Comparison and Contrast Poem Essay
Comparison and Contrast Poem
Both Joy Harjo’s poem, “Perhaps the World Ends Here” and Yusef Komunyakka’s poem, “Facing It” represent attempts by the poets to devise a central symbol within a specific poem which is capable of holding a vast number of associations, from the familial to the multi-national. By investing inanimate objects: a kitchen table, a war memorial with emotion, “spirit,” and associative meaning, the poets are able to invert the usual “banality” of inanimate objects and express the idea that these objects not only partake of cultural resonances, but they are actually cultural out-growths which, through poetry, attain an expressive capability that would otherwise probably not be associated with the physical objects themselves.
Both poets adopt a “colloquial” style in their respective poems. For Joy Harjo, the tone of the poem, “Perhaps the World Ends Here” is meant to evoke the same kind of linguistic and emotional base which is part of the ordinary, everyday discourse of life. Harjo’s language is poetic, but not overtly so. Her uses of figurative language rather than dense or complex diction, sets a tone of down-to-earth reality: “The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what,/ we must eat to live.” (Harjo). From this apparently pedestrian opening, Harjo moves skilfully to figurative expression” “The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the/ table so it has been since creation, and it will go on.” (Harjo). With this first appearance of figurative expression, “the Gifts of earth,” Harjo begins the deep, thematic association which propels the poem in its entirety to eloquence and profound vision. The idea is that the kitchen table functions, metaphorically, as a “creation myth” and holds all of the same associations as the universe itself. The kitchen table is a stage for life and death, for the maturing of children and the life-regret of old age: It is here that children are given instructions on what/it means to be human. We make men at it,/ we make women.” (Harjo). The conclusion of the poem is that the world ends where it began: at the kitchen table, the symbolic center of the creation myth. Harjo’s elevation of the mundane to the cosmic and universal are what makes “Perhaps the World Ends Here” a significant poem.
Similarly, Yusef Komunyakka’s poem “Facing It” attempts to unify the inanimate with the spiritual and emotional; his tactic is to imagine himself turning into the inanimate stone of the Veteran’s Memorial; in fact, changing into something non-living, non-human in order to gain a better perspective on what it means to be alive and human. This inversion, like Harjo’s, becomes the central propellent of the poem. The opening lines, “My black face fades,/ hiding inside the black granite.” (Komunyakka) sets up a series of associations and figurative language which, while choosing the same strategy as Harjo of investing the inanimate with thought and emotion, creates an opposite mythic arc. While Harjo’s poem is a creation myth expressed through mundane, or even banal imagery and symbolism, Komunyakka’s “Facing It” is a myth of death.
The opening lines of the poem should be read as the symbolic death of the poem’s speaker; the rest of the poem is the poet’s experience of death as it is revealed to him through the monument:
this way–the stone lets me go.
I turn that way–I’m inside
the Vietnam Veterans Memorial
again, depending on the light
to make a difference.
It is worth noting that while Harjo’s creation myth ends with the death of the world, Komunyakka’s death myth ends with an image of rebirth: “In the black mirror/ a woman’s trying to erase names:/ No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair.” (Komunyakaa) While each of the poets followed the expressive track of allowing the inanimate world to gain expression through poetry, Harjo discovered an essentially nihilistic “root” to her figurative associations while Komunyakka discovered an endless rebirth in the associations of the war memorial. Both poets eschewed dense or richly constructed verse in favor of straightforward emotional response and philosophical insight.