The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Within the Veil” is composed of twenty-one six-line stanzas. The title suggests that certain conditions are being concealed, as if under a veil, and that they are not being addressed. The first line of the poem, “Color ain’t no faucet,” establishes that the poet is addressing racism. The poet invites readers into the poem by addressing them directly as “you.” By doing this, Michelle Cliff establishes a direct dialogue between herself and readers. She also implicitly makes her readers accountable for the issues she addresses, partly through the casual, intimate tone that she employs throughout. The most immediately noticeable aspect of the poem is that it is written in blues form, with the blues’ typical repetition of lines.

“Within the Veil” is a biting commentary on race relations, sexism, and social injustice. Each stanza recounts historical events or phenomena that have adversely affected black people, not only in the United States but also in the Caribbean and on the African continent. The tone of the poem is matter-of-fact, and the poet implies that readers are in the know, indicating that the poem is directed specifically toward black readers. This becomes clearer in stanza 2 and is further developed in stanzas 3 and 4, in which Cliff sets up an oppositional relationship between herself and her readers on one hand and the “whiteman” on the other, advising readers that “We got to swing the thing around.” Here, as throughout...

(The entire section is 601 words.)