Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The strong mood of religious reflection in “Yet Do I Marvel” stems in large part from the central position of the Christian church in the culture of African Americans. Intensity of religious fervor and a vivid sense of divine anthropomorphism are common themes in the poetry of black American poets.

A second important theme for Cullen is his race. Blackness is a focal point of the poem. It is the last of a series of imponderables of the human condition. On the one hand, the poet’s black skin is included in the same category as the blindness of the mole or the punishments of Tantalus and Sisyphus. It is another example of the mysterious ways of a God who inexplicably made humans of different skin color. On the other hand, the blackness of the poet is a source of pride, a gift of that almighty Creator whose ways are always right. Thus, Cullen, a poet of the Harlem Renaissance in the early part of the twentieth century, was asserting the beauty of black skin long before the Civil Rights movement made black pride more widespread later in the century.

At the same time, Cullen’s experience as a black man is set in the context of his role as a poet. He is a poet made black, not a black man made a poet. Like his black skin, Cullen’s poetic talent is a mysterious source of both pain and joy. This poet who fashions a highly polished poem filled with sophisticated allusion is, at the same time, a member of an oppressed race often denied the...

(The entire section is 423 words.)