Study Guide

An Anthem

by Sonia Sanchez

An Anthem Summary

Introduction

Sonia Sanchez’s poem “An Anthem” first appeared in 1987’s Under a Soprano Sky and later was included in Shake Loose My Skin (1999), a collection of previously published and new poems. “An Anthem” is written in free verse broken into stanzas of varying lengths. In it, Sanchez celebrates her African-American heritage with vibrant descriptions of dance and music. Alongside this celebration is a call for courage to stand up for peace and compassion. It is a poem of resilience that acknowledges some of the ills of the world without giving up hope or identity.

Sanchez uses many styles of writing in her poetry, ranging from haikus and sonnets to free verse. “An Anthem” is representative of her work in that the style suits the content, and the content is perfectly in line with her canon of work. Throughout her career, Sanchez has written about the importance of peace, even when pursuing it is uncomfortable or dangerous. Her writings about African-American themes often have a collective application, as “An Anthem” does. Although the speaker in the poem asks for personal courage, the word “we” dominates the poem.

An Anthem Summary

“An Anthem” begins with a statement of unity: “Our vision is our voice.” The speaker then explains that “we” go all over the country seeking out those who are in favor of war. In the next stanza, the speaker identifies who she and her group are, but she does it in figurative terms. She says that they are people of fire and ceremony who speak with condemned mouths. In other words, they are people of strength, determination, and heritage who continue to speak out even though they are rebuked for it.

The third stanza continues to describe the speaker and her people as having wisdom and purpose. They can do things in their hearts that they do not have to do physically. She says, “we run without legs,” meaning that they can move forward or away without physically going anywhere at all. She also says that they “see without eyes,” indicating that they know things apart from what they actually see. Their understanding is greater than their direct experience. Her statement that “loud laughter breaks over our heads” indicates joy and camaraderie in the culture of their community.

The next two lines appear three times in the poem. They are: “give me courage so I can spread / it over my face and mouth.” The speaker acknowledges that she needs courage to face problems or conditions in the world that demand attention. Her previous reference to war suggests that she asks for courage to advocate peace. It is interesting that here she moves from “we” to “me,” so that the reader knows that the speaker is part of a community and she embraces its heritage and culture, but she asks for personal courage. She confronts difficulties that she will have to fight alone, and she wants to be prepared. She describes courage as something...

(The entire section is 721 words.)