Working with a poem
Read the following poem by Claude McKay and then work with the exercises below it. How does this poem compare to “Strange Fruit” (p. 396)?
His spirit is smoke ascended to high heaven.
His father, by the cruelest way of pain,
Had bidden him to his bosom once again;
The awful sin remained still unforgiven.
All night a bright and solitary star
(Perchance the one that ever guided him,
Yet gave him up at last to Fate's wild whim)
Hung pitifully o'er the swinging char.
Day dawned, and soon the mixed crowds came to view
The ghastly body swaying in the sun:
The women thronged to look, but never a one
Showed sorrow in her eyes of steely blue;
And little lads, lynchers that were to be,
Danced round the dreadful thing in fiendish glee.
Understanding the poem
- The poet begins with a metaphor; “His spirit is smoke ascended to high heaven.” Why would the poet wish to start with such an image, do you think? What does it bring to mind; that is, what are its connotations?
- Who is the “father” to which the poet is referring?
- What do you think might be the “awful sin” that remains unforgiven? Unforgiven by whom?
- The star above the victim is said to have “hung pitifully”. This is an example of personification. Stars have no pity. So why has the poet given the star such a human quality here? What does it stand in contrast to?
- How is it made clear to us that the people who view the body in the morning are white and that they feel no sympathy or horror at what they see?
- What do you think the theme of this poem is; that is, the main thing the author is trying to communicate to the reader?
Match up words that mean the same in the list below (anonyms)
Poetic methods - alliteration
Poetry uses many means to tie together the words and lines of a poem. One of them is alliteration; that is, the repetition of similar consonant sounds within and between lines. Can you find examples of alliteration in this poem? Note them down and compare your results to that of a fellow pupil. Then take the words which you have identified as being used in alliteration and use them to write a few lines of new poetry (about whatever you wish). Compare your results again.