What type of poem is Maya Angelou's "We Had Him?"  What are its themes?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Angelou's poem seeks to honor Jackson.  It is the kind of poem that seeks to recognize the memory of one who has passed.  The poem does not employ a particular rhyme scheme or deliberate meter.  In its free verse approach, it represents the type of poem that uses images to capture the image of one who cast a large impression on both speaker and audience.  The poem is the type of poem that Angelou uses to capture a particular mood or impression, seeking to illuminate this condition through words. It is an elegiac type of poem, as it seeks to emphasize a particularly mournful quality.

There are several themes present in "We Had Him."  One theme is the life/ death cycle.  Angelou wishes to paint the portrait that with Jackson's talent, the creative and potent forces of life exist.  For Angelou, Jackson's life was synonymous with the forces of life:  "He came to us from the creator, trailing creativity in abundance."  Angelou suggests that within the life that Jackson lived, his innovative creativity defined both his life and our own: "He thrived with passion and compassion, humor and style. We had him whether we know who he was or did not know, he was ours and we were his."  In contrast, Angelou draws out a world in which there is a lack of certainty, a reflection of the creative loss that his death caused:  "In the instant that Michael is gone, we know nothing. No clocks can tell time. No oceans can rush our tides with the abrupt absence of our treasure."  The contrast of what life was when Jackson was alive and when he was able to generate creative talents for us, the audience, with the stark absence his death has caused is where Angelou is able to thematically explore throughout the poem.  

The theme of remembrance is emphasized in the poem's title.  "We Had Him" is meant to acknowledge that what was once there is now gone.  The only acceptable response to this condition is to remember.  In lines such as "We were enchanted with his passion because he held nothing. / He gave us all he had been given." and "But we do know we had him, and we are the world," there is a call to remember that which has passed.  Angelou uses her words to construct specific images that are iconic representations of Jackson's construction:  "His hat, aslant over his brow, and took a pose on his toes for all of us."  In using such imagery, Angelou emphasizes the theme of remembrance. She wants the reader to recall their own feelings and emotions with the images of Jackson and his hat "aslant" or his signature dance move in which he was "on his toes."  Employing the use of such visuals, Angelou develops the theme of remembrance.

Finally, Angelou's honoring of Jackson helps to enhance the theme of mourning.  There is a mourning process of which Angelou's poem is an intrinsic part.  Angelou's poem emphasizes the reality of mourning.  Death is a process by which individuals "know nothing."  The only way of understanding such a condition is through mourning the passing of another.  The mere idea of "We Had Him" indicates that there is a loss experienced, helping to convey mourning.  "He was ours" and "We were his" are elements that serve as further evidence of mourning.   In acknowledging that "He gave us all he had been given," Angelou's poem is thematically driven with the idea of mourning and grieving over Jackson's death.

Wiggin42 | Student

Its a poem to honor Michael Jackson. A major theme in it is love: the love Jackson received from his family and his fans. But its also about how Jackson loved his fans and gave everything he had for them. The poem is a bitter sweet "Thank you" to Michael Jackson. 

The poem also touches on the topic of grief and how to deal with loss. 

In the instant that Michael is gone, we know nothing. No clocks can tell time. No oceans can rush our tides with the abrupt absence of our treasure.

Though we are many, each of us is achingly alone, piercingly alone.

There are so many people that have been touched by Jackson and miss him dearly. Yet, they all feel "piercingly alone" because that is what grief can do.