David Walcott writes an ode to two giant literary figures of his time, James Joyce and Joseph Conrad. The first two lines mention Joyce was afraid of thunder, but lions roared at his funeral. This speaks to how Walcott views Joyce, as a figure larger than lfie. He has great respect for both men, even mentioning that it is a ‘strong rumor’ that Conrad’s death is exaggerated, as if Conrad could never die because he was immortalized based on what he wrote.
When Walcott mentions the ‘glow of the cigar’ and the ‘glow of the volcano at victory’s end’, I was unsure. The meaning of the glowing cigar is a bit tricky, but I believe it has something to do with enjoyment and refinement when it comes to the better things in life. A cigarette can be smoked quickly, but a cigar is supposed to be savored and last much longer, and much richer in flavor. This description links the better things in life to these two authors, which should be savored by people as Walcott wishes.
The glow of a volcano, like the title of the poem, harkens back to the idea of giant literary importance and presence, that even though these authors are dead, their smolders of their creations like magma and lava that create new islands have burst forth and made greatness still live on. Walcott keeps making references to the word victory, I am not sure if this is historical on some level. Is the victory ironic in the sense that people cannot appreciate these authors anymore and they will eventually be erased from time and lack of interest?
Walcott spends several lines frustrated with the idea of how much effort and skill each author put into working on and shaping their novels and seems to be worried they will be unable to be appreciated.
On the other hand, based on the mention of the ‘zoo’ in the third line, I wonder if these great authors are also caged by certain perceptions the public have pushed on them by critics in passing over the years, which can make famous authors intimidating to read and less accessible.