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Countee Cullen

By: Taylor.M, Josh, Savannah, and Camille
by

Taylor Morgan

on 23 April 2010

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Transcript of Countee Cullen

Born in 1903 in New York City, Countee Cullen was raised in a Methodist parsonage. He attended De Witt Clinton High School in New York and began writing poetry at the age of fourteen. In 1922, Cullen entered New York University and graduated from New York University in 1923. That same year, Harper published his first volume of poetry, Color, and he was admitted to Harvard University where he completed his master's degree. He was raised and educated in a primarily white community, and he differed from other poets of the Harlem Renaissance like Langston Hughes in that he lacked the background to comment from personal experience on the lives of other blacks or use popular black themes in his writing. He wrote in the tradition of Keats and Shelley and was resistant to the new poetic techniques of the Modernists. He died in 1946. Here are some of the other poems he wrote and collections of his work;
Color (1925)
Copper Sun (1927)
My Soul's High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen (1991)
On These I Stand: An Anthology of the Best Poems of Countee Cullen (1947)
The Ballad of the Brown Girl (1928)
The Black Christ and Other Poems (1929)
The Medea and Some Other Poems (1935)
Countee's poems fit in with the moderist era's scheme and meter. The content is also based on true life events rather than made up ones or drawn out analogies and comparisons. All his poems also follow a pattern of four line stanzas and and indented lines. Incident

Once riding in old Baltimore,
Heart-filled, head-filled with glee;
I saw a Baltimorean
Keep looking straight at me.

Now I was eight and very small,
And he was no whit bigger,
And so I smiled, but he poked out
His tongue, and called me, "Nigger."


I saw the whole of Balimore
From May until December;
Of all the things that happened there
That's all that I remember.

Saturday's Child

Some are teethed on a silver spoon,
With the stars strung for a rattle;
I cut my teeth as the black racoon--
For implements of battle.

Some are swaddled in silk and down,
And heralded by a star;
They swathed my limbs in a sackcloth gown
On a night that was black as tar.


For some, godfather and goddame
The opulent fairies be;
Dame Poverty gave me my name,
And Pain godfathered me.


For I was born on Saturday--
"Bad time for planting a seed,"
Was all my father had to say,
And, "One mouth more to feed."


Death cut the strings that gave me life,
And handed me to Sorrow,
The only kind of middle wife
My folks could beg or borrow.
Some kids are born rich
but he was born poor Rich can afford comfortable beds and clothes (compairs to jesus) speaker was wrapped in a sackcloth at birth fights to survive instead of caring loving grandparents, he was christened by poverty and pain Mother goose quote-"Saturdays child works hard for a living" His father just saw another burden Claims death his midwife all his family could afford was death and sorrow. Speaker will fight to survive. Allegory Allusion Personification Word used to give poem a political and personal meaning reference to the childs whiteness Tableau

Locked arm in arm they cross the way
The black boy and the white,
The golden splendor of the day
The sable pride of night.

From lowered blinds the dark folk stare
And here the fair folk talk,
Indignant that these two should dare
In unison to walk.

Oblivious to look and word
They pass, and see no wonder
That lightning brilliant as a sword
Should blaze the path of thunder.

simile The word "whit" examined by a social philology is the point at which cross both lateral metonymic associations and a vertical semantic coring to make a sedimented argument against the subjectivity ascribed to the African-American child. The word means a particle or iota: one child is not a whit bigger than the other — they are equals in size. The word is a variant of "wight," which means a person or human creature. Hence the buried narrative or crypt narrative that etymology offers in whit/wight is the affirmation of the full personhood and equality of both children denied by the incident. Additionally, "wight" means "valor" or bravery, a meaning that evokes the ethical evaluations of courage/cowardice at play here, especially insofar as valor for the black child might involve (unspoken, unnarrated) repression of the urge to fight or answer back, leading perhaps to an anger or pain so intense as to create a trauma of memory. Hence this incident is all that the speaker remembers of this sojourn.

Horizontally, "whit" also irresistibly suggests both "white" and "wit." Though the white child is no whit bigger (and no bigger in "wit" -- another connotive slide), his social power gives him a bigger impact. To describe white as socially bigger than its obnoxious rhyme word, although no whit/wit personally or morally larger is indeed a compressed political allegory tamped into the word choice, the rhyme choice, and the finality of the quatrains. The negative word, offering a subject place for African-Americans, was, incidentally, common enough in white writing in this period, including in works by Carl Van Vechten, Sherwood Anderson, Mina Loy, Carl Sandburg, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Louis Zukofsky, and many others; its dangerous impact on African-Americans is registered in a poem countering the epithet with brave black heroes -- Frank Horne’s "Nigger: A Chant for Children." In this reading of Cullen’s "whit," I hunted shadow words "behind" the statement, coring down into etymologies, pursuing metonymic associations, sound shifts, and denotive auras, reading visual suggestions, and identifying the narratives and metaphors buried in the texture of a work that allowed for a simple, belittled subjectivity of the enounced and a fierce, proud, judgmental subjectivity of the enunciation. These readings of the signifier (by association, etymology, syntax, connotation, denotation, segmental position) in relation to the discursive and political field is some of what I mean by social philology. It is allegorically appropriate that my poetics of the detail has been exemplified by a word—"whit"--that means particle or iota, and has involved allusion to a very derogatory word -- indicating that words and their "social evaluations" are no small matter.
3 quatrain poem homo-erotic cross-racial love to some but a contraversal friendship to others. It highlights an example of what people would respond like when cross-racial relationships happen. It also shows that the black identity wasn;t the only issue on the table of the Harlem Renaissance. 3 Quatrain ballad Allusion Allegory The end BORING Countee Cullen
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