Thursday, May 14, 2009

Poem Comparison: Harlem Renaissance


Question 1

(Suggested time — 40 minutes. This question counts as one-third of the total essay section score.)

The following two poems establish controversial views of the challenges African Americans faced while trying to achieve their dreams during The Harlem Renaissance Era. Read each poem carefully. Then compose a well organized essay in which you compare and contrast the differing methods each speaker uses to convey their ideas. Use analytical techniques such as tone, point of view and syntax to develop these ideas.

From the Dark Tower

We shall not always plant while others reap
The golden increment of bursting Line fruit,
(5) Not always countenance, abject and
That lesser men should hold their
brothers cheap;
Not everlastingly while others sleep
(10) Shall we beguile their limbs with
mellow flute,
Not always bend to some more subtle brute;
We were not made eternally to weep.

(15) The night whose sable breast relieves the stark,
White stars is no less lovely being dark,
And there are buds that cannot
(20) bloom at all
In light, but crumple, piteous, and fall;
So in the dark we hide the heart that bleeds,
(25) And wait, and tend our agonizing seeds.

Meta-cognative- Paired Poetry Assignment

In order to create the paired poem prompt, I first needed to find two poems that would compellingly match one another. After conducting research I discovered two poems titled “From the Dark Tower” by Countee Cullen and “As I Grew Older” by Langston Hughes. Both of these poems originated from the Harlem Renaissance Era and they deal with the difficulties African Americans faced in society beginning during the 1920’s. Hughes and Cullen attached these ideas in two different methods; however, the underlying messages were quite similar.

When I first read the poems, I noticed how both speakers identified the tremendous challenges all African Americans were confronted with. The speaker of “From the Darker Tower” identifies as someone who endures this struggle as well because he states, “we were not made eternally to weep,” (14) which not only proves that the speaker is an African American but also builds trust between the readers and the speaker by showing that he too is feeling the brutal pain of discrimination and that they are all alone in this battle. The speaker of Hughes’ poem uses the pronoun “I” such as in the line, “…I have almost forgotten my dream. But it was there then, … And then the wall rose…” (2-7) and although this establishes the fact that he too is an African American, it shows the readers the struggle of an individual opposed to that of the struggle for the entire race.

I also felt that the poems were intriguing and insightful because of the differences they shared and how the use of different symbolic objects can convey similar message. For instance, originally, I did not realize the connection between the titles of the poem however; “From the Darker Tower” and “A I Grew Older” bring about an idea of viewing life from different perspectives. Not only the difference in viewing life from different perspectives based on race -“Darker” - but also in terms of age. As one ascends higher up a tower, one sees an area from a different point of view, just as when one ages, -“Older,”- he understands things about life in a better light. The poems are also different in the sense that I thought of Cullen’s poem as a building point for the central ideas discussed in the poems and Hughes’ poem to follow his ideas, which showed how African Americans continued to struggle many years later. Cullen’s poem began with a more historical view of the lives of African Americans by saying, “we shall not always plant while others reap,” (1-2) which introduced the topic of slavery and how in the early years of African American history, African slaves were brought to America to pick cotton for white plantation owners and although the slaves worked tirelessly, their masters reaped all of the benefits. This progression theory continues as Hughes’ poem begins by saying “It was a long time ago. I have almost forgotten my dream. But it was there then … And then the wall rose, Rose slowly…” (1-8) Hughes’ poem follows the theory of how they began picking cotton that they did not benefited from as they slowly lost their dreams. Eventually, all they could see were their masters or other whites blocking them from ever achieving success. They would continuously be trapped behind this wall of hatred and discrimination.

I feel that a range of essays can be crafted from the comparison of these two poems if the readers also focus on the use of light and dark imagery in both of the poems. For instance, the speaker in Cullen’s poem says, “and there are buds that cannot bloom at all/ in light, but crumple, piteous, and fall; /so in the dark we hide the heart that bleeds” (20-24) which connects with the lines of Hughes’ poem that states “…my dream…bright like a sun…and then the wall rose … Rose until it touched the sky-- The wall. Shadow. I am black…” (2-16) In these lines, both speakers use light as a way to signify a distant, but yet joyous dream, where as darkness signifies a dreary shadow over that same dream of prosperity. This dark imagery hides the pain and sorrow felt in Cullen’s poem and in Hughes poem; it forces the speaker to see the shadow of a black man, which reminds the speaker of how far way the dream is.

The prompt is written in a way that allows for various essays to be composed because it gives the readers background information about the two poems, which could aid a reader who has a lot of knowledge in the Harlem Renaissance Era or knowledge that pertains to preceding eras such as the Civil Rights Era to formulate a broader range of ideas. In addition, the prompt also guides the readers in understanding the poem because it can become difficult to connect the central ideas of the pomes because they are approached in different ways. However, the prompt notes how the poem’s structure can lead to a better understanding of the poem, such as the various punctuations used. For example, Cullen’s mainly uses commas and semicolons to accentuate the subtle way in which the speaker conveys his point, where as Hughes’ poem uses exclamation points to express the anger in the speaker’s voice. A reader could advance his essay also by possibly seeing a connection between the actions of civil rights leaders Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X to Cullen’s poem emphasis of a passive approach to conquering these challenges by “wait[ing], and tend[ing] our agonizing seeds” (25-26) such as Dr. King would have chosen, however, Malcolm X would have taken the aggressive approach such as the one discussed in Hughes’ poem, “…My dark hands! Break through the wall!”(22-23)

The prompt is formulated in an AP style with the usual directions as to the proper length of time a reader should spend on this portion of the exam and the caution one should take in reading through the poems. Also the section’s layout is quite accurate because the poems are aligned next to one another which visually aid the readers in understanding the more subtle aspects of each poem, such as the abrupt lines in Hughes’ poem emphasize anticipation, while Cullen’s longer sentences express the speaker’s patience in waiting for a change. The footnotes are also useful because they reference to the collections in which the poems were taken from and a reader who may have knowledge on those topics would be able to better understand the speaker’s point of view.

Cullen’s poem, “From the Darker Tower” and Hughes’ poem “As I Grew Older” create a unique match because of the methods each speakers uses in order to convey the ideas of oppression and the mistreat African Americans faced. Although the main ideas of each poem are not complex, the symbolic meaning behind the text and the imagery used is extremely powerful and forces the readers to closely analyze the poems, in order to create an outstanding essay.

As I Grew Older

It was a long time ago.
I have almost forgotten my dream.
But it was there then,
Line In front of me,
(5) Bright like a sun—
My dream.
And then the wall rose,
Rose slowly,
(10) Between me and my dream.
Rose until it touched the sky--
The wall.
I am black.
(15) I lie down in the shadow.
No longer the light of my dream
before me,
Above me.
Only the thick wall.
(20) Only the shadow.
My hands!
My dark hands!
Break through the wall!
Find my dream!
(25) Help me to shatter this darkness, To smash this night,
To break this shadow
Into a thousand lights of sun,
Into a thousand whirling dreams
(30) Of sun!


-- Countee Cullen

“From the Darker Tower.” Copywright © 1927 by Countee Cullen from My Soul’s High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen.


--Langston Hughes

“As I Grew Older.” Copywright © 1930 by Langston Hughes from Judith S. American Decades: 1920 - 1929. New York : Gale Research, 1996.

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