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A Wreath For Emmett Till
Transcript of A Wreath For Emmett Till
The poet explains how flowers were used in the past to symbalize and convey emotions. She wonders what emotions and feelings her wreath of flowers for Emmett will reveal. She decides she will write about justice, innocence, horror, and grief. She also brings up the importance of remembering, while at the same time, conveying a desire to forget what happened to Emmett Till.
An Analysis of Sonnet 1
The poet uses floral symbolism to explore how and what to remember about Emmett's life and death. While expressing the importance of remembering, she also conveys a desire to forget.
Nelson uses flowers to symbolize important ideas associated with Emmett Till's life and death
How did we figure this out?
1. Nelson's reference to Hamlet at the beginning stresses the language of flowers and their ability to symbolize ideas beyond themselves. This allusion helped us understand that Nelson was using these symbolic flowers to make a metaphorical wreath for Emmett.
2. While the flowers represent a way for the poet to honor and remember Emmett, her last line suggests that she has a desire to forget the brutality associated with Emmett's death. This seems to be an important idea because it complicates the idea of intentionally remembering Emmett Till's life and death.
“Rosemary for remembrance, Shakespeare wrote
A speech for poor Ophelia, who went mad
When her love killed her father. Flowers had
A language then. Rose petals in a note
Said, I love you, a sheaf of bearded oat
Said, Your music enchants me. Goldenrod:
Be careful. Weeping-willow twigs: I’m sad
What should my wreath for Emmett Till denote?
First, heliotrope, for Justice Shall be done.
Daisies and white lilacs, for Innocence.
Then mandrake: Horror (wearing a white hood,
Or bare-faced, laughing.) For grief, more than one,
for one is not enough: rue, yew, cypress.
Forget-me-nots. Though if I could, I would”
This illustration occurs in “The Crime” portion of the art. It shows a bird (perhaps a bluebird?) holding a bough of Forget-me-nots. The bird could represent innocence, like the mockingbird.
On the outside of the picture, a calming green background is filled with images of scattered flowers (goldenrod, rose petals, etc.) Perhaps the artist chose to make the background a calming green to represent both innocence and a certain peace that comes with death.
On the inside of the picture, a large, black and red void is present. The red looks like blood splatters, and the void looks as if it is swallowing the bird. The void could be symbolic of Emmett’s fate; the growing violence. It contradicts the calming green background. Whereas the green could represent a certain peace that comes with death, the ominous void represnts the inablility for the poet to forget about the brutality and hate surrounding Emmett's death.
The Ominous Void
Using the “literary clout” of a writer like Shakespeare creates credibility with the reader, and shows the importance of remembrance.
Ophelia –an illusion to one of Shakespeare’s character in Hamlet that serves to show the reader the “madness” of grief and remembrance
"A Mediterranean plant of the nightshade family, with white or purple flowers and large yellow berries. It has a forked fleshy root that supposedly resembles the human form and was formerly widely used in medicine and magic, allegedly shrieking when pulled from the ground" (Merriam-Webster.com).
a Mediterranean plant of the nightshade family, with white or purple flowers and large yellow berries. It has a forked fleshy root that supposedly resembles the human form and was formerly widely used in medicine and magic, allegedly shrieking when pulled from the ground.
FUN FACT: Mandrake is also featured in Harry Potter
the image of “wearing a white hood” alludes to other lynchings done in the South at the hands of the infamous hate group.
Part one focuses on rememberence and regret.
It sets up the historical context of implied meaning of flowers.
The ideas Nelson symbolizes with flowers are love, art, carefulness and sadness
"What should my wreath for Emmett Till denote?"
Line 8 is the volta because there is a shift from discussing what certain flowers represent to focusing on assembling a wreath for Emmett.
Nelson still references historical meaning of flowers
She specifically uses flowers that represent the impact of Emmett's life and death.
Heliotrope- expresses her and others' quest for justice
Daisies and white lilacs- Emmett's innocence and ignorance of the South's social norms
Mandrake- The horror of Emmett's death and the hate associated with it
Rue, yew, cypress, forget-me-nots- the endless grief faced by the poet and others haunted by Emmett's death.
Nelson ends the poem suggesting she will never be able to forget, and she will never stop grieving Emmett's death.
The poets allusion to Ophelia sets a somber tone for the rest of the sonnet. It also introduces the idea of remembering with symbolism, specifically flowers. The change after the volta is significant because it connects the symbolism of flowers with Emmett and the importance of remembering him despite how painful it is for the poet.
Text to Text Connections
The lines “justice shall be done” and “innocence” connect to the trial of Tom Robison, found in
To Kill a Mockingbird
Much like Emmett’s fate, Tom is denied justice in his case.
Although Tom is innocent of his crime, much like Emmett’s crime can be considered “innocent”, both are found to be guilty in the eyes of Southern white society.
Both Tom and Emmett till require another individual to take up their cause. (Atticus, poet Nelson, the Civil Rights movement)
Daphne, unwilling to be married and being hunted by a pursuer, is changed into an laurel tree. (Emmett is represented as a funeral wreath)
Apollo swears to tend to the tree, and the laurel tree becomes a symbol of youth and innocence, much like Emmett became a symbol of the Civil Rights movement.
The Myth of Appollo and Daphne
Theme: Remembrance can be difficult, but it is important
By mentioning the historical connotation of each flower, Nelson shows us that history has proven value worth recollecting.
Her reluctance to remember, “Forget-me-nots. Though if I could, I would”, shows the pain in memory, but also her inability to forget.
The funeral wreath: we use funeral flowers to symbolize what that person meant to us. This shows that we value memorializing a person, which means we must first observe remembrance…even if it is painful.
In his song, "The Death of Emmett Till," Bob Dylan expresses his difficulty in remember Emmett Till's death. While his descriptions in the song are more graphic than the symbolic flowers Nelson uses, he references similar ideas (vicious laughing of the killers, the KKK, the horror of remembering, desire for justice, etc.) The most significant connection, however, is that he, like Nelson, stresses the importance of remembering despite the pain.
The Myth of Appollo and Daphne: http://www.pantheon.org/articles/d/daphne.html
The Death of Emmett Till: http://www.bobdylan.com/us/songs/death-emmett-till