The lyrical poem “Heritage” is written by Countee Cullen, one of the greatest Black poets and writers. It appeared in his first volume of the poems. Heritage provided a deep inside to Harlem renaissance. This symbolic poem was coined as Black Waste Land as it highlights the confused black identity and their survival within the barren and conformist culture. The first part of this poetic piece introduces us to an African American speaker who celebrates his African heritage. He repeatedly asks a question about what Africa is to him. “The scarlet sea” , “a cinnamon tree” , or “the copper sun”. These images highlight some of the celebrated heritage of Africa. To him, African land is a paradise with diverse heritages, which he misses a lot.
As the poem moves forward, he adds some of the important heritages to spellbound the readers. He metaphorically calls Africa a book sharing various exciting and surprising chapters. However, each chapter unfolds the striking beauty of his land and her astounding cultures. Moreover, in the second part of the poem, he talks about the American rainfall that reminds him of his land. It seems that his emotional attachment to his land is the reason for his discontent. This discontent and restlessness suck his content strife. As a result, he has become a hybrid man; he belongs to Christ. But deep in his heart, he still belongs to the paganism of Africa. Although he has adopted American cultures and values, it seems impossible to forget his fundamental values. As a result, he is hanging between two cultures, two religions, and identity crisis.
(For full poem please visit: “Heritage”)
This meaningful poem possesses a universal thematic strand; it talks about African American identity, racial differences, and a state of double consciousness. On the one hand, the poem exhibits the writer’s infinite attachment and unbound love with his heritage. While on the other hand, it shows the problems he faced while remembering the traditions of his dear land. He tries to make his readers visualize the unparalleled beauty and unmatchable charm of Africa. He catalogs various traditions and heritages celebrated in Africa. The description of these heritages shows his strong connection with his land that even a simple rainfall throws him back in time.
On a surface level, the poem deals with the magnificent beauty of African land. However, on a deeper level, it sheds light on the sentiments of patriotic Africans spending a life full of heartaches and regrets. The writer shares unbound love with his land and her traditions, yet the Charisma of American life blurs his visions of mighty Africa. He tries to become one with Americans while following Christianity, but a constant pull of his country drags him into a state of constant confusion. Thus, the poem beautifully echoes the identity crisis of the postcolonial black people.
Countee Cullen has inserted various literary and poetic elements in the poem to connect his readers with his ideas, emotions and feelings. While transferring his sentiments regarding African heritage, he used powerful literary tools such as:
- Rhetorical Question
He begins this lyrical poem with a rhetorical question about what Africa is to him. Since he is an African living outside; therefore, he tries to figure out the best possible definition of his land. Using powerful literary tool imagery, he draws a fascinating picture of Africa having multiple absorbing heritages. The use of imagery appeals to the reader’s senses as if they are united with the writer’s thoughts. The use of extended metaphor further adds variety to the poem. Cullen has used Africa as an extended metaphor to show his profound attachment to his land. The use of irony in the concluding part of the poem helps readers understand the plight of African Americans. It shows their discontent that even after living in an advanced world, they never forget the bounties of their homeland.
The poem also shows various poetic devices such as;
- Free verse
- Stanza Type
The impressive yet straightforward language of “Heritage”, its tone and free verse style make it an appealing poetic piece. The use of specific diction and uncomplicated words further enhance the desired impact of the poem. It seems that the speaker is sharing his concerns with others using a language full of emotions. Collen shows that emotions like love, sorrow, happiness, and sadness connect people. Everyone from children to adults understands emotions. Therefore, the clever use of literary and poetic devices enable him to connect the world with his simple yet effective ideas about Africa and its lasting beauty.