Karenge ya Marenge

By Countee Cullen 1903–1946 Countee Cullen
Wherein are words sublime or noble? What   
Invests one speech with haloed eminence,   
Makes it the sesame for all doors shut,   
Yet in its like sees but impertinence?   
Is it the hue? Is it the cast of eye,   
The curve of lip or Asiatic breath,   
Which mark a lesser place for Gandhi’s cry   
Than “Give me liberty or give me death!”

Is Indian speech so quaint, so weak, so rude,   
So like its land enslaved, denied, and crude,   
That men who claim they fight for liberty   
Can hear this battle-shout impassively,
Yet to their arms with high resolve have sprung   
At those same words cried in the English tongue?

Countee Cullen, “Karenge ya Marenge” from My Soul’s High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen. Copyrights held by the Amistad Research Center, Tulane University, administered by Thompson and Thompson, Brooklyn, NY.

Source: My Soul’s High Song: The Collected Writings of Countee Cullen (Anchor Books, 1991)

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Poet Countee Cullen 1903–1946

SCHOOL / PERIOD Harlem Renaissance

Subjects War & Conflict, Heroes & Patriotism, History & Politics, Social Commentaries

Holidays Independence Day

Poetic Terms Sonnet

 Countee  Cullen

Biography

Countee Cullen was perhaps the most representative voice of the Harlem Renaissance. His life story is essentially a tale of youthful exuberance and talent of a star that flashed across the Afro-American firmament and then sank toward the horizon. When his paternal grandmother and guardian died in 1918, the fifteen-year-old Countee LeRoy Porter was taken into the home of the Reverend Frederick A. Cullen, the pastor of Salem . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT War & Conflict, Heroes & Patriotism, History & Politics, Social Commentaries

SCHOOL / PERIOD Harlem Renaissance

Poetic Terms Sonnet

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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