Monday, January 26, 2009

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.

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