Multiculturalism--For Dylan and Ono I


I dedicate these to Dylan and Ono between the two of them I was moved to dig up a book and pull out these particular poems. The first consists of two of four short epitaphs by Countee Cullen. The second a magnificent sonnet that at one time was much more popular than presently; originally an outcry against racism in the inner cities, it was carried by a great many soldiers in World War II. Both are works by great, but largely neglected African American poets. Proponents of true multiculturalism seek to redress the gross injustice of the exclusion of such great work from the common heritage. We are all diminished when we choose to exclude such luminous voices from our cultural vocabulary.

from "Four Epitaphs"
Countee Cullen

For John Keats, Apostle of Beauty
Not writ in water nor in mist,
Sweet lyric throat, thy name;
Thy singing lips that cold death kissed
Have seared his own with flame.

For Paul Lawrence Dunbar
Born of the sorrowful heart,
Mirth was a crown upon his head;
Pride kept his twisted lips apart
In jest, to hide a heart that bled.

Only short samples, but I'm sure you can agree that they are quite lovely and to the point. I particularly like the poignancy of the image of Keats's kiss searing Death's lips.

If We Must Die
Claude McKay

If we must die, let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accurséd lot.
If we must die, O let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!
O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!
Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?
Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

Some decry multiculturalism. I decry its excesses, but I also decry the blindness that did not allow me to encounter poems such as these until well into my adulthood. I am glad that children educated today are getting a broader sense of the contributions made to literature by all peoples. My only wish is that we would choose works of quality, not merely works that are representative. There is no need to abandon the works of the Western Canon. Shakespeare can be taught alongside works like these, as can Keats and others. However, when left to the mulitculturalists, works chosen do not necessarily represent great works of literature, but agenda-supporting works of literary propagandists. Literature should be chosen for its quality, not for the political agenda it supports. In fact, it should be chosen IN SPITE OF political agenda, as I am sure I could not agree with the politics of Pablo Neruda, but I still admire On the Heights of Macchu Picchu.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on August 24, 2002 2:17 PM.

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