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Literary Analysis of The Poem Incident by Countee Cullen

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The poem The Incident by Countee Cullen is a perfect example of a lyric. A lyric is a brief poem that expresses a writer’s emotions and thoughts through shorts stanzas, and that he certainly does. While reading the poem you can recognize there are three pairs of words that rhyme; which gives you an ABCB rhyme scheme. Cullen uses the poetic speaker to discuss the issues of racism and discrimination between blacks and whites in America. I chose to write about this particular poem because I feel it is one that a large number of people can relate to in one way or another, or feel the suffrage and discrimination that people have gone through and continue to go through. Although our country has progressed a lot throughout the years, we still have a long way to go; people of color and people in the lower classes are discriminated against on a daily basis and it needs to be recognized.

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In the first stanza, the speaker starts out by describing the scene saying, “Once riding in old Baltimore, / Heart-filled, head-filled with glee, / I saw a Baltimorean Keep looking straight at me”. These lines allow you to assume that the speaker is talking about Baltimore City, or somewhere near during the early twentieth century when the poem was written. During this time, Baltimore was pretty segregated, having different blocks for white and black neighborhoods. The speaker paints the picture that he is happy at the time though. In the second line he explains how he may have been possibly riding a bike down the streets of old Baltimore, an activity you can find many kids doing. This stanza mainly describes how happy the speaker was at the time.

During the second stanza, he then goes to describe himself and the other boy saying, “Now I was eight and very small, / And he was no whit bigger”. How he describes both himself and the other boy in these lines gives you no description of the races of the two. It is not until his next line, “And so I smiled, but he poked out // His tongue, and called me, ‘Nigger.’” which allows you to assume the boys’ races. From this line, you can assume that the speaker is an African American boy and the other person is a white boy. This is the most important stanza of the poem, which impacted how the poem ended. The speaker was having such a great time until the other boy made the discriminatory comments, which then ruined his entire time in the city of Baltimore.

The lines after expressing the aftermath of the interaction with the white boy, “From May until December; / Of all the things that happened there / That’s all that I remember”. The comment that the boy had made impacted how he remembered his entire time in Baltimore. He went from the first line describing how happy he was going down the streets of Baltimore, to how upset the boy had made him; so much he didn’t care to remember much of his time there. The tone of this poem was very sad and dark, in the beginning, you have a happy child and in the end, you have a sad child. The speaker does a great job of describing the tone throughout the entire poem, so much that you can imagine yourself right there with them.

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Many people can relate to the feelings the speaker presented because many people today are still discriminated against. I feel as if the author named this poem The Incident to influence the darker tones the poem gives. One incident can change a person’s entire views on another person, place, or concept. Countee Cullen did a great job of allowing the speaker to let the readers feel exactly what was happening to him as if it was happening to themselves. His writing made more people, and continue to allow people to empathize with people who were or are going through discrimination. 

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Literary Analysis Of The Poem Incident By Countee Cullen. (2022, February 10). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 6, 2023, from
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