In the first eight lines of this sonnet "Yet Do I Marvel," Countee Cullen brings up some things that he does not understand. What point is he making through these lines?

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Countee [Porter] Cullen’s poem “Yet Do I Marvel” expresses his intrigue with God.  It is easy to see the poet at his desk and in his chair thinking.  He wonders to himself and then on paper:  “ I wonder why things are the way they are.”

The poet recognizes there are no answers to his questions, and his poem does not offer any solutions.  It is as though he is poetically talking to God.  The poem is useful because it keeps track of the speaker’s thought process.  In the musical play “The King and I,” in one of the king’s songs he states: “It’s a puzzlement.” That is what Cullen is saying when he brings up these problems and wonders: ”Why?”  

The poet believes that God is good.  He also contends that God wants no harm for the world.  However, there are bad things in the world. Why then do these problems occur? This is the conundrum.  

The poem is written in the form of an English sonnet.  It has fourteen lines with three quatrains and a couplet at the end. The rhyming scheme is standard: ABABCDCDEEFFGG.  The setting for the sonnet is the form of the poem.  The poet used this form to unravel his thoughts about in  this case: the things about which he wonders.

There is no action in the poem. It is an intellectual debate within the poet’s mind about God, life, being black, and writing poetry.  Written during the Harlem Renaissance, this poem concerns itself with the ideas of this poetic period. The writers were working for racial equality. 

What is the poet saying in the first eight lines of the sonnet?

I doubt not God is good, well-meaning, kind,

And did He stoop to quibble could tell why…

1st line

The poet explains his position about God: he is good, benevolent, and compassionate.

2nd line

If God were willing to look down and equivocate and make some explanations

3rd line

Why is the little mole, who lives under the ground, unable to see?

4th line

If God made man in his image, why does man then get old and die?

5th /6th lines

Give a clear reason why Tantalus in Greek mythology is taunted by the luscious fruit every day for the rest of his life.

7th /8th lines

Is just a whim that Sisyphus [also a Greek myth] has to climb those never-ending stairs?

What was the point that Cullen was making by bringing up these negative aspects of nature or stories? He was wondering why God allows bad things to happen? Why does he not intercede and fix these things? In final analysis, he is questioning God.


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