Friday, January 30, 2009

The Reapers

This Poem is hard to get a handle on because it is so short and straightforward. It uses very powerful imagery and emotion. It provides a very vivid scene including sight and sound. At one point the poem describes the sound of steel on stones as the reapers sharpen their scythes to mow, and then a few lines later describes silence as they swing their scythes through the weeds and grass. The poem invokes sight when describing black reapers, black horses, and the blood-stained blade. The poem also deals a lot with action, power, and physicality. It describes sharpening the blades, swinging blades, horses DRIVING a mower through the weeds, a field rat being startled as he is cut through, squeeling and bleeding, the rat's belly being close to the ground. The scene is so dramatic and deals with so many feelings and senses, but is written in a way that is so cold and emotionless. The reapers just keep on swinging their blades and go on working.
I found it interesting that the reapers and the horses, who were doing all of the work in the poem, (which would probably not be considered very prestigious jobs) were both black. This could be interpreted as a racial theme. I am wondering when this poem was written. I believe the publication of the book was after the era of the progressives and muckrackers, but I thought this poem could have been interpreted as a story of the plight of the working man in this era and how workers seemed to be treated as mere machines without feeling or emotion who would keep working in the name of production no matter what happened. Maybe this was a call for more humane treatment of workers, especially African-Americans in this case.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

40 acres

This poem uses people and animals to represent not only Barack Obama and the African-American race, but the diverse types of responses from the American public. The young ploughman is representative of Obama, who also represents the accomplishments of the African-American race as a whole. There are "crows with predictable omens." They use the pun of "crow" to allude to the Jim Crow laws, which protected unfair treatment of African-Americans. There are "bespectacled owls," which I interpreted as believers or supporters in Obama, who are in amazement at the accomplishment of Obama and African-Americans as a whole. There is also a "gesticulating scarecrow stamping with rage at him [ploughman]" which I believe represents critics (probably due to race) who are upset that Obama has succeeded.
There are other puns and metaphors in the poem, such as the cotton field being 40-acres wide, which alludes to the broken promise offered to former slaves of a retribution of 40-acres and a mule. Also, in the poem "the small plough continues on this lined page," which could compare the plow in the slavery times to the pen today. Work must continue to be done, also alluding to the ploughman clearing the way for more things to come. The could represent this accomplishment clearing the way for new opportunities that are now more possible than ever. Towards the end of the poem, the narrator mentions that the ploughman feels a change in his "veins,/heart, muscles, tendons." These are all things that are vital for life and function. Also, the veins may allude to heritage, familial ties, and past history; parts of which are being overcome now with these new accomplishments.

Monday, January 26, 2009

A nation celebrates as a new president – the first African-American ever to be elected to the office – is inaugurated; the future of the United States (and even the world, to some extent) rests in the hands of one man who promises change above all. As Derek Walcott writes, “Out of the turmoil emerges one emblem…of impossible prophecy.”
Walcott’s poem is an interesting one: the diction tells the story of a stereotype, but the connotations of the carefully crafted words provide a much deeper, more culturally relevant meaning. The poem itself is an extended metaphor. The subject, “a young Negro…in straw hat and overalls,” seems, on the most basic and literal level, like a persona out of a Twain novel. But given the occasion, it is clear that the subject represents a vision that has come to fruition despite the resistance present since its conception. Words like turmoil, impossible prophecy, omens, rage, moaning, and lynching all describe the forces opposing the success of the young Negro ploughman. There is even an allusion to the Jim Crow Laws that segregated generations of African-Americans (line 7). Each of these words carries with it a very real meaning for the ancestors of enslaved African-Americans. Collectively, they are a symbol of the oppression endured by an entire race.
Walcott’s poem, however, is much more than a retelling of the well-documented abuses of African-Americans. Instead of focusing on the past, Walcott comments on the “field and furrows” of the future. His subject plows on, past the ugliness of a history marked by violence, prejudice, and ignorance. For the ploughman, the field represents an opportunity, a clean slate with which to pursue the dreams that have been hidden from him by history. He can “feel the change in his veins, || heart, muscles, tendons”; this “change” is an obvious allusion to Obama’s presidential platform. However, I feel it important to mention that the ploughman is not necessarily our president-elect. Instead, the ploughman is the culmination of a great number of people who have shared a common vision of equality and humanity. Their combined efforts have made the way for the sower to come through and plant his crop, the yield of which remains to be seen.

Forty Acres: Diction in Derek Walcott’s Poem for Barack Obama

Forty Acres: “an enraving/an emblem”

Derek Walcott’s Forty Acres: A Poem for Barack Obama is a poetic retelling of Obama’s journey to becoming the 44th President of the United States. Phrases such as “out of the turmoil” and “emblem of impossible prophecy” reflect Walcott’s effort to carefully craft the story of the poem to parallel Obama’s story. The metaphor in the poem is strong, not just because of the thought provoking comparisons, but also in the beautiful language through which they are presented. While Walcott makes obvious metaphors (for example, he refers to President Bush as a “gesticulating scarecrow” and Obama as a “sower”), the more subtle, less politically charged metaphors seem to have most of the power in the poem. The conclusion particularly highlights this aspect of Walcott’s work: “feels the change in his veins…till the land lies open like a flag as dawn’s sure/ light streaks the field and furrows wait for the sower.” The phrase “open like a flag” has several powerful affects on the reader. First and foremost, the metaphor provokes a beautiful image. The connotation of that image relates to the “change in his veins;” the change being that America is as open for change as Obama is ready to be that change. The image also implies a sense of vulnerably (“the land lies open like a flag”), which is certainly a part of change. However, Walcott immediately reinforces that America is ready for this change; “dawns sure light streaks the field and furrow.” Ultimately, Forty Acres is the type of poem that will be lifted and upheld as a piece of art, perhaps “an enraving/an emblem,” that resembles a monumental moment in the history of human culture.

Viens are Vital

Derek Wolcott’s poem, Forty Acres: A Poem for Barack Obama uses numerous literary devices to develop a deeper meaning. A key literary device prevalent in this poem is Wolcott’s use of foreshadowing of the events leading up to President Obama’s inauguration: “Out of the turmoil emerges one emblem, an engraving” (1). To further the understanding of this foreshadowing Wolcott employs metaphors, as well several synecdoches.
Throughout the poem the young African American male is depicted as a “young ploughman.” Corresponding to the first line of the poem, “one emblem” will emerge “out of the turmoil,” this emblem is the young ploughman (1). From this turmoil emerges an emblem with an “impossible prophecy”, the oxymoron created by this makes events that recently occurred inevitable. Although this metaphor is important an understanding the poem, there is a synecdoche that demands thought.
Furthering the alteration occurring in the ploughman, Wolcott writes, “and the young ploughman feels the change in his veins. / heart, muscles, tendons,” (17,18). The veins that Wolcott speaks of in this line can be understood has the African American ethnicity. The change that is occurring in the veins of the young ploughman has changed, and that changed has placed its presence in the heart, muscles, and tendons of the race. The last line of the poem sums up the change that has occurred, “light streaks the field and furrows wait for the sower” (20). No longer will the constraints held upon African Americans be present.
The transformation of the “young ploughman” that Derek Wolcott depicts in this poem demonstrates the path that the African American race traveled in its “impossible prophecy” (3).

Forty Acres: A Poem For Barack Obama... caesuras and enjambments

In Derek Walcott’s poem, Forty Acres: A Poem for Barack Obama there are ideas and images that are created by the unique word choice of the author. To help the reader or the audience see and understand them the Walcott also uses the literary tools, caesuras and enjambments. Using these slows down the pace at which the reader reads the text and pauses the reader at certain words so they know that there is some meaning and importance in the word chosen.
In the first line there is a caesura that is created with a comma to slow down the reader to comprehend the first seven word of the poem. Then the second line is ended by a comma which is an enjambment. This pause at the end allows the reader to take in the image that was created in the last line of “a young Negro at dawn in straw hat and overalls,”. Line three also has a caesura. This comma makes the reader think about the “impossible prophecy” or what is an “impossible prophecy”. It also allows Walcott to set up the next image of “a crowd dividing like the furrow which a mule has ploughed”. This is a strong image and also an image that can say a lot to a reader. Knowing this, Walcott used a caesura and an enjambment at the end of this line so the reader or audience can take in and ponder the meaning of this statement. The enjambment at the end of the line also sets up the next four word that are directed toward the previous statement. “parting for their president”, is an imaged that out of context might not make that much sense but with the use of an enjambment helps illustrates the allusion that a slave plowing the ground can represent the first African American President parting the way for a new life to grow.

Duality in "Forty Acres: A Poem for Barak Obama"

In my opinion, poetry is one of the greatest vessels to capture the emotion of an event, and I think Derek Walcott's poem, "Forty Acres: A Poem for Barak Obama," does this exceptionally well. Now, many of my fellow classmates have discussed the metaphor within the poem, and I would agree that the poem's strongest rhetorical device is its use of metaphor. However, what strikes me about this poem is that it is a reflection on the history of a race as much as it is a celebration for Barak Obama. I am sure that many of us (students) have flagged the comparison between Obama and the "young ploughman" whose ploughing of the field represents the struggle that Obama has had to get this point. But the meaning in this metaphor is dual (as are many of the metaphors in this poem) because while the ploughman and his work represent Obama's struggles, it represents the struggle of his race as well. Walcott leaves this impression through the use of his historical allusions and slave imagery. The image of the ploughman himself is a slave image, or, at least, an image of servitude. The image represents the bondage that African-Americans have endured under slavery and under segregation laws, as indicated by the image in this line: "forty acres wide of crows with predictable omen." In that line alone there are two refrences: one is to the Jim Crow laws that bound African-Americans, and the other refrences the broken promise of "forty acres and a mule." As mentioned before, these images dominate Walcott's poem, and this is just one example of a dual meaning within an image. Others include: "the rageing scarecrow," "lynching tree," and "change in his veins, hearts, muscles, and tendons." All of these images are dual in their meaning. "Lynching tree" and "rageing scarecrow" are slave images to me, but they also represent the current obstacles that African-Americans face today; these images also represent the "naysayers" who claim that: "It can't be done," and "he won't succeed." The lynching tree and the scarecrow represent those people who will always present themselves as obstacles, the common vernacular term for people like that among my generation is "haters." The anatomical metaphor is also dual in its meaning as well because Walcott describes a "change in his veins, etc." Not only does this image represent a literal change within the individual (Obama), but it also represents a change within a race of people and in the fabric of the United States. This is a defining moment for our nation. Of course, I think the reason for the duality in Walcott's poem is evident. The entire poem is a testament for how one man's struggles mirror the struggle of his race and its history, but it is also reminder that we still face issues that are similar, albeit less radical, to the issues of racism and bigotry from the Reconstruction era. In summation, I felt Walcott's poem was a plea for us to recognize where we have been before we get excited about where we are going.

An Oppressing Past and a Hopeful Future in Walcott's "Forty Acres"

While some may cherish the principles of New Criticism, to apply that particular literary theory to Derek Walcott’s poem “Forty Acres” would be counter-intuitive, leaving the full meaning absent.  The poem, which was written as a laudatory piece for president-elect Barack Obama, refers numerous times to the dark past of American history that pervades our nation’s conscience.  Walcott’s poem, which does not ignore but instead utilizes the past to contrast with the occasion, is an upbeat and hopeful consideration of how today’s political scene will affect our nation’s future.  On the very first line, the poet depicts “a young negro” emerging “out of the turmoil,” a turmoil that, examining the world today, is simultaneously social, economic, and political.  Obama is presented as the emblem of an “impossible prophecy,” perhaps a prophecy that merely one hundred and fifty years ago would indeed have felt impossible, but with the determination of this particular “young ploughman,” is now being fulfilled. 
 In contrast with the youthfulness of the poem’s protagonist is the old guard of “bespectacled owls,” a “gesticulating scarecrow,” and “crows with predictable omens.” The young man, however, is unaffected by their efforts, as he “feels the change in his veins, heart, muscles, tendons.”  Walcott uses the images of “the moaning ground,” “the lynching tree,” and “the tornado’s black vengeance” to imply how those in opposition to this “young Negro” have used every possible method to keep him from his destiny, even trying to (metaphorically, of course) turn nature against him. But keeping this ploughman from his destiny is not in Nature’s nature. Once the young man assumes his place behind the plow, the “land lies open like a flag…and furrows wait for the sower.” It seems that Walcott is hopeful that we as a nation will be the reapers to that sowing; we will be the beneficiaries of the efforts of this youthful leader, this embodiment of American possibility.  

Forty Acres: A Poem for Barack Obama Analysis

This inspiring poem brings to the people a man that fulfilled a prophecy, a man that will lead the country through change to new pastures. This poem is to inspire hope and strength in all peoples of this nation, to find power to create change and bring a better life. In the first stanza, Walcott brings us the image of a young Negro, who connects us to the past and to our present in President Obama. The crowd divides not only by party and ideology affiliation, but parting to give him way to go through this, "... field of snow-flecked cotton" (Walcott, NP). In the next section we find that this ploughman is besieged by crows crying omens of doom, owls, and a scarecrow in rage. His ancestors, and also the Americans of the past, are unforgotten as he moves on his way. The ploughman is set upon by watchful owls, potentially representative of the Judicial Branch. The Scarecrow, representing the past and those that hate him, is unable to convey words of power and can only quiver and stamp in anger as he moves along. The small plough mentioned in the next section might represent a beginning or wistful thoughts and hope, plowing through the groans of the defeated and distrustful, the tree of destruction, where good men died because of the prejudices and ignorance of others, and a tornado of hatred. This ploughman can feel hope rising and potential inside him, throughout his body while he makes furrows of the land that is ripe for new beginnings and relations. In the last section, the land is compared with a simile to a flag as morning comes and change is on the horizon. I feel the last line is especially powerful with, "... and furrows wait for the sower" (Walcott, NP). This last line gives us the image that his work will not end just yet... more has to be done to bring the nation to wholeness and bring strength back to a people that is crying out in need. Who is the sower? Perhaps the sower represents Obama again... or perhaps with him as the ploughman, the enablers to bring physical reality to these hopes. Tactile work will have to be done to make these dreams come true with President Obama at the helm.

After reading this poem, I felt that this was an accurate poem to President Obama's declarations and quite worthy of praise. Obama as the ploughman, bringing a bright future to the people. Amidst the cries of the nay-sayers, the ploughman moves along... and so shall we.

Analyzing Literary Tools: "Forty Acres: A Poem for Barack Obama" by Derek Walcott

Derek Walcott’s poem, “Forty Acres: A Poem for Barack Obama,” uses many literary tools to enrich the language and imagery of the celebration of the election of America’s first Black President. One of the literary tools that Walcott uses to express the importance of Barack Obama as a symbol of the African American people is by using repetition of the word “emblem.” This repetitive use of “emblem” advances the position Walcott takes that President Obama symbolizes the advancement of all Black people. Another literary tool that Walcott uses efficiently is the oxymoron of “impossible prophecy” (line 3). This impossible of this phrase denotes something that shall never come to pass while prophecy denotes something that has been foretold to happen. Thus, the oxymoron in this poem represents what people thought would never happen: an African American being elected to the Presidency. However, African Americans have been hoping and praying for a shift in racial perception to come where there would be the opportunity for a Black man to become President. Walcott advances his language in his poem through similes, also. He writes, “a crowd/ dividing like the furrow which a mule has ploughed,” (lines 3-4). Walcott could have simply said the crowd divided; this simile shows us more clearly the pace and power in which the crowd divided. Another simile that Walcott uses is “till the land lies open like a flag” (line 19). Here Walcott compares the land to a flag. Walcott’s use of a simile here is much more thought provoking than if he had just said that the land lay open or clear. The symbol of a flag brings thoughts of the nation as a whole and the history of the United States.
Overall, this poem is filled with literary tools that help to invoke images and allusions in the readers’ minds.

Forty Acres

This poem is an incredibly poem simply because it speaks to individuals in very specific ways. Depending on an individual's background, one can make many different interpretations. This poem can have different meaning for an African-American from the South than it does for Caucasian college student from Indiana. With this in mind, I believe the poem is filled with many literary devices that describe a theme of change and hope. Walcott uses plenty of metaphors to portray this theme of change. It is best to start at the top of the poem and plow through it.

The first line is very important. It begins with the words "Out of the turmoil" followed by alliteration of emerges, emblem, and engraving. Turmoil is the word that is in question. What is this turmoil? First impressions would be that turmoil stands for the difficult past of African Americans in the United States, but I believe the word stands for something else--simply past and present with no emphasis yet on the future. The use of the word turmoil sets the stage and gives more meaning for the literal change that occurs at the end of the poem.

From this turmoil comes a Negro at dawn. Dawn is used twice within the poem. It appears in lines 2 and 19. Dawn is a very important word to examine. When we first see dawn it is referring to time. The second time we see "dawn" it is a noun claiming the light streaks. I believe this difference is important to notice because of the two different meanings. Dawn used as time could be a metaphor signifying the time of Obama's era. The second use of dawn is referring to the change that Obama is bringing in his term as president. I believe the use of two different meanings of dawn is important because it highlights the change that the poem is all about.

We see a literal change of the Negro during the last several lines of the poem. It is as if the young ploughman has become supercharged by some force--possibly all of the subjects referred to throughout the poem--and has ploughed the field. Ploughing is simply preparing the field for the seeds. By keeping this in mind, one could interpret the ploughman to not be Obama, but instead be all of the African Americans who came before him, preparing his way for presidency. Ploughing is incredibly tough work, and all of the work that Malcolm X, W.E.B. DuBois, MLK Jr, and many others was incredibly difficult, but because of what they have done, Obama is able to be the first African American president. These people were enraged, motivated and grew, just like the ploughman's muscles, tendons, and most importantly heart have grown. These men have ploughed the way for Obama's seeds of change to grow. I believe this poem is not just a tribute to President Obama, but it is also more of a tribute to African-Americans who have endured their tough history in American society.

Forty Acres: A Poem for Barack Obama

Derek Walcott's Forty Acres: A Poem for Barack Obama is a beautiful poem that exemplifies the struggle of the African-American race. "Out of the turmoil" (1) of history comes "a young Negro" (2) to lead the way and to plow the field ahead of him. The poem shows the power of one man moving forward to lead the rest. Also his followers are not all Black, some include whites who are a field of snow-flecked cotton" (line 5-6). Later on, cotton is used again to denote "cotton-haired ancestors" (line 9) of Obama (the ploughman) to show how the two races are intertwined and based on age, Blacks get white hair just as Whites do to signify wisdom in old age. These ancestors, Black and White, plowed the way before him earlier. He picks up the plow to plow and sow the field so that others may follow and sow more seeds and reap the benefits.

Walcott uses personification to show the resistance to the ploughman from the "gesticulating scarecrow stamping with rage at him," "the moaning ground, the lynching tree, the tornado's black vengeance" (line 13, 15-16). Even nature is against the ploughman. History, nature and time have been very cruel to the Negros, but they have persevered to push through and plough the field to gain better equality and more rights for the next generation.

Forty Acres

As it has been said in the previous posts, Derek Walcott's poem, Forty Acres, is filled with many metaphors. Ingeniously, Walcott does not disguise all of these metaphors so deeply that an English Major at Wabash can decipher them. Just as Obama is politician for all people, Walcott writes this poem for all to enjoy. The "ploughman" of the poem is not merely an African-American laborer, nor is he simply Barack Obama, but it is a symbol for the African-American nation as a whole. There are many labors and trials that African-Americans have had to overcome, starting in slavery, then sever economic disruption, followed by years of inequality, and the continuing feelings of racism by many non-Black Americans. Through all this, African-Americans have persevered and prospered; and just as the ploughman of the poem finishes plowing the fields after a hard day's work, Barack Obama has made a great achievement by becoming the first African-American President. Its a symbol of hope and prosperity in a nation where a Black man can become the "Leader of the Free World."

Walcott cleverly inlays the notion of the arduous journey of the African-American with detailed allusions to the trials endured by the "ploughman." As he works, he is watched by a "tense court of bespectacled owls." These owls represent the eyes of the world. People all over the world are watching Obama's every move: some hoping that he succeeds in bringing his "Change", while others are waiting for his first mistake. Admist these owls is the edge of the field. The boundaries of the day's work, the single job of the ploughman, loom on the side, drawing closer everyday. This I see as the end of President Obama's presidency. He only has four to eight years to do the work in which he can do everything he can to lead this nation and hopefully bring about the change in which he has promised the citizens within it. At the end of the field is a "gesticulating scarecrow." This could be the next candidate, possibly even a party member that is upset at the loss of the candidacy. This scarecrow is agrily stamping, visually displaying its anger and frustration at the the ploughman, but it cannot do anything to stop the ploughman's progress. The scarecrow is also a metaphor for conservatism and tradition. Though the scarecrow has been left in charge of the field for a long time, the ploughman is now rising through the furrows of the field, making progress to its final goal. The scarecrow, once the protector of the field, is powerless to stop the progress of the laborer and can only show his disproval my displaying his frustrations. Just as the tradtional and conservative sect of America has held sway in American politics for a long time, i.e. Whites have always been elected President, the ploughman--the symbol of the African-American nation--have made their progress and now have attained the presidency through their hard work.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Forty Acres Analysis

Derek Walcott utilizes a variety of literary devices to create an elaborate metaphor of Barack Obama’s presidency, as well as the history that has led up to his inauguration. Obama is presented as “a young Negro at dawn in straw hat and overalls,” an image that features heavily throughout the poem. This figure plows through acres of land, sculpting it with his own hands to create something entirely new and different. By removing the cotton crops (an allusion to the days of slavery), this farmer is literally rebuilding his past so that the future can spring forth from the tattered ground. The last four lines reflect the effort that it takes to do this, as “the young ploughman feels the change in his veins, heart muscles, tendons…” Obama has endured much criticism for promising the somewhat empty words of hope and change. By taking office, however, Obama has indeed brought a change, both historically and literally.

This presidency will be watched very carefully, due to the nature of the economy and the state of America today. Walcott depicts “crows of predictable omens” and a “court of bespectacled owls’ that watch over the young ploughman, a clear metaphor for how Obama is seen through both critics and the media, respectively. In addition to this, there seems to be an intense rage surrounding all of the ploughman’s actions, such as the “gesticulating scarecrow,” the “moaning ground,” and “the lynching tree.” Each of these are symbols of fear and death, yet the young ploughman carries on with his work. Like his the work the young man does, Obama defies the negative history, the hateful past, and has proudly marches on with, as the poem puts it, a “tornado’s black vengeance.”

Forty Acres: A Poem for Barack Obama

Forty Acres, written by Derek Walcott is a very powerful poem. It contains a great deal of metaphors and symbols that capture the reader's attention and directly relate to the history of our country. I would like to analyze some of my favorite parts of the poem.

The first line stands out to me: "Out of the turmoil emerges one emblem". When Obama came out for his victory speech on the night of November 4th, I believe the nation began to feel passionate about our country for the first time in a while, amidst the hardships of the recession. Obama symbolically stood for something, and as Walcott puts it, an "impossible prophecy". Obama's campaign slogan "Change" is even referenced in the 4th to last line: "the young ploughman feels the change in his veins". The thought of having an African American President had seemingly always been a dream, however, in 2009 it has come true. Walcott's reference to the Jim Crow laws and forty-acres of land (a broken promise to former slaves) is also a powerful metaphor as the young ploughman (Obama) ignored the history that has gone against him. On November 4th, 2008, Barack Obama, the young ploughman, proved the naysayers wrong and re-wrote history despite the "gesticulating scarecrow stamping with rage at him".

The most powerful part of the poem is the ending in which Walcott is telling of America's future. "Furrows wait for the sower" stood out to me because of a specific portion of Obama's victory speech. Obama representing the "young ploughman" can only furrow the soil, however the seeds will be planted by the sower. In his victory speech on Nov. 4th, Obama stated, "The road ahead will be long. Our climb will be steep. We may not get there in one year or even in one term. But, America, I have never been more hopeful than I am tonight that we will get there. I promise you, we as a people will get there." This was powerful to me because although Obama has been elected President, he fully knows that the change he seeks cannot occur over night. It is a process, one that our nation must be fully willing to take on. I relate it to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He fully knew that the change he sought wouldn't occur overnight but he still held his peaceful movements in order for future generations to prosper. In this same light, Obama has ploughed the field, and even he himself is unsure of whether or not he will be the one to "plant the seeds", but at least the opportunity is now available for someone, someday to do so.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Ploughman's Field: Forty Acres as it Pertains to Black History

Derek Walcott's poem, Forty Acres: A Poem For Barack Obama is a wonderful text that seems to emulate the history of the African American race throughout American history. Highly symbolic, the text makes use of multiple metaphors to demonstrate several acts in history and the "ploughman's" journey through them.

The ploughman, a "young Negro at dawn in straw hat and overalls," is seen as the "emblem" or "engraving" that emerges "out of the turmoil." This ploughman is the starting point, and gives the metaphot further direction. The scene described is that of an African American slave harvesting cotton. However, from there the imagery becomes more complex. The ploughman is an "emblem of impossible prophecy," a paradox that seems to refer to Barack Obama (who is of course the first African American president in our history. The term "president" is even used in the line following the next line. The crowd divides for their "president," and we see that the crowd is likened to a field.

This field is forty acres wide: this demonstrates, for the ploughman, his terribly journey to where we are today. Forty acres and a mule (the mule was mentioned earlier in the poem) were promised to freed slaves who fought in the Civil War. However, this promise was revoked by Lincoln's successor, President Andrew Johnson, and thus the phrase "forty acres" has come to symbolize the failure of Reconstruction. Thus, "forty acres" is a metaphor for broken promises and adversity, through which the ploughman must have traveled. Included in this field are the "crows of predictable omens" which could be an allusion to the Jim Crow laws, rules that legally enforced the Plessy vs. Ferguson "separate but equal" philosophy. However, the ploughman, which at this time seems to me to refer to the entire African American race, "ignores for his unforgotten cotton-haired ancestors." The ploughman is also faced with the "tense court of bespectacled owls" and the "gesticulating scarecrow" which might refer to discriminatory judicial boards and racism, respectively. The cotton hair is of course a reference to slavery; thus, at the time of the forty acres and Jim Crow law controversies, the African American people had to ignore their troubles and push on in order to make possible what is now today possible: an African American resides in the White House. 

"The small plough continues on this lined page/beyond the moaning ground..." There is more symbolism here, but it seems to continue what has already been started in the previous lines. The "moaning ground" could be the ground where dead black soldiers laid in their final rest. The "lynching tree" is a more obvious image. However, the young ploughman "feels the change in his veins" which could point explicitly towards Barack Obama, whose platform rests on the hope of change. 

The most powerful image for me was the last line. And "furrows wait for the sower." A sower plants seeds; he does not harvest them. The ploughman has only changed the ground so that a sower could plant seeds. What we see is a tradition going way back. Obama himself is the next sower. That is so powerful. Obama is only picking up the work of his ancestors. He is not the epitome of black rights or of civil rights. He is not the final goal. Barack Obama's presidency is the penultimate step in the ploughman's journey. Now he will "sow the seeds" and wait for the next ploughman in his line to take up the plough. 

Tuesday, January 13, 2009


“An opposition to theory usually means an opposition to other people’s theories and an ignorance of one’s own.”
--Terry Eagleton