Harlem Renaissance Poets

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The first poet I chose from the Harlem Renaissance was the American poet, Countee Cullen This 1920s artistic movement produced the first large body of work in the United States written by African Americans. (Brown, 2012) The work, Yet Do I Marvel, took a racial theme, lynching of a black youth for a crime he did not commit. The poem is stark and makes reference to Sisyphus and speaks of how life is a struggle up a never ending stair. It speaks to God as if to wonder why, knowing that God is benevolent he does not stop the unreasoning actions of brutes against, “flesh that mirrors him”, meaning the black race. (Brown, 2012) This line is important as it shows that the black consciousness is coming to recognition of their own worth taken from them during the slavery period and afterwards. The poet sees he is made in God’s image and yet he is questioning why His ways are immune as God allows “awful brains to compel His awful hand”. (Brown, 2012) There is questioning and anger in the piece and it is reflective while it is clear that references to Sisyphus and Tantalus show the poet is educated and his word usage is very well done. These lines show the double-consciousness that was typical of black renaissance poetry as the Harlem Renaissance tried to make sense out of the past and what they were experiencing even after slavery in terms of suffering and racism. Countee Cullen was born in Baltimore, Maryland. Cullen was possibly abandoned by his mother, and reared by a woman named Mrs. Elizabeth Porter, who was probably his paternal grandmother. (Brown, 2012) His real mother did not contact him until he became famous in the 1920s. At the age of 15, Cullen was adopted unofficially by Reverend Frederick A. Cullen and his wife, Carolyn. The Christian upbringing is apparent in the poem as the poet grapples with the issue of why God is good yet bad things and people exist and are persecuting blacks with tortuous deaths. As a schoolboy, Cullen won second prize in a...
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