I Walk among the Rubbled Tales

Spiritual Sunday

On this tenth anniversary of 9-11, I post a poem by Derek Walcott that was written in response to a fire that leveled the town of Castries in Walcott’’s home island of Saint Lucia. The 1948 disaster left 2000 people homeless.

Like 9-11, the Castries fire challenged people’s faith (the poet says that faiths “were snapped like wire”).  But as the speaker walks “among the rubbled tales–each burned home as a story to tell–” he also looks out at the surrounding hills, which are “a flock of faiths.”  “Why should a man wax tears when his wooden world fails?” he asks as he walks “by the smoking sea, where Christ walked.”  After all, each leaf in those surrounds hills is a “green breath rebuilding a love I thought was dead as nails.”

Death and destruction, as awful as they are, hold open the possibility of baptismal renewal.  May we all remember this as we commemorate those who died and think of those who loved them.

A City’s Death By Fire

By Derek Walcott

After that hot gospeller has levelled all but the churched sky,
I wrote the tale by tallow of a city’s death by fire;
Under a candle’s eye, that smoked in tears, I
Wanted to tell, in more than wax, of faiths that were snapped like wire.
All day I walked abroad among the rubbled tales,
Shocked at each wall that stood on the street like a liar;
Loud was the bird-rocked sky, and all the clouds were bales
Torn open by looting, and white, in spite of the fire.
By the smoking sea, where Christ walked, I asked, wh
Should a man wax tears, when his wooden world fails?
In town, leaves were paper, but the hills were a flock of faiths;
To a boy who walked all day, each leaf was a green breath
Rebuilding a love I thought was dead as nails,
Blessing the death and the baptism by fire.


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  • I just found your blog yesterday and from the few posts I’ve read, I already know that I’m going to love it. I am a high school English teacher and I went into teaching because I love, love, love words and the power they have over people and I wanted to be able to share that love with others.

    I had never read this poem before and I can’t get over how wonderfully it fits the events of September 11, 2001. Thank you for sharing it. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

  • Robin Bates

    I’ve expressed my gratitude numerous times, Gretchen, for high school teachers who love literature. I know them by the students who show up in my college classes excited about fiction, drama, and poetry. Your enthusiasm goes a long way. Thank you for all you do.

    I too was amazed by the applicability of this poem to the events of 9-11. The walls that stand on the street seeming like liars–I remember people in New York feeling that way at the time as the structures around them did not seem as firm as they once had. Also, for a while in America, a love was reborn for our countrymen and women that had seemed as dead as nails (and which may seem that way again now).

  • Good Morning Mr. Bates,

    just stopped by to read this post and poem again…
    May your day be blessed…


  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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