What is the significance and effect of the allusions to classical literature/ myth in general and to these myths in particular in Countee Cullen's "Yet Do I Marvel"?
YET DO I MARVEL BY COUNTEE CULLEN
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Countee Cullen's short poem "Yes Do I Marvel" contains two classical allusions, both to notorious criminals in the mythical world.
The first, Tantalus, was doomed to always be "tantalized" (the word comes from his name) by food and water which he could never reach. This punishment was a result of Tantalus trying to serve the flesh of his own son to the gods, who were understandably enraged by this.
The second, Sisyphus, tried to sexually assault the goddess Hera. As his punishment, Sisyphus has to push a boulder up a hill in the underworld. He never makes it to the top before the boulder rolls back down the hill again.
Although ancient sources explain why Tantalus and Sisyphus were punished, Cullen seems to view these odd punishments as evidence of the incomprehensible reasoning of God.
Cullen lived in America at a time when prejudice against African Americans was far more overt than it is now. Thus, Cullen ends his list of questions for God by wondering how God could "make a poet black, and bid him sing."
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