The term free verse is a catchall phrase for poetry that is not written in any sort of metrical form, which is the mindful arrangement of words according to their stressed and unstressed syllables, often in defined patterns. ‘‘Good Night, Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning’’ is written in free verse. Other attributes typical to poems written in free verse are that they do not rhyme (or do so in irregular patterns), have erratic line breaks, and are written in colloquial, or everyday, language. All of these characteristics are also found in ‘‘Good Night, Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning.’’ This style, which is actually a calculated lack of style, is typical of the time period in which the poem was written. Free verse was extremely popular with American poets throughout the middle period of the twentieth century.
Enjambment defines the way in which lines of poetry end and begin. The arrangement of the line breaks affects the way the poem is read, both silently and aloud. This is because the line breaks make the eye pause as it scans the page. This minute pause, although barely discernible, affects the poem’s rhythm. In some cases, this pause can also affect the meaning of a poem. For instance an example of such an occurrence is ‘‘I ran over the cat / with my hands / petting him until he purred.’’ At the first line, the reader would reasonably expect the phrase ‘‘I ran over my cat’’ to mean that the cat had been hit by a car. However, the subsequent two lines make it clear that this is not the case. If the line had read ‘‘I ran over the cat with my hands,’’ this misunderstanding would not occur. In this manner enjambment allows poems to contain dual, even opposing meanings, thus evoking varying reactions and emotions in the reader over the course of a single poem. In ‘‘Good Night, Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning,’’ this stylistic device is used to similar effect between lines 1 and 2, in which it is not clear whether the speaker’s father is dead or not. The same effect occurs between lines 7 and 8, in which the title statement is made. Based on the line break, the speaker’s mother could very well be about to tell her husband ‘‘I’ll see you in hell’’ (a common enough saying that readers could reasonably expect it). Instead, the mother says something else entirely. The rhythm of the entire poem is also dictated by its enjambment. Its fitful stops and starts, especially at the end, give it a breathless feeling, yet they also give ‘‘Good Night, Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning’’ an authority of declaration or proclamation.
”Good Night, Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning’’ is an autobiographical poem. In the case of this poem, the autobiographical nature is exceedingly obvious. Walker’s father was indeed named Willie Lee, and the speaker in the poem gives her father the same name. Notably, Willie Lee died in 1973, and Walker’s poem was first published two years later. The effect of autobiographical poetry is that it is more intimate and personal than other types of poetry. This tone makes the reader feel as if he or she is being spoken to directly, and it also lends an additional aura of truth and honesty to the poem. As an autobiographical poem, ‘‘Good Night, Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning’’ is a legacy left by the heyday of confessional poetry, a style that was immensely popular in the 1950s and 1960s. This poem, however, has much more emotional control and avoids any overly shocking content, two common hallmarks of confessional poems.
Poetry for Students, Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Commonly Studied Poetry, Volume 30, Alice Walker, Gale Cengage Learning, 2009