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Analysis of Incident by Countee Cullen (1903-1946)

Analysis of Incident by Countee Cullen (1903-1946)

Link to poem:

I was reflecting about what my favorite poem was, and I couldn’t help but choose this, even after a good while reflecting and re-reading. It’s just the ONE poem that made the biggest impact on my mind growing up. It’s not as much identifying with the speaker of the poem with respect to social status/life experiences but more about being moved by the techniques and human feeling in this poem.

The poem is written like a ballad, with a comforting iambic rhythm of unstressed-stressed syllables in a consistent meter (every line is pretty similar in length, contributing to the comfort I feel). This is in sharp contrast to the meaning that the speaker reveals in the second stanza. This is an act of blatant racism. This is hatred, expressed, that hurts the speaker. The comforting structure of the poem belies this meaning, contrasts with this meaning, and makes the audience (or at least me…) feel worse for the speaker – as in, does the speaker feel the insult as much as I did? Why is this written so melodically? The speaker does not blatantly express his/her own feelings/response. The only thing he/she mentions is that this was all he/she remembered from his/her Baltimore trip. The implication from this salience of memory is supposed to convey the grave impact that the name-calling had on the speaker. The beauty of the poem, the meaning of the poem, lies very deep within the lines.

And as such, this poem was the most salient poem I could remember. As an Asian, I guess I’ve had one-off experiences of racism, but nothing too dramatic. Again, I identify with the human experience of memory, empathy, and beautiful technique of this poem more so than with the plot/particularities of the situation described.

Did this poem have an impact on you? And how so?




© Kate Eunah Lee, 4/8/2018




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