|Photo by GaborfromHungary, morguefile.com|
By Countee Cullen (1903-1946)
They in their cruel traps, and we in ours,
Survey each other’s rage, and pass the hours
Commiserating each the other’s woe,
To mitigate his own pain’s fiery glow.
Man could but little proffer in exchange
Save that his cages have a larger range.
That lion with his lordly, untamed heart
Has in some man his human counterpart,
Some lofty soul in dreams and visions wrapped,
But in the stifling flesh securely trapped.
Gaunt eagle whose raw pinions stain the bars
That prison you, so men cry for the stars!
Some delve down like the mole far underground,
(Their nature is to burrow, not to bound),
Some, like the snake, with changeless slothful eye,
Stir not, but sleep and smoulder where they lie.
Who is most wretched, these caged ones, or we,
Caught in a vastness beyond our sight to see?
Source: My Soul’s High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen (Anchor Books, 1991).
On this final day of the A-Z Blogging Challenge, I share this riff on the heroic sonnet (they usually have an alternating rhyme scheme ababcdcdefefghghii, while this is aabbccddeeffgghhii) by Harlem Renaissance poet Countee Cullen. Cullen's piece is a great example of what good poetry can do. It speaks into Cullen's own historic moment, when the nation was very racially divided and injustice prevailed, yet it also has a more universal application that extends beyond it. No matter the era, we tend to put other people in particular categorical boxes, not unlike animals at the zoo, and seek to contain what we consider dangerous.
I hope this month's foray into poetry has opened your eyes to new connections, like Cullen's recognition of his own caged self in the "smoulder[ing]" eye of a zoo snake.
What surprising things have you learned from this series?