A Man I Am by Stevie Smith

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A Man I Am by Stevie Smith (1902-1971) In less than a page, this poem instantly recognizable as the work of its utterly unique author sketches the process of man s evolution from a primitive, violent, wolf-like state to true, spiritually-conscious humanity. The process is at the same time a movement from hate (line 1) to joy (in the penultimate line). The three verse paragraphs describe, in order, the wolflike state, the evolution itself, and finally the evolved state in which man began to feel human emotions and entered a new era. The conclusion of the poem is triumphant: A man I am ; but the poem also says, A wolf I am (not was ), reminding us that the bestial side of man is still present in humanity, not far beneath the civilized, cultivated surface. The repetition of I at the start of the first six lines emphatically announces that the speaker identifies with and still vividly remembers the savage, unredeemed condition he once reveled in ( I seized a little new born child. / I tore his throat. I licked my fang. ) Man can still taste man s blood. The most interesting section of the poem (after the first verse paragraph has grabbed our attention with its impatient hate and violence) is the account of evolution. It s worth paying close attention to this section, which reveals Stevie Smith as a thoughtful Christian evolutionist. The jingly rhymed lines are packed with sophisticated modern theology. After running wild for centuries (or millennia), primitive man, as the poem portrays him, becomes conscious at last of a need for warmth and inner peace: Sometimes I thought my heart would freeze, / And never know a moment s ease . Shortly afterward ( presently ) something like divine grace answers the need of man s heart : the spring broke in / Upon the pastures of my sin . ( Pastures suggests that up to this point man had been grazing, feeding, filling his belly contentedly, on sin.) Man s heart responded to the spring : it bled like anything . Man wept , he knew...
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