Rachel Blau DuPlessis: On "Heritage"

Cullen’s poem offers a rich argument about the compelling contradictory emotions that the visionary fantasy of Africa sets off in him. He tries to resist these emotions, and the striking gods of polytheistic religion, in favor of Christianity. But with austere Marvellian resonance — in the urbane couplets of Marvell’s Horatian ode, the speaker claims to hear drums booming even when he stops his own ears against the tempting throbbing. He desires that his God be black, he feels an urgent dance rhythm, and, in the fierce last lines whose tri-syllable couplet rhyme is a measure of the control which the poem has elaborated, he admits such temptation from the drumming, that his head and heart have not "realized" that he is, and needs to remain, "civilized." Primitivist tropes within New Black modernity seem to be a way of showing such self-divisions. Yet Cullen also claims not to be interested in "nebulous atavistic yearnings toward an African inheritance" (1927, xi). One might venture that he does not want the Africa topos to be either controlled by or provoked by the expectations of others.


Title Rachel Blau DuPlessis: On "Heritage" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Rachel Blau DuPlessis Criticism Target Countee Cullen
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 11 Jul 2021
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Genders, Races and Religious Cultures in Modern American Poetry
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