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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

INCIDENT, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography

"Incident" is a poem by Countee Cullen, first published in 1925 in his collection "Color." The poem is a brief but powerful exploration of the theme of racism and its effects on the individual.

Explanation:

The poem describes an incident from the speaker's childhood in which he is called a racial slur by a group of white boys. The speaker reflects on the lasting impact of the incident and the way in which it has affected his sense of self and identity. The poem conveys a sense of sadness and resignation at the persistent reality of racism.

Poetic Elements:

  • Form: The poem is written in a single stanza of seven lines, with no set rhyme scheme or meter. The lines are of varying length and follow a loose structure.
  • Theme: The poem explores the theme of racism and its effects on the individual.
  • Imagery: The poem uses vivid imagery, such as the description of the white boys as "grinning" and "singing," and the use of the word "smash" to describe the impact of the incident on the speaker's sense of self.
  • Tone: The tone of the poem is resigned and sad, as the speaker reflects on the lasting impact of the incident and the persistence of racism.
  • Sound: The poem makes use of repetition, with the word "incident" appearing at both the beginning and the end of the poem. The use of alliteration and assonance creates a sense of musicality and movement.
  • Language: The language of the poem is straightforward and accessible, with a focus on concrete details.
  • Figurative language: The poem uses metaphor, with the incident serving as a metaphor for the pervasive nature of racism in society.
  • Structure: The poem is divided into a single stanza of seven lines.
  • Symbolism: The incident serves as a symbolic representation of the pervasive nature of racism in society and its effects on individuals.
  • Emotion: The poem conveys a sense of sadness and resignation at the persistence of racism and the lasting impact it has on individuals.

Conclusion:

"Incident" is a powerful and poignant exploration of the impact of racism on the individual. Through the use of vivid imagery and metaphor, Countee Cullen captures the complexity and nuance of racism and its effects on society.

Poem Snippet:

"Once riding in old Baltimore,

Heart-filled, head-filled with glee,

I saw a Baltimorean

Keep looking straight at me."

*COMPARISON WITH Amiri Baraka ‘INCIDENT:

Both "Incident" by Countee Cullen and "Incident" by Amiri Baraka are poems that explore the theme of racism and its effects on the individual. However, the two poems differ in their approach to the theme and the emotions they convey.

In Cullen's "Incident," the speaker reflects on a childhood experience in which he was called a racial slur by a group of white boys. The poem conveys a sense of sadness and resignation at the persistent reality of racism, as the speaker reflects on the lasting impact of the incident on his sense of self and identity. The poem is written in a single stanza of seven lines, with a focus on concrete details and vivid imagery.

In contrast, Baraka's "Incident" is a more confrontational and angry poem that expresses a sense of outrage at the racism encountered by the speaker. The poem describes an incident in which the speaker is spit on by a white man and the anger and frustration that he feels in response. The poem is written in free verse, with no set rhyme scheme or meter, and makes use of repetition and colloquial language to convey the speaker's emotions.

While both poems explore the theme of racism and its effects on the individual, they differ in their approach and the emotions they convey. Cullen's "Incident" conveys a sense of sadness and resignation, while Baraka's "Incident" expresses anger and frustration. Overall, the two poems demonstrate the complexity and nuance of the theme of racism and the different emotional responses it can evoke.

 


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