“Poetry Countdown” aspires to comment on 64 of the greatest poems in the modern English language.
Countee Cullen’s poem, Incident, is great poetry because of the symmetrical balance that is captured in the poem. Although the word nigger is like the poison venom of a snake bite, Countee Cullen made an inward decision not to allow the word to embitter him. He was briefly paralyzed by the bite, but he did not die. His soul did not become consumed with rage and anger. The beauty of the incident was reveal by his inward reaction to the encounter. He realized the word nigger hurt and bewildered him, but he wrote the poem with the grace and serenity that comes from understanding that some things one cannot change. He seems to have come to the conclusion that no matter where one goes one cannot isolate him or herself from hate and prejudice. Since he couldn’t isolate himself from racism, he decided to insulate himself by not allowing hurtful words to fester and consume him. He created beauty from ashes. After all, nigger is only a word. In order for it to have power, the word must have the energy that comes from the human spirit. Countee Cullen heard and felt the negative energy of the word, but he disconnected it from the power source by not allowing it to penetrate his spirit. Therefore, he could describe the incident with control and calmness instead of rage and hatred. The great control and calmness in his poem comes from his spirit’s immunity to the venom. He heard, felt, and rejected the lethal energy that empowers the word nigger.
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