HR Poem Themes and Analyses


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Who used rivers as a symbol of an Af. Am. culture that stretched past slavery?
Langston Hughes, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers"
Why does Hughes use the Euphrates?
- river that is associated with the dawn of human civilization
- a dig since the first civilization wasn't white people
Why does Hughes use the Congo?
reminder that African culture started in Africa
Why does Hughes use the Nile?
another African river, but it's associated with a civilization that was one of the greatest in human history and was African
Why does Hughes use the Mississippi?
- closely linked to slavery
- slaves and goods were transported along the river
In "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," whose death does the speaker allude to and how?
Lincoln, hear the singing of former slaves as the body of the "Great Emancipator" floats by
Describe the meaning of the muddy bosom in "The Negro Speaks of Rivers'
- equates the river with Af. Am.
- bosom is the metaphor, referred as motherly and nurturing
- muddy part is metaphoric, refers to skin color
- bosom of the river turns golden in the sunset
What does the sunset refer to in "The Negro Speaks of Rivers"?
the end of slavery, people become golden after slavery
Why does Hughes repeat "I've known rivers"
refers to a collective consciousness, "I" is the African and Af. Am. civilization as a whole
Explain the significance of the line "My soul has grown deep like rivers"
- they flow through time like river, stretching beyond boundaries
- understand the world through experience
In "I, Too" what does the single person represent
a larger group (all Af. Am.)
What does the black man forced to eat in the kitchen refer to?
the segregated nature of Af. Am. society
What is the tone of "I, Too"?
hopeful, alludes to some future day when the speaker will not be expected to eat in the kitchen
Why the kitchen in "I, Too"?
- heart of domesticity, one of the places in a slave-owning household where white people rarely went
- reinforces the stereotype Hughes tried to break
Describe the theme of inclusion in "I, Too"
- poem begins and ends with "I, too."
- "Tomorrow," white people will include him and feel ashamed he wasn't before
Hughes sings in America because
he believes in that greatness
What does Hughes singing relate and allude to?
- Walt Whitman's "I Hear America Singing" (celebrates the complexity of US)
- Hughes is a part of that voice
Despite being segregated
"I" will persevere
In "Refugee in America," why is the speaker a refugee?
to show the feeling that you are not a part of the society you live in
Why are Freedom and Liberty capitalized?
They are big concepts, lofty ideals that we aspire in America
Freedom and Liberty are two words worthy of
happiness and tears
Why is Freedom not capitalized in line 3?
the speaker refers to himself and freedom, as a refugee, he doesn't have freedom yet so the word stays in lowercase
What is the second stanza of "Refugee in America" about?
empathy, if the reader and white people knew the life he lived, they would cry over Liberty too
What are the two connotations of crying over Liberty?
- crying for sadness over the liberty the speaker doesn't have, which they would understand if they knew what he knew
- tears of joy, an appreciation of the liberty many Americans did have that the speaker thinks they don't appreciate
What type of sonnet is "From the Dark Tower" in?
petrarchan sonnet (ABBAABBA-CCDDEE)
The first 8 lines state the ___, the last 6 lines state ___
problem, solution
The octet focuses on
what "we" shall NOT do or deal with in the future that we are dealing with now
What is unusual about the octet in "From the Dark Tower"?
presents the problem as something we will not do in the future, offering the negation to show the situation
First two lines of "From the Dark Tower" have what imagery that is similar to Bontemps?
sowing and planting
In the next two lines of "From the Dark Tower," what does the speaker say they will not put up with?
lesser, petty men who think less of their brethren and hold them as "cheap"
What does Cullen finish the octet with?
saying we are not made to weep forever, to continue to be subjected to treatment that makes us weep
"From the Dark Tower" has the same mentality that we see in what other poem?
Hughes' "I,Too"
Much of Cullen's poem is about
self-worth and strength, making one's own path
Cullen focuses on the need for self-determination, especially when
he says "not always bend" and "not always countenance" (repetition of the stem and the theme of negation)
The sestet of "From the Dark Tower" focuses on the contrast of
color, mostly black and white
Why is the natural world often held up as an example?
it doesn't have many of the prejudices of the human world
White is by definition not better than black because
the stars shine bright and white but it doesn't make the black of the night sky ugly
Cullen translates the light of the stars to the light of the sun (still whiteness), but he says
there are some flowers (multiple colors) who cannot bloom in the light and do so under the dark sky
At the end, Cullen returns to darkness and the planting and harvesting analogy, but darkness hides
pain and anguish suffered, tending our "agonizing seeds"
What are the two ways the seeds are agonizing in "From the Dark Tower"?
- because of the planter's condition
- because it shows the agony they will bring to the future
Like Hughes' use of the kitchen in "I, Too," Bontemps
uses a readily recognizable image of slavery as a central metaphor (field work, planting, harvesting)
How does the meaning of "A Black Man Talks of Reaping" transcend farming?
- others steal work done by those who do work
- speaker works tirelessly, but the fruits of his labor don't go to his family and are stolen by his brother's sons
What does the first stanza of "A Black Man Talks of Reaping" stress?
the work the speaker has done throughout his life
What quote from "A Black Man Talks of Reaping" can be used to show the work the speaker has done his whole life?
"I have sown beside ALL waters in my day"
What fable does an awareness of the future in "A Black Man Talks of Reaping" relate to?
Ant and Grasshopper
The speaker fears the fruit of his labor will be taken by nature, so what does he do?
plants deeper, inputs more labor
The speaker is aware that lean years are coming, so he has to
prepare for the future
What do "my brother's sons" refer to in "A Black Man Talks of Reaping"?
- white society
- Af. Am. plant crops and much of the menial labor in the country
- majority of society benefits from the process
What does glean mean in "A Black Man Talks of Reaping"?
scrape the remaining bits of grain from the land left after harvest
What do bitter fruit represent in "A Black Man Talks of Reaping"?
- crops are no longer theirs
- the embitterment of Af. Am. society
The second stanza of "A Black Man Talks of Reaping" mentions
length of labor, planting from Canada to Mexico
What does the singular speaker in "A Black Man Talks of Reaping" represent?
slaves and sharecroppers who had much to do with the farm labor in the US with little to show for it
What poem does Claude McKay write?
"The Tropics of New York"
"The Tropics of New York" is about a different kind of Af. An. experience
an immigrant who has come from Africa or the Caribbean
What feelings does McKay focus on?
melancholy and longing for the speaker's homeland
Describe the contrast between the tropics and NYC
tropics are idyllic, peaceful, and comfortable while NYC is crowded, busy, and bustling
Food is a good representation of
culture, specific to regions
How is food an allusion to immigrant communities?
they often gather at ethnic fairs and festivals in America
What are some examples of religious imagery in "The Tropics of New York"?
- parish fairs
- benediction over nun-like hills
- bowing head and weeping
The second stanza of "The Tropics of New York" continues the imagery of ___ and adds in imagery of ___
food, tropical paradise (with "dewy dawns and mystical blue skies")
How does the speaker in "The Tropics of New York" see his homeland as Edenic?
images of purity and innocence in a land that is "blessed by God"
What does "The Tropics of New York" focus on in the last stanza?
less about food, speaker longs for his home that is less complicated and hectic than the American one he lives in now