Derek Walcott has never been afraid of risking over-ambition, and 'Tiepolo's Hound' is nothing if not over-ambitious. It's certainly a rare enough thing for contemporary poets to be writing long narrative poems in multiple 'books' or 'chapters', more common, by far, for them to be putting out slim volumes of lyrics which examine a cluster of themes in short takes, and from multiple points of view. Since his long autobiographical poem 'Another Life', through 'The Schooner Flight' and 'Omeros' Walcott has dared to write poems with something of the epic dimension and all the novelist's panoramic breadth and scope. 'Tiepolo's Hound' is no exception.
More like 'Omeros' in its sometimes stiff, high rhetorical style, than 'The Schooner Flight's' half patois / half English vernacular, it is nevertheless a poem of great freshness and beauty. What strikes me most, above all the art-historical machinations of the basic plot, is the delicacy and cadence of Walcott's language. His sensitivity to light, in particular, is remarkable, and his ability to evoke the splendors of the visual world in words. True, Walcott's somewhat Victorian grandiosity occasionally seems overwrought, but what gives this poem its subtle, accumulative power, is its almost visionary absorption into a luminous world of changing colours - whether they be of Paris, Rural France or the Caribbean. Just read it aloud to yourself. It's images and music are hypnotic. Well worth the effort, and a good reminder that there are some things that are better if sustained over a longer distance than crystallized into the smallest possible space. Walcott's poem is almost like a time-lapse film, where the reader is given a privileged perspective on all the changes of illumination - from dawn to dusk. Dazzling.