Comparing Racism in “Yet Do I Marvel” and “Harlem”


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Comparing Racism in “Yet Do I Marvel” and “Harlem”

Both Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes were poets of the twentieth century. The poem “Yet Do I Marvel” is a sonnet poem by Countee Cullen, an American poet, which was published in 1925 as part of his collection Color. The poem attempts to answer the question, “why would a loving God let so much suffering into the world. In the final part of the poem, the speaker talks about his own experiences. He questions God for creating a poet of color at a time of extreme racial prejudice. Cullen remains to be one of the most renowned poets during Harlem Renaissance, which adds to the power and poignancy of the poem. On the other hand, Langston Hughes the poem “Harlem” was one of his most renowned poem of the twentieth century, an era that followed the abolition of slavery. “Harlem” also known as “A Dream Deferred” talks about the possible negative things that follow when a people’s wishes or dreams do not work out, especially when they could have contributed to their happiness. The poem employs poetic techniques. Both poets employ various poetic techniques including metaphors, similes, and others to bring out the theme of racism. This essay compares and contrasts Countee Cullen’s “Yet Do I Marvel” and Langston Hughes’s “Harlem” in terms of the themes of racism as well as discusses the poems’ setting, literary techniques, including metaphors, similes, assonance, rhetorical questions, and imagery.

Themes of Racism in the Poems

In Cullen’s poem Yet Do I Marvel the theme of race does not come up until the final line of the poem. The speakers spends the first lines setting the stage for the last minute general conversation concerning God and suffering due to concerns for black poets at the time. In the final line, the poet says, ‘To make a poet black, and bid him sing!” In this line, the speaker’s curiosity about racism becomes intense than in the rest of the poem. At this point, it becomes evident the point that the speaker is really after. The point that the speaker is trying to put across is that the fact that God can create black poets only for them to get disrespected in the world they live. The speaker refers to the lack poet as being curious and marvel. Although he does not categorically state that readers can deduce that the expectations of white society contradicts the expectations of those people of color. Being a black poet is fighting an uphill battle against racism, exclusion, and stereotypes. Cullen lived at a time of intense prejudice against people of color. People of color were not expected to be make art or be educated. Notably, although Cullen came to be of age at a time when black artistic and intellectual revival, he himself did not have a lot of black poets to look up to.

Similarly, Hughes also touches on racism in his poem “Harlem.” The speaker in this poem is evidently a black poet. To understand the context, people of color at this time were being fed with dream about equality and equity although the dreams never came true. He wrote the poem in the twentieth century at a time when the slavery system had just being abolished. However, despite this, people of color were plagued by its legacy that essentially deemed them second-class citizens, as the ideas of racial segregation and discrimination still remained rampant in most societies. Black people were sold to a dream and it was impossible for them to experience an equal society. Their dreams never came true. They were sold dreams of justice, equality, indiscrimination, freedom that were never fulfilled. They were postponed, deferred, and delayed.

Additionally, both poets employ various literary devices in their poems. For instance, in Cullen’s Yet do I Marvel, the speaker employs literary devices including such as alliteration, imagery, and juxtaposition, while Hughes uses devices including simile, imagery, metaphors, assonance, rhetorical questions among others. In Yet do I Marvel, the speaker uses imagery in the line that says, “The little buried mole continue blind, /Why Flesh that mirrors Him must someday die.” Alliteration is evident in the mention of the words “God” and “good” in the same line (line 1) and “stair” and “struggle” in line 8. Juxtaposition is evidenced in the how the speaker contrasts the images in the poem. For instance, in the way the speaker speaks about God and then proceeds to describe a mole; one of the tiniest and non-important creatures in the world. Similies in Hughes “Harlem” is experienced in the statements “like a raisin in the sun” and “does it stink like a rotten meat.” Metaphor is employed to evoke feelings in the statement, “Or doe it explode.” Hughes uses the rhetorical question, “does it stink like a rotten meat, “; a statement that also doubles as a metaphor. Assonance of the /e/ sound is evidenced in the ‘Does it stink like rotten meat” line and the /o/ sound in the line that says, “Or fester like a sore.” While both poems employ imagery in their poems, evidently, Hughes’ poem has more literary devices than Cullen’s poem.

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