Barbara E. Brown: On "Her Lips Are Copper Wire"

Cane’s most dazzling moment of regeneration is enabled by another image of connection: the tongue. Like roots and curls of smoke, the tongue can be pictured as a winding line, and it is in this form that it becomes the center of "Her Lips Are Copper Wire," a poem which must be Cane's most stunning single piece. . . .

This in Toomer's display of real virtuosity. His control of assonance and rhythm - in the third and last lines, for instance - produces a poem that is at once startling and seductive. Toomer has learned from the Metaphysical poets how to transform a technological instrument into an image for emotion or eroticism; his sensuous telephone wires owe much to Donne's 'stiff twin compasses'. At the same time, the image of copper-wire lips unites the northern and southern sections of the book, combining technology and sexuality. With the union of north and south comes the only true possibility of sexual consummation in the book. The 'incandescence' of the poem's last stanza is the regenerating sexual union - and perhaps the promise of a black messiah - that Cane's narrators can never achieve. And the union, if it is possible, will be enabled by voice: lips and tongue. 'Then with your tongue remove the tape', the speaker urges, 'and press your lips to mine.' If in 'Esther' and 'Box Seat' the discovery of voice produced a vision of renewal, in 'Her Lips Are Copper Wire' it provides the renewal itself The final stanza, then, with its deep eroticism, is a description of finding voice. Like Barlo and Dan, the poet is listening for a response, he asks the woman literally to empower his voice by removing the tape which keeps him silent. Thus the confidence and power of the closing line is as much a display of new-found voice as an expression of sexual fulfillment.


Title Barbara E. Brown: On "Her Lips Are Copper Wire" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Criticism Target Jean Toomer
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 14 Jun 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Untroubled Voice: Call and Response in Cane
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