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The poem A Poem for Black Hearts by Amiri Baraka is written in free verse and is consisting of 27 lines which, in a way construct and epitomize an image of Malcolm X. The poem commemorates him and his stature as the “black god of our time” while subsequently persuading African American men to continue the fight for civil rights. Malcolm’s essence is made fragmented by the speaker for each part of his body is given high significance so as to create an image of a fallen leader who became an icon for all black men.
At the same time as the poem is not only for those who have black hearts, as it is also intended to be for Malcolm’s eyes which have the capability to break the “face of some dumb white man” by challenging his authority. The speaker emphasizes that the poem is also for Malcolm’s words, which were described and symbolically renamed ‘fire darts’ to emulate that his flaming words including the rhetoric of war and were carefully aimed at the enemy.
The speaker feels that Malcolm was assassinated, believing that Malcolm was murdered for voicing out his outrage against racism and encouraging the people to conduct political action when it is deemed necessary. In addition, the poem is for Malcolm’s heart, for his love for his fellow black men and his pleas for the African American dignity, life, and education. Finally, the poem is intended to be for all of those people like him [Malcolm] who are dead and all of him remembered which clings to African American political and cultural rhetoric.
The speaker incites that he intended his readers particularly the black men to quit “stuttering and shuffling”, “whining and stooping” and to “look up”. Instead of accepting their defeat, black men should raise their heads with dignity and see Malcolm as their greatest example of African American pride, masculinity, and political activism. In the closing lines, the speaker, challenges the black men to “let nothing in [them] rest” until Malcolm’s death has taken vengeance.
He furthers his promise of retribution by showing his word of honor as that “if we fail to avenge Malcolm’s death, let us never breathes a pure breath.” At this point, the speaker wanted the black men to look deeper into Malcolm’s eyes, words, heart, and dignity as well as his desire to change the world so that the voices of black men can continue to speak and act within the space Malcolm helped create.
On the other hand, Michael S. Harper’s public elegy entitled Dear John, Dear Coltrane serves as an elegy to a jazz musician and the legacy which he was able to share through his music. The poem mimics the form of Coltrane’s jazz novelty through depicting his image of bodily death. The elegy focuses on the man’s death and the progress of his music from immediate and alive to reproduced and commodified from the time of his permanent absence. The poem undermines the communication that venerates John Coltrane’s music by making it a big issue whether or not there is a possibility that music of a dead person will serve as an aesthetic to the black’s culture. The poem uses bodily and at the same time cultural images of reproduction calls and attention which later leads to the creation and reproduction of jazz.
The poem focuses on the physical image to bring Coltrane’s jazz to another venue while still squarely within the body. In the line “Sex fingers toes,” the speaker uses the word sex which may be connoted to have a double meaning. This should be read as both the act and the genitalia to bring into line the body with the sexuality embodied by jazz music. Sex as genitalia can be connected later on through out the poem: “There is no substitute for pain/genitals gone or going,/seed burned out.”
The speaker here shows how genitals failed to connect with the music, with the pain that could have produce both movement and desire. The bodily pain which speaks of slavery can also be seen: “turn back, and move/ by river through swamps.” The pain of having been slaves, which eventually led to their attempt of escaping through the swamps of the south, is comparable to the pain from which the blues stems. Thus, the poem connects the blues with all of its ties to slavery and a specific African American aesthetic. The end of the poem shows the end of Coltrane’s life and tells the bodily experience of dying which later proved to be too great for Coltrane to produce jazz.
In the poem, the movement of the music with the help of the radio clearly shows the people’s movement to being slaves towards their freedom. This represents the new route to the people’s ultimate freedom however, that route will always go back to the musician and his music. As it created links between jazz as a mode for liberation, it elegizes the death of a man who created jazz. The poem builds a relationship between Coltrane’s reproductive organs and his creation of jazz. The poem eulogizes the musician himself, not only “Dear Coltrane” (the music) but also “Dear John” (the man). Without the man, the figure of the body, even jazz as revolutionary as Coltrane’s remains an empty aesthetic.
More so, Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth, which is connoted to be a modern elegy, maintains the aspects of ancient an elegy which is composed of both personification and lamentation. The author also uses the conventional form of a pastoral elegy rather than adapting the epic form in writing his poem.
Owen also describes that the prayers and church bells as “mockeries” and directly imply that no matter how grand, immortalizing or well attended a funeral ceremony is this will not be able, in any way, to bring back the dead. This opposes the former known form of elegy which is called the pastoral elegy, which attempts to immortalize the dead, either through words or through divine imagery. The audience cannot be consoled with merely the hope of immortalization and bringing back the dead on some distant plane of human thought.
Rather than to personify the nature of mourn the deceased, Owen uses the sound of falling shells to create an image of sorrow. These shells are causing death, so it is strange that they should mourn for the dead as well. Owen personifies machines in the course of the poem instead, and these machines cannot alleviate grief since they are the ones which caused it. The speaker in the poem implies no difference between weapon and life because neither among the mentioned can mourn the dead for us.
The words used in the course of the poem is different from the other elegies in different types since it uses more of the most known and colloquial forms to better emulate the feeling of sorrow and lamentation. With this, a new meaning in showing grief was reshaped and was alleviated from the former connotation of such.
Gendered elegy American History written by Michael Harper is a short yet dramatic kind of elegy that speaks about the fate of four black little girls who died in a church in Alabama. Through them, the author is reminded of the fate of a hundred more others who are keeping their selves away from the real world in the fear of being caught dead without giving their untimely death any justification. Most of them, according to the author, are in strict hiding and is always operating in groups.
This situation was enlivened even if there are only nine lines composing the entire poem; the meaning that the author would want to speak about is clearly spoken. With only that number of lines, the author was not deprived of the freedom to express his thoughts and his genuine intention in writing the said piece.
This poem would also want to mimic the situation of the blacks then in the United States where it is vocal on the oppression and inhumane treatment being accorded to them because of their color and race.
It does not show much lamentation and sorrow due to the lost of the four black girls but the more visible meaning of it is the fear of other black people to be caught in the same incident as that of the little girls.
Meanwhile, modern elegy transforms grief in a new way of interpreting it. It has reshaped personification that is free form writing style, the awareness of the inability to immortalize any person who has been dead and blatant refusal to mourn shows how difficult coping with sorrow over the loss of a loved one can be. This illuminates the intention being shed away by the traditional form of elegy which mimics the scream of anger and denial towards grief over a loss of a person and that acceptance of the said irreversible loss.
This kind of elegy is something that transforms the vision of the audience from being sorrowful to somehow a better feeling and acceptance over the lost of someone whom they love the most. This is because of the choice of words that was used in order to come up with the entire poem.
O’CLAIR;, JAHAN. The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. New York: W.W. Norton, 2003.
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