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”Heritage” by Countee Cullen Essay

This poem is titled “Heritage” and is by Countee Cullen (for Harold Jackman). The social issue that motivated Cullen to write Heritage is the oppression that blacks faced and their eagerness to go back to the place that their ancestors were taken from. In the poem Cullen reflects the urge to reclaim the African arts, during this time, the Harlem Renaissance, blacks called this movement negritude. Cullen depicts the negro speaking on the view of Africa, by the all negroes. In the poem, Cullen uses auditory imagery, organic imagery, and visual imagery.

Cullen uses auditory imagery to draw his readers in to hear what he hears. The meaning of this poem is to take the reader on a journey of what the negro felt about Africa. Line 12-30, the negro explains that he hears large animals all about and how he can hear the birds of the sky sing. He also explains the sounds of drums that he can hear. Drums in Africa were used for one or two reasons, either celebrations or during war time. This literary device was effective because Cullen captivated what the negro would have heard had he been in Africa.

Then Cullen uses organic imagery to draw his readers in to feel what he felt. The usage of this literary device was to show the reader what the negro was feeling when Africa was the thought. In line 22-30, the Cullen uses many metaphors that all tie and have a connection. For example, “So I lie, fount of pride, dear distress and joy allied, is my somber flash and skin, with the dark blood damned within like great pulsing tides of wine that, I fear, must burst the fine channels of the chaffing net.” Blood from within refers to the negro not being able to change himself from being black. The metaphor is relating wine to blood, pulsing tides to veins, and chaffing net to the heart.

Lastly, Cullen uses visual imagery draws the readers in to visually see what the negro sees when he thinks about Africa. Cullen uses this literary device effectively because the reader is able to connect with the negro when thinking about Africa. First, Cullen opens with an unanswered question. Then in lines 1-10, Cullen begins to help us visualize what Africa looks like through the eye of the negro. He goes to the scenery of Africa by referring to it as the copper sun and scarlet sea. In this allusion, he is describing the reflection of the sun on the water. The negro also spoke about the people of Africa. “Strong bronzed men, or regal black women from whose loins I sprang when the birds of Eden sang.” Women from whose loins I sprang, he’s talking about the queens of Africa. Strong bronzed men referred to the men who looked like himself during this time, and “…one three centuries removed,” referred to the slave trade. The negro definitely takes the reader on tour of Africa to see, hear and feel everything that he did.

In conclusion, the poem was used as a key to unlock some of the thoughts the negro had concerning Africa. The negro in this poem was a representative of all negroes during this time; their thoughts and the their feelings toward Africa. Cullen’s usage of the literary devices allow for an effective expression of the meaning of this poem. Poems are intensified language of experience, so the devices assured the connection of the reader to the poem and the experience. This applies to many issues in society today because as beautiful as our country is there are still dark clouds that cover the very essence of what the states once stood for.


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