Saturday, October 15, 2011


     In Cullen's "Yet Do I Marvel," the greek mythology characters Tantalus and Sisyphus are utilized to illustrate Cullen's philosophical question- If God is "good, well-meaning, kind" etc, then why do bad things happen?  Why are people left to an endless torture like Tantalus and Sisyphus?  Why does everyone eventually die?  Tantalus was son of Zeus but he did awful things during his lifetime including cannibalism, human sacrifice and infanticide.  Because of this he was forever placed in a pool of water that would disappear if he bent down to drink any of it.  There was also a tree of fruit placed over him that would disappear if he reached up to grab any of it to eat which explains the "fickle fruit" that Cullen refers to.  Sisyphus is punished as well to push a huge boulder up a hill that never ends.  Cullen is trying to make the point here that because we are simple humans whose brains are occupied with other matters here on Earth, we cannot possibly begin to understand why God allows certain things to happen.  Even though we cannot understand him completely however, we still marvel at him and wonder about all of his many strange ways.
     "Heritage" is a little harder for me to interpret and understand.  I think Cullen is struggling with his past and everything that Africa stands for, and his present conversion to Jesus Christ.  He feels strong ties to Africa but he also feels like he truly belongs in his new religion and conversion experience.  His picture of the rain is what really convinced me that he still feels a tug back to his homeland- "In an old remembered way Rain works on me night and day."  Whenever he hears the rain, he remembers various components of his past like "the lover's dance", and the heathen gods of his past religion.  It is obvious that he wants to forget the African part of his life when he writes, "So I lie, who always hear, Though I cram against my ear Both my thumbs, and keep them there, Great drums throbbing through the air."  Even though he wants to move on from his past and his very heritage, he can still hear the drums and remembers his past.  I think Cullen is trying to make the point here that one can never completely separate themselves from their past or their ancestors.  
     Towards the end of the writing, Cullen makes the confession that he wishes that Jesus was African so he could somewhat blend his past African culture with his present Christian one.  I found this section particularly interesting.  It is obvious once again that Cullen wants to be loyal to both aspects of himself but he cannot.  I think the very last line of the poem is the most important- "Not yet has my heart or head In the least way realized They and I are civilized."  I think this is a statement about himself stating that he has not found a way to mix the two vastly different aspects of his life together in a peaceful, satisfying way, but I think it is also a statement about the time period that he finds himself in.  Society during this time period still did not view Africans as being "civilized".  African Americans still did not share equal rights with Americans.  Perhaps he is suggesting that if society would start to view his past and heritage as civilized then he could be at peace with himself?  I really enjoyed Cullen's writings.  It is obvious he had strong feelings about his religion and he utilized creative writing techniques in order to convey them.


  1. I have to agree with the postings that you made on your blog, concerning this form of poetry. I have to agree with your comment, about "Heritage" being an more harder piece to interpet. When it comes to this sort of writings, particularly poetry; it is often the case to carefully reread each verse and to take each sentence at an time.

  2. After reading your blog I understand how Culleen compares being a black poet to eternal torture. Thanks for explaining the Greek mythology.

  3. Monday in class we discussed Cullen's writing and there are just a few things I want to note. About "Yet Do I Marvel," hyphenated authors were necessary in the 20th century in order for equality but do we still need that separation today? Does it just create more division? Also, Greek characters and mythology references were common knowledge back in the 20th century so it was not uncommon to have them referenced in writing. We also discussed the structure of the poem and that the couplet at the end is the resolution to the rest of the poem. This realization helps a lot when reading the poem through a second time.
    In "Heritage," the whole idea of what it means to be civilized is a reference to Huck Finn. The question that keeps coming up in this poem is can you live a life with both your heart and head? I felt really bad for Cullen when reading this poem because he has no peace and he has no hope for discovering any during his lifetime. Cullen knows that at some point, he is going to explode because he can't find that peace.