March 23, 2017 5:43 AM EDT

When Derek Walcott won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1992, TIME called him the “Bard of the Island Life.” It was an apt description, marrying his devotion to his native St. Lucia with his passion for English, the colonizing tongue that both agitated and animated him.

Over time, Walcott’s short poems (“A Far Cry From Africa,” “The Sea Is History”) became iconic, as did his epic, book-length poems (Omeros, Tiepolo’s Hound). He even made time for impressive work as a playwright and watercolorist.

Although he trotted the globe, his life and work remained tethered to his Caribbean home–and the rhythm, beauty and power of what he called “that grey vault,” the sea.

–SARAH BEGLEY

This appears in the April 03, 2017 issue of TIME.

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