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"Yet Do I Marvel"

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Rachel Proteau

on 27 May 2013

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Transcript of "Yet Do I Marvel"

"Yet Do I Marvel" by Countee Cullen Countee Cullen was one of the greatest young black poets of the Harlem Renaissance. Growing up in Harlem in the 1920's, Cullen was immensely influenced by the climate of resentment and disillusionment felt by the black community after World War I. However, his formal education was directed by white influences, among which he quickly gained acclaim. In 1925, he graduated from New York University and published "Color," his first volume of poetry. His unique background allowed him to embrace both white and black cultures. His poems are known for their appeal to romanticism and their somewhat effeminate nature. Although he was married twice, Cullen was known to have homosexual leanings, which further influenced his poems. Countee Cullen (1903-1946) For much of the poem, Cullen examines the paradoxical nature of God, indirectly questioning why things are the way they are. He questions human mortality, asking "Why flesh that mirrors Him must someday die"?
Cullen's final lines examine his own precarious situation as a black poet. In the racial environment of the 1920's and 1930's, black poets often had difficulties working inside a cultural framework designed by whites. Themes There are two major allusions in the poem, both pertaining to figures of Greek mythology:
Tantalus, the half-mortal son of Zeus, king of the gods, killed his own son and served the flesh in a meal to honor the gods. Gravely offended, the gods condemned Tantalus to eternal hunger and thirst.
Sisyphus, a mortal king renowned for his wicked cunning, was punished by the gods for his insidious trickery by being forced to repeatedly roll a massive boulder to the top of a mountain. However, whenever he was just about to reach the top, the boulder would slip and roll back down again, forcing him to repeat the cycle for all eternity. Allusions For the first twelve lines of the poem, Cullen's tone comes across as confused by God's mysterious ways and somewhat awed by his power.
However, in the last two lines, Cullen's tone shifts, introduced by the transition "Yet do I marvel." His tone at this point is heavy with frustration and the irony of his situation as a talented black poet. Tone Quibble (Line 2) = to raise inconsequential objections
Caprice (Line 7) = tendency to change one's mine without apparent cause
Inscrutable (Line 9) = unfathomable, incapable of being understood
Catechism (Line 10) = series of questions used to determine someone's opinions and views
Awful (Line 12) = solemnly inspiring awe, formidably great Meaningful Vocabulary "Yet Do I Marvel" is a modified Shakespearean sonnet. It has fourteen lines and is arranged in three quatrains and a concluding couplet. The rhyming pattern is abab cdcd eeff gg. (The third quatrain of the traditional Shakespearean sonnet is efef, not eeff).The first two quatrains question God, and the third ultimately concludes that His ways are unknowable to mere humans whose minds are too busy with meaningless matters. The concluding couplet introduces Cullen's final question about the mystery of why God chose to make him both a poet and a black man. Some critics speculate that the last part of the final line, "and bid him sing!" is in reference to the difficulties presented by Cullen's alleged homosexuality. Form I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind,
And did He stoop to quibble could tell why
The little buried mole continues blind,
Why flesh that mirrors Him must some day die,
Make plain the reason tortured Tantalus
Is baited by the fickle fruit, declare
If merely brute caprice dooms Sisyphus
To struggle up a never-ending stair.
Inscrutable His ways are, and immune
To catechism by a mind too strewn
With petty cares to slightly understand
What awful brain compels His awful hand.
Yet do I marvel at this curious thing:
To make a poet black, and bid him sing! Rachel Proteau Pd. 2
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