Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 469

“Political Poem” is a cautionary statement about the danger of separating poetry from real-world society and politics, but also about the danger of putting it at the service of political beliefs that are out of touch with society. Although it would be a mistake to identify the first-person speaker of the poem with Baraka himself, it would also be a mistake to miss such things as the reference to Newark, where Baraka lived when he wrote this poem. The speaker who declares, “I have not seen the earth for years,” seems to be a version of Baraka—that is, the poet he would be if he did not write poetry that actively engaged the political issues of his day.

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As such, because this poet is trying to write a type of poetry that can only thrive “under heavy tarpaulins,” his poem is easily interrupted—by a phone call, by a turkey sandwich, and by the “bad words of Newark.” The real world undoes his poetry.

In the course of his ruminations on this dilemma, however, this poet’s position evolves. He realizes the futility of trying to create poetry in isolation from the world and cannot help but see his efforts in a wider context of trying to fill the breech of “this/ crumbling century” with “the darkness of love.” Yet this position—of trying to create a bridge of love with his poems—is insufficient and is “undone by the logic of any specific death.” More must go into the poetry; anger as well as love has a place in poetry, because there are some things which must be rejected.

When, in the third stanza, a parenthesis opens (it will remain open), it marks the completion of the change of the persona that was presented in the second stanza. That is, the speaker who was presented as the type of poet Baraka would be if he avoided political themes in his poetry has been transformed into the poet that Baraka was at the time he wrote this. This is the poet who knows that theories are worthless without ideas and that reason cannot replace feeling in either politics or poetry.

The second stanza concerns itself specifically with the creation of a poem, but a second meaning emerges if the reader understands that Baraka is also addressing the dangers of formulating political theories while out of touch with society. When a theory of politics tries to substitute sterile reason for feeling, it becomes politically as noxious as the poem that makes this substitution. For either a poetically or politically inspired person, this substitution is suicidal to the cause. Another point the poem makes, then, is that poetry should not serve the reasons of politics, but that good poetry is nurtured by the same ground from which healthy politics grow.

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