What is the meaning of "I Have a Rendezvous with Life" by Countee Cullen?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I have a rendezvous with Life,
In days I hope will come,
Ere youth has sped, and strength of mind,
Ere voices sweet grow dumb.
I have a rendezvous with Life,
When Spring's first heralds hum.
Sure some would cry it's better far
To crown their days with sleep
Than face the road, the wind and rain,
To heed the calling deep.
Though wet nor blow nor space I fear,
Yet fear I deeply, too,
Lest Death should meet and claim me ere
I keep Life's rendezvous.

A poet who sought to transcend issues of race and "strike a universal chord," Cullen's poem "I Have a Rendez-vous with Life" exemplifies what critics describe as

...his tension between the objective of transcendence, to enter the "mainstream" and his ineluctable return to the predicament his race faces in a white world.

This tension is evinced as Cullen's speaker hopes to transcend his mundane existence and predicaments of race and have a date--rendez vous--with life and realize the joys and freedom of "days to come." 

Written in the form of an Elizabethan sonnet, although the rhyme scheme does not follow the regular pattern, Cullen's poem does adhere to the different variations of theme in such a sonnet.  For instance, in the first quatrain, the poet expresses the hope of experiencing life before his youth is spent.  Then, he admits to the lost hope of others who rather shut out life with sleep and not experience "the rain" of prejudice and hardship.  These have abandoned their dream of a rendez-vous with life. But, Cullen's speaker has not relinquished his fear in facing "the road, wind, and rain," metaphors for hardships.

In the final quatrain, then, the speaker admits to this fear, but such a fear of harship is mitigated by his greater fear of not having truly lived at all. Personifying Death against Life, the speaker is concerned that Death will claim him before he has his rendez-vous with Life.   The personification of these two forces indicates that Cullen's speaker feels himself held back.

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