6 March 2013
Similarities and Differences between “Yet Do I Marvel” and “If We Must Die”
During the Harlem Renaissance, many African Americans struggled through a shifting period in time from slavery to equality. Some African Americans expressed their feelings at that time through poetry such as “Yet Do I Marvel” written by Countee Cullen and “If We Must Die” by Claude McKay. In “Yet Do I Marvel” Cullen writes about how the struggles he is facing relate to God and how he is being punished. McKay’s poem is slightly different; he emphasizes the idea of dying an honorable death for his freedom. These two poems are classic examples of how some African Americans felt during the Harlem Renaissance. Both of these poems depict oppression and some form of punishment but they also have different tones and inclusion of God revealing the way they felt in this era. Both of these poems depict several punishments relative to the punishment they are trapped in. During their lifetimes, the writers of these poems had to live through racial discrimination and unequal rights. These served as long term punishments for all African Americans in the United States at this time, but they were not the only punishments Cullen and McKay focused on in their poems. Cullen makes several references to punishments throughout his poem, one example being, “Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus/ Is baited by fickle fruit, declare” (5-6). In this quote Cullen is noting the mythical punishment given to a Greek named Tantalus. Tantalus was condemned to stand up to his neck in a pool of water he couldn’t drink with fruit in sight that he could not reach. Another example of punishment in Cullen’s poem is, “If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus/ To struggle up a never-ending stair.” (7-8). Sisyphus, the King of Corinth, was condemned to eternally roll a large boulder up a hill according to Greek myth. Cullen puts these punishments in his poem in...