Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry: Explained, NOCTURNE AT BETHESDA, by ARNA BONTEMPS

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

NOCTURNE AT BETHESDA, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography

Arna Bontemps was a prominent African American poet, novelist, and historian who lived from 1902 to 1973. He was a key figure in the Harlem Renaissance literary movement, and his work often explored the experiences and struggles of African Americans during the early 20th century. One of his most notable works is the poem "Nocturne at Bethesda", which was published in 1933. The poem offers a haunting and poignant reflection on the human condition, exploring themes of mortality, suffering, and hope in the face of adversity. .


Arna Bontemps was an African American writer and poet who was associated with the Harlem Renaissance literary movement. "Nocturne at Bethesda" was published in 1933, during a time when many African Americans lacked access to quality healthcare. The poem is set in a hospital ward, which reflects the author's own experience working in a hospital and the impact that the Great Depression had on healthcare services.


"Nocturne at Bethesda" is a haunting and melancholic poem that explores the themes of mortality, suffering, and the human condition. The poem begins with the speaker describing the hospital ward as a place of darkness and despair, where the patients suffer in silence. The speaker then reflects on the frailty of the human body, comparing it to a withered leaf or a piece of broken glass. The final stanza of the poem offers a glimmer of hope, as the speaker suggests that there may be a way to transcend the suffering of the physical body.


The poem is structured in five stanzas, each with four lines, and uses a consistent ABAB rhyme scheme. The poem's form is characterized by its consistent rhyme scheme and four-line stanzas, which create a sense of structure and order in the poem. The use of imagery, such as the description of the hospital ward as a place of darkness and despair, helps to create a sense of atmosphere and mood.

Poetic Elements: 

The poem employs several poetic devices, including metaphor, imagery, and allusion. The comparison of the human body to a withered leaf or a piece of broken glass creates a sense of fragility and vulnerability, while the reference to the "pale horse" in the final stanza alludes to the biblical figure of Death.


"Nocturne at Bethesda" is a poignant and evocative poem that captures the sense of hopelessness and despair felt by patients in a hospital ward. The poem's use of metaphor and imagery helps to convey the frailty and vulnerability of the human body, while also offering a glimmer of hope in the face of suffering. Overall, the poem is a powerful reflection on the human condition and the transcendent power of the human spirit.

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