Kigak The Harlem Renaissance was a splendid awakening of African American writing which stressed equality. He believes that in order to cuklen enjoy life, it must be shared with others. Even the newborn baby has felt hunger pangs. When talking about civil rights, this theme can be associated. Only the Polished Skeleton The heart has need of some deceit To make its pistons rise and fall; For less than hyman it would not beat. Surely, Xountee said, Now will the buman sing.
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What one line sings, another often very different line echoes. In doing so, Cullen places the speaker of the poem in the position of Christ, and engages in a subtle reversal of the Biblical passage. In this community of pain, the poem implies, all are bound together and, in hurting blacks, whites only hurt themselves. The poem enacts a delicate balance between awareness of the injustices done to blacks by whites, and a desire to move beyond that antagonistic relationship toward one of peaceful, colorblind equality.
It is a dilemma which W. One ever feels his two-ness—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. As a poet, Cullen experienced this inner conflict even more acutely. For Cullen, a Harvard-educated scholar, his response to this dilemma throughout his career took the form of his identification with the dominant tradition of white American and European poetry, in contrast to contemporary black poets like Langston Hughes who found their inspiration in the native African-American tradition of spirituals, blues, and jazz.
By asserting his alliance with Anglo- American literature , Cullen was staking his claim as a writer who refused to be restricted by the color line. The lesson, the poem suggests, is that such an escape is never possible. Houston A. Baker, Jr. What is the task of the Black American author and by what standards is he to be judged? If this query is placed in an historical context, it is relatively easy to gaze back on turn-of-the-century America and see that the odds were stacked against the Black writer who decided that he would give an unflinching portrayal of Black America, that he would make no compromises, and that he—like William Lloyd Garrison —would be heard.
There were simply too many Jim Crow laws and lynchings and too few courageous publishers for such honesty to exist. And Black creativity, which was to flower in the s, faced many of the same handicaps. The age that witnessed the deportation of Marcus Garvey , the heroic but unsuccessful efforts of James Weldon Johnson to secure the passage of an anti-lynching bill, and the arrest of Ossian Sweet was scarcely one of interracial harmony.
Some make it appear that the Harlem Renaissance was a self-willed affair, springing forth from the Black American consciousness like Athena from the brow of Zeus. If one adds to this fact the growth of an educated Black reading public, it is not difficult to understand why many writers of the fifties and sixties looked upon Wright as a paradigm for Black literature and included the s in the nonage of their tradition.
The space assigned to Cullen seems describable as a dimly lit and seldom-visited chamber where genteel souls stare forth in benign solicitude. But critics are often embarrassed by the poet who is out of step with the age, as though someone had brought out a picture of a nonpartisan ancestor and shown it to their most committed colleagues.
There follow tacit dismissals, vague apologies, and overweening defenses. Of course, the disconcerted responses of Black critics faced with the life and work of Countee Cullen are predicated upon certain progressivistic assumptions; e. The romantic mode implies a world charged with wonder and suspends the laws of probability—there is unlimited expectation. Though piety and devotion are operative, the prevailing motive is love. What we have, then, is not a difference in degree but one in kind.
To apply the standards of a socially oriented criticism to Countee Cullen and dismiss him is to achieve no more than a pyrrhic victory. To expect the majority of his work to consist of the type of idiomatic, foot-tapping, and right-on stanzas that mark much of the work of Langston Hughes and Don Lee is not only naive, but also disappointing.
Moreover, to search always for the racial import in the writings of an artist who believed the poet dealt or, at least, should be able to deal above the realm of simple earthly distinctions is to find little. To examine the writings of Countee Cullen in detail, however, and attempt to understand both his aesthetic standpoint and the major ideas in his poetry is to move closer to an intelligent interpretation of both the man and the tradition to which he belongs.
The starting point of such an examination is the realization that every notable author in the Black American literary tradition, Cullen included, has been dependent to some extent on the white American literary establishment—that complex of publishers, patrons, critics, scholars, journals, and reviews that can either catapult a writer to success or ignore him.
Ferguson in Countee Cullen and the Negro Renaissance]. In the fall of , Cullen entered the M. This post turned into a career. He never ventured very far from the Methodist parsonage in which he grew up in New York. A foster child, drawn into this shelter at an early age, he continued to cherish it gratefully. One can see how Cullen would be considered the exception in an age that brought Wallace Thurman, Bontemps himself, and a host of others from all over the country to seek fame and fortune in Harlem.
Cullen was already there. Moreover, he was the first to achieve monumental success as an author and to substantially express what many of the Renaissance writers felt. Cullen is old-fashioned, I think, only to the revisionist who feels he must divide the past into neat blocks and firmly ensconce his favorites.
In many ways, the Harlem Renaissance was simply the artistic extension of the socio-political activities of Black Americans during the s. Its end was integration into the mainstream, and its means were not very different from those of white creative artists. Financial success, acknowledgment by literary figures such as H. Countee Cullen was not out of step with his age when he gratefully received any of these. And unlike a number of Black American authors, Cullen refused to be wooed and won by white patrons.
And if his detractors stuck to these charges, there would be little conflict. Cullen to show through the interpretation of his own subjectivity the inner workings of the Negro soul and mind. And by that very gauge a measure of his gifts and powers as a poet may be taken. The old forms come from his hands filled with fresh beauty.
Cullen was not destined to go unsung like Toomer nor was he subject to the kind of disillusionment that overtook Hughes. One of the most accomplished literary representatives of a majority point of view, he received both the lavish and, at times, inordinate praise and the ironical discomfort that accompany such a position. With the wisdom of hindsight, one might glance back on Cullen—and the Harlem Renaissance in general—and talk of the myopia of the s.
Many Black American artists and critics felt the millenium had arrived. While this was certainly not true, it seems excessively critical to speak of their faulty vision. Like James Weldon Johnson, Cullen was interested in liberating Black American poetry from the shackles of the past and in developing a strong literary tradition.
A firm tradition could be established only if the writer exercised meet selectivity. Cullen says: Let art portray things as they are, no matter what the consequences, no matter who is hurt, is a blind bit of philosophy. There are some things, some truths of Negro life and thought, of Negro inhibitions that all Negroes know, but take no pride in.
To broadcast them to the world will but strengthen the bitterness of our enemies, and in some instances turn away the interest of our friends. This enjoinder was not prescriptive, however; unlike Jessie Fauset and others, Cullen did not believe the field of the Black artist should be severely limited. His statement is a call for what all fine art must possess—authorial discretion.
The specific subject matter is the choice of the individual artist. Cullen never urged Black writers to turn away from the ghettoes of the land and lose themselves in learned epithets. In , he said [according to Stephen H. Bronz in his Roots of Negro Racial Consciousness]: In spite of myself … I find that I am actuated by a strong sense of race consciousness. This grows upon me, I find, as I grow older, and although I struggle against it, it colors my writing, I fear, in spite of everything I can do.
There may have been many things in my life that have hurt me, and I find that the surest relief from these hurts is in writing. And in an interview for the Chicago Bee during the following year, he said: Most things I write, I do for the sheer love of the music in them. Somehow or other, however, I find my poetry of itself treating of the Negro, of his joys and his sorrows—mostly of the latter, and of the heights and the depths of emotion which I feel as a Negro.
The apologetic tone of these statements is considered gratuitous by our own generation, but in a poet as concerned with widening the horizons of the Black author as Countee Cullen, the sentiments are genuine. Cullen himself wanted to be an accepted poet, and he hoped that his example and advice would lead to the instatement of others in the hall of acknowledged American authors. He realized that from one point of view his task was far from simple.
His apologies can surely be seen as lamentations that America produced a kind of schizophrenia in the Black artist and made it impossible for him to translate his highest ideals into a unified and consistent body of poetry that would rank with the canons of John Keats and Percy Shelley. Moreover, they can be viewed as his painful realizations that the Black man is often so scarred by his experiences in America that it is difficult for him to sustain the romantic point of view that Cullen felt most conducive to poetry.
The question here is not disillusionment, but having all roads blocked from the outset. A fine, militant racial poem is sometimes followed by popularistic verse urging a hedonistic Black existence, and skillful lyrics detailing the beauty of spring precede the most trite and unimaginative stanzas on despair.
Cullen was certain that he did not want to be hemmed in—that he wanted to be accepted as just a poet—but he was not sure what constituted the most daring and accomplished freedom for an American author who happened to be Black. He is always on the defensive or the offensive. The pressure upon him to be propagandic is well nigh irresistible. These conditions are suffocating to breadth and to real art in poetry. In addition he labors under the handicap of finding culture not entirely colorless in the United States.
If we condemn him for his lack of independence and his rise to fame through the agency of noted American critics and periodicals, we are forced to do the same for a host of others.
If he is upbraided for his lack of directness and his reliance on a longstanding tradition, our evaluation of the entire corpus of Black American poetry must be modified.
It is possible that we are now whirling about fiercely in the maelstrom of a Black poetic revolution, but a careful view of Countee Cullen brings doubt. There is much continuity between the career of the Harlem Renaissance poet and the generations that have followed. As one glances from Cullen to present works and back, it is sometimes hard to tell the difference. In short, Cullen offers a paradigm in the Black American creative experience, and summary appraisals of his work lead to obfuscation rather than the clarity we so sorely need.
He wrote a number of outstanding romantic lyrics and contributed racial poems that will endure because they grant insight into the Black American dilemma. Davis, Arthur P. Garraty, John A. Shucard, Alan R. Norton Company, , pp. This section of a book on civil liberties concentrates on the problems faced by political dissenters, especially radical labor activists. It provides an interesting look at a sector of society too often left out of regular histories.
Schwarz, Jordan A. Knopf, Turner, Darwin T. Poetry for Students.
Any Human to Another
His life story is essentially a tale of youthful exuberance and talent of a star that flashed across the African American firmament and then sank toward the horizon. When his paternal grandmother and guardian died in , the year-old Countee LeRoy Porter was taken into the home of the Reverend Frederick A. There the young Countee entered the approximate center of black politics and culture in the United States and acquired both the name and awareness of the influential clergyman who was later elected president of the Harlem chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People NAACP. During the s, Harlem was an enormously stimulating milieu for African American intellectuals. The high hopes of the black community for acceptance and equality had turned to disillusionment at the end of World War I, when returning black soldiers all too often experienced unemployment and were otherwise mistreated. Resentment pulsated through black urban centers like Harlem, which had burgeoned during the war as black workers migrated there to fill jobs temporarily vacated by the diversion of white laborers into the military.
Essay on An Analysis of Countee Cullen's Any Human to Another
He produced poetry that celebrates his African American Heritage, dramatizes black heroism, and reveals the reality of being black in a hostile world. In "Harlem Wine," Cullen reveals how blacks overcome their pain and rebellious inclinations through the medium of music Shields James Weldon Johnson said that Cullen was always seeking to free himself and his art from these bonds Shields Cullen was born in a primarily white upbringing; therefore he had no experience in African culture or heritage and was confused. His African heritage concerns him; yet, because he must adapt to the orders of a mostly white culture that is not concerned with his cultural origins.