blown the froth from the foaming orchards,
so white-haired regulars draw chairs nearer the grate
to spit on logs that crackle into leaves of fire.
But they grow deafer, not sure if what they hear
is the drone of the abbeys from matins to compline,
or the hornet’s nest of a chainsaw working late
on the knoll up there back of the Norman chapel.
Evening loosens the moth, the owl shifts its weight,
a fish-mouthed moon swims up from wavering elms,
but four old men are out there on the garden benches,
talking of the bows they have drawn, and the strings of the wenches,
their coined eyes shrewdly glittering like the Thames’
estuaries. I heard their old talk carried
by cables across the Atlantic bed,
so that each autumn, after centuries,
their gossip rustles like an orchard
in my own head, and I can still drop their names
like leaves, like familiars, those bastard grandsires
whose maker granted them a primal pardon,
because the worm that cores the rotten apple
of the world, or the hornet’s chainsaw, cannot touch a word
of Shallow or Silence in their fading garden.
Derek Walcott (1930–2017), awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992, published more than forty plays and poetry collections in his lifetime, including White Egrets (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2010) and Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007). For twenty-seven years he was a member of AGNI ’s Advisory Board.
Order AGNI’s limited-edition broadside of Walcott’s “A Sea-Change.” The poem was first published in AGNI 67 and later reprinted in Harper’s and The Best American Poetry 2009.