Countee Cullen was an African American writer during the Harlem Renaissance. His poem “Any Human to Another” calls on whites and Americans in general to put aside their racial differences and come together in harmony. Cullen’s reflective and didactic tone is established through numerous rhetorical dev ices.
The first thing one notices when reading the poem is the constantly changing rhyme scheme. Cullen uses a changing meter to emphasize each stanza, making them stand apart but still sound nice together – “diverse yet single.” The whole poem is about this paradox and coming together despite our differences. People need to connect with others and not stay shut up alone in solitude.
Many of the stanzas contain similes to elaborate on the author’s purpose. The first stanza relates sorrow to an arrow that pierces all parts of the body to the deepest core, “through the fat and past the bone.” The second stanza compares blacks and whites to rivers and the sea (fresh and salty water). The last stanza relates grief again to a weapon, calling it a “blade shining and unsheathed [that] must strike me down,” and sorrow to a crown of “bitter aloes wreathed.” The similes in the last stanza mean that although it is sometimes painful and/or unpleasant to share others’ grief, it is still something we must do. There is a metaphor in the third stanza that compares living our lives alone to pitching a tent in solitude, walled into our own little world.
Several times, Cullen uses dichotomies to contrast things that symbolize the whites and blacks. They are compared to “fat and… bone” (stanza 1), “sea and river” (stanza 2), and “sun and shadow” (stanza 3). Despite these obvious differences , the author emphasizes the ability and importance of coming together, like salt and fresh water do in bays and sun and shadow do in some valleys. The fourth stanza employs personification of grief and joy, also showing the dichotomy between them. While joy only favors a few, grief is a common factor shared by all people, and so it is a common ground on which anyone can come together.
Finally, the poem contains Biblical allusions to Romans 12:15-18
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited. Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. This passage talks about sharing others’ grief instead of remaining cut off and apathetic. Cullen shares the author’s wish for peace between unlike people. This ties to the last line, where “my sorrow must be laid on your head like a crown” alludes to Christ’s crown of thorns – because Jesus was a man of the people and was very empathetic; he put into practice what Cullen is calling all Americans to do. Cullen uses allusion, paradox, dichotomy, simile and metaphor, personification, and meter to establish the tone and theme of his poem “Any Human to Another.”