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.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Within the Veil” fits into a genre known as blues poetry. The blues is a distinctly African American form of music and poetry that is said to have its roots in Africa, specifically Senegal. There the griot (griots are performers whose songs and stories keep the oral history of their people alive) tradition is best represented. Blues lyrics generally recount personal stories, and the most popular blues focus on love, heartbreak, and hard times. “Within the Veil,” however, fits into another category of blues, one that emphasizes sociopolitical implications. In this type of lyric, although the poem or story may seem to be about an individual’s personal problems, the implication is that the seemingly isolated situation is applicable to the group.

Lyrically, the blues form consists of three-line stanzas (musically it is most often in a repeating twelve-measure or “twelve-bar” pattern). “Within the Veil,” although it appears as six-line stanzas, adheres to the blues format. Generally the first line of a blues states the problem or situation, and the second line repeats it for emphasis, sometimes with a variation or twist. The third line then resolves the stanza or provides some concluding commentary on the situation. In Cliff’s poem each of the standard three blues lines is written as two lines on the page, but the stanza can nonetheless be sung over the rhythmic framework of a twelve-bar blues:

(The entire section is 497 words.)