Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Uncle Jim declares, “White folks is white,” and the grammatical deficiency of his sentence seems to show his ignorance. The speaker of the poem dismisses Uncle Jim’s remark, insisting that milk and the foam on beer are also white. Not pleased to be rejected, Uncle Jim smokes his pipe and in reply seems to insist that with time the young man will see that Uncle Jim knows what he is talking about.
In the third stanza, the poem turns to a friend of the poet—a drinking partner who commiserates with the young African American. Apparently the friends drink to excess, even as the drinking partner raises toasts to the speaker’s “joy,” because the companions are soon “face-in-the-grass.”
The emptiness of this friendship and the activity connected with it teach a moral lesson. Perhaps the speaker is not made fully wise, but something about the friendship or the friend apparently dawns on the speaker, whose mind turns to Uncle Jim.
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Cullen, Countée. My Soul’s High Song: The Collected Writings of Countée Cullen, Voice of the Harlem Renaissance. Edited by Gerald Early. New York: Anchor Books, 1991.
Fetrow, Fred M. “Cullen’s ’Yet Do I Marvel.’” Explicator 56, no. 2 (Winter, 1998): 103-106.
Goldweber, David E. “Cullen, Keats, and the Privileged Liar.” Papers on Language and Literature 38, no. 1 (Winter, 2002): 29-49.
Lomax, Michael L. “Countée Cullen: A Key to the Puzzle.” In The Harlem Renaissance Re-examined, edited by Victor A. Kramer. New York: AMS Press, 1987.
Powers, Peter. “’The Singing Man Who Must Be Reckoned With’: Private Desire and Public Responsibility in the Poetry of Countée Cullen.” African American Review 34, no. 4 (Winter, 2000): 661-679.
Shucard, Alan R. Countée Cullen. Boston: Twayne, 1984.
Turner, Darwin T. “Countée Cullen: The Lost Ariel.” In In a Minor Chord: Three African American Writers and Their Search for Identity. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1971.