Rachel Blau DuPlessis: On "Yet Do I Marvel"

This work, filled with cunning verbal contradictions, concerns the almost paralytic encounter between blackness and universalized poetic vision.

The sestet is based on a fierce, restrained blasphemy. It would he vain even to ask God, goes Cullen’s argument, why evil, cruelty, torture, and frustration have meaning. It is simply that He is so "awful" that He cannot quibble over such small questions. The repetition of the word "awful" moves from awe-inspiring to horrible, from terrific to terrifying. Indeed, the echo of Blake’s "Songs of Experience" casts God Himself as the man-eating Tyger. The speaker plots a carefully worded resistance, seeming to enhance God, and to blame the small-minded person for doubting the possibility of satisfactory explanations.

The apogee of God’s uncanny ability to put dreadful pressure and frustration in the universe is to create black poets. The apparently simple phrase "curious thing" read via a social philology shows ideological contradictions. First, it means an oddity, here the speaker comments suspiciously upon God and his motives. The distance created by the commentary elaborates the promissory note of the sonnet’s opening phrase doubting God’s beneficence, wherein that very doubt, through denial, is furthered. Second, the speaker wonders that God has made such a novelty something so rare, odd, or intricate. This praises both the nobility of God and [black] humankind. Finally, the poet, being black, is both the curiosity (thing) and the curious questioner (person). To have been both thing and person is precisely the heritage of African-Americans. This opposition is then elaborated by the confrontative rhyme of "thing" and "sing." "Sing!" is held out tantalizingly at the very end of the poem as a goal and imperative, compounding the strength of black poetic authority by seeing it as an almost impossible test of authorship authorized by God himself. In the word "bid," God is both commanding and gambling — raising the stakes for black poets only. The word also has a tinge from the semantic surround "auction," a sotto voce encrypting of enslavement. The poem illustrates, in poised contradiction, the difficulty and the actuality, of African-American poetry.

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Title Rachel Blau DuPlessis: On "Yet Do I Marvel" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Rachel Blau DuPlessis Criticism Target Countee Cullen
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 12 Jul 2021
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Genders, Races and Religious Cultures in Modern American Poetry
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