The image of death in The Vintage Book of African American Poetry Essay

The image of death in The Vintage Book of African American Poetry, 502 words essay example

Essay Topic: african american, book, death, image

Throughout the tradition of African American poetry, an over arching theme that reoccurs throughout many poems, as seen in The Vintage Book of African American Poetry is death. Death has been a source of protest, pride, action, rights, struggles, race, and equality. The ways societies changed reflect on the way the poems were written. African American poets seek to convey the constant struggle of death that other African Americans had to face on a daily basis. Each poet treats death differently, for instance Toi Derricotte differs in her interpretation of death from the way Georgia Douglas Johnson does because his poems are written during a different period in time. A quality shared by the selected African Americans poets shows how by calling attention to death the poets are fighting for better lives for themselves and their fellow African Americans. African American writers and thinkers were using death to draw attention to the racial divide. "Most early criticism of black culture was vicious and unjust, reflecting the self- validating socialism of cultural imperials whose prejudice clouded their reason. African American culture has taken shape in defining interplay of historical contingency and the pursuit of a humane racial identity that have been the heart of black cultures growth." (Dyson). With the use of imagery, anaphora, repetition, motifs, and other poetry techniques we will be able to observe the way death functions in various poems.
One notable example can be found in James Weldon Johnson's poem, "Go Down Death" where he uses similes, imagery and repetition to strengthen his message. Johnson glamorizes death and knows that it is unavoidable, so he welcomes it. He opens his poem with a calm and positive image "Weep not, weep not,/ She is not dead/She's resting in the bosom of Jesus" (1-3). The poem sounds like a song when being read, making it a pleasant and uplifting experience. He also writes, "She saw Old Death./Coming like a falling star./ But Death didn't frighten sister Caroline/He looked to her like a welcome friend."(53-55). Johnson depicts that death shouldn't be something you should be afraid of. Often people aren't afraid of death itself, but are more afraid of how they are going to die. Although death is a gruesome topic, in lines 53-54 it is described as a friend. In the poem death is someone who is there to help sister Caroline reach her final destination, the afterlife. Without the help of Death she would not be able to get there. Death comes to recue her and put her out of her misery. Johnson speaks of death in a positive away throughout the poem as seen in stanza 8
"And Death took her like a baby,
And she lay in his icy arms,
But she didn't feel no chill.
And Death began to ride again-
Up beyond the evening star,
Out beyond the morning star,
Into the glittering light of glory,
On to the Great White Throne.
And there he laid Sister Carolina
On the loving breast of Jesus." (59-67).

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