Rhapsody in Plain Yellow

by Marilyn Chin

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Rhapsody in Plain Yellow (W. W. Norton & Company, 2003) is a collection of poetry by prize-winning poet Marilyn Chin. These several dozen poems are primarily written in free verse, exhibiting techniques of the Modernist movement (especially as the book's foreword features a quote from the renowned Modern poet, William Carlos Williams). Therefore, the book's characters are not highly-developed fictional characters as one would find in a novel, but rather historical figures and close relations to the poet.

Chin herself was born in Hong Kong and exhibits significant anxiety about her Chinese heritage while living in America. In this way, Chin herself can rightly be considered the primary character of the collection (and, in fact, many consider this cycle of poetry to be largely autobiographical). Chin came to the United States soon after her birth in 1955. She describes herself within her poems alternatively as a "Chinawoman" and a "lunatic," "lover," and "poet."

In 1993, she married Charles Moore, who was killed in a plane crash. Many of Chin's poems (including the title poem) are dedicated to Charles. He figures as a prominent character in "Rhapsody in Plain Yellow." She describes him as her "dead prince," as well as a "Sinophile." She claims to have had the purest form of love for him (independent of race, sex, or color). Charles is the speaker's locus for understanding true love. The poet's grief for Charles is the catalyst for much of her poetry.

Chin's mother is another prominent character. In the collection of poems titled "Broken Chord Sequence," she copes with the deaths of her mother and grandmother. In "That Half is Almost Gone," the poet explores her mother's struggle adjusting to American life and her ultimate reconciliation to her fate.

In "Hong Kong Fathersong," Chin imagines her father's promiscuous behavior with a concubine back in China (which she imagines as a sordid environment). The poet also imagines her father in "Chinese Quatrains" escorting her mother "from girlhood to unhappiness." Generally, Chin paints a more sensitive and sympathetic picture of her mother than of her father, though the latter appears in passing within this collection.

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