Coming of Age
‘‘Oranges’’ is the story of a twelve-year-old boy who is crossing an emotional threshold and entering into a new period of his life, facing things that he has never encountered before. This is made clear in the first few words of the poem. The fact that he has never walked with a girl until the events related here indicates to readers that they are about to witness something that will change his life. In doing something for the first time ever, especially in entering into his first adult relationship, the boy is gaining some aspect of maturity.
A literary work about a young person who is entering into a phase of adulthood that he or she has never experienced before is referred to as a coming-of-age story. Such tales often end with the protagonist losing his or her idealism, though as ‘‘Oranges’’ shows, this is not always the case. In this poem, the narrator does pass over from being inexperienced with . . . Read More
‘‘Oranges’’ begins with a narrator looking back at his childhood. He remembers a particular experience of walking side by side with a girl. All that readers know about the two characters in this poem is that he is twelve years old at the time of its events, and that she is presumably twelve or near that. When the poem begins, the narrator is alone, having not reached the girl’s house yet.
In the third and fourth lines, the speaker introduces the oranges that are referred to in the title of the poem. There are two of them, and the boy is on his way to pick up his date, so readers might infer that he means to share the oranges with the girl. They are not represented here as something positive, though, but rather as a burden. In addition, he allows his focus to stray from the poem’s main situation, his first experience with a girl, and instead makes a point of dwelling on the cold weather.
Lines 5 through 7 . . . Read More
Modern readers of Anne Finch’s work take a particular interest in ‘‘A Nocturnal Reverie’’ with regard to its categorization. With the benefit of significant historical and literary hindsight, some scholars regard the poem as an example of the Augustan literature that was so popular in England at the time the poem was written (1713). But others see in the poem glimpses of one of the most influential literary movements to come— romanticism.
From a chronological standpoint, ‘‘A Nocturnal Reverie’’ seems best positioned among Augustan literature. This would place Finch alongside writers such as Alexander Pope, Joseph Addison, Richard Steele, and Jonathan Swift, who are considered great British writers and some of the best satirists ever published. But Augustan literature was not merely biting wit and lengthy verse and prose. Augustan literature paid homage to the Roman Augustan Age, in which language was exalted and treated carefully. Education and . . . Read More
‘‘A Nocturnal Reverie’’ is a fifty-line poem describing an inviting nighttime scene and the speaker’s disappointment when dawn brings it to an end, forcing her back to the real world. It is written in iambic pentameter, a meter that consists of five feet (or units), each containing an unstressed syllable followed by an unstressed syllable. Moreover, it is written in heroic couplets—two lines of rhyming verse in iambic pentameter, usually self-contained so that the meaning of the two lines is complete without relying on lines before or after them.
The poem’s opening phrase is repeated three times over the course of the poem, and originates in William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. It becomes a sort of refrain that pulls the reader through the poem. The speaker describes a night in which all harsh winds are far away, and the gentle breeze of Zephyr, Greek god of the west wind, is soothing. The other winds . . . Read More
Poetry offers readers a multifaceted opportunity to experience the world in a different way. Poetry can create beauty. It can also be witty and entertaining, sometimes even comedic. But perhaps poetry’s most important functions are to educate readers about injustice and to rouse readers to actions that can change the world. On occasion, poetry illuminates what is hidden, ignored, or just so distasteful that it is buried in the reader’s unconscious mind. Throughout much of the twentieth century, racism was one of those topics that too few people discussed and that far too many people tolerated. Poetry is one tool that can lead to discussions about racism, and perhaps, to change. In his poetry, Langston Hughes is able to depict reality in such a way that readers emerge from their reading of his poetry with knowledge about a world they may not have directly experienced in their lives.
A quick and superficial reading of Hughes’s ‘‘I, Too’’ leaves readers with the . . . Read More
The ‘‘New Negro’’ and the Harlem Renaissance
In March 1925, Howard University professor, Alain Locke coined the term ‘‘The New Negro’’ for a special issue of Survey Graphic that emphasized and celebrated the diversity of black life in the United States. Of particular interest to Locke were the many examples of black art, literature, and intellectual thought that heralded a new life for black people and communities. Locke thought that this creative expression was an essential component of a progressive community in which black Americans contributed their talents and would then be recognized as contributing to the formation of one nation. Locke envisioned the ‘‘new Negro’’ as representative of greater self-respect and self-reliance. The new Negro was a black American who contributed to his social and cultural community and for Locke the center of this change was in Harlem.
The influx of southern black Americans . . . Read More
Free verse is verse with no discernable structure, rhyme scheme, or meter. Free verse allows the poet to fit the poetic line to the content of the poem. The poet is not restricted by the need to shape the poem to a particular meter but can instead create a varied or irregular rhythm and syntax, or sentence structure. Free verse is not the same as blank verse, which also does not use a rhyme scheme. Blank verse almost always adheres to iambic pentameter, while free verse relies on line breaks to create a rhythm.
Free verse was a popular style of poetic composition in the twentieth century and it was not uncommon for poets of Hughs’s time to compose in free verse. Whitman, to whom Hughes responds in this poem, is sometimes called the father of free verse. There is no pattern of formal rhyme or meter to ‘‘I, Too’’ and, instead, the irregular line breaks give the poem a songlike rhythm that is most pronounced when . . . Read More
Hughes’s poem ‘‘I, Too’’ explores the duality of identity that defined black life in the United States in the 1920s. Black Americans claimed citizenship in a country that denied black citizens the same rights that were provided to white citizens. The poet claims that he is an American and entitled to the same privileges as all other Americans, including the right to eat with Americans of any racial or ethnic background. ‘‘I, Too’’ shows the poet trying to establish his identity through the progress of the poem. In the beginning of the poem, the narrator embraces his right to sing America, the same as all other people who sing to celebrate America. Ironically, his identity as an American grows stronger each time he is cast out of American society. Each time he is excluded, the process reinforces his identity as an American, until he is finally strong enough to demand that he be recognized as an American. By the . . . Read More
The first stanza of ‘‘I, Too’’ consists of only one line, in which the speaker asserts that he is also celebrating being an American. The title, with its use of the word too suggests that the speaker is replying to another literary work. The emphasis in the line is on this word, since that is the most important word in this four-word line. In fact, ‘‘I, Too’’ is a response to Walt Whitman’s 1860 poem, ‘‘I Hear America Singing.’’ Whitman’s poem celebrates American patriotism. The poet lists a number of different professions, including a carpenter and a mason, all of whom sing about their happiness at being American. Hughes’s response is a reminder that black Americans also form part of this culture. By beginning with the singular personal pronoun, I, Hughes quickly establishes that the poet is also the subject of the poem. He also sings of the greatness of the United States just as Whitman’s singers of the . . . Read More
Though Alice Walker’s ‘‘Good Night, Willie Lee, I’ll See You in the Morning’’ is a meditation on forgiveness and its power, its autobiographical content naturally leads the reader to question what, exactly, is being forgiven. This curiosity arises from the strange context of the forgiveness that is granted. Certainly, it seems that grief and sadness would be the primary expressions expected of a widowed woman sitting beside her husband’s body. Deathbed forgiveness is the realm of the priest, of last rites and the dying man’s repentance, none of which are in evidence in the poem. What has transpired between husband and wife that forgiveness, rather than grief, is at the forefront of this deathbed scene? This question is somewhat erroneous. It is important to note that Willie Lee’s wife does not actually forgive him. Instead, she bids her dead husband ‘‘good night,’’ addressing him as she does in the title of the poem. It is the poem’s speaker, Walker, . . . Read More