The poems For Sanundra by Nikki Giovanni and Digging by Seamus Heaney were written in the 1960s. Historically, the 60s were the most divisive years where American society faced the Vietnam War, antiwar waves, toxic politics, and civil rights movements. It is one of the decades that revealed a generational gap and increased ethnic tension among Americans. Heaney shifts from the present to the past and predicts the future to show his identity and role in the society, while Giovanni makes a better conclusion on the state of social instability during the civil rights movements.
Heaney begins with the present, then past, and comments about the future at the end of the poem. The poem is structured with several short lines and does not have a specific set of rhyme schemes. It is a typical free poem with alliteration and assonance. Throughout the poem, Heaney reflects on the history of his family in rural areas, and their role in shaping his current national situation through work. The main type of work in Heaney’s community is digging; “Stooping in rhythm through potato drills/ Where he was digging” (8 and 9). In that, the author reveals that the present social-economic work of his people in mainly form labor. He uses imagery to depict the challenging conditions in which they live. For instance, “a clean rasping sound/ When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:/ My father, digging. I look down” (Heaney 3,4,5). Besides, he used irony on his father’s hard work by depicting it as to cause “a clean rasping sound” (Heaney 3).
Heaney proceeds from the present to the past, where he critiques the living condition of his ancestors. He finds that his grandfather, and probably his ancestors made a living through digging (Heaney 24). Also, he uses imagery to reveals that the past generations valued hard work. Lines 18 and 19 depict the childhood tribute to the former generations and appreciation for the nation-building. The author uses vivid descriptions to reveal that his ancestors died decent deaths. Overall, the enjambment in lines 15 to 22 ensures a relevant connection with the author’s past and a smooth flow.
Finally, Heaney returns to the present to critique the present. He realizes that throughout generations, society has relied on male figures to work using shovels. Also, the hard work has paid off by the provision of food (Heaney 25,26). The shift is paradoxical since the shift in times happens in the author’s mind. He uses figures of speech to conclude that he is on legal soils and that he has what it takes to provide for his family – “my finger and my thumb/ The squat pen rests. / I’ll dig with it” (Heaney 21, 30, 31). In these lines, Heaney uses a metaphor by taking a pen for a spade, repetition, and onomatopoeia to insist on the difficulty of digging, and rhymes to make the poem exciting. The three last lines are almost repetition of the first two lines, which overall diverge from a difficult labor and appreciate the talents that the author has to gird his present and future wellbeing while on the soil that is his (Larsmo 1). Overall, Heaney reveals a generational gap that concerns the perception of labor and identity.
The poem For Saundra is among the popular texts that were written during the civil rights movement (Chandler-Olcott et al. 239). Giovani says that had desired that the poem would rhyme, “but revolution doesn’t lend / itself to be-bopping.” (4,5). That way, the author beans by setting a mood, in which readers conceptualize the situation in the 1960s. She uses imagery – “revolution doesn’t lend” to reveal that the civil rights movement was so intense that she devoted her time to it than to poetry. Notably, that is paradoxical since the poem has become among the best pieces written during the 20th century. Giovani suggests that a structured poem – with rhyme schemes, is not possible to write during the revolution and ethnic tension. In the second paragraph, the author says, “my neighbor/ who thinks I hate” (Giovani 6,7). It is ironic to the ethnic tension during the civil rights movements since her neighbor thinks that they are hated, yet appear to be concerned about her welfare.
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Giovani uses imagery to mark the reality of the revolution. For instance, the poem is different from traditional poems, and she admits to having neglected most features of poetry. Besides, she writes that ‘I thought the sky/ I’ll do a big blue-sky poem/, but all the clouds have winged/ low since no-Dick was elected” (Giovani 20, 21). She also reveals her zeal towards the revolution by saying, “I shouldn’t write/ at all/ but clean my gun/ and check my kerosene supply” (Giovani 24 – 27). She ends the poem by confirming the social instability due to revolution, by saying that she thinks it is not the perfect time to write poems.
Between the two poems, I think Giovanni’s conclusion is more persuasive. Firstly, the organization of the poem is such that a reader begins by acknowledging the desires of the author and ends up realizing the reasons why she cannot actualize her desires. The poem is populated with funny ironies that help readers to reflect better on the poet’s situation. For instance, she says that “perhaps these are not poetic/ times/ at all” yet it is the ending of one of the most poetic pieces she has written. Throughout the poem, Giovanni has succeeded in appealing for the reader’s emotion by making them feel as though they are the poets themselves. She selectively pinpoints the social issues regarding revolutions and disparities in society, which are worth attention rather than arts. She has creatively used literary devices such as metaphor – “clean my gun/ and check my kerosene supply” in place of preparedness (Giovanni 26,27). She has also used imagery in Sight: “green tree” (11), “Clouds” (20), “gun” (26), and the “kerosene” (27). Heaney’s poem is mostly a story concerning the present and the past. Unlikely, Giovanni makes a powerful conclusion on the prevalence of social disparities through her short, exciting poem, by engaging readers emotionally.
Chandler-Olcott, Kelly et al. “Perhaps These Are Not Poetic Times At All”: Using Poetry To Cope With And Critique A High-Stakes Teacher Performance Assessment”. Secure.Ncte.Org, 2016, https://secure.ncte.org/library/NCTEFiles/Resources/Journals/EE/0483-apr2016/EE0483Perhaps.pdf.
Heaney, Seamus. “Digging” Death of a Naturalist. Faber, 1966
Larsmo, Ola. “The Nobel Prize In Literature 1995”. Nobelprize.Org, https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1995/heaney/article/. Accessed 22 May 2020.
Nikki Giovanni. “For Saundra”, Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, 2009