The main theme of ‘‘Good Night, Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning’’ is that of forgiveness. The speaker states that her mother’s words at her father’s deathbed have allowed her to realize that the only way to repair the damage that people do to one another is by forgiving them. The speaker obviously sees her mother’s statement as a declaration of absolution for all of the hard times that no doubt accompany a marriage. To the speaker, this is an awe-inspiring act, one that she feels has wider implications for her father’s return. This very Christian concept of forgiveness and redemption is related to the belief that all the people who have ever lived will be resurrected from their graves and judged when the world comes to an end. This may be the ‘‘morning’’ that the speaker’s mother is referring to. In this sense, the word morning is metaphorical, indicating a spiritual awakening rather than a . . . Read More
‘‘Good Night, Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning’’ is a fifteen-line poem that consists of only fifty-six words. Almost a fifth of the poem is comprised of the title phrase. Additionally, the poem is only two sentences long. The first sentence describes what the speaker has seen, and the second relates what the speaker has subsequently learned.
The first line begins with the speaker stating that she is looking at her father, who is dead. With the finality that accompanies death, the speaker’s mother is described as speaking to her dead husband in a congenial and matter-of-fact tone. Much is made of the fact that the speaker’s mother is not crying; nor is she angry or happy. This stress is derived from the noted absence of any strong emotion aside from the courtesy that would be extended even to a stranger. Rather than cry over his body, bid her husband goodbye, or tell him how much he was loved, the speaker’s . . . Read More
Cervantes has created many images in her poem ‘‘Freeway 280.’’ Reading her poem is almost like watching a slide show or thumbing through the pages of an old photograph album. In using the vivid images, the poet invites readers into her poem through their sense of sight. These images are, however, much more than snapshots. By examining the images and reflecting on the effects they produce, readers gain insights into the deeper meaning of the poem. This is how the images are transformed into symbols.
In the first stanza, Cervantes begins by offering a pleasant image of a potentially quiet and somewhat typical neighborhood—a cluster of small, probably older houses. The houses could be cottages that once belonged to a small town, and then as time went by a larger city grew up around the neighborhood. The first impression this image offers is that of a cozy, picturesque neighborhood. The small houses are graced with flowers, such as climbing roses that hug the . . . Read More
Late-Twentieth-Century Latino and African American Literature
Inspired by the civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, the Chicano movement was developed to promote the civil rights of Mexican Americans. It flourished in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The increasing visibility of Mexican Americans in the fabric of American life, as well as the success of the women’s movement of the 1960s and beyond, produced changes in the American literary landscape. Prior to the 1960s, the majority of the literature that was being published and taught in classrooms was written by Caucasian men. In the 1960s and into the 1970s, however, people began to recognize a need for literature written by a more diverse group of authors that would better reflect the general population of the United States. Publishing companies responded by accepting more poems and stories written by women and minorities. College courses began to spotlight these previously ignored . . . Read More
An image is a representation of something concrete that the mind has in some way experienced. The image creates a mental picture and may also evoke a sensory response in the reader. In ‘‘Freeway 280,’’ for example, Cervantes mentions roses, which might conjure a visual image of a flower as well as the flower’s scent. She also mentions the wind, which cannot literally be seen. When a poet mentions an apricot or a walnut, as Cervantes does in this poem, a reader might not only see the fruit but also might imagine what the fruit tastes like.
Some of the most prominent visual images in this poem are small houses, a cannery nearby, flowers, fruit trees, culinary plants, and of course, the highway. Cervantes uses contrasting images and colors— the red of the geraniums and the green of the grasses, plants, and trees against the gray of the cannery and the wire fence—to suggest the incongruous existence of living . . . Read More
Throughout Cervantes’s poem ‘‘Freeway 280’’ is the theme of renewal. The first incident is presented in the images of the fruit trees and the wild plants that grow in the abandoned plots of land under the freeway. Though the houses have been knocked down to make way for the construction of the highway, the land remains. There are thousands of cars passing overhead, yet under the mass of concrete there exists a natural garden. The more fragile plants, like the roses, as well as the people who once lived on this land, are long gone, but the more hardy plants have risen out of the soil on their own. Rather than becoming a barren piece of land, a plot consisting only of dirt and trash, the earth has renewed itself, sending up healthy plants. These plants are even stronger than before, the speaker states. The plants are not just weeds. They are edible plants that will nourish the people who eat them. But the plants and the people . . . Read More
Cervantes’s poem ‘‘Freeway 280,’’ like the other poems in her collection Emplumada, focuses on the coming-of-age process. Knowing this, readers can imagine a young girl surveying a special section of her old neighborhood, describing what was there when the speaker of this poem was a child as well as what is there now. The speaker describes not only the landscape as she sees it but also the elements and forces of this special place that have formed her. The poem is about place as well as the speaker’s personal development.
The speaker begins by letting the reader know that the neighborhood is not a place where well-to-do families live. The houses that were once there were small, a fact that the poet conveys by the use of a Spanish word. There also used to be industry nearby, which implies two things. Houses built near industrial areas are usually occupied by people who have little wealth. This particular industry was a . . . Read More
Heaney’s ‘‘Follower’’ laments the loss of contact with a tradition of family, of place, and of long ages past that nevertheless sits beneath and sustains his poetical work. The boundary between the traditional way of life that has shaped human culture and modernity was drawn for the educated classes of Europe toward the end of the eighteenth century. The change from tradition to modernity has come to the rest of the world as each place has contacted and absorbed modern Western culture. For Heaney it came when he won a scholarship to St. Columb’s Catholic boarding school in Derry and he was thrust from the family farm into a new world of learning. ‘‘Follower’’ is about the loss of tradition. In fact, the main theme of Heaney’s poetic career is the sense of loss that accompanies moving away from tradition. His poems often focus on the details of his family life in his childhood before his personal break with tradition. He has tried to create an English in his . . . Read More
Heaney’s ‘‘Follower’’ concerns the transition from a traditional way of life to a new way of life embedded in modernity. For Western civilization as a whole, this process began during the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution in the late eighteenth century. For Heaney’s family and for the poet himself, this change occurred in the course of Heaney’s own life and education.
In a traditional culture such as the one in which Heaney grew up in rural Ulster in the early 1940s, most people accepted the culture they were part of as given, not something to be questioned or examined. Life was based on closely held human relationships, not only within families but between individuals of differing classes, such as landowners and peasants, whose interactions created the economic fabric of culture. An individual’s place in society was largely determined by his ancestry, with some exceptions, including peasant boys who became priests or sailors. Almost everyone . . . Read More
Traditionally, poetry in English is marked by a special cadence or rhythm of the language used known as meter. For this purpose every syllable is said to be either stressed or unstressed. The meter consists of the repetition of metrical units known as feet: an iamb, for instance, is a foot consisting of an unstressed followed by a stressed syllable. The most common line of poetry in English is the iambic pentameter, that is, a line consisting of five iambs. It is almost possible to resolve the lines of Heaney’s ‘‘Follower’’ into lines of iambic quadrameter (lines with four iambs), though with a few oddly placed pentameter lines. Given the overwhelmingly iambic character of ordinary spoken English, however, it seems more likely that Heaney is using more contemporary techniques of composition and abandoning meter as an element of the poem. He does use some metrical effects; for example, the last stanza of the poem . . . Read More