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.

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