Analyze and evaluate the use of imagery or form in the poems“America” by Claude McKay, and “Song” by Adrienne Rich.

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booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Adrienne's Rich's poem, "Song," and Claude McKay's poem, "America," imagery plays an important part.

In "Song," perhaps the title gives the reader its first clue that the poem has little to do with loneliness, as one might think at the end of the first line of verse. Rich's imagery provides further enlightenment. Each image presented in all of the stanzas express something positive to offset the question of loneliness.

In the first stanza, Rich defies that concept of loneliness, agreeing that she is only lonely if beauty in the world can be loneliness: a plane rides...aiming
across the Rockies
for the blue-strung aisles
of an airfield on the ocean.

The second stanza finds Rich admitting to loneliness only if it feels like a woman on a journey, going where she chooses, and avoiding places that do not suit her (what freedom!):

as a woman driving across country... / leaving behind... / little towns she might have stopped / and lived and died in, lonely...

(She would have been lonely if had she stopped...insinuating that not stopping there means she is not lonely.)

In the third stanza, Rich admits she would be lonely if that meant that loneliness was that...

of waking first, of breathing
dawns' first cold breath on the city
of being the one awake
in a house wrapped in sleep

The peace that comes from waking before everyone else in the house indicates a pleasure in those quiet moments—but NOT loneliness— while wrapped in sleep among others still asleep.

Can lonely be...

...the rowboat ice-fast on the shore
in the last red light of the year
that knows what it is, that knows it's neither
ice nor mud nor winter light
but wood, with a gift for burning...?

The imagery here shows what might at first seem to be loneliness:

the rowboat ice-fast on the shore / in the last red light of the year...

is a an intentional misrepresentation. The subject of the stanza knows what it is, and what it is not: it has potential ("with a gift for burning..."). "Gift" is a positive word.

Rich basically says that she is only lonely if the wonder around her, and the possibilities lying before her, make one lonely.

In McKay's poem, he begins by using imagery that is strong or harsh, but it does not put him off. Quite the contrary, he responds to the harshness of America by wanting to further embrace her, despite the threat she imposes:

"bread of bitterness,"

"sinks into my throat her tiger's tooth."

After these images, McKay shifts his response away from the threats described:

I will confess

I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.
From this point on, the author gives a negative image of the things that have a side of strength and imposition, but highlights the positives, the duality, he sees in each.
Her vigor flows...into my blood. Giving me strength against her hate, Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state, I stand within her walls with not a shred of terror...
By the end of the poem, she ("America") is not the enemy, but the army at his back:
Darkly I gaze into the days ahead, And see her might and granite wonders there...
Whereas the poet himself starts out by showing America as a frightening adversary, by the end, he leans on the strength of this land. Rich uses situational irony by providing the theme of loneliness, but then presenting all the reasons that defy the image of loneliness. McKay's imagery presents the harsh side of America, like a one-time adversary, who ultimately becomes his advocate and strength.