Heritage is a poem written by Countee Cullen. It was first published in 1925 in the book Color. The poem is about Cullen’s African American heritage and how he is proud of it. Heritage is one of Cullen’s most famous poems and is still studied and anthologized today.
Countee Cullen, an African American poet, wrote Heritage during the Harlem Renaissance. Even though he was born into a mostly white culture and had no experience with Africa or its traditions, he felt a confusing connection to his African heritage. While he understood that in order to survive in America he needed adapt to white society’s ways, it nonetheless bothered him that whites were not interested in learning about other cultures.
He is left to wonder about his identity and where he belongs. The poem Heritage reflects on this search for identity and self-acceptance.
Heritage is a poem that speaks to the African American experience. It is a reflection on what it means to be black in America and the confusion that comes with not knowing where you fit in. The speaker in the poem is searching for his place in the world and trying to come to terms with his heritage. The poem is a powerful statement on race and identity. Heritage is an important part of African American literature and culture.
Countee Cullen’s poem “Heritage” reflects on his experience as a Black American who is aware of his rich Native African heritage yet trapped in a sterile conformist American culture that offers him only unhypothetical insight into his history and no genuine unbiased perception of his own culture. To illustrate that he is perplexed about the meaning of his African heritage, Cullen utilizes literary techniques such as imagery, symbolism, and irony in Heritage.
Heritage is a poem about the internal conflict of Countee Cullen on the dilemma of being a modern African American aware of his rich Native African heritage but stranded in a sterile conformist American culture that offer him only stereotypical insight into his heritage and no true unbiased perception of his own culture.
In Heritage Cullen uses literary devices such as imagery, symbolism and irony to show that he is conflicted on his view of his African heritage. The first three stanzas introduce the speakers feeling of “double-consciousness”, where he is aware of both his African heritage and his American upbringing.
The fourth stanza is where the speaker begins to question if he will ever be able to fully identify with either culture. The fifth stanza is the resolution of the poem, where the speaker comes to the realization that he is African American and that is something to be proud of. Heritage is a poem that speaks to the experience of many African Americans who are caught between two cultures and struggling to find their place in society.
To illustrate his perplexity regarding African heritage, Cullen employs imagery as a literary device. Thus Cullen begins with a question about the nature of an abstract and faraway Africa. “When the birds of Eden sang, what was Africa to me, copper sun or scarlet sea, jungle star or jungle track? What is it to be strong bronzed men when the birds of Eden are silent?” (Cullen, Lines 1-6).
The speaker in the poem is not sure about his connection to Africa. He begins by listing some of Africa’s natural features, but he does not feel a sense of connection to them. The next two lines introduce the idea of human beings from Africa, but even these cannot give the speaker a sense of identity. It is only when he thinks of “the birds of Eden” that he feels a sense of connection to his heritage. This image represents the African continent as a whole, and it is this image that finally gives the speaker a sense of belonging.
The second stanza continues with the theme of displacement and confusion. The speaker asks whether or not he should be “proud” (Cullen, Line 9) of his African heritage. He is torn between two worlds, and he does not know where he belongs. On the one hand, he feels a sense of pride in his heritage, but on the other hand, he feels like an outsider in both Africa and America.
The speaker’s confusion is evident in the way he uses the word “I” throughout the poem. In the first stanza, he uses the word “I” to refer to himself as an individual. However, in the second stanza, he begins to use “I” to refer to all African Americans. This shift shows how the speaker is struggling to find a sense of identity.
The third stanza introduces the idea of history and the past. The speaker asks whether or not he should “remember” (Cullen, Line 13) the “glories” (Cullen, Line 14) of Africa. He is torn between forgetting the past and remembering it.
The aim of this poem is to transport the reader on a tour through what it meant to be black in Africa. Line 12-30, the negro says that he can hear big animals all around him and that the birds in the sky are singing. He also explains the noises of drums that he hears. Drums were used in Africa for a variety of purposes, including celebrations and during war time.
Line 31-38, he goes on to say that he feels the presence of his African ancestors. He can feel them in the trees and in the wind. They are always with him and he is never alone. Heritage is important to Cullen because it shows how proud he is of his African roots. Even though he was born in America, he still feels a strong connection to his homeland.
Cullen employs organic imagery to immerse his readers into his experience. The usage of this literary device was to communicate with the reader about the negro’s feelings when Africa was the idea. In lines 22-30, Cullen employs a variety of metaphors that all link and have a connection. “So I lie, fount of pride,” he says, “dear distress and joy allied, is my somber flash and skin, with dark blood damned within like great pulsing tides of wine that I fear must burst the fine channels of the chafing net.”
The first half of Heritage is the feeling and realization of what he is. The second half is the idea of what he could be. Cullen wants to be great, but because he is negro, people see him as a lower class. Even though his people have been through so much, they are still strong. He wants his people to know that they should not give in and let other people tell them they cannot do something just because of the color of their skin. They should aim high and Heritage will show them how. Heritage is a very important poem because it shows pride, and how one can go from nothing to something.