America as Hughe’s Hope

Langston Hughes’ “Let America Be America Again” works through three stories, the poor white man, the black man, and the immigrant, to address class, race, and borders. The American Dream is more than the house with a white picket fence, two kids, and a dog, which has been tossed aside as implausible. The American Dream is a search for a land that is safe from turmoil inside and outside. This Dream is not particular to Americans or even the human race, but all living beings. A desire for the ability to live and prosper.

America is “Tangled in that ancient endless chain/ Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!” The poor, the black, and the immigrant are divisions created by the exploiters to divide and conquer all. The problems of America are ultimately from greed. Of taking more than you need, more than you could ever use, for the sake of power, at the expense of other people. Of not seeing people as people, but animals to be taken advantage of.

Even though America has not been the land of the free, to Hughes America embodies the hope that one day it will be, with “The land that never had been yet-/ And yet must be – the land where every man is free.” Even though the American Dream of the white picket fence does not exist, the American Dream of the free and safe home still exists as a driving hope.

America is derived from Amalrich, meaning “work-ruler” (Online Etymology). Is America ruled by the working class or a ruler of the workers?

Hughes’ poem ends as a call to action for we the people to reclaim America from “the rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies.” Will America remain in the trope of “Gold, Glory, and God” or become a land of the free?

21st Century Cures in “So We Beat Them”

Ed Shacklee’s “So We Beat Them” is a contemporary poem that questions the choice of punishment as a means to make people better. The continuous use of “one” makes these people distant, genderless, and inhuman. The use of “one” also makes it seem like the punishers only have one more person to fix before the utopia is found. The narrator does not tolerate any of the physical or mental differences other people have.

The first reference to food is when the narrator is shaping people like “pretzels” in order to make them fit a pre-determined box (l. 4). The “wire” can represent several objects, the barbed wire fences of prisons or the wires in braces to straighten teeth. The sounds of a “hammer” links to both an idea of metalwork, that these people must be fashioned into a different shape, and a judge’s hammer, declaring that a decision has been made.

Instead of sympathizing with the challenges these people face, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Tourette’s Syndrome are simplified into “hyper” and “tic” (l. 7). A “rolling pin” is used as a club, but the typical use of a rolling pin as way to roll out dough brings the idea that the narrator wants to flatten and straighten these people out (l. 8).

In the next stanza, “one lived in mother’s cellar” (l. 11). With the presence of “cell” within “cellar” and “mother” preceding and “eggs” following in the next two lines, is the notion of an embryo cell. Coming next to the “manacled” legs, the cell can also be a prison cell as the person is trapped by dependency in mother’s cellar (l. 14).  And “so we beat them in a mixing bowl till minds were scrambled eggs” is the most dramatic food line because it references thought control and eugenics (l. 13). These people are no longer individuals, but globs all mixed together. The imagery of multiple people becoming one shows that people are a like enough to be blended together, but the narrator is in control, and so it shows the control the narrator wields over the public.

The first three stanzas are each one sentence. The last two stanzas are a dramatic switch because they are linked together to make a long sentence, and then the final line is a short sentence. The fourth stanza shifts from physical and mental ailments to religion. The “ankh” is an Egyptian symbol of life, a cross with a handle (l. 18). The crucifix, the ankh, and the shepherd’s crook are all long objects that have been turned into weapons. A sword pointed towards the ground looks like a cross.

Instead of pearly gates, the modern day heaven is “beaches,” which is reminiscent of the desire to take vacations in tropical areas (l. 21). These people wear “uniforms” to show that they are devoid of any personality; they are like workers in a machine (l. 22). Instead of holy water, the modern day purification is “holy bleaches” where chemicals are valued for being able to kill 99.9% of germs (l. 22).

In the last stanza, there is no longer a “so” before “we beat them,” which is a change from a casual manner of talking about what is going on to a definitive action (l. 23). Line 24 suggests that the narrator only punished these people in order to bring them towards enlightenment. But all of this work is usurped by the last line.

The balm of Gilead was from a plant near the Jordan River believed to have healing properties. The term “serpent oil” refers to fraudulent health medicine (l. 25). During the medieval ages, leeches were used for bloodletting, which was a medicinal practice believed to cure most illnesses; they thought removing blood would remove the disease. In reality, people died from blood loss. Although bloodletting is no longer practiced, leeches are still used today, often on burns. While it seems like the balm, oil, and leeches should work to cure people that are different, in reality, they do not.

soWeBeatThem

Herbert’s Optimism in Doom

In Herbert’s “Doomsday,” the first line of every stanza, “Come away,” serves as a calling for all the souls to return to their bodies and come to judgment day. The repetition of “Come away” makes the calling insistent and steady. The only time there is a comma after “Come away,” is on the first line, which is interesting because the subsequent line says to “Make no delay” and a comma provides a pause, a delay (Herbert, 289, ll. 1-2). This pause shows that it takes a moment for the souls to respond to the calling. After this first instance, there are no commas after the first line of the stanzas and so no pause or delay of the souls rising for judgment day.

The “dust to rise” symbolizes the resurrection where the ashes of bodies are being risen for judgment day (l. 3). With the irritation of the eyes in the next line, it is also literal dust being kicked up. The “thy trumpet” is God heralding the souls to judgment day (l. 10). Only this music will cure the soul’s “pains” because it is when the soul will finally know whether it is going to heaven or hell (l. 12).

The “lesson” the souls may have learned is to confess in order to be forgiven (l. 18). When “thy flock doth stray,” it means some souls will be too happy to be back on earth, or know that their judgment will not be good, that they will run away (l. 20). Some souls will be lost when they return to their bodies as the “winds” will scatter their ashes (l. 21). The “friend” could be both fellow ashes as well as living people that will be smothered by the amount of ashes rising (l. 22). The word “vapors” is initially reminiscent of a smell, such as the stink of dead bodies, but it is made concrete into a “plague,” showing that the ashes have become like a plague of locusts (l. 23-4). The “public woe” makes it clear that living people will be extremely bothered by the clouds of ashes being risen (l. 24).

The last stanza shows a large shift from the first stanza, where the action was gradually beginning, to asking God to “Help our decay” (l. 26). This line is calling for an acceleration in action. It can literally mean the decay of dead bodies, which the “parceled out” ashes all over the world would help support (l. 28). However, it could also mean the decay of people’s souls. That Herbert used “Man” instead of dust or bodies, suggests there is something not right with mankind itself (l. 27). It seems mankind’s soul has been split apart because there are different religions all over the world.

If the narrator is speaking about the decay of people’s souls, then the last two lines make more sense as a recognition that people are not united to one religion and that God is ultimately praiseworthy because He will take all of them anyway. If not, the last two lines seem to be abruptly ended because the narrator says how the souls being risen are “broken,” yet God will be praised (l. 29). There is all this confusion going on with souls trying to find their bodies and with the ashes of different people being all mixed together, which makes this judgment day chaotic and disorderly. Yet, the narrator is not questioning this mayhem, but instead has faith in God’s plan.

Herbert, George. “Doomsday.” Seventeenth Century British Poetry. Ed. John P. Rumrich and Gregory Chaplin. New York: Norton, 2006. 289. Print.

Donne’s Garden of Misery

Donne’s “Twickenham Garden” plays with references to the Garden of Eden and imagery of liquids, such as tears and wine, to illustrate the conflict the narrator is under by loving a married woman. Since Twickenham Garden was the “home of Lucy, Countess of Bedford, Donne’s patroness and friend,” the unattainable woman that the narrator loves in the poem is Lucy (Rumrich and Chaplin 29). The poem starts with “sighs” and “tears,” which can be both the signs of the coming spring with wind and rain, as well as the narrator’s own lamentation (Donne 29, l. 1). Donne uses “spring” as both the season and a body of water (29, l. 2). Spring is a happy season because it is the time of the fresh plant life, which is also the time of the narrator discovering his love for Lucy. As a body of water, the spring is the source of the water for a river or creek. The narrator is searching for the source of his unhappiness.

The narrator relates the Garden of Eden to Twickenham Garden by calling it “True Paradise,” because like in the story of Adam and Eve where Satan comes to destroy their bliss, a woeful character, the narrator himself, has come to the garden (30, l. 9). The narrator wishes the garden was frozen in “winter” so that the happiness of the garden would not torment him (30, l. 10). In relation to winter, it would have been better for the narrator’s love to be perpetually frozen, and for the rains of spring to not have bloomed his love, because it will always be unrequited. The narrator returns to the imagery of tears by wishing he was a “stone fountain weeping” (30, l. 18). The stone is an inanimate object and thus cannot feel yet is attributed with the action of crying, which is an expression of sadness. This juxtaposition serves to allude that even if the narrator was a “senseless piece,” he would not be able to get rid of his grief over his unrequited love (30, l. 14). Donne uses “senseless” as both not having physical senses, thus not being able to feel pain, and not having any sense or intelligence as to what is going on, being aware that the narrator loves this woman and not being able to do anything about it (30, l. 14).

In using “crystal vials,” the narrator associates his tears with being an alchemical solution to test the trueness of another’s love (30, l. 19). The narrator is elevating his love as the highest standard of true love by which all other loves should be compared. When the narrator says, “hearts do not in eyes shine,” he is saying that one cannot tell if someone’s love is true by looking in their eyes (30, l. 23). By discrediting another possible test of looking into one’s eyes into the window of their soul, the narrator is selling his tears as there is no other gain to be received from his love. Wine is made from fermented grapes, and so in the narrator saying his tears are “love’s wine” shows that his sorrow has festered by being unable to have his love fulfilled (30, l. 20). It is process to create wine, and the same applies to the creation of his tears. Since he has labored in producing his tears, he makes uses of them by selling them in vials. The narrator’s love is unrequited because Lucy is faithful to her husband as “none is true but she” (30, l. 26). Where other women would be unfaithful and have an affair with the narrator, his love is made more painful by Lucy’s trueness.

Donne, John. “Twickenham Garden.” Seventeenth Century British Poetry. Ed. John P. Rumrich and Gregory Chaplin. New York: Norton, 2006. 29-30. Print.